The Real Reasons We Don't Invite Friends to Church

There can be a lot of value in inviting people to church, once we get over a few hangups.

“Happy new year! Be sure to invite a friend to church next week!”

Those seem to be familiar words in church around this time of year and just about every time of year when resolutions are made, holidays approach, semesters start or seasons change.

I’ll never forget that time a number of years ago when that announcement was made from the pulpit at the end of a service, and I, a single twentysomething, noticed my own visceral reaction: I cringed. I didn’t mean to do so, but hearing those words hit me. Hard. The faces of my two housemates who didn’t go to church and had never placed their faith in Jesus flooded through my brain, and a wave of guilt cascaded over me. Crash.

I realized I really didn’t want to invite them to church.

And yes, I just happened to work there.

But why? Why the cringe, guilt and dismissal? Why do many of us feel that way now if Jesus’ first followers couldn’t wait to bring their brothers, co-workers, and friends to “come and see” what Jesus and the first century church was up to then? Why do many of us feel funny inviting anybody at all to “come and see?”

Some possible ideas and answers come to mind as I dig deep into my own experiences and conversations I’ve had with those in the churches I’ve served:

“My Worlds Would Collide.”

That's what a relationship with God is all about: becoming more like Jesus in all things and places, with all people in life.

Compartmentalization is a lot cleaner, and inviting friends from work, a team or your apartment complex has the potential to blur everything and bleed religion into daily life. The folks who saw you in the office Thursday or saw what you were doing on Friday night might wonder why you act and talk totally different on Sunday morning.

In turn, your church friends might judge you for hanging out with this crowd. It’s easier, cleaner, and a lot more accepted if you keep your religious stuff in its own box and not let it interfere with the rest of your life or the other people in your life.

The problem with this assumption is that, actually, that's what a relationship with God is all about: becoming more like Jesus in all things and places, with all people in life. After all, didn’t Jesus want us to break the box of religion so that it would bleed into all aspects of life?

“I Don’t Have All the Answers.”

What if you invite someone to church and they ask you about why you believe certain stuff and you have no clue? You might look stupid or, even worse, you might make your church look stupid.

But then again, the limits of your own knowledge could actually provide an open door, an inviting element for someone to see. It just might let them know that you, too, wrestle with questions about the Bible, why bad things happen, and the nature of free will, but not fully understanding it all doesn’t prevent you from following Jesus anyway.

“It Could Risk Our Relationship.”

You’re afraid that inviting a friend to church might communicate you think she’s messed up or that you don’t respect her beliefs as-is. Maybe your friend even said before that he’s a Christian but doesn’t go to church. If you invite him and he declines, that could make your relationship kind of weird.

That's a fair concern, so it's important that church not become the fulcrum of your friendship. Make it clear that your invitation is just that: an invitation. And who knows? Maybe the only thing preventing your friend from going is that she doesn’t want to go by herself. What if your relationship could have the possibility of going deeper than movies and complaining about work?

“It’s Too Foreign to Them.”

You know that the hymns and praise songs you sing about lamb’s blood and the Christianese you use are like a foreign language to your non-church-going friends. They don’t understand what Advent or Lent is, the robe the pastor wears reminds them of The Exorcist, and the prayers everyone knows remind them they are outsiders.

This is a valid concern, and it's largely our fault for incorporating so many strange elements into our church communities. We need to help our churches understand the importance of teaching the reasons why we do what we do and say what we say. We need to remind the leadership of how things look and feel to new people and those outside the faith and what could be done to ease their discomfort or let them know what to expect. It might mean a drastic overhaul or maybe even starting a new or different gathering that you’d actually want to invite people to be a part of.

“It’s Not Relevant to Them.”

You know that sleeping in on a Sunday morning or going home to watch TV after a long day at work is more appealing to your friends than waking up for worship or joining a weeknight Bible study. When you’ve mentioned participating in church events, they show no interest—and no need. You know there are numerous times that you yourself have come home from church wondering what was even preached.

Where a church service's easy application ends is where your stories begins, and that's why it's so important to not let a church do the heavy lifting in your friendships. Tell your story. Why is Christ important to you and your life? No matter how important it is to bring your friends to your church, it's more important to bring church to your friends.

What if instead of investing our invitations to church in 11 o’clock in the sanctuary on Sunday, we planned to go and be a church for people where they are?

You’re not going to change someone’s attitude overnight—that’s God’s job—but you can show evidence of relevance in your relationship with God and with other people. Sometimes someone who finds relevance in something other than Jesus—community, encouragement, hope, serving others—will be the doorway that leads to Jesus.

“They Wouldn’t Belong.”

Because of their history, how they look, or where they’re from, people would stare at them. There’s a chance that if you’re involved in church ministry, you might be busy helping lead something and a friend might have to sit by himself. Alone. And you know that either nobody will talk to him or he’ll be drowned with questions and conversation from well-meaning people who don’t see too many young people.

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We need to help our congregations become more hospitable, especially to young adults. Recruit some friends in the church to be intentionally looking out for and not overdoing the hellos with newcomers. Some churches need to be reminded of why they exist—and it’s not for the benefit of those already inside the club.

“They’re working.”

It’s estimated that 30 percent of the U.S. population works on Sunday, which is the day that over 90 percent of worship services are held. That’s even higher for young adults in some areas where service jobs and campuses abound. Plus, many people work late Saturday night and getting up first thing in the morning to gather with people they don’t know to worship a God they aren’t sure of just doesn’t make sense.

We need to reach our friends where they are—a gathering at a different time and/or place that is accessible to those working. What if instead of investing our invitations to church in 11 o’clock in the sanctuary on Sunday, we planned to go and be a church for people where they are, when they are—at the gym, coffee shop, playground, trail, bar, campus, etc.?

Admittedly, some of these gut-honest answers hit us in the heart, while others clash with the culture of our churches. When we cringe at the thought of inviting a friend to join us, the best idea is to stop dismissing and start adjusting—our attitude, our motivation, our presentation and our communication.

After all, if Jesus thought inviting others to follow Him was a good idea, it probably still is.

Top Comments

Michael Lucero


Michael Lucero commented…

Is it weird that we think one of the best ways to minister to others, or to spread the Gospel to them, is to invite them to church? You never see Christians acting like that in the Bible. Peter never went out to the lame guy in the street and said, "Hey, come to our church, we have a really active healing ministry there!" No, he healed him then and there. Christians in that time ministered to people, shared the Gospel with them, in the streets, where they found people in day to day life. When we do see anything that looks remotely like church services in the New Testament, I believe it's usually in the context of ceremonies and rituals for the building up of people who are already believers. I think that's one reason I, and a lot of other people, feel awkward inviting others to church. It's almost like we're afraid to do the real work of the Gospel — talking genuinely to others about Jesus and their own problems, serving them, putting their needs about ours, being open and honest and being there for them when they need us — in everyday life, and we feel like taking people to our church is an easy way to outsource that sort of thing. I feel like church services are meant to build and reinforce community among believers, while ministry should be done in our everyday lives. Which is, I think, another reason people are leaving the church. They go there to be spiritually fed, to be part of real community, but don't get that at all, or hardly at all.

Joseph Craig Steel


Joseph Craig Steel commented…

Truth is, believers can't invite anyone to church... Because to do so would be, well, foolish.

It would be like saying, "Would you like to come to Christ this Sunday morning?"

What believers can invite people to is a type of human organized recurring event — some quiet, some loud, some flamboyant, some conservative... But most, human contrived.

On the other hand... According to scripture, God invites all to fellowship in Him. And that's not an event... That's a living... Which is actually the church expressed.

If you really want to invite someone "to church" . . . Make it clear that you're not speaking about a meeting in a building... But a living in, and for Christ.


Marc Servos


Marc Servos commented…

While inviting friends to church is okay and maybe even a noble act, often the reason one invites a friend is that the invitee thinks his/her own church is better than the church the friend is currently attending, perhaps due to spiritual or doctrinal reasons. Maybe the invitee wants reassurance of going to the "right" church him/herself. Such decisions should be done between the two parties. I think we all have had the experience of being invited to another church, and we probably can make the better decision whether we accept the invite or not.

Chandra Lafitte


Chandra Lafitte commented…

I wouldn't because I am embarrassed about the people who go to the church regularly. I would be ashamed to try to introduce my loving friends to them because the church members, as a large group, are generally unfriendly, exclusive, cliquey and uncaring about anyone beyond their little circle. Of course, they think their church is welcoming and friendly but when anomalies are pointed out they refuse to accept any one else's opinions. Of course there are exceptions, but the exceptions are not part of the church's administrative or social structure. I left after 50+ years (obviously a slow learner) and am grateful I finally came to my senses.

Venus Bradley


Venus Bradley commented…

I have invited friends to church before, usually during special occasions or when I am singing, (people seem more open to that kind of thing) but I am always uncomfortable doing it. The last people I invited were a married gay couple. When I invited them, the first question asked of me is, "Will we be welcome?" And I had to be honest. Some people don't agree with it, but no one has been or would be openly cruel about it. But how do you introduce them? This is my coworker and her wife? That's how you would anyone else, but at church it's like you are introducing two lepers. I spent the whole week before they came praying that the pastor would please not mention anything about the homosexuality debate for one week. He didn't, but it was still awkward. That is how I always feel when I even think about inviting people though. This person has a three-year-old daughter and isn't married. Will she be welcome? This man is just now getting over a serious addiction, will he be welcome? And although my church can be great about a lot of things, they are also the same people who complained that the pastor dresses too casually and send the man nasty emails whenever they think his sermon is too "liberal". Therefore, I choose to create and maintain friendships with these "kind of people" outside of the church, because I always question whether they will be truly welcomed within.

Ajay Pollarine


Ajay Pollarine commented…

I never got why I would invite the Lost to my local congregation gathering. That's not for them, that's for the saints. I'll bring the Gospel to them and when they've followed the Savior, repented, and have been changed then I will happily enjoy them alongside me in worship.

Anything other than that is just like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, sure you might eventually pull it off, but either the peg or the hole is going to be permanently damaged by the attempt.

jess d


jess d replied to Ajay Pollarine's comment

That's for the saints? That's the saddest thing I have ever heard, and I really hope you can hold up to being such a saint.
Matthew 9:11-13 (NIV)

11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Kris Beckert


Kris Beckert replied to jess d's comment

Hi folks-- thanks for your thoughtful comments. I want to make clear that in the article I was careful not to define "church" as worship service-- though the worship service is one of the gatherings and outworkings of the church. Church is Jesus' community, and Jesus was constantly inviting people into His community. He never said "change, convert and THEN come follow me," but rather "come, follow me." It's my experience that most people who walked away from church or who have absolutely no church background begin to follow Jesus because one of His followers invited them to "come." Maybe that following was just spending time with 2-3 of His followers (who are also the church, since the church is people). Maybe it was coming to a worship service that was different than the painful memories of being dragged as a kid. Maybe it was a group, service opportunity, or meal. All would be considered inviting to church. My question was in regards to who WE are and the things they see/sense/feel/experience that keep us from being like Jesus and his disciples who said "come and see!" I hope that makes sense. Again, thanks for lots of food for thought.

David Ish


David Ish commented…

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
― Mahatma Gandhi He might as will be living in Pgh Pa. I am 57. No churches prove to me the "great soul" was wrong

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