Yesterday's post on Building authentic relationships with unbelievers presupposes that we have time to invest in those relationships. Perhaps one of the most challenging issues is that many churches program so heavily that it sucks up most if not all discretionary time of the congregation leaving little time for relationships outside the church. Added to this is the subtle message that "ministry" is to be found by volunteering inside the church and that healthy believers take advantage of all of the programming of the church.
In contrast to this think about the amount of time that Jesus intentionally spent hanging around the very people who would never enter the door of a synagogue. They did not feel worthy to be there and their faith journey was such that they were a long ways from organized religion. Jesus did not expect these folks to show up at the Synagogue so He went to them. While many do find Christ through the church, there are many who will never darken the door of a church unless someone has intentionally developed a relationship with them.
For years, Mary Ann and I made an intentional decision to spend more time with neighbors and friends outside of church rather than to be involved in more programming in the church. While many congregations see 80% of real ministry taking place in the church we believe that 80% of ministry takes place outside the church as we engage a secular and unbelieving world with the love, help and claims of Jesus. I am convinced that one of the major reasons for the poor evangelism rates in the United States is that we are hoping unbelievers will show up in our church and find Christ through our programming while I believe the opposite is the intention of Christ and that it is through relationships that most conversions take place.
The concept of Simple Church is perhaps more conducive to evangelism than the complex, program driven churches we often encounter today. It would be ironic if our very programming efforts mitigated against more effective evangelism by leaving little time for relationships with unbelievers. And sending them the message that what we really care about is that they show up with us at church is (so they can hear about God) is probably not the best evangelism strategy. Many will not come, either.
I believe that the local church is God's intended means of reaching the world. It is His bride. But it is the church scattered during most of the week that primarily allows this to happen, not the church gathered. Further, we need to communicate that ministry is not simply about volunteering for roles in the church (important as those are) but in using our gifts in the places where He has given us spiritual influence - our neighborhoods, workplaces, little league, or wherever our relationships are to be found.
It is far easier and less intimidating to be with God's people than to be intentionally developing relationships with unbelievers. But that is where evangelism starts and that is the heart of God. In all of our great church programming, lets not program out the very time that is needed to bless our friends with the Gospel. The power of incarnational ministry is the most effective evangelism strategy we will ever have.