Should I Invite My Unsaved Friends to Worship With Me This Easter?

by Jonathan Hamilton

My emphatic answer: No! You shouldn’t!

Or maybe it’s: Yes! You should!

Confused? The final answer is dependent on some further defining of what we mean by worship. I admit, some of this could be reduced to a semantics game by you professionals out there. But sometimes semantics are really helpful when I’m trying to obscure a valid point.

For those who voted “Yes!”

I was reminded by another pastor that there is a sense in which calling an unbeliever to worship can also be a calling to repentance. Take the folks in the Gospels who, though unbelievers, fell at Jesus’s feet in worship. This was an appropriate response to the Christ. But the goal wasn’t to leave them unchanged after a one-time emotional event. They were not called to “worship” once and then get back to life as usual. How tragic would it be to walk away from such an experience unchanged! So close, but so far. In the sense of calling them to repentance and faith in Christ, it is perfectly acceptable to invite unbelievers to worship this Easter.

For those who voted “No!”

The problem comes in when we dilute what we mean by worship. How many of us have ever invited a lost person to accompany us to church using the repentance pitch? <Crickets> More likely, it’s something like: “Hey, you should come to church with me sometime. We have a great preacher. And our worship leader can really groove. And the offering is only for members! And there’s a great all-you-can-eat buffet right down the street.”

Is that a legitimate worship to which you should call an unbeliever? I think not.

“But Ham,” you say, “you can’t expect me to go all George Whitefield on them. These things take time!” And therein lies a great truth: Unless it’s someone you’ve just met, you’ve probably had ample time to lay some semblance of a foundation that would now lend itself to a legitimate invitation. So if it’s not laid yet…..well, you get the picture. More about that later.

But now back to the reasons that I believe make the calling of an unbeliever to occasional (Christmas and Easter, anyone?) and casual (non-repentant) “worship” is not legitimate. God requires that worship be done in spirit and truth. John 4:24 states, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (ESV) While we aren’t fully unpacking that today, I think it’s safe to say that an unbeliever’s dead spirit and inability to discern truth make that a pretty tough row for him to hoe (like, impossible).

Unbelievers are totally dead spiritually. Ephesians 2:1-2 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” They have no place at the altar because they have no capacity for worship, and because their offerings are as yet an abomination to God. Unbelieving worship is an oxymoron.

To make matters worse, God’s judgment is upon them. Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” 

That bad news is absolutely, unequivocally, overwhelmingly, undeniably foundational to the  good news. We have lost that concept in much of modern Christianity. We skip straight to the good news because the bad news is, um, awkward to our proud sensibilities. We are preaching a half-gospel and a half-gospel does not retain its power. It is not the true Gospel. Christ’s work – His life, substitutionary atonement, and glorious Resurrection – makes it possible for the dead to be made alive to God and worship Him. To circumvent that is to demean His gift and the Gospel.

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in himColossians 2:11-15

The knowledge of sin is foundational to the glorious Gospel, because if we are not vile and sinful wretches (“worms,” as some – from a forgotten time when using terms like “personal holiness” and making resolutions to encourage it didn’t earn you a taunt from the dunderheads – liked to call us, and I agree) who are totally dead in our trespasses and sins, then there is no reason to fall on our faces and cry out to a holy Judge for pardon and cleansing and regeneration to new life in His Son.

If you skip the bad news, rather than helping them to Christ, you are helping to inoculate them against the Gospel by leading them to believe that they are already acceptable to God. That’s a nice way of saying you are offering them damnation. That’s the type of thing you’re going to answer for someday before the Lord.

Finally, you would never argue (I hope) that unbelievers ought to be baptized or take communion, so why should they worship? Worship, too, is for believers (or as we stated early on, for those unbelievers who are being called to repentance through it).

Back to the “Yes’s!”

So is it OK to invite them at all? Yes.

If you’ve been doing a good job laying a foundation with them, this will be much easier. If the only time you talk to them about spiritual things is an invitation to church, it will be much more difficult. But that does not absolve you of obeying Christ’s command to make disciples. If you are telling yourself that you do not yet have the boldness to talk to them about sin and salvation, you need to understand that it is sin for us to withhold the Gospel. If you believe that’s what you’ve been doing, repent of that first. Then, beg God to give you the wisdom, knowledge, and discernment from His Word along with adequate courage. This is a prayer in God’s will, it will not be denied. Lastly, you need to take a step of obedience by stretching yourself to give the Gospel to others. Let me repeat in bold italics, block-quote style:

You need to take a step of obedience by stretching yourself to give the Gospel to others.

This does not always come about in the same way. As a matter of fact, if you start praying for opportunities to witness, the Lord will bring them in wonderful and surprising places. But you probably already know who you ought to be sharing with, and have at least a vague idea of where to start. You must step out in faith and obey. Prayer is key, but faith in action is required as well. If you want some help with your Gospel presentation, start here.

My message is not to stop inviting friends to church. It’s to take it a step further. Jesus didn’t tell us to go into all the world and invite our friends to church, hoping that the preacher will do the heavy lifting and save us the embarrassment. He commanded every believer to make disciples.

Full disclosure: I am not good at obeying this command. I need the Lord’s help in my own life with taking this step of obedience. But I’d be willing to venture that the Lord has already given you and me both all the help we need. And now it’s time to take a step.