Existing for Non-Members

by New Church Starts

by Doug Ruffle, Congregational Development Team Coordinator, Greater New Jersey Annual Conference (and Path 1 Team Northeastern Jurisdiction Representative)

“The church is the only society in the world that exists for its nonmembers.”

Those words, spoken in the 1900s by William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, pose an awesome challenge to any congregation or denomination that considers its core purpose to be evangelization, which means the sharing the Gospel of Christ with the world.It is difficult to exist essentially for others, placing self-preservation and the attainment of comfort and esteem last among one's reasons for being. Jesus Christ lived and died for others, but his example is hard to follow. Yet Jesus reminds his disciples in John of how important it is to be the church by following his path.

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. (John 15:4).

Unless we abide in Christ and his example we will not bear fruit as a church. We all know this scripture well, but somewhere along the way, many churches forget about existing for nonmembers and begin focusing their activities, concerns, and ministries inwardly. Pastors begin functioning as chaplains or caretakers of self-contained congregations. Members want more and more of their pastors' attention focused among the pews and less in the parish. Eventually, such congregations often lose their way. They cease to bear fruit and begin to wither on the vine.

Can you imagine what the church would look like if it existed for its non-members? Can you imagine what would happen if instead of wanting your needs satisfied, you were driven by the desire to serve the needs of others? And what would happen if not only you, but the entire church believed that way, lived that way, and served Christ in that way? How would you look upon a visitor to the church if your whole focus of ministry were geared to non-members? How would you view the church's programs, property, and finances?

As followers of Christ, we have the most precious gift ever given to human beings: the gift of fellowship with God through Jesus Christ.  And it is a gift meant not to be kept, but to be given away to others. We’re the salt of the earth. It’s time we took ourselves out of the cupboard.

A church that exists for its non-members has a wide focus to its ministry that includes the unchurched people in its community. It includes visitors to its worship services, Sunday school classes, and community events. It also includes the parents whose children attend the church's preschool, but who don't attend worship themselves. It includes those whom members come to know through outreach to the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, and the lonely. Members of such a church view almost every ministry within the church as part of its outward mission. The choir, the musicians, the Christian educators, even the ushers feel compelled to take their respective ministries out from the sanctuary into the community. Servant leadership comes to mean just what it should mean for this kind of church.

Can your churches exist for their non-members? What are some of the ways you think our churches can better serve those outside our walls?