Don’t set up silly human preconditions and barriers, either. But do make sure people are joining your lay church for the right reason, which is because they’re serious about growing to fullness in Christ. That’s what Jesus himself did, after all. In Matthew 16:24, he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
A few weeks ago we had a handyman, Jeff, at our house giving us an estimate on some home repairs. Pretty quickly we learned that he was a Christian looking for a deeper experience of church than what he was used to. I spent more than two hours with Jeff talking about our .W congregation. He was clearly fascinated, and we ended our time with him pledging to come that Sunday.
Of course he never showed up.
What did show up that Sunday, though, was a fascinating excerpt in a book I was reading, a third century document called The Apostolic Tradition by Hippolytus. It sheds light on how the young, underground, persecuted church dealt with guests in the generations shortly after the apostles. This is what Hippolytus wrote:
Let those who will be brought newly to the faith to hear the Word be brought first to the teachers before the people arrive. And let them be asked the reason why they have given their assent to the faith. And let those who have brought them bear witness as to whether they are able to hear the Word. And let them be asked about their life: What sort is it?
It reminded me of how underground North Korean Christians respond even to family members who express an interest in learning more about Christ. In North Korea, as North Korea scholar Marcus Noland notes, “Newlyweds will not be informed about their spouse’s family’s religious practices for some time until sufficient trust has developed.” They’ll even sleep together before they’ll share their commitment to Christ!
What a far cry from how I approached handyman Jeff! Imagine how different our conversation would have been if I had said, “Jeff, in the early church, before individuals were invited to worship with a particular congregation, congregation leaders would visit them and talk about their lives and why they wanted to follow Christ. The goal was to make sure the church consisted only of people who were there to grow because they wanted to grow to fullness in Christ. So if you’re interested in getting involved in our lay church, the first step would be for me to drop by your house to meet you and your family and to learn about your lives and your interest in Christ.”
In a lay church, there’s no need to grow big in order to cover a pastor’s salary or get a building. So instead of begging people to come, we can treat attendance as a precious privilege, and we can personally visit with those who want to join—before they show up at church—in order to make sure they’re really serious about following Christ as part of the congregation.