Do you have a loved one who doesn’t know Christ? I do—and I know how hard I pray for their salvation. While I wish I could promise you if you’ll just follow every one of my tips on how to get your unsaved loved ones to church they will be saved, I can’t because God is the one who does the heart work. What I can give you are some ideas on how to approach unsaved loved ones about attending a service with you—leaving the heart regeneration work to God by way of the Holy Spirit.
Before we talk about ways to get your unsaved loved ones to church, let’s first discuss three ways to ensure they won’t come to church with you.
3 Ways to Not Get Your Loved Ones to Church
1. Nag them. Asking them over and over again to come to church will work just as well as it does when you nag your spouse or kids to do a chore—it merely makes the person not want to do what you ask. Repeatedly inviting them to church and receiving the same negative reply will only make the unsaved loved one want to avoid you.
2. Frighten them with hell. While it’s true those who don’t believe in God will spend eternity in hell, trying to scare someone to attend church with descriptions of hellfire and brimstone usually only hardens their hearts against the Gospel. Talking about hell has its place in the Gospel message but not as the means of scaring someone into church attendance.
3. Trick them. Inviting your unsaved loved one to a picnic, then revealing once you arrive at the church that the food will be served after morning worship is the kind of bait-and-switch designed to make the person mad—and close his or her mind to the Gospel message. Don’t employ devious methods to get them through the church doors.
Here are 9 ways to encourage your loved ones to attend church.
1. Pray for them.
James 5:16 reminds us that the prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective. Pray God would give them a desire to come to church with you and that they would be open to your invitation to attend. Seed the ground with prayer before you try any other suggestions.
2. Invite them.
Not in a nagging way, but on a regular basis, such as once a month or so, make them feel welcome to attend services with you. Also ask them to come to special services, like musical groups, plays, or children’s performances (especially if your kids are participating).
3. Be faithful in asking.
Despite the many nos, continue to invite them as often as it seems natural to do so (without nagging). It might take months or even years. Remember, God’s timing is perfect, so ask and be prepared for a yes amidst all the nos.
4. Accept ‘no’ graciously.
You will probably hear more negative responses than positive ones, so learn how to receive those answers in a gracious manner. Don’t pout or try to guilt them into saying yes. They might be watching to see how you accept their response and that might be the reason they say yes next time.
5. Talk about church like you enjoy it.
This might seem obvious, but how often do you discuss something you learned from a recent sermon with your unsaved loved ones? Not in the “you need to be saved so listen up” way, but in the “this really helped me to recognize sin in my own life” or “this opened my eyes to a new truth about the Gospel” way.
As Psalm 95:1-2 admonishes us, “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!” (ESV). If this is how we view church, then we need to share that with others. If we don’t discuss what happens Sunday mornings in a positive light, then why would our unsaved loved ones want to come with us?
6. Share your faith in normal conversation.
As followers of Jesus, we should pepper our conversations with our faith, not shoehorning it in but in a natural way. For example, during my husband’s recent bout of unemployment, we often talked about God’s gracious provisions to us with unsaved family and friends. It was a natural response to questions about how we were doing, and a genuine way to share our faith.
7. Show the support of your church.
Our fellow church members are part of our support system and it’s important that unbelievers recognize this. Embody the sentiment of Psalm 66:5-6: “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him” (ESV).
My church has a long history of organizing meals for new mothers and others in need, such as during illness. I’ve often shared with neighbors, friends and family members about being the recipient of the meal brigade after the birth of each of our four kids, plus during my husband’s unexpected surgery. In fact, I’ve even had other Christians express interest in how we organize such meals because their congregation had no such program in place. Seeing the love and care of Christians for one another could spur an unbeliever to want to check out church.
8. Think outside the four walls.
The coronavirus pandemic has exploded the number of church streaming services, thus opening up more opportunities for unsaved loved ones to check out church from the comfort of their own home. Invite them to view a service online, such as when your child is baptized or professes his faith; a special Christmas or Easter service; or on a particular topic you think might be of interest to them. It might be easier for them to watch at home before coming in person.
9. Be open to other churches.
Sometimes, we know the person might be more comfortable attending a different denomination, so scout out alternative churches and find people who attend those congregations to ensure they preach the Gospel. Suggest your loved one attend a service at that church and, if they agree, go with them. For example, if your unsaved loved one is more introverted, perhaps a more liturgical congregation might make them feel more comfortable than a Pentecostal one. As long as they walk through the doors of a Bible-believing church, does it really matter which one they go to?
Remember, part of our calling as Christians is to encourage others in their faith and to find faith. As Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (ESV). It can break our hearts when an unsaved loved one eschews all mention of the Gospel or church, but God can use our church invitations to soften hearts and ultimately redeem those he’s called to himself.