Today I’ve spent all day … well, from 10:30 AM until 4:20 … training fifty-two participants the first half of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Evangelism seminar. I’m exhausted (that’s a lot of time up in front doing a lot of the talking) and yet I’m too wound up to sleep. There’s something about watching folks “get it” when it comes to good-newsing the world. What’s most gratifying, is the number of the under-thirties who shared how much they got out of it and that what they heard are tips and tools that they realize will work in their contexts.

One of the hot topics of conversation at this event has been the discussion of the “church’s” role in evangelism. When I use the word “church” here, I’m meaning the cultural understanding of the church as a local expression, that is, a typical North American congregation that meets in some sort of dedicated building. What happens, several were asking, when we share our faith stories and invite our friends to come with us to church and when they get there the welcome and the love and the acceptance just isn’t there. In other words, is our evangelism efforts for naught if all we have to invite them to is church-as-usual?

That’s the rub, isn’t it? I’ve been on staff at churches in the past wheren I was hesitant to invite the unchurched and the irrelgious to visit. I figure that I get ONE chance with someone who’s authentically seeking and if I, or the church, blows it, the seeker may never give the church another chance. Rather than risking the loss to the kingdom, I’d invite them to other churches in the area where I knew they had a pretty good chance to meet Jesus rather than to a church where I knew they had a better chance of meeting ho-hum church-as-usual. I’m afraid there are some things that I’m just not willing to risk.

Which is a real dilemma for some in this evangelism seminar. Just what DO you do when the church you attend is “stuck” or in the midst of its own transformation? How can we prepare the serious seeker for their encounter with “the church” when it’s more of an insider’s club than a well-functioning rescue station? When is taking the risk the “right” thing to do?

It’s a dilemma and I’d be interested to hear your answers. My response is, instead of inviting a serious seeker to the “church” (i.e., the Sunday worship service in The Building), I invite them to an effective small group that I’m a part of. Hopefully that small group would be attached to the “church,” but I’m less concerned about that than I am in creating an incubator for love, warmth, hospitality, and discipleship.

What do you do when your friend, relative, associate, neighbor, or co-worker is seriously seeking spiritual answers? We live in a time where the economic crisis may be helping people get “ripe” for asking those questions. When they do, will you “risk” taking them to church? If not, what will you do?