The Beverly Hillbillies TV theme song ended with the perennial invitation: “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?” And numerous Country Music artists used to perform a song by Arlie Duff that said “Y’all come! (Y’all come!) Y’all come! (Y’all come!) Well, you all come to see us when you can.” (No. This song is not on my iPhone playlist.)
In case you’re not familiar with the phrase “Ya’ll come,” it is a southern invitation of hospitality, meaning “Come and visit us anytime. We’ll be sitting right here on the front porch waiting to greet you.”
I’ve been thinking that “Ya’ll come” seems to be the American church’s modus operandi (M.O.) when it comes to evangelism. We tell church members to invite their friends, neighbors, and co-workers to “church,” where the preacher is then responsible for telling them about Jesus and convincing them to follow Him in about a 40 minute sermon. The more I think about it, the more I find this an odd M.O. because Jesus didn’t stay cloistered in the synagogue and wait for people to come to him. He was always out in the community engaging with those he probably wasn’t “supposed” to be hanging out with, like tax collectors and sinners.
In our post-Christian culture, very few non-believers wake up on Sunday morning and say to themselves, “I think I’ll visit a church today.” If they are not already followers of Jesus or at least semi-regular church attenders, why would they agree to “go to church” with their neighbor, friend, or acquaintance? They probably have more pressing and engaging activities on Sunday morning like catching up on sleep on the weekend or going camping or hiking (especially here in Colorado). Sometimes even those who were regular “church attenders” are not anymore. The Barna Group reported in 2017 that 38% of Americans are active churchgoers, 43% are classified as “unchurched,” and 34% are classified as “dechurched,” meaning they used to attend but don’t anymore. (Even our language surrounding the church suggests an event to attend, to which we can invite people and say “ya’ll come.”)
Carey Nieuwhof describes it this way:
“The challenge is that unchurched people aren’t exactly flocking to most churches, and many Christians seem stumped as to why that is. There are many reasons, but a surprising number center around one thing: Christians who treat the church as if it’s their private club. The gravitational pull of human nature is toward self, not towards others, and churches behave the same way. You will focus almost exclusively on your needs and wants unless you decide not to. And that’s exactly what far too many churches do: focus exclusively on the needs and wants of their members. Okay, it’s worse than that. Maybe it’s not even about needs and wants. Maybe it’s about preferences. So many church leaders (staff and volunteer) struggle to lead beyond the preferences of the church members. And as soon as they try, they get inundated with complaints and angry emails. Too many Christians feel like it’s their right to have a church that caters exactly to their tastes and whims, and millions are paying the price for that (including unchurched people).” https://careynieuwhof.com/8-things-christians-should-give-up-to-reach-unchurched-people/
The American church has long operating in a “Ya’ll come” mode, and it’s getting more and more difficult to get them to come. We can blame it on our culture or on selfishness, but the fact is, Jesus did not commission us to sit back and invite people to come inside a building and hang out with us. He commissioned us to go. His instructions prior to His ascension were not to sit back and say “Ya’ll come.” His instructions were for us to say, “Let’s go!” So when did the church move from “Let’s go” to “Ya’ll come”? More importantly, how do we move from “Ya’ll come” to “Let’s go”?
I don’t really know. It is certainly a large ship to try and steer and change course. Maybe the short answer is that we’re inviting the wrong people to our churches. Or at least the wrong person. Maybe, instead of focusing on our own needs, wants, preferences, and comforts, what we really need to pray for is not “Ya’ll come,” but rather “Lord, come.” If that happens, and we allow Him to move us beyond our wants, comforts, preferences, and protective walls, and He sets our hearts on fire for Him, then maybe we will be ready for our rallying cry to move from “Ya’ll come” to “Let’s go.”