Belong before believe?

Jesus includes all humanity, including non-believers in his love and life. Is it not then appropriate for the church to embrace non-believers and include them in the life and ministry of the church?  In short, is it OK for people to belong before they believe? 

In answer, we need only look to what Jesus did. In calling and forming his first group of followers, Jesus reached out to several young men who did not yet believe in Jesus - though Jesus believed in them, and included them in his group (and thus in his ministry) before they came to believe in him as their Messiah, the Son of God.

In a progressively post-Christian world, this insight has particular relevance - people will often need to experience the loving, inclusive community of Jesus' followers before they come to believe that Jesus is their Savior and Lord. For more on this topic, click here to download a paper on the Mosaic Alliance Project written by Eric Bryant (pictured left). You can read more from Eric on his blog at


Ted Johnston said…
I received a comment on this post that I'll not post due to its inappropriately insulting tone (we try to keep what appears here on a respectful level, even if we respectfully disagree). This comment questions the propriety of welcoming "atheists" into the fellowship of the church.

The argument here has a long history. Is the church a "museum for the righteous" or is it a "hospital for sinners"? What I find in Scripture is that the church is formed by the Spirit to be truly the body of Jesus on earth. This being so, then the church is called and challenged to both embrace and express the love and life of Jesus who is said to be the "friend of sinners."

Jesus not only welcomed sinners, he went out of his way to embrace them. This was seen in the way he would share meals with them (an intimate form of fellowship in first century Jewish culture).

Of course, there are many "sinners" (including those who believe in God and those who don't), who have no interest in "hanging out" with Christians. But is the reason for this that Christians turn up their noses at non-Christians?

Jesus never did that.

My point is that the church should make non-believers welcome - invite them to "belong" and in that belonging (fellowship), hopefully, they will come to see and to know Jesus who they have already been experiencing in fellowship with believers.

And so the sequence I see in the life and ministry of Jesus is first helping non-believers to *belong* (in the company of Jesus), then to *believe* (in the person and work of Jesus) and, having believed, to *become* (a devoted follower of Jesus).

It is the church's challenge and opportunity to be with Jesus as he relates in these ways and in this sequence with believers and non-believers alike.