Luke 14:16-23
REACHING THE UNCHURCHED
John M. Edie, John E. Marshall
Much gleaned from George Barna’s book,
“Grow Your Church From the Outside In”
October 30, 2005

For several months our staff and church leadership have been burdened over our need to reach the unchurched. We sense a growing desire to hit this head on. It’s not an option we can skirt around. This has to be at the center of all we do.

Second has a wonderful reputation. We are modeled in our ministries, missions, and music, plus praised for our facilities. But when discussion turns to winning people to Christ, we usually are not mentioned. Our number one responsibility as a church seems to have become our number one failure.

How did we drop this spiritual ball? Maybe our spiritual focus transferred from things that matter for eternity to things that matter for only a while. Things like trying to focus on our buildings, polish our community image, enlarge offerings, and increase numbers in our ABF groups, choirs, or worship services. Somewhere in our journey our focus shifted to externals.

In moving back to focusing on our spiritual relationship with Jesus, we must get past believing our spiritual life is okay if we attend worship, give offerings, are nice to people in the halls, wear proper clothes, and say the right words. We have to recognize our church is about enlarging the population of Heaven. We’re not talking about a change of emphasis. We’re talking about a change of mindset. This lesson will help us focus on our our need to reach into the unchurched community by asking three vital questions.

1. Who are the unchurched?

An unchurched person is anyone, saved or unsaved, who has not attended a Christian church service in the past six months, other than special events such as weddings and funerals. The unchurched USA adult population is divided into three groups of equal size, 18-34 year olds, 35-49 year olds, 50 and up.

They are not rank heathens running around in loin cloths and hurling spears. They resemble us in many ways, but some differences are noteworthy.

The unchurched are often less relational, thus harder to get to attend small groups. They see the church as another social type group. They already have their social small groups at the Country Club, The Y, poker buddies on Friday night, or bike riding friends on Saturday. They feel no need to join another small group.

They often know little about organized religions. They see them as about the same. They’re not necessarily antagonistic. They think Moses and Jesus were good guys, Mohamet and Buddha were good guys, Hindu was a good guy.

The unchurched tend to be lonelier than believers. This is understandable. They don’t have Jesus, the best Friend one can have. They don’t have Christ and His peace in their life. If they die like this without Jesus, they will be doomed to an eternal hell.

2. How do we reach the unchurched?

We must do our homework in order to understand the unchurched better. We must develop effective strategies to reach out to them and lead them to Jesus.

Consider a typical Mr. and Mrs. Unchurched Springfield. John and Ruth are 35, son John Jr. is 10, daughter Rebekah is 5. How can we appeal to their areas of keenest interest? We asked many of our church leaders this question. Here are their responses that should help us reach the unchurched.

1. Offer quality programs for children. Since Mr. and Mrs. Unchurched
Springfield love their children, our church will have to offer quality programs for their children. But our offering quality programs will not help us reach the unchurched unless we get the word out to them about what we’re doing.

Let the unchurched know what Second does for children. Tell them about Second Generation, our exciting ministry every Sunday morning. Tell them about Tiny Town and Parents Day Out. Invite them to Upward Basketball and Cheerleading. Share with them about Operation Christmas Child. Invite them to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe on Sunday nights, December 4 and 11.

Adults, while trying to win Mr. and Mrs. Unchurched Springfield, don’t forget to involve your children in the process of reaching John Jr. and Rebekah Unchurched. Turn our church children loose. They will invite others.

2. Develop a relationship with the unchurched. We must learn how to have significant interaction with the unchurched. It may be helpful to invite someone to your home before you invite them to church. Ministry to the unchurched hinges primarily on one core factor, relationships. People are not looking for a friendly church. They are looking for a friend.

3. Be good listeners. Earn the right to speak. Only after we have listened should we try to tell our message. Don’t bore them. Share stories, explain how faith works in our life, tell them how much we enjoy our church. People desire to be part of something that is exciting.

4. Appeal to their social conscience. Talk about how we at Second paint schools, do school projects, offer Book Fairs, feed the poor, provide disaster relief.

5. Maybe our church could promote “Invite a Friend” Day. This would highlight the issue by making reaching the unchurched a church-wide priority.

6. Invite the unchurched to things not happening on Sunday. Many want to cocoon on Sunday. It’s their day to chill out. Try a different day.

7. Invite the unchurched to activities away from our church site. A big building and a formal institution can scare them. Plan activities with smaller groups. Invite them to intimate settings versus a large worship service.

8. The unchurched make time for what they feel is important. We must live a life that does not look like what they currently live in, and looks better.

9. Pray. Only the Holy Spirit can change the hearts of the unchurched.

3. Why aren’t we inviting people to church
as much as we once did?

Second is experiencing a dramatic reduction in the number of first-time visitors.

From 1996 to 2002, we averaged over 450 first-time visitors a year, in 2003 we had 300, in 2004 231, this year we project 189. Our church leaders offered reasons for why we are inviting people to Second less often.

1. We’ve already answered the question for them. We assume they will say no. They may not come if we ask. I assure you they won’t come if we don’t ask.

2. To invite to church means to endorse a holy lifestyle. Am I living this lifestyle? Do I want to be identified with the Jesus crowd? Knowing we are not perfect, we often feel unworthy to invite the unchurched. Since we will never be perfect, we cannot use this as an excuse.

3. We’re too busy. We cherish our down time. To invite means to invest. It requires a commitment. Hear an illustration. The front entrance to St. Johns Hospital used to be a direct entry. During construction, visitors have had to go down a long outdoor hall to enter the Hospital. Many Christians expect the unchurched to go straight through the door of salvation. We instead need to realize we have to walk a long corridor with them in the direction of salvation.

4. We think our church is big enough. This is true only if we think Heaven is full enough.

5. We are in a religious bubble. Our contact with the unchurch is limited. We tend to invite the same people in same old ways. We must expand into “new” territory, make new unchurched acquaintences. This is the Acts 1:8 principle.

6. It’s a heart issue. We find time to do what we want to do. Inviting the unchurched is not naturally in us. Beg God to put it supernaturally in us. We can’t convict ourselves, and we can’t convict each other. Only God can do this.

7. We fear personal rejection. We forget they are actually rejecting God.

8. We fear they won’t enjoy church. The sermon might be too bold and offend. Yet, if we went to a Buddhist temple, we would expect to hear Buddhist teachings. In a Christian church, visitors expect to hear Christian doctrines.

9. We fear church members would reject invitees due to their sins. This belies our claim to be friendly. Attitudes of the unchurched toward the churched often are not as much a problem as attitudes of the churched to the unchurched.

As we said earlier, our church needs more than simply a change of emphasis. We need a change of mindset. We must move lostness up to the front of our grey matter.

Of every activity we ought to ask, “What does this have to do with lostness? Will it enlarge the population of Heaven, and increase the number of worshipers around God’s throne?” We must choose for our church to be a life-changing body, and not be content to let it be a religious institution.

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