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Reaching the Unreached

November 5, 2014

Sorry, I’m not going to be the next one to add my voice to the 130,000 others (according to Google search) who are telling you exactly how to do this.  If you are looking for helpful tips you have plenty of places to choose from.  I will say that I’ve never been in or near a church that says it doesn’t want to reach the unchurched so it does make me wonder why we are – mostly – so bad at this.  But I did hear one interesting fact as I was watching coverage from last night’s election.

The unchurched are overwhelmingly Democrat.

This leads me to the question – What would they hear about politics or political issues if they came to your church?  In most evangelical churches the message would be clear, that Christians are Republicans or at least vote with them.  Did your church give out “voter guides?”  If so, how welcoming were they to the unchurched?

This thought led me to some more research and I’ve learned a few more things.

The unchurched are overwhelmingly pro-choice.

Perhaps we need to figure out how to be pro-life in loving ways that go beyond being anti-abortion.  This is particularly true in cutting edge areas like in vitro fertilization and embryonic cells.  How do we lovingly engage others on this issue?

The unchurched are overwhelmingly sympathetic to the right-to-die movement

Just read the commentary online about Brittney Maynard, the young woman with terminal brain cancer, and the way she ended her life.  You could hardly see a greater divide between evangelicals and the unchurched.

The unchurched are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality.

Oops, here we go again, another stumbling block.  This one needs no comment.  I’m sure the list could go on but I think the point is made; there is a great gulf fixed between the unchurched and evangelicals on things that, in gospel terms, are secondary.

But I’ve changed my mind; I will offer some advice on reaching the unchurched.  Here is the most important one – don’t believe everything you read in methodologies on how to reach the unchurched.  Christianity Today offers this gem:  “Most of the unchurched feel guilty about not attending church.”  Not the ones I’ve met.  They feel no guiltier about not attending church then I feel about not going to a mosque on Friday. If anything, the worse they feel is bored on Sunday morning. But there is a lot of stunningly bad advice out there.

I’d suggest we should start a church-wide effort to reach the unchurched with a self-survey.  Perhaps something like this:

  1. Do the members of my church actually have meaningful relationships with unchurched people? If the answer here is “no” we need to spend time changing that to “yes” before we start.
  2. Does my church, particularly in the main service, send a message that is non-judgmental? Or are we sending a message on what a Christian needs to look, think and act like right from the start?
  3. Do we think reaching the unchurched is an outreach or planned program? Is it something we plan to do?  Or is it in our DNA?
  4. Are we prepared to be better at asking questions than giving answers? I think too many evangelicals are over-prepared with snappy answers and under-prepared to listen.
  5. Are we ready to admit our own flaws? The unchurched know we are not perfect but they think we think we are.  (Our ability to give snappy answers affirms this.)

Here is an encouragement I take from a recent church disaster.  Mars Hill Church in Seattle, founded by Mark Driscoll, recently imploded after a series of revelations that shocked members and outsiders alike.  It is possible that, from the wreckage of that multi-site mega church, more than a dozen independent churches will survive and that is worth praying for.

But here is the deal.  That church, flawed as deeply as it was, reached more than 15,000 unreached people in Seattle; an area that is about as hostile to evangelicalism as can be.  Surely that gives those of us in Bible belt North Carolina hope that it can be done here.

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