How to Reach Unchurched People Who Don't Think They Need God
I read a survey the other day that made me literally sit up straight as I took notice.
The number of people in Canada, my country, who profess “no religion” is now at 24%, up from 16.5% a decade earlier.
That’s a massive shift in a mere 10 years.
As I reflect on it all, I’m left with this growing realization.
People are learning to live comfortably without God.
Want to see where this might be heading? Go to Western Europe, where people have very comfortable lives and only a splinter regularly attend church. They just don’t see their need for God.
Rather than being met with a wall of hostility, Christians are mostly being met with a wall of indifference and perceived irrelevance.
I believe that means a massive shift in attitude and approach for those of us in leadership in the local church.
Much of the church’s outreach over the last 60 years has been based on a few assumptions that are less and less true every year:
- Young adults will return to church when they have kids.
- People will turn to God when they hit a crisis.
- Most people will come back to what they left when they were young.
- When people have spiritual needs, they will look to the church to fulfill them.
Instead, here’s what I see as increasingly true among unchurched people who are learning to live comfortably without God:
- Affluence (even many of our poor are affluent from a global perspective) has left people with a sense they have all they need to face life.
- People don’t always turn to God in a crisis; they honestly don’t think the church can help.
- You can only come back to something you knew; when you are on your second or third generation of "unchurched," there is nothing to come back to for many people.
- Personalized, Google-able spirituality doesn’t demand the assistance of anyone or anything else.
So how do you reach a growing number of people who are learning to live comfortably without God?
1. Build relationships.
Jesus was deeply relational, and it seems he liked relationships with people outside the "church" more than he liked hanging around people inside the "church." One of the best ways to encourage people to build relationships with unchurched people is to stop running ministries in your church every night of the week.
Encourage the Christians in your church to get involved in their kids' schools, to play sports in a community league, to get to know their neighbors. Pick a few key ministries and do them well. We encourage people to serve on Sundays and be in community group one night a week — that’s about it.
Salt only realizes its purpose if it gets out of the box and into the food it needs to season. You can’t influence people you don’t know.
2. Speak to success, not just failure.
In your preaching and in your conversation, if you are only prepared to speak to people in their moments of weakness and despair, you’re going to miss a big chunk of your city. If every example you share is of someone in a crisis or who has deep problems, you will never connect with people who like their lives or who have decent marriages, even without God. That kind of talk is also a bit of a guy-repellant.
So what might you say? A few ideas:
- Talk about success, but ask questions about its emptiness.
Most successful people I know are always on a quest for more. Success promises, but never (quite) fully delivers. Speak to that. Ask questions like “Do you ever wonder if there’s more?” Or “Ever wonder what that gnawing desire is really all about?”
- Assume people are doing their best.
The derogatory and condescending caricatures of unchurched people by some Christians are just insulting, especially if you have unchurched people in the room. Most people are doing their best. They really are. If you start with acknowledging that and empathizing with them, they will accept your challenge at the end. Even value it.
- Respect their intelligence.
Most people have done some homework, often quite extensive. They believe what they believe or don’t believe for what they see as good reasons. When you respect them, they are more likely to respect you and your views.
3. Value the good you see.
The "everything secular is evil" attitude of many religious leaders is not only a bit off base biblically, it’s also ineffective. Common grace is still at work in the world. If you read Acts 10, God appears to have valued people like Cornelius for his prayers and his gifts to the poor, even before his conversion. Jesus never started a conversation with an outsider by condemning them (that’s actually how he started his conversation with insiders ... think about that), even if he finished it with a challenge: “Go and sin no more”. Maybe that’s because Jesus actually loves unchurched people.
It’s going to take a lot of us rethinking our cultural assumptions as we move into this next era.
If you want to read more, several other blog posts I wrote speak to the shifting reality around us.
- 11 traits of churches that will make an impact in the future.
- 15 characteristics of today’s unchurched person.
- 9 signs your church is ready to reach unchurched people.
What are you learning about your approach toward unchurched people who are learning to live comfortably without God?
- Jonathan Pearson published the blogpost Next Up Podcast: 3 Ways to Live & Lead in The Moment (Episode 6).
- George BullardFeatured TCP Book for July 30th: A Divine Assignment: The Missiology of Wendell Clay Somerville http://astore.amazon.com/tcpresourcesstore-20/detail/1603500073
- George BullardFREE TCP eBook July 30th Only! Seeing Jesus in the City http://astore.amazon.com/tcpresourcesstore-20/detail/B00AVJKOSS
- George BullardJuly 30th: Transform Congregations By Death and Resurrection #365SSIFTC http://bullardjournal.blogs.com/bullardjournal_microblog/2014/07/july-30th-transform-congregations-by-death-and-resurrection-365ssiftc.html
- Amy Young published the blogpost Pay it forward (part two — You must meet these people!).
- Michael Ernest published the blogpost ‘There would be no point in faith if it wasn’t tested’ – Jennifer Hudson.
- Brad Andres published the blogpost Would Your Christianity Survive in Other Parts of the World?.
- Michael Ernest published the blogpost Don’t have your life all figured out? Then read this….
- Abigail Scott just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Adam Smith published the blogpost Proxy Measures for Leadership Decisions – Glenn Brooke.
- Shane Blackshear published the blogpost Seminary Dropout 47: Carlos Whittaker, Musician, & Author of Moment Maker.
- Brian Dodd published the blogpost What A Real Life Skydiving Accident Teaches Church Leaders.
- Kendall Lyons published the blogpost “Kid Eccentric” Comics: “Intelligence Breaches for Kids”.
- Jon StallingsMy message from Sunday on “The Holy Spirit Gift of Discerning of Spirits” is now online http://www.lifechurchconyers.org/sermons/the-holy-spirit-gift-of-discerning-of-spirits/
- Tessa Donovan just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Kelley Mathews published the article An Interview with Sam Hodges About the New Griefshare.
- Kelley Mathews published the article Picking the Right Worship Songs for Your Student Ministry.
- Jed Davis published the blogpost Customer Experience & Church, Why These Two Should Marry.
- Daniel DeHart published the blogpost “Kidnapped for Christ” Review: The Terror of Teens.
- Susan Knowlen-Wolk just moved in. Take time to say hey.
- Kelley Mathews published the article Visions of Glory: Our Sons’ Unhealthy Fantasy of Being Pro-Athletes.
- Lori Fogleman published the blogpost Baylor among nation’s ‘Great Colleges to Work For’ for 5th time in 6 years.
- Ashley Howland published the blogpost Concussions should remain a top concern for young athletes.
- Sheila Ann created a new gallery
- Sheila Ann just moved in. Take time to say hey.