What we believe affects how we behave.
That reality is true for individuals. And it’s true for churches.
For years many leaders in churches have been reluctant to engage unchurched persons because they saw the task of reaching them as nearly impossible. Anyone who is not a Christian and is not in church, they would often reason, will be unreceptive to Christians and to the gospel.
That statement is simply not true. While there are certainly some unreceptive and even antagonistic unchurched persons, the majority are willing, if not eager, to be engaged by a Christian.
Almost a decade ago, I began leading research teams to get to know the world of unchurched America better. In one research project, we interviewed hundreds of “formerly unchurched” persons. These individuals had moved from the world of unchurched, non-Christians to the world of Christians active in local congregations.
We asked these men and women some key questions. The original research was published in Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, but we continued to interview these same groups for years later.
The findings surprised many people. They sure surprised us.
Some of our research dispelled conventional wisdom about the unchurched. Let me share just four of those “myths.”
Myth #1: The church is a strange and mysterious place to the unchurched. To the contrary, the formerly unchurched told us that neither the church experience nor the church language confused or intimidated them when they were unchurched. In fact, most of the unchurched actually attend church at least once a year, so they had some level of familiarity with local congregations.
Myth #2: The unchurched are intimidated or turned off by deep expositional preaching and teaching. Perhaps one of the most surprising findings in our studies is that deep biblical teaching and preaching actually attracts the unchurched. Perhaps even more surprising is that nine out of ten formerly unchurched affirmed this truth.
Myth #3: The unchurched are not interested in Sunday School and similar small groups. Just the opposite is true. Surprisingly, an unchurched person who ultimately connects with a church is more likely to be involved in a Sunday School class or a small group than a long-term Christian. For example, seven out of ten formerly unchurched were in Sunday School classes, compared to six out of ten long-term Christians.
Myth #4: The unchurched cannot be reached by personal and direct evangelism. Again, the evidence dispels this myth. Nearly two-thirds of the formerly unchurched told us their primary exposure to the gospel came from another Christian sharing with them one-on-one. And they expressed dismay that most Christians are unwilling to share their beliefs with non-Christians.
How Then Do We Respond?
I have shared in previous blogs and articles the woeful state of evangelism in the American church. Most church staff share the gospel infrequently, and most laity do not evangelize at all. The unspoken excuse seems to be that such disciplines are of little value. The unchurched, they reason, are probably not interested, and likely will be antagonistic.
The reality is that most of the unchurched would welcome a conversation about the gospel. And many of the unchurched wonder why Christians are so reticent to discuss their convictions and beliefs.
But the real issue is that Christians should be sharing their faith regardless of the receptivity of non-Christians. It’s not really a matter of receptivity; it’s a matter of obedience.
And my prayer is that I will become someone so passionate about the gospel and what Christ did for me that I will have trouble keeping quiet. Indeed may I become like Peter and John who faced their detractors with boldness. Instead of concern for their freedom or even their lives, they simply said that they couldn’t keep quiet.
“For we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20, HCSB).
May it be so for me as well.