Friday, January 18, 2008

Reaching Your Unchurched Neighbor

Yesterday in Starbucks I had an interesting conversation with an aquaintance. He has visited our church once, maybe twice. I simply asked him when he was coming to visit again. His response was interesting in that he began to share his view on organized religion. Those are my words, but they reflect his ideas. He said that after a bad experience in a church several years back he decided he could meet with God on his own, outside of the church. He even said that as he spends time outside he often prays in the woods or in a field.

This could have been an opportunity to really set this guy straight. He's not the first person I've encounted with this mindset. Here was my big chance. But, instead of hammering him I made a brief comment about the church being part of God's design for us and letting it go.

This exchange has troubled me. I realize that there are so many folks who hold similar views. How do we reach our unchurched neighbors? If I would have just had my Bible with me, the really big one, I could have smacked him up side his head with it. Surely that would have gotten through to him. [note tone of sarcasm and a wicked smile]

Here's the opening paragraph from a BP article about unchurched Americans:
"A majority of unchurched Americans are turned off by the institutional church and don't have a biblical understanding about God and Jesus, yet they believe Jesus makes a positive difference in a person's life and would enjoy an honest discussion with a friend about spiritual matters."
The last phrase is the most telling and instructive. Believers need to engage in "honest discussion" with their friends and neighbors, not condemning them for being absent at the 11am Sunday service or for specific behavior. Sinners sin you know. Unfortunately many folks outside of the church have a distored understanding of Christianity. They see it mainly as a bunch of do's and don't that really are not appealing to them. We need to talk with them about the big issues of life. Eventually sharing with them the good news of reconciliation and redemption in Christ.
Many unchurched folks will admit that there is a void in their life. There is a very telling interview with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady where he talks about his own emptiness. (I first saw the video here.) Brady admits that even with Superbowl victories, loads of cash and worldwide fame, there is something missing. I pray that Tom has a Christian teammate who will share Christ with him.

It is clear that the church has much work to do. It is also clear that since many of our friends and neighbors will not be joining us on Sundays that we better be going to where they are on Monday - Saturday. Why not have a good cup of coffee at the same time.


Brian said...

Good post. We have a lot of people around here who don't mind sharing their views of organized religion and say they'd like to just discuss spirituality without all the "religion" attached.

Some claim to value an honest discussion, but most just seem to want to wail about real and perceived problems with churches they've known.

I haven't figured out a way to address this in a large-scale community way, but I have had a few extensive (and extended) discussions with a few folks.

There is one lady in particular that I have spoken with many times over months. She has started to agree that I am right and that church does seem like part of God's plan - but she still does not show up! The emotional commitment is not there, having gone so long without church.

So, my problem becomes - How do I engage her heart? Pandering to superficial desires seems wrong. Making spiritual promises that aren't mine to keep is wrong.

If you figure it out, brother, post it for the whole world.

Jon Cyrus said...

I think through prayer and transparancy as we engage these folks we will see God work. We must get them to see that it is not our opinion but God's Word that leads and instructs us.

Keep pressing on.