Why cultivating spiritual discussions with the unchurched is important!

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Call it evangelism; call it outreach; call it spreading the Word. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s part of our growth as Christians . Why then are many of us hesitant about  it?

There are plenty of reasons but one of the most common is fear. Specifically, the fear that our attempts at spiritual conversations will be received badly by our unchurched family and friends.

So, let’s look at that fear. 
There are two main parts to the equation – ‘unchurched family and friends’ and ‘spiritual conversations’.

Unchurched Family and Friends
What does this term mean, exactly?

The definition used in a recent study by LifeWay Research and the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism was ‘any person who has not taken part in a worship service during the previous six months, unless as part of a special occasion such as a baptism, wedding, or funeral’.

Do these people have religious backgrounds? Yes. About 62% attended regular church services as children.

What other common demographics do they share? They are predominantly white (67%), male (53%), and quite a number of them say they are ‘nonreligious’ (32%).

Anything else? Overall, about half consider themselves Christians. The two major groups are Protestants (1 in 5) and Catholics (1 in 4).

In addition, this group do not see religion as negative. They often think about questions of faith such as the meaning of life and what happens after death.

For this group, the sticking point appears to be CHURCH. In other words, ‘organized religion’ and specifically worship services.

Spiritual Conversations
So, what should we talk to them about?

The Lifeway study found that almost 80% of the unchurched will participate in a discussion about faith if they feel it is really important to you – part of supporting your friends, right?

This figure further breaks down to 47% who will actually discuss faith and 31% who prefer to just listen.

Thus, fears about discussing faith with the unchurched are unfounded.
Not only will most listen politely, almost half with actively discuss it with you.

HOWEVER, this study found an even more powerful way to get the unchurched involved in ‘church’ – events.

Which events? You can probably guess that they are NOT events directly connected to church worship, and you’d be right.

The unchurched will most likely attend community events organized by the church (or jointly by the church and the community). Here are several examples, with the percentages of those who say they would participate:

  • a neighborhood safety meeting (62%)
  • a concert (45%)
  • a community service workshop (51%)
  • a sports/exercise program (46%)
  • a neighborhood get-together (45%)

Contrast the above numbers with these percentages:

  • only 33% say they would attend a worship service if asked by a friend.
  • just 25% say they would participate in a recovery program.
  • a scant 24% say they would be interested in a study program on a spiritual topic.

Could these events be held in a church? Sure. The unchurched don’t have phobias about churches. They just don’t feel that worship services are for them.

Is the pattern becoming clear?

For us at wecultivate.org, the pattern is loud and crystal clear.
Part of their Cultivate platform is ‘organic community outreach’. Basically, bringing the church to the people, just like Jesus did.

This is done according to three simple guidelines:

  • church-community relations are based on what is relevant to the community. (That is, community needs, wants, and hopes drive the agenda.)
  • church-organized events happen where they are most effective, NOT just in church.
  • churches are inspired to build bridges that connect the community to the church, NOT the church to the community (In other words, the seeds start in the community).

Sounds do-able, right?

To make your efforts even more effective, the Lifeway study suggests a proactive, personal approach. Over half (51%) of the 2,000 Americans in the study said that a personal invitation would do the trick.
So…

  • Is your church having a potluck social? Invite your unchurched family member.
  • Have some church members organized a monthly, family sports morning on Sundays? Tell your unchurched neighbor.
  • Will there be a meeting next week to discuss neighborhood safety? Talk it up on your block to anyone you meet.

If we would sum this whole idea up in one word, that word would be relationships.
The Bible clarifies what this means: love, good deeds, patience, honor.

It isn’t about rules or rituals – although these have their places.

It’s about connections, doing, making this world a better, more joyous place.

Once you have these strong bonds, it will be easier to have those important conversations about faith; exploring ways in which your unchurched family and friends can feel comfortable about re-trying a more traditional church experience. We will continue to highlight ways that many churches are already seeing success with this approach.

So, for now, get out there and connect by cultivating your relationships with your unchurched family and friends.

Have you had a positive (or negative) experience with an unchurched family member or friend? We’d like to hear about it. Perhaps you have a question as to how to go about making such connections. We’d like to answer it. Please leave us a comment or question in the comment space below.

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