Stop Saying “Unchurched”? by Stephen Gray

I had a very interesting conversation with a colleague recently (Darrell MacLearn) about using the term “unchurched” to describe a person. It is a favored term among most of us in the church world. But, should we use the term to describe those outside the church?

First, let’s set the terminology. When most of us refer to the church, in theory we mean “the people of God,” however in our practice we often refer to the “Unchurched” to refer to those who have not entered into the doors of our location, place of meeting or at least someone’s place of meeting. Usually the term “unchurched” focuses in on conventional models of “church” and builds a case for doing it another way. In doing so, even those who look to another mode of “church” have reduced the use of the term unchurched to a program or method of operations.  Does that make sense?

If that is the case, then we are saying, “If you fall into my node, method and style of “church” then you are good.” Yet, we all know that there are many in today’s church (conventional way of speaking) who are not Christians. By using the term, are we inferring that if someone is no longer “unchurched” then they are ok? Could someone who attends our church become churched and yet unchristian? The quick answer is “Of course!” (if you are using the term church incorrectly). Darrell was right!

Secondly, as my colleague shared, speaking to someone about being unchurched is like saying they are “un-bingoed,” and our goal is to make them Bingo players and therefore bingoed. The goal has little to do with their soul. As long as they are bingoed, they are ok. So the goal becomes to get people “churched” and less focus is placed on life-transformation.

Ben Sigman, pastor of Timberlake Church and a good friend of mine said, “We should stop using unbiblical terms to define the church, like attractional and missional, which you fidn no where in scripture, and instead talk about transformational churches.” It was a good point and one we should all pay attention too.

Maybe we should be careful as well using terms like “unchurched” and find a way to talk in terms of those not yet transformed by Jesus. That levels the playing field doesn’t it? What do you think?

Lessons from Stubby The Cat…nudging others to Christ by Austin Cooper

I have to admit that I used to hate cats. I never understood why someone would want an animal that hides 20 hours of the day and hisses at you the other 4 hours when it decides to grace you with its presence. I see all the “cute” kitten pictures girls post on Facebook and all I can think is “You need a dog in your life.” Strangely enough though, my perceptions of cats have taken a complete 180 turn in the past several months due to a stray cat named Stubby that visits our house from time to time. Stubby has not only done well for his entire species, but he has highlighted a great truth that too many of us as Christians forget: Genuine small acts of love push people toward Christ no matter how far away they are from His Grace.

Stubby started coming to our doorstep early this winter and I wanted nothing to do with him. My wife and I would sometimes put out some scrap food for Stubby. He would eat it and then go his way. I liked his lack of neediness but one night it got down to 20 degrees outside so I agreed to let him in for about an hour, but no longer. While he was in our house he was playful, well behaved, clean, and actually showed his love toward us with many small gestures. After his hour was up I kicked him outside with some warm towels that he could shelter under. A week later cold weather returned and Stubby was at our door waiting for us when we got home. This time I agreed to let Stubby stay the entire night. At about 3 am I woke up to a shifting of weight at the foot of our bed. Stubby had cuddled up and was purring more than any cat I ever heard before. All of my instincts told me “KICK HIM OFF”, but I decided to let him stay. Time and time again this has happened and now when we come home Stubby is usually waiting for us doing backflips for us to come in. I have bought him play toys, I let him stay whenever he wants, he has met all of my friends, I have bought him Meow Mix, and yes I let him sleep in our bed whenever he wants. I am officially still a dog man, but little experiences over time with Stubby has me rethinking how I view cats because now I can truly say I love Stubby and look forward to seeing him every day. At first I didn’t understand what was happening, but now I see it clearly. Stubby was working a plan. Bit by bit, Stubby was nudging me toward a relationship with him.

This experience teaches a great lesson about how we as Christians need to reach out to the Lost.

There are many people in this world who are not yet ready to accept Christ. They are “Not-Yet Believers.” They are open to a gesture of kindness and love that can nudge them closer to being ready to accept Christ. Recently, I’ve heard pastors use the analogy of golfers on a golf course to represent those who are on a journey toward coming to Christ at various points of readiness to accept Christ. Some golfers are right on the green and ready to putt their ball into the hole (accept Christ), while others are so far away from the hole it wouldn’t work all that well for a putter to move them. For the person that is far away from the hole, a simple act of love can be used to get them closer to the hole where the golfer can use a putter to nudge them into the hole (to accept Christ) so that progress will take place. Progress takes place all along the golf match no matter which club is used. The lesson learned is this – use the appropriate club depending on where the ball lies, not on your affinity for a particular club. Learn to use a number of clubs!

Too many times in evangelism we focus on the end result and we want to rush people there without taking the time to show them who God is through small acts of genuine love. There are many people who are so distant from accepting Christ, that a push in His direction with a practical service may be all that God asks at that moment. I like to think that our small obedient acts of love give the lost a first impression of who God really is, and how much He loves them. If I think about my relationship with Stubby, he did not come in and demand that he sleep on my bed and eat my food right away. I would have promptly kicked him off my property. However, little genuine acts of love over time gave me a first impression of cats and brought me to the point where I was ready to dive in to whatever Stubby wanted. When we grasp the truth that God uses even our small acts of love to draw the Lost to Himself, it inspires us to live a life that is bursting out with the love and kindness God has shown us. Every small act of our life becomes meaningful simply because a small act of love shown to an Unbeliever could be all God needs to draw them to a better understanding of who He is, which in effect draws them closer to accepting Jesus’ love.

Our church has recently caught fire on giving people within our community a first impression of who God is. As we focus on giving the Lost a little nudge closer to Jesus we like to perform small acts of kindness such as passing out free water on a hot day, passing out free candy, doing free car washes, raking leafs for free, or any free service that aims just to show people that God loves them in a practical way with no strings attached. The people we are serving often say, “I have never felt so loved by a Christian” or “I have never heard of a church doing something like this just to tell me God loves me”. Over time we have seen the fruit of nudging people towards Christ through small acts of love.

If Stubby can use small genuine acts of love to bring me to a place where I admit that I love cats, how much more can God use our small, genuine acts of love overtime to bring an Unbeliever to a place where they accept Him.

Hang in there as the ball moves closer to the hole. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will inspire you to have patience.

 

Serving Together = Growing Together by Austin Cooper

“Enjoyed spending my morning with the kids and my church family doing a Winter Survival kit outreach!! It’s an awesome experience and I am so thankful to be able to have the opportunity to teach my kids how to show Gods love in simple, practical ways.”

“I am blown away by God’s mercy, just to be a part of His work…it’s amazing!!! Today we got the opportunity to drive a little boy and his sister, whom we met on an outreach, to church and he said are you taking us to Jesus’ house??? He was SO excited! What a blessing to be able to be used by God to draw people into Himself…we are SO unworthy!!! It BLOWS my mind.”

These quotes are real Facebook posts from two different people in our church that have occurred in the past month. As a culture of Servant Evangelism is enveloping our church there seems to be a two part blessing that has occurred from our church developing an outward focus: a blessing for us as a church and a blessing for the people we are reaching by showing them God’s love in simple and practical ways. Nothing highlights these two blessings better than the two Facebook posts above.

In August of 2010 our church started participating in Servant Evangelism. As a church we did a kindness outreach on a Saturday from 10am-noon once a month in which we served people in very simple and practical ways such as $1 car washes (wash a car and give away the dollar), leaf raking, toilet cleaning, soda and water giveaways, washing windows, etc. When we were asked by the people we were serving why we were doing this we would just respond, “We wanted to show you that Jesus loves and cares for you in a practical way.” Furthermore, we passed out a card with a big smiley face on the front that says: “We hope this small gift brightens your day, there are no strings attached. We just want to let you know God loves you.” We had so much fun we decided in January of 2011 to start doing the kindness outreaches twice a month. Finally in June of 2011 we decided to completely dive in and start doing a kindness outreach every single week whether we have 1 person show up or 20 (trust me there has been plenty of weeks where we have had only 1 person show up to an outreach, but God still uses it) and we have seen the outpour of blessings that God has put upon our church, both from the inside and the out.

From the very beginning of our outreach efforts it became apparent that God was using this outward focus to bless and bring our church together. Whenever we step out and look to further God’s kingdom there is a great deal of joy involved. I have never felt or seen strangers within a church grow to become a loving family quicker than when we are serving others in fun and practical ways. When we set out on our outreaches whether it be simply giving away soda or putting on a block party there is an overwhelming sense that God’s Spirit is going before us and just as in Acts 13:52 which says, ““And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” there is a great deal of fun, bonding, and joy involved. We have all heard the phrase: “A family that prays together stays together” well I like to say “A church that serves together grows together.” This growth means takes place both physically and spiritually. The two Facebook posts at the top of the page illuminate this truth greatly. God blesses us in the greatest way possible when we bless others.

Of course our ultimate goal in reaching out to others in our community is to allow God to use us to bring those who he chooses to a place where he can draw them to Himself. When we pass out sodas, or chap stick, or whatever it may be we always pray that God’s spirit will use such a simple, material thing to change someone’s heart towards him. I like to think that through Servant Evangelism and a simple offer of a 10 second prayer after we serve someone, we are giving people a new and redefined first impression of who Jesus is. This impression destroys any other impression that they may have had in the past through bad experiences with other Christians. We constantly get comments from people who say “I have never heard of a church that would do something like this” or “I have never felt so blessed and loved by a simple act of kindness”.

After consistently serving every Saturday for just an hour and a half for 6 months we have started seeing many of the people we have reached out to come to our church on Sundays where they get to hear in even more detail about who Jesus is and what he has done for them.

At a recent free block party outreach we put on I met a student, introduced him to Christ then baptized him. This was one of the neatest moments of my life. We have multiple people in our church picking up those who we have met during kindness outreaches and bringing them to church (i.e. second Facebook post at the top). We have people that have never been to church before coming in our doors and actually enjoying it. The truth is God chooses to bless those who are warriors for his kingdom. Strangely enough our warriors clean toilets, rake leaves, mow yards, and pass out soda, however sometimes there is nothing more fulfilling to us, and useful to God, than to reach out to the Lost providing them with a spotless toilet, a clean looking yard, and a quenched thirst.

Evangelism Is Not Just Relationship by Rice Broocks

Or “You don’t have to know a drowning person to save their life.”

There has been enormous emphasis placed on the need for relationship with people as the prerequisite for evangelism. So much so that some go as far as saying that relationship with others should be the only motive and not the hidden agenda of evangelism.

Relationship-Relationship-Relationship…This seems to be the word of the hour. I spoke to church planters who had not succeeded in their efforts to launch a ministry. As I dug deeper it became apparent that they made a lot of friends and very few disciples. In fact they admitted, they rarely got to the Gospel. “We focused on building relationships first.”

So here’s the question: how soon should the Gospel be introduced in a relationship with someone?

Looking at the ministry of Jesus, many times He spoke directly to people in their first encounter.

  • The woman at the well
  • Nicodemus
  • Legion – He cast the devil out of him during their first meeting. Jesus called people to follow Him with no relationship at all. (It doesn’t appear that He even had introduced Himself fully yet.)

Paul had a similar pattern in his witness.

He preached immediately after his salvation.

He was beaten and suffered as a result.

He confronted strangers in Athens, in Macedonia, in much of what was recorded in Acts.

I believe that the Gospel comes sooner in biblical examples of witness not later. For me, the Gospel has actually produced authentic, lasting relationships with others.

Things to remember:

Preaching the Gospel takes boldness.

The Spirit must fill us with His passion and power. If we are honest, our reluctance to preach the Gospel may just be a case of being a man pleaser or being ashamed of the Gospel.

Preaching produces persecution.

It’s much easier to say nothing. If the Apostles would have only done community service or waited on tables they would not have been persecuted as severely. If they hated Him they will hate us. We are an aroma of life to the saved and an aroma of death to those who are perishing.

Preaching the Gospel produces faith.

Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. No preaching means no faith. In order for them to believe they are going to have to hear the Gospel.

I certainly believe building relationships is important.

Many times it takes a number of hearings of the Gospel to be saved. I also believe there is wisdom in knowing when we should speak to people about Christ and how we can maximize the impact of our witness.

Someone recently told me “We must earn the right to be heard.” As I pondered this statement, something didn’t sit right with me. As much as I tried to understand what he really meant I couldn’t help but think that according to the Scripture, Jesus earned that right for me as well. We preach in the authority and righteousness He earned through His life and death.

In fact if a person’s eternal soul is at stake then we should have some sense of urgency in our efforts. Remember, you don’t have to know a drowning person to save their life.

Talk Up The Gospel by Steve Sjogren

I have heard a lot of speculation about the utter demise of spontaneous evangelistic conversations such as verbalizing the Gospel to strangers. I understand the observations of these prognosticators but I disagree with them. It’s true that people are more isolated than ever as they burrow more and more deeply into their self-made digital worlds, but there’s another side to this digital coin. It’s also true that an emotional vacuum is created when people cut themselves off from significant people contact and a greater openness is created for connections with others – yes, even strangers. As people around you venture further into their digital rabbit holes at the same time they grow increasingly open to people contact.

Here’s what I think: people are lonelier now than they were just a few years ago before the digital world made the advances it has. They are now open to conversations with strangers as they once were. A familiar cycle has been created. What was true a few decades ago – people acting friendly to total strangers and being open to conversation about the Gospel – is true once again. This is not just good news – it groundbreaking for all who love Jesus and are seeking to extend the Kingdom of God. This is an amazing time to be alive in this world. This will be a lasting trend worldwide. After all, cell phones are everywhere – so is the isolation and influence that goes with it.

Let’s be wise in these ways and move on the opportunities before us.