Our church’s mission is to make disciples and yet most churches lack an intentional strategy. Furthermore, those churches focused on making disciples primarily focus on discipling those already attending the church. They have an attraction mindset: “We hope people will wake up on a Sunday morning and decide to attend our church services.” The reality, however, is that fewer and fewer Americans are waking up with church on their minds. Over the past five years the “none’s”–those claiming no religious affiliation–have increased from 15% of the American population to 20%.
So how does the church disciple the growing slice of the population pie that has no real interest in organized religion? It is actually quite simple. It doesn’t require our members to attend workshops on reaching the unchurched. It doesn’t even require them to take more time out of their busy schedules. It simply requires each member to look at their lives and how they relate to the growing number of non-religious folk all around them in a new way.
Members must begin to see the church not as that place where we go and worship, but rather, those moments when we extend God’s love and grace to the persons we are with. We are the church 24/7 in our neighborhoods, our schools and work places, and our communities.
In addition to this new mindset, however, we also begin to intentionally relate to those non-religious persons God is bringing into our lives in those places. We don’t connect with them by knocking on doors and asking where they will go if they die tonight, but rather we engage them in normal ways as we go about doing what we normally do. Here’s a way in which we can intentionally do that…
- Do what you normally do—what you love to do—where you rub shoulders with others, in your circles of influence (e.g. walking your dog in your neighborhood)
- Pray that God would give you opportunities for “normal” conversations with the people you encounter
- Be open to responding, especially to spiritual questions or life concerns (e.g. tell them you’ll pray for them; better yet, pray for them right then and there–if that’s normal for you)
- Invite persons you encounter over for a meal
- Ask them to join you in doing an act of service for someone else or the community (e.g. joining in a neighborhood cleanup)
- Pray for these persons
- Repeat 1-6 and continue developing your relationship with a handful of persons God has connected you with
- Consider hosting a conversation about faith questions with them (e.g. using Q Place questions)
- Invite them to join you in an activity at your church (Bible study, Sunday school class, worship, social or service activity, etc.), and share in normal ways how Jesus Christ is making a difference in your life.
Don’t view these people as “projects” but as brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow travelers.
If nine steps are too many, let’s simplify it even more…
- Once a month gather for a time of just having food and fun
- Once a month gather to serve. Repeat.
In both cases, offer a prayer (such as over the meal) but initially keep the interaction non-religious, “normal.” Challenge one another to invite a non-religious friend or two to join you. And have fun!
I’ve been trying to intentionally do this this year and it’s been fascinating to see what God is doing! Won’t you join me?
— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development