Archives For Evangelism

In my last post I shared my notes from a recent conference breakout I led dealing with how churches think strategically about their weekend services as it concerns preaching with the unchurched in mind. Below are my notes about the rest of the breakout where I shared how one can think about the unchurched from the parking lot to the pew. You can boil the spirit of my thoughts to one major goal: removing barriers for the unbeliever. As much as I can help it, the only barrier I want between the unchurched and Jesus is the Cross (cf., 1 Cor. 1:23). While I don’t want anyone to reject the gospel, I’m much more at peace with knowing someone has rejected listening to someone share the good news because they can’t get past Jesus for who he is or what he’s done. However, what troubles me is thinking there are lost men and women who, in trying to attend a church to learn about Jesus, leave never wanting to return because of unnecessary barriers they experienced. Make no mistake, this isn’t a call to be a “goods & services” organization for consumers or a reduction of the Sunday morning experience as a product to be peddled. It is to think through what you do on Sunday in the hopes of better helping unchurched men and women hear the gospel of Jesus not only when they come to your church but to do it in a way that encourages them to return again.

#1: Think of yourself as a host

This helps us see the unchurched as folk who have never been in “our home.” As such, they aren’t familiar with the look and feel of the surroundings. We want to reduce any anxieties they may have. Think about a lost friend and ask yourself: How would [my friend] feel about [element of what happens on Sunday]?  Would he/she be scared, confused, marginalized, about the arrangement of the lobby, the signs on the wall, etc. This is why parking lot, greeter, and usher teams are important. It is also why you, as pastor, should help those teams realize their importance.

#2: Have processes work for you, not against you

Imagine your lost buddy and his wife finally decide to take you up on your invitation to attend this Sunday. They arrive at 8:55AM for your 9AM service. Unfortunately, it takes them five minutes to find a parking spot with all the other cars zipping around. Then they have to find where to take their toddler and middle-schooler for church. Is it in the main building, one of the smaller buildings to the side? Another five to seven minutes pass. Once they get to the preschool ministry they have to wait in line (not to mention fill out a couple pages of paper to register their kiddo for the first time) which, because there’s only one volunteer manning the station, takes ten more minutes. Then you finally see your friends! They enter the sanctuary after the music, announcements, welcome, and the first ten minutes of your sermon. But don’t worry, this won’t miss a thing with your ushers walking them down the aisle in front of everybody so they can sit on the first row. You know, the place guest love to sit. What a first impression, right? If the parents of a normal-sized family (husband, wife, plus two kids) enter the sanctuary halfway into the worship service after driving onto your campus five minutes before the service started, your processes (check-in, registration, signage, etc.) are working against you, not for you.

#3: We want to welcome guests not spotlight them

Do you like going with a friend to a restaurant on your birthday, where the next thing you know is someone puts a huge sombrero (I’m a Texan, we eat a lot of Tex-Mex) on your head, then the entire waitstaff gathers around you and poorly sings a creepy, emotionless chant of how excited they are[n’t] that it’s your birthday? I rest my case. It’s why we don’t have guest seating, guest parking, or lapel stickers. Don’t risk making your unchurched friends feel more awkward than they already may feel.

#4 Reduce the “us/them” as much as you can

Using inside jokes, language, or stories without giving the context whereby everyone can follow only makes the uninitiated feel more like outsiders than guests. This doesn’t mean there aren’t real differences between followers of Jesus and unbelievers. There most certainly are! But finding legitimate places where you can minimize those difference helps your lost friends grow in thinking of your church as their church to learn about Jesus. Reducing the “us/them” factor is also one more reason why you should consider addressing the unchurched throughout your sermon.

#5: Think through your Main Street

The “Main Street” is the literal pathway the majority of people take when walking into the sanctuary. You can leverage this path with your lost friends in mind by making it the place where your next steps, direction, and information can be found. When it comes to your Main Street, ask: Is it clear? Is it clean? Is it attractive? Again, if you had an unchurched guest coming to your home, how would you want your house to appear? Think of Main Street as you would your own home.

#6: Excellence inspires

At CCCC, we define excellence as doing the best you can with what you have. It’s why we try to stay away from handwritten signage or letting kids sing solos because “it’s cute.” It’s also why we coordinate our materials with our church logo and use a communications team to work our website. It’s our “best” right now. So, how do you strive for excellence in things like your signage, music, website? Let me quote Tim Keller about excellence as it pertains to the arts:

The quality of music and speech in worship will have a major impact on its evangelistic power. In many churches, the quality of the music is mediocre or poor, but it does not disturb the faithful. Why? Their faith makes the words of the hymn or the song meaningful despite its artistically poor expression, and further, they usually have a personal relationship with the music-presenter. But any outsider who comes in, who is not convinced of the truth and who does not have any relationship to the presenter, will be bored or irritated by the poor offering. In other words, excellent aesthetics includes outsiders, while mediocre or poor aesthetics exclude. The low level of artistic quality in many churches guarantees that only insiders will continue to come. For the non-Christian, the attraction of good art will have a major part in drawing them in. 1

So, while the earnest but marginally talented dude singing off-key and missing his three chords on the guitar might be endearing for the congregational core who know and love him, it probably will only serve as a distraction for the unchurched friend you invited that day. Don’t misunderstand or mischaracterize what I’m saying. This isn’t excellence in lieu of the Holy Spirit (cf., Derek Webb’s The Spirit vs. The Kick Drum). This is seeing excellence not only as a way that glorifies God but also thinks with the outsider in mind.

#7: Have a Point Person for your Processes (Get a ‘Culture Cop’)

Designate a person who, on Sunday morning, is evaluating the effectiveness of how you are helping the unchurched feel welcomed. He helps push the flywheel on fostering a culture of reaching out to the lost on weekends by observing what is happening in real-time on Sundays. For example, he may gently remind your greeters who are innocently grouping in holy huddles catching up on the week’s happenings that they are to be engaging the scores of lost people walking past them. This person might actually time how long your nursery ministry takes to register kids during a given service. In essence, this is an individual who is responsible for seeing if your processes are producing the uninitiated-friendly culture you desire. If there are places where it isn’t happening, this person helps leaders schedule “Monday Meetings” where things can be sorted out in strategic ways.

#8: Push age-graded ministries to own being missional on Sunday

Ask your preschool, children, and student ministries how they are actively being mindful of the unchurched who attend their ministries? You might find some great ideas for adults as well.

#9: Have a One-Stop Shop

Instead of having ten different tables in your lobby/Main Street for answering each question, reduce it to one. Less is more. Too many choices can actually muddy the waters of where you want people (especially the unchurched) to go. It’s incredibly helpful to point to one place where people with questions about your church can get answers.

 

Know that doing things like this doesn’t make you a sellout to the unchurched, it makes you sincere toward them by potentially removing unnecessary barriers between them and the gospel. Hopefully, through your ministries, processes, and everything else you do on Sunday your church demonstrates that, like Jesus, you also are a friend to sinners.

 

Notes:

  1. Tim Keller, Evangelistic Worship

I recently led a breakout session at regional conference in Oklahoma City dealing with how churches think strategically about their weekend services as it concerns the unchurched. Now I know that within even my own tribe we have good and godly churches with different strategies on how to make disciples (e.g., attractional, incarnational, etc.), so I wasn’t trying to highlight one over the other. I was simply asked to share how I thought about reaching unbelievers via our worship services. I’ve included the first part of my presentation which dealt with the preaching element. At CCCC, we eschew seeker-driven or seeker-sensitive terminology because those words are loaded with too much baggage and preconceived ideas. We would say we attempt to be seeker-aware in our worship services. In other words, we, as those who love Jesus and his gospel, are seeking to genuinely and passionately worship God, not only with the understanding that unbelievers are present but that we desire to help them learn and, by God’s sovereign grace, one day love Jesus and his gospel with us. With that said, here are my notes (sorry for the length, run-ons, etc.) for the eleven things to think about when preaching with the unchurched in mind:

#1: Acknowledge unbelievers in the room throughout your message.

I personally like to do this in the introduction of my message, “Now if you’re checking out Jesus and kicking the tires on who he is, here’s what I hope you get out of today….” I’m including unbelievers by helping give them a way to see this message as I address what God has done for us in Christ. Do this throughout your message as well.  Think about how does this or that specific part of your message intersects with someone seeking Jesus?

#2: Walk more slowly than you think.

Most of the unchurched in my context come from a post-Christian, post-biblical culture. This means, among other things, that tons of my listeners aren’t familiar with the Bible in either its teachings or stories. “I think I know who Moses is. He went on that big boat that parted the sea, right?” Thus, our assumptions we bring to certain texts about what our listeners understand of the story simply isn’t there. That’s why I’m constantly taking time to break-things-down for my congregation. Adding that extra explanation takes time (even if it’s a little). Which leads me to say why this will be true…

#3 Explain everything. Define everything.  Constantly give context. Stop making assumptions.

If you feel the need to use a big term (e.g., justification) – define it, illustrate it, etc. Do the same with what you think are small words as well. For example, when I say words like Old Testament or New Testament, I’m going to have to break it down. If I say Israel, I like to say they are God’s original covenant people, which often leads me to tell people what the word covenant means. You see how this goes. Don’t assume anything when it comes to words you think most people know. For example, when I say gospel (which I do almost every time I preach) I almost always define it in every message: God doing for us in Christ what we cannot do for ourselves. This extra clarification, once again, demands you walk more slowly through your message. It also helps to find most common denominator words or definitions that your listeners can easily grasp. Another thing you can do is when you finish your sermon manuscript, take a marker and highlight phrases or words where your lost friend could get confused without a sentence or phrase of explanation. Then go back and define, explain, and/or give context.

#4: Draw more frequent contemporary parallels instead of biblical ones (unless you’re going to take your time to really flesh out the new biblical text).

I remember a well-known preacher say he preferred to use biblical stories (especially from the Old Testament) as illustrations because it was another way to use God’s Word. Now, I’m not against that at all, the only tension in referencing other biblical stories is the assumption that your listener knows that story (e.g., Good Samaritan). But remember: don’t assume the knowledge of the unchurched is biblically-informed. So, if in preaching you say that baptism for Christians is like circumcision in the Old Testament, what are you obligated to do? Explain both the Old Testament and circumcision because many if not most of the unchurched won’t follow your lead biblically. But if you said baptism is like a wedding ring –  another sign/seal demonstrating we have entered into a covenant relationship but doesn’t make the covenant itself – your unbelieving listener is more likely to follow you.

#5: Aim for simplicity and clarity.

The simpler and clearer, the more effective you will be for the uninitiated. Don’t be deceived that “deep” is some theologically-complex, biblically-comprehensive, homiletically-nuanced sermon. In the almost twenty years of preaching to unchurched men and women (and believing men and women) it’s often one truth the Holy Spirit uses to grow, convict, and challenge your listener. Indeed, I would make sure you center your message around that truth (i.e., Big Idea sermons) which should ultimately be centered in the person and work of Jesus. By the way, simplicity and clarity will benefit your believers as well.

#6: Use inductive/leading questions in your message.

Say aloud, “Why would Christians believe this?” Help them connect the dots. They often won’t be able to do it themselves. Think of yourself as a guide walking your listener down a path through God’s truth making sure everyone stays with you. By using questions you give the listener mental hooks to hang the answers you’re leading them to. In other words, think of your sermon as a catechism for the unchurched by which you ask and answer questions for them so they might better understand Christ and the Kingdom he brings in the gospel not only now but in the future as they consider Jesus.

#7: Go wide angle (with the Story of Redemption) often.

The unchurched, and many churched, see the Bible as a bunch of random stories with Jesus somewhere about two-thirds of the way through. Helping them see where your text stands in the one Great Story will help listeners see the Scripture less as Aesop’s Fables for Christians and more as the Story of God found in Jesus. It also gives more opportunities for the unchurched person to see that Jesus is the One he or she must ultimately deal with.

#8: Anticipate your listeners’ objections.

This tends to be more natural for preachers who have a harmonizer personality. But what if you’re a prophetic personality and want to “kill ‘em all with the truth and let God sort ‘em out”? Well, addressing the push-backs of unbelievers not only helps them digest the truth of what you’re saying but displays love/consideration/concern for them as real people with real questions on a real journey! This is where it helps to FEEL through your message. How would a unsaved dude receive this? Doesn’t mean you change your content but how you present that content. Which leads me to say…

#9: Share your objections, struggles, confusion, and tension with the Bible.

You will come across as a human being to your listener. You also can encourage your unbelieving listener to read the Bible and not quit just because it’s tough to do so.

#10: Watch your tone.

Everyone comes into the room with baggage and loaded terms. You don’t want to “go off” on something they’ve never even thought through because it never occurred to them to do so. Again, ours is a post-Christian, post-biblical world. It’s easy to rail against promiscuity with red-face and raised voice, but if you were never taught God’s Word about a Kingdom sexual ethic, you won’t have a reference point for the preacher’s vigor and verve. Many won’t hear what the preacher is saying because they can’t get past his condemning tone. When it doubt, choose being winsome over warlike.

#11: Preach Jesus.

Don’t give the unchurched (or followers of Jesus) what they could get from Oprah, Dr. Phil, or a coach’s locker room talk. Good advice is aplenty, good news is scarce. Preach gospel-centered sermons, period. This means that the hero of the sermon is not the listener. What I challenge my young preacher guys at CCCC is, after they’ve finished their sermon prep, to ask, “Why did Jesus have to die for this message?” If Jesus felt the entire Bible was about him, you cannot preach the Bible as Jesus saw it if you don’t preach it centered around his person and work (cf., Lk. 24:25-27, Jn. 5:39, Mt. 5:17). You want your listeners to think not me, myself, and I, but what a wonderful Savior is Jesus! Do you want to help unbelievers who enter your worship service (cf., 1 Cor. 14)? Then preach in such a way that you put the cookies on the bottom shelf. I can almost promise you this will help those who have yet to find Jesus but those who follow him as well. In my next post I’ll share ways we think about helping the unchurched from parking lot to pew.

Adam Sinnett posted a video by David Ramirez singing powerful song “An Introduction,” about a man trying to find Christ and the frustration encountered in the search both inside and outside the church. I thought I’d share it as well and ask the question: Are you helping others find the door?