I am becoming increasingly concerned about the chasm that is growing between evangelical Christians and the culture around us. American culture has changed radically in recent years. Christian values are giving way rapidly to something pagan and humanistic. We see this all around us. Christian organizations are being labeled as hate groups merely because they adhere to basic biblical teaching on morality. A growing segment of society believes it is a form of bullying for children to share the gospel with their classmates in school. Television programming reveals an alarming breakdown in cultural standards.
In the midst of all of this the church is busy trying to figure out how to reach people with the gospel. The standard approach still today for many churches is to find new, effective ways to invite people to their worship services. I appreciate every effort to reach people, but I believe we need to do a lot more work cultivating the spiritual soil in a lost person’s life before we try to introduce him to the solid meat of a worship service. The average lost person today simply has no point of reference for what we do in church. It is all foreign to her. If we got that person to attend worship through some impersonal marketing campaign, she doesn’t even know anyone at the church while she is being overwhelmed with strangely friendly people, songs whose styles are foreign and whose messages are incomprehensible, and Bible references that are bewildering. Then, when the pastor says, “Turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter one,” he might as well be speaking a foreign language. And, when he proceeds to speak with authority about how people ought to be living their lives, this lost person feels personally attacked. We shouldn’t wonder that so few of those that we entice to come to our worship services don’t come back and give us no opportunity to follow-up with them.
We need to think more seriously about the actual spiritual and cultural condition of the people we are trying to reach today if we are truly interested in helping them know the Lord. While I’m not proposing that we stop inviting lost people to come to church, I am proposing that we need to create what I call on-ramps to church. On-ramps are simply activities sponsored by a church that bring Christians and lost people together outside of the traditional church setting. They are done on “neutral ground” and are non-threatening to everyone. These can be something as simple as community service projects that lost people are invited to be a part of. They can be activities that help provide information about a myriad of things that lost people want to know, maybe changing your oil, budgeting, conflict management. The list of possibilities is only limited by our imagination. Churches can invite lost people to their church buildings for these kinds of activities, and sometimes they can gather a good size crowd, but I believe even greater crowds can be gathered in what most lost people would consider to be a less threatening environment, like a community center or hotel meeting room.
I say to hold these on neutral ground because lost people are less inclined to feel like they are going to be entering a foreign space where they will feel vulnerable. I encourage churches to sponsor the events themselves rather than just joining what others are doing because it enables the church to establish parameters for appropriate behavior and participation. It also helps to establish the reputation of the church in the community. Eventually, we can invite people to events at our churches, once they’ve gotten to know us a little and developed some relationships. Eventually, we can even invite them to attend a worship service with us and we can offer to explain everything they’re going to experience and then answer questions afterward.
What I’m proposing here is a long-term approach to winning lost people to faith in Jesus. It will require a church to completely rethink what it does and how it goes about sharing the gospel. I agree that some people don’t have as long as this kind of preparation and trust-building requires, but I am more concerned that if we don’t begin to get out of our churches and spend time with lost people, sharing a common life with them, that we’ll not only lose those who don’t have as long as this will take, we’ll also lose many others who are not ready for all that we need to say to them. I hope you’ll take a fresh look at your own way of reaching people, then go to www.gomtsbc.org and look at some ideas that you could use to begin the necessary work of earning the right to share the gospel with your neighbors in a more effective way.