Programs Optional

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In the early years of my church planting experience, I was very frustrated by the many Christians I encountered who wouldn’t consider coming to our church plant because we didn’t have the kinds of programs they were looking for. There was a fledgling youth program, a small choir, occasional community outreach initiatives, and the like, but nothing like many of them were familiar with in the South, where they had come from. It was difficult to get many of these “churched” people to be a part of our new work. Most of those who did join joined because they let me or someone else from the church spend some time with them and get acquainted. Eventually, they would catch our vision for the great work God was beginning in this new Denver suburb. In other words, most of the Christians who joined our new, small work did so because we developed a relationship with them.

We reached lost people the same way. But they weren’t looking for churches or programs. These people never asked me what programs or ministries we had at church. It didn’t matter one bit because they weren’t planning on coming to church anyway. These people were looking for something much more foundational, something we had in full measure despite our lack of bricks and mortar and programs. They were looking for someone to help them find peace. Sometimes, it was peace with their past; other times it was peace with their present; other times it peace with their futures. Most of them believed there was a God, but they were very unsure about how to know Him. They knew nothing about walking with Jesus, or sanctification, or which songs to sing, or which programs the church should have. They did know a lot about the emptiness in their lives, though.

These people may have first responded to us because we held some event or activity they were interested in, like seminars on marriage or VBS, but in the end, we reached them the same way we reached the Christians who joined us. We developed relationships with them. We went to them, spent time with them, genuinely loved them, cared for them, took time to answer their questions, and waited for God to move in their lives. We pretty much got lost people to consider the claims of Christ in the same way we got Christians to join our church—we listened to them, talked to them, and shared our life with them.

In my six months since coming to Montana, I have come to the conclusion that my experience in Denver was not unique. It doesn’t matter where you are. If you love lost people and spend time with them, you will see some of them come to faith in Jesus. Those pastors and church members who are befriending lost people and taking time to be with them are seeing some of them trust Jesus, be baptized, and join their churches.

Now, it’s true that if it’s just the pastor doing this, it is not likely going to produce any substantial upswing in the church membership numbers. It just takes too much time to lead the average lost person to faith in Jesus, and the pastor only has so much of that available. However, the only way to get others in the church to do this with the lost people around them is for the pastor and the church leaders to model it.

Some other things I know—there are plenty of lost people in Montana and God wants to save them. He is calling to them even now and revealing Himself to them in ways they cannot deny. And that’s not just my opinion. Scripture declares this to be true. Psalm 24:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Certainly, in a place as beautiful as Montana, God is revealing His presence. But most people will never know how they are supposed to respond without one of us who knows telling them. That’s Scriptural, too. Paul asks, “How will they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10:14). Even then, it is likely going to be a long, slow process. But we will never see the end result if we don’t start.

There is an added benefit to starting this in your church. The people you win to faith in Jesus will join you in your soul-winning efforts. Do you want some enthusiastic witnesses in your church? There are very few Christians who are more enthusiastic about Jesus than new Christians. They will tell their lost family members and friends. And they won’t need a lot of programs to keep them around or witnessing. You may not have all the programs many Christians want you to have before they’ll consider your church, but you do have all you need for lost people to consider your claims about Jesus. They are just looking for God. Most don’t know that’s what they’re looking for, but that’s why God has you here. You can tell them if you’ll take the time to love them and earn the right to share with them.

Let me encourage you to stop worrying about what you don’t have and start sharing what you do have. I believe you’ll find that God will honor your efforts and you’ll start seeing new people added to your church. Maybe you just need some ideas about how to get started. Give me or someone else on the MTSBC team a call. We’ll be glad to talk over ideas with you and connect you to others who can get you started brainstorming about how to begin developing relationships with lost people. You can bring new people into your church—new Christians.