This past Spring, Journey Church made a major push to increase first time guest traffic. My wife and I took a hard look at our relational network and realized we had several relationships that we had been investing in that were yet to receive an invitation to church from us.
We decided to go all in as Easter approached. We wrote personal invitations, made phone calls, and sent text messages. A few days before Easter, we were delighted to receive confirmation from our friends, all who were radically disconnected from Christ and the Church.
As the ‘yes’ answers to our asks continued to arrive, I began to mentally process the Easter talk I had written. I realized that it was a talk that simply would not connect with the people we had invited. It wasn’t the message of Jesus, His death for forgiveness of sin, or His resurrection from the dead that would be the disconnect. It was all about the way that I had planned to deliver that message. It was way too “insider” focused; and while great for those who call Journey their church home, it was going to miss my unchurched friends by a long shot. I had work to do if I hoped to engage some of our unchurched friends with the message of Jesus.
I vividly remember the afternoon I popped the lid on my Macbook and began to edit my talk with some unchurched friends faces in clear view. God reminded me of some truths He taught me through the experiences at our “outsider-focused” church.
Preaching matters because it is a fantastic way to inspire a large number of people to take their next step with God. Preaching matters big time in a local church that has a desire to reach new people with the message of Jesus.
Church people will usually be gracious with mediocre preaching, but unchurched people simply will not. Preaching can create a bridge to God and the Church or it can quickly provide an offramp for those wrestling with real life issues and open to answers from the Church.
Preaching to the unchurched demands you stay current. Keeping up with the current music, movies, television, sports, and news scene provides us a powerful platform of connection with those showing up at our churches that have yet to cross the line of faith. Staying current with culture provides the perfect window into the deep questions and longings of our society. Without this view, the potential for disconnect with those we long to reach widens.
Preaching to the unchurched draws from real life experience. The best sermons I have preached and the sermons I have heard that have the greatest impact on me have always grown from real life experiences of the communicator.
This demands that we as preachers have a dynamic growing relationship with God and that we preach from that experience. Message that grow from our personal story will always have the greatest impact. This is especially true when seeking to communicate with those far from God. Preaching that grows from our own story makes us real and the God we are seeking to connect people to even more so.
Preaching to the unchurched requires context. If you want to touch the heart of people far from God, acknowledge and welcome the unchurched in the room. At Journey, we accomplish that in several ways.
ALWAYS and I mean ALWAYS introduce yourself. Say something like, “Good morning! My name is Tom Planck and I am one of the teaching pastors here at Journey Church. So excited you are here today. I am going to share for the next 25 minutes or so. Let me pray for our teaching time and we’ll get to work.” Simply acknowledging that everyone in the room might not know who you are and what you’re doing on stage will go a long way in helping your first time listeners feel welcome.
Another suggestion is to reset the context of your teaching each week. I’ll often begin my talk by saying something like, “Around Journey, we don’t think in terms of single sermons. We think in terms of a series of sermons. So, we often take three to five weeks and do a deep dive into the same topic or subject. This morning you have found us in week two of a teaching series entitled…” This simple introductory remark helps new people know where we are in the current teaching.
Preaching that engages the unchurched assumes they need help approaching the Bible. Preaching that connects with people new to church assumes they are biblically illiterate, but not stupid. They simply need help along the way.
I cringe in church every time I hear a preacher stand up and begin this way, “Grab your Bibles and turn to Luke 18:27…” This approach assumes a couple things. First, it assume people brought a Bible to church. Second, this approach operates under the assumption that those listening know how to find Luke 18:27 in the Bible. If either or both assumptions end up not being true, then we alienate people before we ever get to the big idea of the day.
There is a much better approach if we hope to effectively communicate with people who are still unfamiliar with God’s Word. I recommend something like this, “The Bible is split into to major sections. They are called the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testaments tells the story about everything from creation to just before the birth of Jesus. The New Testament tells the story of the life and ministry of Jesus and what unfolded in the lives of His first followers. Today, I want to share a book written by one of Jesus’ first followers. His name is Luke and he has a book in the New Testament titled after his name because it’s his account of the life and ministry of Jesus. He was doctor who interviewed eyewitnesses, came to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead. He was so convinced he gave up his practice and became a church planter.”
The approach we choose will often determine whether an unchurched person will give us an ear and how long they will listen.
What have you changed to reach the unchurched people in your congregation? What needs to change?