As I write this post I know some of you will become pretty defensive, and that's fine. This is an important enough topic that ruffling a few feathers is the least of my concerns. What does concern me is standing before a Holy God and having to give an account for the way I've treated the individuals He has placed in my path. This post is something the Lord has laid on my heart and as you read please know that I'm probably the most guilty in this area. I write because I'm convicted, and I hope you'll search your heart and reach out to people in a whole new way.
Our churches are filled with individuals who've had a relationship with Jesus since they were kids. Unfortunately in far too many churches those are the only people who attend!
Here's what I mean and this is why I feel it's such an important topic. I teach a Sunday morning class of college age students and young adults. This week I asked them a very simple question. "How many of you grew up going to church"? Out of 75 people in the class, ranging in age from 18-33, 72 of them grew up in the church. Now I know I'm not some theological superstar who's bringing all these people to Jesus and I've only been teaching for 3 years but I've been around long enough to know that's a problem. If that stat carries over to the entire church that means 96% of the people in my church have been in the "church" since they were kids, and only 4% came to Christ later in life. Obviously the numbers may be a little skewed but I guarantee you it's not that far off. Still doubting? Then ask the people you go to church with or the people in your small group and see for yourself. It may not be 96% but even 85% should make us question how we reach out to those around us. Not the message were preaching, but the way in which we're reaching.
So how are we reaching people? I don’t enjoy admitting this but somewhere along the way I developed this tunnel vision gospel mindset. Here’s how it works…God gave me a group of old friends and coworkers and so I plug away looking for any opportunity to tell them how He has changed my life. Of course, I’m nice to other people but if I’m honest with myself, the extent of my efforts to reach out are basically relegated to a select group of people God has placed in my life. I inadvertently shrunk my mission field down to a handful of people. Guess what? That leaves a lot of people out of the picture, and if God is always at work drawing people to Himself, then I am in constant contact with people that need Christ.
Where are all these people? There everywhere. While I’m shopping with my “ministry project” from work there is a lady on the same aisle with tears running down her face shuffling through coupons trying to scrape enough change together to buy some food for her kids. Do I see her? No. While I’m at breakfast for the 20th time talking to an old friend who makes $150,000 a year and doesn’t see a need for a Savior, my waitress is working her third shift in a row to pay for medical expenses that keep piling up. Do I talk to her? No. When I’m sitting in church with all my friends and arguing theology, there is a guy pretty close to my age at the end of my pew that is going through a crisis and finally built up enough courage to step inside a church for the very first time. Do I talk to him? Kind of…I smiled and shook his hand during the meet and greet.
I believe God is continuously drawing people to Himself and bringing them in the doors of our churches every single week. But at the end of the day most of us are too caught up in our church routine to take notice of the unsaved, hurting people all around us.
I want you to think about the people you know who either started their relationship with Jesus or came back to Jesus later in life. I’m talking about people who finally realized there had to be more to this life then what they were experiencing. Without fail they all seem to share one thing in common, a crisis. Sure their stories are different; some are a little more outrageous then others, but in some way shape or form they almost always use the words "rock-bottom" and go something like this...
I was walking along the road of life, minding my own business, doing my own thing when out of nowhere I got a boulder dropped on my life. Everything was fine and then all of a sudden I got blasted with a crisis.
Now the crisis is different for everyone. For some it was a huge life altering crisis like a death in the family. For others it was a much smaller internal crisis like never having true peace or continually chasing empty dreams. But every person I have ever known and every testimony I have ever heard, a crisis was involved in some way.
I know that is a strong statement but I believe it with all my heart. Hurting people are sitting in your sanctuary, listening to your pastor and searching for an answer to their crisis. Think about it. People who don't know Jesus search for Him during a crisis, but when they step into our churches we greet them with a smile and move on with our lives. Unfortunately since they don’t know much about the church they're not coming to your Small Groups and they're not coming to your Bible Fellowship classes. We can be the nicest people in the world but unless we go out of our way to build relationships with those who are hurting chances are they won't be with us for long.
Put yourself in their shoes...it probably looks like a freak show. Everybody smiling and shaking your hand, but nobody taking the time to truly find out what is going on in your life. I know this because I'm the freak. I'm great at smiling and shaking hands, but my group of friends hasn't changed a whole lot in FIVE years. Has yours?
Are there any new believers in your group of friends?
Do you have any deep relationships with new believers?
Do you go out of your way to connect with visitors?
How much of your time at church is spent talking to new people?
So if we don't spend any quality time with new believers or visitors should it be any surprise why membership in our churches is on the decline. If we’re not letting new believers or people who are searching into our groups of friends then who are they hanging out with. Are we just assuming that other people in the church are taking the time to minister to them? Please don’t assume that everybody in your church knows somebody. Times are changing. Small country churches are fewer and farther between. What used to be a place where even the visitors were familiar has become a place where no one even knows who’s visiting, and that creates a problem. People who didn’t grow up in the church, even if they visit, probably won’t stay very long unless someone makes an effort to build a relationship with them.
The foundations of the Christian faith are built around relationships. When Jesus was here on earth He discipled and trained through everyday relationships. Read John 17, (for real...take out your Bible and read it) probably the holiest prayer in the Bible and count how many times Jesus refers to His disciples. Count the number of times He uses them, they, those, and listen to the context in which He talks about the disciples. It's all about training and teaching. Jesus built relationships with a group of men who were headed in the wrong direction, He turned their lives around and then He trained them to go and do the same. Unfortunately, most of our relationships have nothing to do with training or teaching, and to make matters worse most of our conversations don’t even have anything to do with Christ.
Here’s the bottom line. God is constantly at work, orchestrating circumstances to draw people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through divine intervention people who are hurting or in a crisis are coming into our churches like never before and unfortunately we don't seem to understand the necessity of building deep meaningful relationships. We're kind and friendly, but kind and friendly doesn't help a person get to Heaven. Next time your sitting at church look around you, talk to people, invite them to lunch. They are there for a reason and it is our responsibility to embrace them while they're in crisis. Not sure if they've gone to your church for years? Who cares, what’s the worst that could happen? You might make a new friend.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
- Proverbs 24:11