Church for the Unchurched

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There are two walls in our office area that keep our focus on what Jesus has called us to do.  One wall has twenty pictures of people of all colors and ages and nationalities.  Those twenty pictures represent the twenty-thousand people in Tupelo who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus or a connection to a community of faith.  They are the reason Jesus planted us in this region.  The church is the only organization that exists for people who don’t even go there yet.  We exist for the twenty-thousand.

The second wall holds a quote from a pastor in the Midwest.  It says, “To reach people no one else is reaching, we must do things no one else is doing.”

These two statements hold in tension what I believe to be the mindset of those who would reach the unchurched in their area—a clear picture of who the unchurched are; and a commitment to reach out to them on their terms.

One of the problems Christians have in reaching people who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus is that after having been a Christian for a while they don’t know anyone who is not a Christian.  They spend most of their time with Christians and sooner or later Christian behavior becomes the expected norm so much so that they cannot tolerate anyone who does not act like or sometimes even think like a Christian.  The church that would reach the unchurched must ask itself—“Do we know any unchurched people and how are we focused on them?”

It is easy to understand why Jesus had to emphasize that he came for the sick, because religious leaders forgot that truth in light of their preference for the whitewashed. The church that would reach the unchurched must make every effort to connect to the unchurched.  It must go to where the unchurched are instead of hoping the unchurched will come to them.  This begins with the pastor.  Simply said, the pastor must set the example for what they want to see in the church. If a pastor spends all his time with church people, don’t be surprised if the church under his or her leadership does the same.  The church that would reach the unchurched has the unchurched on their minds—they think about them, they pray about them and they go to where they are.

The church that would reach the unchurched also surrenders all its preferences (short of the Gospel) for the needs of the unchurched. It takes an incredible amount of patience with people who are coming to faith.  While we should never tell people that a lifestyle of life-taking habits are acceptable, we should walk with them in patience as God coaxes them toward his life-giving way.  My point is that we cannot expect people who are not Christians to act like Christians until they are.  And, furthermore, we cannot expect new Christians to act like mature Christians when they aren’t.  They don’t know they shouldn’t act a certain way, go certain places, or do certain things until someone tells them and the Holy Spirit convicts them!  What expectations does your church have of the unchurched that are keeping the unchurched from connecting to you?  Being able to suspend “the rules” and do things that no one else is doing in order to reach people no one else is reaching is key to connecting with those Jesus sends us too.

Reaching the unchurched is not clean or neat or easy.  In fact it is messy and difficult but it is the work that Christ has given the church.  The church that would reach the unchurched has them on its mind and heart so much so that they would do anything (short of abandoning the Gospel) to reach, connect, and disciple them.

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Bryan Collier is the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Orchard: A Multisite United Methodist Congregation in Tupelo, Mississippi. With its five sites throughout northeast Mississippi, The Orchard is focused on Growing Deep in the Love of Jesus and Branching Out to others with that love. Bryan is a sports enthusiast, a voracious reader and enjoys hiking and the outdoors. He has been married to Wendy for 23 years and they have a daughter Olivia and a son, Houston.

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