“Let’s invite them to church!” Those are the first words most Christians say when the topic of outreach comes up. Perhaps we believe that powerful God-encounters happen most often inside a church building. But I suspect that’s not the real reason we want them in church. The real reason might be that we think if our un-churched friends come to church, someone else will tell them about Jesus. The pressure is off of us; making it much more comfortable—for us.
But what about these “un-churched” people? People are un-churched for a reason—for many reasons. What if, rather than try to “church” them, we reframe what it is we are doing and why?
Maybe it is time to rethink Christmas programs and our view of the un-churched.
I lived in North India for many years, arriving at the same time as a handful of other new cross-cultural workers. During our first Christmas season in that very Hindu city, we got together to figure out how to celebrate Christmas without any of the externals we rely on to make Christmas “Christmas.”
In other words, we tried to figure out how to celebrate Christmas without Christmas carols in the mall (without malls!), Christmas trees, traditional Christmas food, gatherings of family and friends, or candlelight church services (or any churches) to invite people to.
We were forced to reconsider Christmas. What is it, really? How can we both celebrate Christmas in this cultural context and engage our new (very un-churched) friends?
What we came up with was nothing grand, but it changed our lives.
Instead of creating programs, we followed the example of Jesus, who came to us that first Christmas Day. We visited our friends where they lived, spoke to them in their language, and revealed the hospitality and welcome of the One True God through things that had meaning in their culture.
Our friends were touched by our visits to their homes on Christmas Eve. They appreciated our little gifts of sweets and personal letters telling them how important their friendship was to us. They laughed with delight when we surprised them with songs in their language and cultural style. And many of them accepted our invitation to a party the following day.
On Christmas Day, our friends gathered in our home, sharing good food, good music, some good laughs, and a reading of the Christmas story. No program. No sermons. Just genuine relationships and meaningful time in a safe space.
That demonstration of hospitality and the love of God through his people birthed natural opportunities to talk with our friends and neighbors about the scandal of Jesus, who alone is God. The experience created a strong sense of belonging among our small community of Christ followers. It also gave us the courage to continue to participate with God in His work in our new city.
We learned lessons through that experience that apply to sharing Jesus with “the un-churched” here in the US:
1. Surprise people. Do the unexpected by going to their turf, telling them how much they mean to you, and inviting them to do something fun in a safe, neutral space.
2. Do it with others. Join with other Christian friends to dream up cool ways of communicating Jesus to your network of friends during the Christmas season.
3. Be uncomfortable. We didn’t go to India to be comfortable. We were prepared for life to be radically different. But it’s harder to be okay with being uncomfortable here, “at home.” The truth is that, no matter where we are, if we insist on remaining comfortable and creating a Christmas that is about making us feel good, we will never reach those who are outside the confines of the church building.
Let’s reframe our perceptions of people. The “un-churched” are people, made in the image of God. God isn’t concerned that they are outside of a church building; he’s concerned that they are outside of a relationship with him. So let’s go where they are. Let’s figure out how to communicate God incarnate to them in their comfort zones, with their words, their music, and their meanings.
Let’s stop “planning Christmas programs that are hospitable to the un-churched.” God did not create programs to explain who he is and why he came. Two thousand years ago, he sent a person. And he’s still doing that today.
Want to learn more about the the theological grounding for bringing the gospel to your community in genuinely creative ways? Get a copy of From the Steeple to the Streets by Travis Collins from our store now. In its pages Collins addresses the cultural realities behind the Fresh Expressions movement, as well as the movement’s theological underpinnings. From practical experience, Collins offers insights to local church leaders on how this might unfold in and through your church.