As we talk about Christ, culture and church it is important to take note that the world has changed. Many of us learned how to win theological arguments against churched people. The assumption that the people you meet have a baseline knowledge of Jesus and some past church experience just isn’t the case anymore. That means the conversations we were good at for the last 150 years just don’t work like they used to because the people out there who need Jesus aren’t like the people we are used to.
The distance between the churched and unchurched culture is growing. That makes love challenging. It is tempting to love people who are most like ourselves…but the real challenge and test of our agape love is whether or not we are able to continue to relentlessly love a world that is moving away from us.
When I say love a world, I don’t mean the ways of the world, but the people of the world. The unchurched are the fastest growing religious group in the United States. If we don’t get to know them we won’t reach them. If we don’t love them we won’t reach them. If we only love people who are most like us then we won’t reach them.
Love shifts the direction of the conversation and who takes initiative. As Christianity loses influence and as the cultural gap widens it becomes more and more important for us to take the lead in going to rather than waiting for. We go to them rather than waiting on them to come to us. We take initiative because we love them too much to wait on them to make the first move.
This change has some implications for church life and outreach that cannot be missed. Missing these things will prove to be a fatal mistake.
People aren’t going to come to your church to try it out just because your facility is nearby and it is convenient. Most people aren’t looking for a church. There is no more if you build it they will come except in a few pockets. You have to go to them.
People aren’t going to come to your church because they are part of your denomination. Brand loyalty continues to drop.
People aren’t going to come in droves because you are progressive in your denomination. There are not droves of people hanging on every word of your bulletin just waiting on you to say you are going to make a shift on some doctrinal position so they can flood your auditorium.
People aren’t going to come just because you offer the latest program or because your social media is knocking it out of the park.
Many things have changed in terms of what it is going to take to get people to Jesus and the approaches we use. But here is the good news – the most effective aspects of outreach have never and will never change.
People will be reached through relationships where they feel loved and a sense of belonging. This has always been the case and will never change.
People will be reached through Christians being different than the world not like the world. So much of what can be found in churches can be found in self-help seminars or secular groups. We have to be different because our kingdom and King are different. It is tempting to be afraid to look different but that is actually the draw for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Those who are fed up with the world come to church to find something different and sometimes find exactly the same thing they found in the world. That’s a shame!
So let’s not water down our saltiness or dim our light. Let’s stand out and up and be counted. Let us love as Jesus loved. Let us go to rather wait on. Let’s learn to have new conversations by getting to know the shifting culture and that means getting to know the people around you. This is not about making people projects but about showing the same kind of interest in people that Jesus did!
If we are willing to stop and assess our culture by getting to know people then we can finally turn the tide to grow again…lives will be changed, the Gospel proclaimed and God glorified…but none of that happens until we get in tune and in touch with real people in a culture that is unlike anything we have seen before that is immune to the approaches we are best at. Some of this can be learned from reading books and blogs and YouTube videos…but the best learning comes from time with people where you really listen and learn and love.