VANCOUVER, Wash. (BP) — What process, or journey, does an unchurched person travel before coming to faith in Christ? The answer depends on the individual’s locale, background, language and a host of other things. You can easily identify the journey to Christ of a child who grows up attending your church, but what of the unchurched in your town?
Answering this question is vital for Christians who want God to use them to lead others to Jesus. Moreover, the answer requires the ongoing pursuit of knowing your community and the various peoples in your community.
I was once the pastor of the “big church” in a small Texas town of 1,700. One family who came to faith in Christ did so after my wife and I got to know them in the hospital. We both had a child in the hospital suffering from pneumonia. This common experience led to talking and praying, and eventually this family gave their lives to Jesus. Later, the husband said that a church member had invited them to our church a few years prior. The invitation went something like this, “It will help your business if you come to our church.” Yes, that really happened. It would have helped his plumbing business had he attended our church. But even though he wasn’t yet a Christian, he understood that attending church to build his business didn’t seem right.
Although church attendance might be a business strategy in some places (not in the Northwest, however), appealing to a business motivation won’t help you reach the unchurched for Jesus Christ.
I once served in an area where nearly half of the adults were functionally illiterate. Learning this changed how we trained our small group Bible study teachers. It impacted our methods of evangelism. In another church, when discussing how to take the Gospel to every home in town, the person who helped plan the strategy was a newspaper delivery person. He knew how to cover the town!
The point is, people are different and communities are different. First Baptist Church of Toledo, Wash., has 400 people attending on Sunday morning, and the town only has a population 725. FBC of Toledo, Ore., isn’t nearly so large, though the town has a population of 3,465. The towns are very different religiously, spiritually, historically and culturally. These differences make for a different kind of ministry.
The journey to Christ will likely follow a path that takes into account several factors, including:
1. Rhythms of life. People’s schedules and lifestyle differ depending upon age, ethnicity, education, children in the home, employment, hobbies, health matters, etc.
2. Religious background and beliefs
3. Real and perceived needs
4. Friendships (including family) — who their closest friends are and what they believe about Christ
5. Personal sin with which they struggle, or which they simply enjoy
There are other factors you could add to the list. But the main point is this: When a person comes to Christ, they travel along a particular road to do so. The better we know the people of our community, as individuals and as groups, the better we are able to share the real Jesus with them.
For every person there is a process, a journey, on which they can encounter the real Jesus. Part of the joy of ministry is discovering what process works with each person. When we know this, we can help guide their steps so that they will meet the real Jesus and hopefully come to know Him.
Remember, many people who reject Jesus don’t reject the true, biblical Jesus. They reject the “people of Jesus,” or they reject some “image” of Jesus that is distorted.
So what about your town? Where do people gather? Where do women or men sit around and discuss important things? How can you discover the particular needs of people in your town? Do you have church attenders who are connected to organizations and groups that will help the church connect to various peoples? Are new homes being built in your area? Are new businesses being started? Do you drive around the town using different routes so that you can discover such things?
Let me end with one caution. Many churches have discontinued evangelistic methods that they perceive are not as effective as they once were. The problem, however, is that they haven’t replaced the old methods with new methods.
Don’t throw out the old unless you have a legitimate replacement. Although people come to Christ through different processes, ultimately it is the power of the Gospel, the message of Jesus’ life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and second coming, that is powerful to save a person from sin and for eternity.