In order to connect with the unchurched you have to have three ingredients: a knowledge of God’s word, a good relationship with unchurched people, and the ability to make the leap from a world of organized faith to a world of searching faith. Most clergy and some laity have the first ingredient. However, very few clergy ever spend enough time with the unchurched to form relationships with them.
Our administrative duties at church keep us cloistered within the walls. Laity, on the other hand, have close working relationships with the unchurched but have not been trained to use that relationship for evangelism when the time is right. Nor do they have the biblical knowledge. Laity can make the leap from the world of organized faith to searching faith better than clergy.
This is the reason I have come to believe that one of the most important issues not being addressed in the church is how to equip and mobilize the laity to infiltrate the unchurched world with the gospel. This is another and much larger issue that always begins with forming a relationship based on friendship, not evangelism. The key to reaching out to the unchurched is to connect your story with people for whom you have affinity with because of your story. You must listen to their story before you share your story on the way to The Story.
The following is a collection of ways believers connect with the unchurched public that came through our forum.
- Servant evangelism. I am beginning to believe that if I were starting a new church again, I would develop the habit of doing servant evangelism in the area every Saturday and begin to take lay people with me, in time developing it into the primary ministry of the church. Let me encourage all of you to at least look into this. It is cheap, doable for anyone, and on top of that it can be fun. Make a visit some Saturday to the Servant Ministry at Cincinnati Vineyard to see how they make it into an event would be worth the money. Visit www.kindness.com for examples.
- Set up several Alpha courses, even do one in a hotel perhaps to make it on a neutral ground.
- Send personal notes of congratulations to the parents who send out birth announcements and a note to the child welcoming them to our world.
- The next time you see a school play, concert, or game, write a personal note to students offering warmth and praise for their activity.
- Visit the local police department and get to know the officers. Later, offer to be available should they need someone in a crisis situation such as delivering a “death notice,” etc.
- Ask your congregation to bake cookies and divide up to write a personal note to every public employee in your area just letting them know that their service to the community is appreciated. Do the same for educational staff, day care programs, library, garbage service, nursing home staff, etc. taking one group on every other month.
- Have folks bake a pie and bring it to late shift workers. Put a little note with it saying that it is a free gift, just like the gift of God’s love, saying we appreciate all you do while the world is at rest…
- Go into the neighborhood of one of your church members and organize a block party where folks in the neighborhood can get together just to have fun.
- Have a neighborhood Bible School (aka Backyard Bible School) this summer in five different garages or city parks that your folks put on for a few days.
- Select a neighborhood of 400 to 500 homes and start farming them. Get a team of folks to make monthly contact with each home. You might start out by just distributing door knob hangers and move on to a community survey or small gifts. (i.e. batteries for smoke detectors, refrigerator magnets, fly swatters, etc.)
- Organize some special Sundays in which a particular group within the community is honored/invited to participate in worship.
- Offer a “life enrichment” seminar at a neutral location. A Precepts Study would indicate what the felt needs of a given community are and would be a starting point. i.e. a six week series on financial freedom. A felt need by most folks, a non-church/non-threatening location, and long-lasting enough for group dynamics to set in.
- Are you a singer, musician, comic, etc.? Take it on the road and entertain local groups.
- Get a team of your folks out on the morning of one of those snowy days and shovel a few blocks worth of snow off of folks’ sidewalks. Likewise, get up early on one of those snowy days and brush off the cars of the folks working the late shift.
- Plan block parties.
- At work, actively seek to engage in mentoring relationships with leaders that are not Christian.
- Volunteer as chaplain at the county prison.
- Go to local bars to listen and hang out.
- Attend sporting events.
- Join the volunteer fire department.
- Coach middle or high school athletic teams.
- I was the law enforcement chaplain at my last church. I rode regularly with the police officers. It was a great ministry to the officers, and you meet all kinds of people from the local politicos, to the folks who think they own the police department, to the folks in the roughest neighborhoods. It could have been a really awesome ministry of the local church if they had chosen to support this endeavor. A couple of the cops did come to church because of the ministry. One family actually stayed.
- I regularly meet people in bars. I used to go with the cops, but now I go with my students. Folks in bars will tell you just about anything when they find out you’re a preacher.
- Because of my involvement with the Police Department I was appointed to the City Council’s Community Gang Task Force which gives me exposure throughout the community. I am also a member of a local Rotary Club. This keeps me in contact with business people and civic leaders.
- I ride an air head BMW motorcycle daily, sometimes with a small group. I participate in a few charity runs per year and sometimes Saturday morning breakfast at a couple rider hang-outs. I meet men and women from all walks (rides) of life. One of the finest compliments I’ve received was from one rider who has become a growing disciple. He said to me, “Padre, you are the least religious Jesus person I ever met. What time is your service?”
- Our church is a member of our two local Chambers of Commerce. I attend a majority of the events and always get to meet at least a few new people.
- Our fax service is sent every other week to over 1300 businesses in the area. It contains helpful information on advertising, mission, vision, values, leadership, etc. as well as a brief blurb on the church at the bottom of the one page fax. It is amazing the number of people I meet who get and read the fax. It serves as a great conversation starter.
- Neighborhood gatherings (Christmas party, summer BBQ, etc.) have been effective at bringing guests into our home and giving us an opportunity to connect with them. The largest drew over 120 people in four hours.
- Our music/worship staff person hangs out in music stores and talks to the people there. He volunteers to help them with music/studio/background/etc. and in exchange develops a relationship and invites them to church and leaves a flyer about the church in the store.
- We targeted about 100 people in our community who would be important to meet – School Board members, school system administrators, business leaders, county commissioners, business consultants, directors of foundations, etc. We sent them a letter asking for 15 minutes of their time to ask them these questions: “What are the three most pressing issues in our community?” “Thinking outside of the box, what could a church do to address these needs?”
- I serve on the School Advisory Council of the school we will begin meeting at this week. This allows me to meet parents and administrators and is a way of giving back to the school. Of course they will also get a check from us each week for rent.
- Our web site has received several thousand hits. We have received many phone calls from folks who found us on the Web or typed in our address from a promo piece we mailed. They read about us and then call to get more information. Over and over we have heard how much they appreciate a church site that is about much more than just church. Ours includes pages for marriage/parenting information, financial information, stock quotes, games, search engines, a homework helper, great links, health, a bookstore, and much more.
- We do free socials events to invite people to non-threatening social activities. We have rented out a roller skating rink and we have rented out a wave pool. We don’t charge people, and we welcome anyone to come. A few of these folks have joined us as well. BTW for the money, we believe giving people a free ticket to something of value is much more effective than impersonal print advertising (when you spend time with them at the event – “face time”). Jesus said to use money to win friends into eternal dwellings.
- The Fourth of July fireworks can be seen from our church parking lot. This year we invited those in the surrounding neighborhood (by mail) to use our parking lot and lawn area to view the fireworks. We provided the popcorn and lemonade. We even brought popcorn around to those neighbors who were in their own yards watching. I’m not quite sure if popcorn went with the wine they were drinking, but they accepted it anyway. We may add a band this coming year and free snow cones.
- Get a membership at your local health club – it helps pass the time on the treadmill.
- Skate parks.
- Hair stylists.
- Animal Clubs (Lions etc.).
- Historical society museum.
- Gardening clubs.
- Door knocking.
- Funerals and weddings.
- Jogging / walking around town and the track.
- Political events.
- Parent teacher associations.
- Bowling leagues.
- United Way.
- Help out at the soup kitchens.
- Racquetball has worked for me. Relationships build in the down times between games. The intensity automatically provides openings for sharing about life.
- Eat at restaurants often enough to get to know your servers. For those who serve well, compliment them and ask what their motivation is. In doing this with a woman at Chili’s, I was easily able to tell her that I’m a pastor developing a new congregation in our town, and I care about service because it’s an extension of our Christian lives. She was almost speechless when I asked her to meet with a group of our lay leaders (once we get them!) and share the joy, and burden, of serving others.
- Do a neighborhood focus group.
- Work with the elementary school.
- If you anticipate that you’ll see the people again (neighbors, community leaders, school teachers, mail carriers, waiters and waitresses, grocery store checkers), pick out one or two each day, and pray for them for a week or so. Then begin a conversation. I’ve been amazed at how God opens doors that seemingly would have remained closed.
- One of our most effective evangelism teams are our mall walkers. Here there is a very eclectic mix of people who walk the mall together every morning. We have two couples who are there each day and then offer to buy a pretzel or coffee for strangers. It has been a very effective tool.
- The families of suicide support group through our local hospital. A church member took me there for the once a year “let a minister come” meeting. Many of the people didn’t think the pastor had shown up until about halfway through the meeting when they asked who I was. Then, they really started to talk about God and suicide. Some have visited church, which, given the judgment churches around here have given them, I count as a good beginning.
- We have some foster parents in our church who held an adoption party at the church. Most of the people who came were related to foster parenting, but not necessarily to church. We gained a new couple and several others have remained in contact with the church. I find that sharing our building with more secular groups that I sometimes attend opens up possibilities.
- Every morning the trains going downtown are packed to standing room only capacity. A good thing for your commuters to do is try to sit in a “four seater” (four seats face each other). Usually there are regulars in these seats and you can get involved with them. Sitting in the single seat does nothing.
- A great one that my husband and I learned at a Vineyard conference. Go out to eat somewhere, and when the waiter or waitress brings your food say, “We are getting ready to pray over our food, is there anything that we could pray for you about?” My husband and I did this on the way home from the conference, and the waiter asked us to pray for his parents, they were getting a divorce. (You don’t make the person stay there while you pray) Then over the course of the evening, he shared more about his story, and we had a wonderful opportunity to minister to him. It was great.
- We have three 12-step meetings in our church and I let it be known in as many ways as possible that we will host more. Then we keep communicating the message around the building about our spiritual journey and our openness. Plus, since I am in recovery, I go to meetings here too. People in 12-step meetings are already a long way down the road of discipleship, but they are suspicious of institutional religion.
- Give your Friday Nights to Jesus.
Question: What would you add to the list? Share your ideas in the Comments section below.
I have shared “62 Ways to Connect With the Unchurched” with our Vicar and several other people in our congregation, who are working on outreach projects. This has been a valuable resource for us. Thank you.
Thank you for this list. As a pastor of a small church, I see several ways to connect w/ unchurched folks, that I plan to pursue & hope to involve some members as well. & I appreciate your intro to this list, esp the find an affinity & listen to their story.