Over the years, I’ve noticed there’s some significant confusion about the Great Commission. For several centuries, the church has interpreted it as “Go ye into all the world,” which of course is a translation for the more appropriate term ethnic groups (lit. ethnos). In today’s language, we would accurately say, “Go and make disciples of all micro-cultures.” Accordingly, if you’re going to be faithful to the Great Commission, one of the things you cannot do is continue to hang out with (1) Christians and/or (2) People of the same culture as you. Faithfulness means getting out of the Christian ghetto and hanging out/getting to know/building relationships with people who aren’t like you.
The saddest confession I hear, though, is when a pastor, church leader, and Christian say, “I don’t have any unchurched friends.” The operative word there is “friends.” Not acquaintances. Just because you know the name of your barista or grocery check-out guy or gal does not a faithful Great Commissioner make you. You have to get to know these people. Have dinner or coffee or a picnic with them.
Of course, first you have to get out of your church office and go be where these folks are … and then you have to get to know them.
I was asked recently for a list of ideas where a church leader could go to meet and build relationships with the unchurched. Here’s a short list of things you can do/go. And once you get there, go build a friendship or two.
- For some, it’s tempting to get out there and teach a class at a local community college. Don’t teach at college … take a class (one at a time is probably plenty). Audit them if you don’t want to do the homework.
- Hang out at the college student center (or whatever they call it these days).
- Toastmasters can be good—but don’t join a “service” club where you’ll get busy doing ministry in the name of the club rather than the name of Jesus.
- Join the Chamber of Commerce and attend grand openings, networking meetings, etc. Don’t get caught up in “service” there though. Remember you’re there to network more than anything else.
- Attend PTA meetings or get involved in the school as a volunteer.
- Attend public events like county fairs, festivals, etc. (the church ought to have a booth at all these anyway).
- Hang out at Starbucks or another coffee shop … and if you’re there during lunchtime, buy a pizza for the staff now and again (a little gesture like this goes a LONG ways).
- Take group golf lessons across the street at the public course (hanging out in the club a bit would be good … maybe get involved now and again in an event they’re doing).
- Join a local health club and participate in group exercise (spin classes, etc.).
- Join a business “Networking Club” in your area – the Chamber will probably have info for you.
- Make appointments with local leaders such as the mayor, fire chief, police chief, hospital CEO or director, high school principle, chamber president, etc. Get the know them. Listen to their perspective on the needs of the community and how the church can help, etc. Those with whom you “connect,” work on building a relationship.
- Go to the Senior Center for lunches, etc. (both the one that meets at your church and any other Senior Center you can hang out with).
- Make connections at a local retirement home (not a convalescent center) in the community.
- Volunteer at a local benevolence center (food bank, etc.), but not at a Christian one (unless it’s one housed at your church). Then be a Christian while you’re there to make the benevolence center a Christian enterprise.
- Get to know all the apartment managers within walking (or even driving) distance of the church. Learn how your church can be helpful to those in the complexes.
- Read to kids at the library and get to know the parents.
- Take donuts or other snacks to the local Social Security or Food stamps office or Driver’s License office for those who are waiting in lines (do this anywhere there are lines). Make sure you hang out long enough to have good conversations and to begin building relationships.
- Attend local high school sports, band, orchestra, and drama events … and get to know the parents, kids, etc.
- Prayer walk your neighborhood at the same day and time each week when people are likely to be home … and get to now your neighbors.
- And one of the most effective and least fun, knock on doors, introduce yourself, and offer to pray for whatever their needs are. When you hear of needs the church can meet, do so. Make a note of each need and follow-up to see how they’re doing.