I used to fish a lot. And one of the things I had to learn was to fish where there were fish. That makes sense. But to accomplish that I had to learn how to think like a fish. Fish don’t think, but if they did they wouldn’t think the way we do. If they did think, all they would think about is food and safety. So when fishing, it helped for me to think like a fish – where is the food and what makes a fish feel safe. So what has this to do with the church?
Most problems in most churches could be solved if the staff and members thought like unchurched people, because if they thought like unchurched people they would do most things differently.
But in order to think like unchurched people members would have to understand the world of the unchurched. And there is the rub. Most church members live in what I call a “church cocoon.” They know more about their denomination, their church, and their church friends than they know about the everyday world. In fact, most church members don’t have enough unchurched friends to have a clue how they think. Several studies have shown that once a new Christian has been a church member for more than four years, they don’t have any unchurched friends. Most churches keep their members so busy going to meetings or bible studies or family dinners that the church highjacks their lives to the point they are virtually insulated from the unchurched world.
So that got me thinking- what would happen if the staff and the members of your church started thinking like the unchurched? I think three things would happen.
- Repentance would be rampant for thinking the decline of the church was the fault of the unchurched.
- Members would begin asking different questions.
- Members would act 100 percent differently.
So, let me unpack what I mean by these three results.
It’s been my observation during my consulting years that members of dying churches tend to blame the decline of their church on the unchurched when in reality the reason for their decline is their unwillingness to look for ways to reach into the lives of the unchurched with the Gospel. If you’ve never tasted God’s grace you don’t have a clue what you’re missing and can’t be held accountable. We can’t blame the decline of our church on the unchurched- we are to blame and when we truly realize that fact all we can do is repent and walk and think another way. Broken hearts for the unchurched is what’s missing in our dying churches.
When our hearts are broken for the unchurched, we begin to ask different questions. Here are just a few that come to mind. You can add your own.
- How can I better understand my next door unchurched neighbor?
- Instead of my pastor spending so much time on the membership why doesn’t he/she spend more time with the unchurched?
- Why don’t I have more unchurched friends and how can I change that?
- Are we spending our money mostly on ourselves? If so how can we change that?
- Why are we sending most of our mission dollars oversees when most of the people in our own area are unchurched?
- Is our worship conducive to an unchurched person? Does it allow God to enter their life? Do we go out of our way to make them feel comfortable and understandable
- Who is God going to send my way next week so that I can share with them?
I’m sure you can add to this lists.
When we start asking different questions, we begin to act differently. Instead of most things being about us, our focus turns mostly to those unchurched people outside our church. They become the reason for our existence. They take center stage. All of our actions are based on sharing the Good News with them. They become the objects of our affection. And that my friends is what will solve all the problems in our churches.
But there’s more. The average age of church members today is over 60 years of age. There is a universe of difference between someone in their sixties and someone aged 30. I don’t have time to list the differences but they are legion and extreme. So extreme, it is almost like being in a totally different culture. All you need to know is that our job is to begin thinking like a missionary. Missionaries have to learn how to function in a foreign culture.
In trying to understand the world of the unchurched we might best ask ourselves the following questions about the average 30 year old in our area:
- What are the major events over the past 30 years that have shaped their life?
- How do they work and spend their money?
- Where do they gather to spend their free time?
- What is their average marital status in our area?
- What are their three most popular forms of electronic media?
- Other than mass media what cultural forces most shape their lives.
- How would you tell them about a major new program or sermon series?
- Who are their heroes?
- What are their dreams?
Once your church has a broken heart for the unchurched and a grasp on the above questions it should be ready to thrive once again.
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