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Many of us cannot imagine what it would be like to belong to the “unchurched” population. We’ve been raised in the faith, and do not fully understand those who are on the outside, hanging back from a love that gives us freedom from sin.
Pastor Vince Antonucci, a former member of the unchurched group, says that our failure to understand the needs of non-Christians is pushing them away. We desperately want to share Christ’s love with others, but end up turning them off from Christianity altogether.
In the Relevant Magazine blog “3 Ways Christians Turn People Off from Church,” Antonucci points out three mistakes we make when reaching out to non-Christians.
1. Don’t lead with love.
Everyone needs to hear the truth, and Christians are ready to share it with the world. But if we fail to precede the truth with a relationship formed in love, we force newcomers into a defensive mode where their hearts are closed to our message.
Love comes first, then truth.
As Antonucci writes, “People want to hear truth. People need to hear truth. But they don’t want or need to hear it from a jerk. And if you share truth with people before earning their trust, it’s almost impossible not to be perceived as a jerk.”
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In our eagerness to share the gospel, we forget to love. For many non-Christians, acceptance will take time. But loving them throughout the journey will lead them to Jesus’ truth.
2. Expect good behavior the moment they arrive.
If a non-Christian shows up at your church dressed inappropriately and you comment on his or her appearance, you just guaranteed that person would not return.
As Christians, we need to point others’ way to Christ, not point out their faults.
Antonucci says, “We can’t expect non-Christians to live like Christians. In fact, without the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, people can’t live the way God wants them to.”
When that person comes to Christ, they will make changes in their lives with God’s help. It is not our job to force Christian “rules” on them the moment they walk in the door.
3. Base community on shared beliefs.
Most people in your church are likely there because they believe that Jesus died to save the world from sin. But we make a mistake when that shared belief is the center of our community.
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Antonucci writes, “When you base your church on shared beliefs, it can lead to pride. ‘We’re right. They’re wrong.’ It leads to an ‘us versus them’ mentality. It leads to exclusion. People who don’t believe like we do feel like outsiders who could never be insiders.”
Instead, base community on shared brokenness, something that everyone can relate to, including the non-Christians among you.
After all, “We’re all messy, we’re all hurting and we’re all looking to Jesus as the one who can clean us up and heal us and put us back together.”
In the Crosswalk.com blog “Listening to the Unchurched,” Dr. James Emery White says that our failure to hear the needs of non-Christians has driven them away. White lists 10 things non-Christians would say to us if we would only care to listen to their needs.
This statement is particularly impactful: “I would like to belong before I believe. What I mean is that I’d like to experience this a bit before signing on... I think that if I could test the waters a bit it would be helpful.”
Let the unchurched “test the waters” with a visit. Then listen to what they need. If we reach out to them in a loving way, their hearts will be softened to hear the truth.
Are there other ways that churches turn non-Christians off? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
Carrie Dedrick is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com.