Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The unchurched, how do we reach them?

First off, yes I am back on the blog.  Been a busy month, first month of classes in my new program.  More info about this to come.  However, that isn't what you are interested in right?  Not me, you are interested in those who are unchurched, those who don't have a church home.  How do we reach them?  How do we stop simply moving the ever smaller pool of faithful church goers around from church to church, while watching more folks go out the doors, never to return?  Is anyone really reaching those who aren't churched?

The answer, well, that depends on who you talk to.  Willow Creek church in Chicago, IL has for years had as their slogan "Turning Irreligious People Into Fully Devoted Followers of Jesus."  And they have been really successful in getting lots of people into their doors, but who are those people?  Are they really "irreligious" or are they just bored/disenchanted with the churches they grew up in?  No one knows because frankly, those aren't stats you can accurately collect from the outside, and if someone does know, they aren't gonna tell.

Truth is, despite lots of books and articles and conferences, no one can actually prove they are truly reaching the unchurched.  Mostly because we can't really define who those people actually are.  Some are "dechurched" meaning that they grew up in a church, probably were baptized, were in a youth group etc... but at sometime they drifted away.  So perhaps it has been 3, 5 or 10 years since they went to church, but they aren't truly unchurched.  They know the basics of the faith, they have just dropped away.  These are the majority of the folks the typical megachurches appeal to.  Folks who know who Jesus already is, are comfortable with him and simply just haven't found the right package to plug into.

Yet for the past generation there have been many dechurched who have had kids who didn't get connected to the church again.  Those folks, those kids, might actually be labeled accurately unchurched.  They haven't grown up with the faith, the story isn't as familiar, they won't recognize worship of any kind.  These things are literally new to them.

So how do we reach those folks?  Well certainly we can't reach them by having flashier versions of things they have left behind (and I don't mean to make a pun on those terrible books).  I know folks who grew up in traditional (read: Organ, Piano, Orchestra) music and contemporary (read: Praise Band, preacher in flip flops and Hawaiian shirts) worship environments and have left both behind.  They aren't looking for just a better version of this and frankly folks who didn't grow up with any of it certainly aren't.

What will reach folks who are truly disconnected with the church?  Well, the answer is hard...
1) We have to go to were they are.  This is what new worshipping communities are trying to do.  In Fort Worth we are trying to build something like that at www.kyriefortworth.com
2) We have to engage them and listen to what they are interested in, start with asking them what their needs and questions are.  We can't assume we have something they need if we don't ask them what they need.
3) They won't understand our worship, scriptures, traditions.  Doesn't mean we shouldn't utilize them, in fact, being who we are is probably attractive, so long as we teach them who we are in a manner that isn't condescending and our people actually know why we do things. (not a safe assumption).
4) Individuals are going to have to ask and invite other individuals to come.  It can't be advertising, great websites or facebook pages.  Not even blogs are gonna do it.  Individual relationships will.

The good news is, individual relationships spread and spread exponentially.  One person talks to two, those two talk to two (4), those four talk to two (8), those eight to two (16), sixteen to two (32)....and so on.  Exponential growth.  But it requires empowering individuals to talk to individuals.  Hard work.

But that is, if we are interested, how we can reach the unchurched.  But first, we have to find them...

1 comment:

  1. Eric,
    thanks for the thoughtful post. You've identified a group that will bless ELCA churches as we reach them, the children of the "dechurched".

    I don't think we have to go far to find the dechurched. In fact we have a group coming our way every Wednesday night. They come for "confirmation" some at parents insistance and some to hang out with friends. Whatever the reason its obvious many are essentially in church for the first time.

    Two years ago I started meeting with every 7th grader and a parent, one to one, before starting confirmation. I wish I had started this 10 years ago--it's that important. Some families come to the meetings who I know: they have been in worship, Sunday school, and Bible school every year. Others are meeting me for the first time.

    Obviously if we have these kids coming in our doors we have the opportunity to minister to the "dechurched". The challenge is rethinking how and what we do as a church because they are already there. Sometimes half the class won't even know the Lord's Prayer as we start the year together. To pretend otherwise is to miss a golden opportunity to minister to the "dechurched" in our midst.

    I've had some amazing conversations with parents who want to see their children confirmed; but who come to their face to face meeting knowing full well the distance between them and the church they want their children to be a part of through confirmation.

    It's easy for a pastor to explain the expections for confirmation; but we need to ask the parents to explain why, for their children to hear, they want their child to be a part of it. This is a moment of truth and conviction for a father who expects his son or daughter to be confirmed but won't worship himself.

    Many families will ignore the post cards and invitations to come in; but I've learned to be persistant. The face to face meeting and invitation for both the child and the parent are keys to our ministry.

    Right before they leave I give each person, both parent and child, a mustard seed. I explain to them 2 things that Jesus says about mustard seeds. That the kingdom of heaven starts just like a mustard seed and that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can see mountains move.

    Pax, John