“Connecting with Community Skeptics”

  1. 1. Passion For Lost People Helps You Connect with Community Skeptics

John 4:35 – Jesus said, “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest?’ I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.”

Jesus looked at people with passion.  Jesus is not willing that any should perish, but that all come to repentance.

Zechariah 4:6 – The prophet Zechariah declares:“Not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit.” Growing a healthy church is the work of the Holy Spirit in partnership with the people of God who have a passion for souls.

I agree with the authors of Marketing for Congregations by Norman Shawchuck, Philip Kotler, and Bruce Wrenn: “The best marketing plan in the world cannot compensate for spiritual lethargy or confusion, so that none are able to listen in the silent closets of the heart where God awaits to communicate with us. Nor can a marketing plan counterbalance a lack of vision.”

I would add, a marketing plan does not compensate for a lack of passion and love for people who are not yet members of the Family of God.

Tim Chester and Steve Timmis in their recent book, Total Church, A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community, have a good word to say about passion: “Attendance at meetings, involvement in evangelism, an ability to handle the Bible, starting new initiatives, a reputation for being sound or radical, all of these, in and of themselves, indicate nothing unless they are a heart response to the deep, passionate love of God and emerge out of a deep, passionate love for God.” P. 204

At the heart of all effective leaders is passion.

When John Bishop gave leadership to starting the Living Hope Church in Vancouver, WA seven years ago, he described their situation. “We had no plan, no money, no backing, no building, and no equipment.  We didn’t even own a stapler.  We had just one thing, the most important thing: our unquenchable passion to reach human beings made in the image of God, with the good news of God’s love.  P. 15  In his book, Dangerous Churchhe tells how God blessed their ministry with many non Christians and skeptics coming to faith in the Lord.  www.livinghopechurch.com

It’s okay to look at what other churches are doing.  We learn from their best practices in ministry.  The greatest need is for us to listen to God.  What does God want as our paramount mission?  The church in Acts is our main model.  The primary focus of the early church was on nonbelievers in the community.  Our fundamental mission is reaching people for Jesus.  We are to use all means to bring people to Jesus and see their lives transformed for eternity.

Pastor and Church Leaders Control the Climate for Outreach

Church growth research reveals that 70% or more of evangelical churches are on a plateau or in decline.

If your church is on a plateau or decline, how do you become refocused on outreach?  Here are some suggestions:

*   Do a reality check. How has the church done during the past five years in attendance, conversions, baptisms and adding new ministries?  If the trend continues, where will we be in the next five years?

*   Make Matthew 9:37-38 your focus in prayer.  Do a community prayer walk and pray at the porch for people in the community and discover what the real needs are.

*   Become a home missionary and look at your ministry area as a mission field.  How would a missionary approach the people in our ministry area?

Preachers in the early days of Methodism referred to themselves as missionaries more than pastors.

The pastor of Vintage Church in Santa Rosa, CA. grew up on the mission field.  When he became pastor of Vintage Church in Santa Rosa he looked at his ministry area as a missionary.  His goal was to be friendly to non-Christians young adults.  The pastor led the church in developing a casual contemporary worship experience.  The church pews were moved out and theatre style seats were moved into the worship center.  The worship music appealed to young adults.  The coffee bar was open during the worship service.  Every month they had a different theme with the stage set up highlighting the theme for the month.

*   Encourage your congregation to care more about reaching people for Christ than their own preferences.  I Corinthians 9:19-23

  • Show your community you care for their needs:  do acts of kindness showing God’s love.
  • At Cornerstone FMC we have handed out free bottles of water at shopping centers and given away free donuts out at police stations and firemen at their stations.  Several times a year we give away food and clothes on designated Saturdays.  We have a food pantry we keep stocked to give out sacks of food when people come by the church looking for food.

To connect with community skeptics:

2. Pastors and Church Leaders Model Outreach

*     The goal of pastor and church leaders is to make as many friends outside the church as inside the church.

*   The pastor of a growing healthy church will spend more time in the surrounding community than he or she does in the church office and other meetings in the church building.  #  Salvation luncheons with men at work at Cisco Systems, Apple, National Semiconductor, Oracle, Nassau and Ames Research Center, etc.

*   Leaders make certain there are more ministries to those outside the church than inside.

A thousand church attendees were asked, “Why does the church exist?”  89 % said the church existed  “to take care of my family’s and my spiritual needs.”  11 % said the purpose of the church is “to win the world for Jesus Christ.”

The church’s mission – keep the main thing the main thing.

For the past Easter Festival (2011) at Cornerstone FMC in St. Petersburg we had 18 people involved in the planning and 48 giving leadership for the event held on the Saturday before Easter from 10:00 AM to 1:30 PM.  We advertised in the community and put a banner up on the church lawn – Everything Free — Clothes, Food, including smoked turkey, Fun, Games, Clowns, Face painting, Puppets, haircuts (4 professionals giving haircuts), snow cones, bouncing box 20 X 20 feet), show dogs, balancing acts, Easter Egg coloring, Easter Egg hunts by age grouping, K 9 dog demonstration and health tests.

Nearly 500 people participated in the Easter Festival.  128 families signed cards with their names and addresses.  Many showed up for the Easter Services on Sunday.

*   Pray for skeptics and people searching for truth and meaning to life.  Have all church leaders list 3 people on 3 X 5 cards who are not currently following Christ. People on their cards might include their friends, relatives, associates, or neighbors.  Encourage all church leaders to ask Jesus to help them build bridges to the three people on their list and look for opportunities to share acts of kindness and share the good news of the Gospel.

*   Focus your prayer on life change and transformation.

*   Celebrate new life and transformation more than anything else.  Give public reports of people who experience new life in Christ and transformation.

*   Develop partnerships with groups meeting community and world needs. (Dream Team in St. Petersburg, providing food for homeless, and Center for Women’s Ministries in Pinellas Park offering free counseling for women in distress or being abused.

*   Take the leadership for community service ventures.  Empower the congregation to discover and service the community needs.

*   Use your church facility to serve the community.  Your church may have one of  the larger places  for the community to have public meetings.

*  Make true hospitality a high priority ministry of the church.

Allow God to work in spontaneous evangelism.

Living Hope Church had the practice of waiting for ten people who were ready for baptism before having a baptism service.  Pastor John Bishop decided to allow people to respond to the invitation to receive Christ and be baptized with the group being baptized.  They discovered that many more people responded to the invitation and were baptized that same day.  They provided clothes for people to change into when they responded.

*   Develop outreach ministries designed to reach people who have given up on the church.

Jesus said, “Look on the fields they are ripe unto harvest. John 4:35 – What is our response, “So what?” or “Who cares?” The farmer who planted the seed has great concern. He looks at his field with passion.  He had planted the seed and is expecting an abundant harvest.

Are we planting and sowing seed? Are we planning on a harvest?

When Jesus said, “Look on the fields,” the word “Look” carries with it an intense passion and desperate desire to make a difference in the lives of people far from God.  We all need that “look” of vision to see the harvest.

The right vision attracts commitment and energizes people.

The right vision creates meaning in workers’ lives.

The right vision establishes a standard of excellence.

The right vision bridges the present and future.

Be committed to prayer and fasting and coaching your congregation toward health and implement outreach ministries because you are not satisfied with little or no harvests.

Preparing for harvest whether harvesting wheat or adding to the Kingdom of God is hard work. It takes a lot of preparation to have a great wheat harvest of 40-50 bushels per acre take lots of preparation. First you plow the fields, then disc and harrow the ground. At the right time you drill and plant the grain. You wait for adequate snow, rain and sunshine.

Then at the right time, not too early or too late, you start the combine and harvest the wheat. You spend long days in the field. You use the latest equipment available to harvest the grain before it rains or hails and ruins the crop.

Jesus said, “Look on the fields, they are ripe unto harvest.” The “look” is a look of passion.

A church planter can drive through a city and see great potential for Kingdom growth. He knows that where there is little vision people perish. People of vision and faith are not problem minded, they’re opportunity minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems.

As leaders God is calling us to have the “look” of passion as we plan to go to the next level in our churches.

Louzes and Posner in Leadership Challenge write: “Leaders are pioneers. They are people who venture into unexplored territory. They guide us to new and often unfamiliar destinations. People who take the lead are the foot soldiers in the campaigns for change. The unique reason for having leaders – their differentiating function, is move us forward. Leaders get us going.

3. Focus on Reaching Out In Love to Skeptics

Luke 15:1-24

Jesus told three stories about a shepherd that lost one sheep, a woman that lost one of her coins, and a dad who lost his son to rebellion.

When the church is working right, it is the hope of the world.

How is your church growing? “If you can explain what is going on then God didn’t do it.”   (Warren Wiersbe)

Use all means to connect with people outside the fellowship of your church:

practice social network evangelism.  Use your FRAN network and media networks, Facebook, text messages, email, Twitter, Linkin, and Youtube.  Young adults can best be reached through I-pads, laptops, cell phones and texting.  During 2010 there were 6.1 trillion text messages in America.  There are currently over 800 million using Facebook.

Provide answers to questions people are asking about:  finances, family, children, making sense of life, and stress.

Address life concerns of pre-Christians and Christians.

Determine to lead as if your church is to go to the next level.  What do we need to stop doing and start doing to make a greater impact for the Kingdom of God?

Ask for explosive growth and prepare for it to happen.  When was the last time you prayed for God to help your congregation double in size to better reach out in love to your community.  Step out in faith and prepare your parking space, your Christian Ed and worship space. Preach as if your attendance at worship has more non-Christians than Christians.

Bring in lots of people from outside the church.  Luke 14:23, Galatians 6:7.

Ask key leaders in your church, “Do you ever share the good news with nonChristians or invite them to church?  If the answer is “No.”  Ask, “What do we have to change in our church for you feel free to do that?”

Non-growing congregations want to reach:

·People like us…

  • ·People who behave like us…
  • ·Religious people…
  • ·People who share our politics…
  • ·People who support the traditional church…
  • ·People with good ethics…

#  My experience at a FMC in Wichita, KS – Summer Intern while a student at ATS.  Double in a Sunday Promotion – special rock collection as a gift to all attenders — SS averaging 150 – that Sunday there were 200 in attendance.  I don’t know of one person praying to receive Christ as a result of all our time and effort put into the contest.

Five Principles will guide you in reaching Skeptics in your community

Learn to think like an unbeliever.  Spend as much time in your community as you do in the church office.  Ask questions and listen.

  1. Focus on the felt-needs of the non Christian.  Understand their needs for love, their emotional needs, their need for acceptance and inner peace.
  2. Let your field determine your approach.  Use all means to save some.  I Corinthians 9:19-23
  • Let the needs of the non-Christian determine your programs.
  • Let their hang-ups determine your strategy
  • Let their culture determine your style
  1. Be willing to minister outside your comfort zone.  Churches that refuse to change, die.
  2. Appeal to as many people as you can.

Jesus illustrated how we are to reach out in love to skeptics in our community.  In his relationship to the woman at the well in Sycar in Samaria we have an effective model in witnessing.

  • Jesus began where she was, rather than where he wanted her to be.  Jesus began with the woman’s ancestry, her domestic history, her struggles, questions and issues.
  • Jesus engaged in the ministry of conversation.
  • In the conversation, every word Jesus used was within her recognition, vocabulary; he spoke her language.
  • Jesus treated her with respect.
  • Jesus listened, responded, and related to the Samaritan woman with understanding

Growing churches relate to the culture.  They communicate in the language and style of the culture.  The listen to non-Christians and learn to communicate the good news of God’s love and forgiveness.

We engage the culture by identifying and meeting felt needs of people in our ministry area, genuinely caring for others, building relationships, bridging and communicating the gospel in a relevant way.

I like the definition of evangelism that states:  “Evangelism is simply taking the initiative to share the good news of Jesus and leaving the results with God.”

To be relevant to our culture we need to start thinking in new ways.  This is 2011 and not 1960.  We need to ask:

*   Why are we doing this?

*   Are we still doing that?

*   Is that the best way to use our resources?

*   Is there a better way to do this?

As a congregation we need to ask: “What can we do that nobody else is doing?”

Here are five questions the congregation can discuss to evaluate how passionate the church is about reaching non-Christians..

1. Do we want to know them.  Jesus did not worry about the customs of his day.  He took the initiative to talk to a woman.

2. Are we willing to go where the unchurched are?

3. Are we willing to spend time with them?  When Jesus saw the people were receptive he stayed with them two days.

4. Do we want secular and outside-the-establishment people in our churches?

5. Are we willing for our church to become their church too?

The majority of Americans have no Christian heritage.  Today we must plow, seed, and water the fields before we can expect a harvest.

What was the last big dream you had?  Was it big enough for only God to accomplish?  If not, what will it take for you to dream bigger?

Let’s start connecting with more of our community skeptics by:

Renewing our passion for lost people who are confused and searching for

meaning in life.

Have our leadership to create a climate for outreach in our local

congregation.

Model outreach by taking the initiative and engaging skeptics in

`conversation and telling the good news of Jesus