Nearly 50% of people in the United States claim to be Christians but are not actively engaged in a church and are not experiencing the life change that comes with an integrated faith. They were once a part of the church and now are not – they are “de-churched.” When I look at these numbers, I see the most significant mission field opportunity available to us, which can be broken down into two subsets of people.
- Conscious Leavers: This may be because of politics, pain, social issues or a belief that they can get all that church offers (teaching, community, purpose) on their own.
- Unconscious Leavers: Many others have unintentionally left the church. It wasn’t that they consciously decided to be done with church, they just got swept up in a life more appealing to them. This could be because they got busy with work and church slowly faded away. It could be because they moved to a new city, tried some churches and didn’t want to put forth the energy to engage week in and week out. It could be because they started having fun with other things on the weekends that felt more engaging and inspiring than a church service.
For whatever reason though, they are done with church. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. There are some key things that our churches can do consistently over time, and in doing so, begin to see many of those that have wandered from the truth experience the life that Jesus wants them to have.
- Build an attractional community: There have been debates over the years whether a church should be missional or attractional. I think most of us have settled on some sort of both/and. Often what attractional means is an attractional Sunday service, which can be helpful. But I would say work even harder to develop attractional community. Most people that have disengaged from the church don’t have the relationships that the church, at its best, provides. They probably have some co-workers and family relationships but not the quality of community that the church is and can be. Work to build an attractional community in your church that will cause outsiders to say “Wow!” Build a community where people are sharing who they are, what they have, what they do, and actively open to sharing all of that with others. Develop a model for what this looks like and teach it to leaders, preach it, fund it, resource it, celebrate it. And keep doing that.
- Take the church to them: Much has been said and written about missional communities. I don’t want to repeat all of that. But here’s what’s important to say: the de-churched are done with church, but that doesn’t mean they are done with the people of the church. They are still open to community. Most actually want it and miss it. And they live, work, and play next to us. We should think less of bringing them to church and more about bringing the church to them. Your small groups need to have a plan for bringing community to people. Usually, this means hosting fun parties that are open to anyone and easy to invite people to. You can also throw micro-benefit events where you partner with local non-profit organizations to raise money for them. Whatever the strategy is, you need one. The de-churched have already decided church is not for them so they may not show up on a Sunday. But they haven’t decided that BBQ’s are not for them, that having people help them move is not for them, or that friends to camp with are not for them.
- Be “suffering sensitive”: Many churches used to talk about being “seeker sensitive.” There’s not a lot of people that come to the church anymore because they are seeking God. They have the internet if they want to do that. But, when suffering happens, often people will come back to the church at least once. Be ready for that, expect that. We should be “suffering sensitive” more than seeker sensitive. Mention it in the announcements, every sermon, have resources for suffering people in the lobby, talk about it on the website, etc.
- Pander to consumerism: We often complain in the church that people are consumers, and they are. But all that means is that people are searching for fulfillment and don’t know Jesus yet. They are endlessly consuming because they haven’t found the bread of life and their stomachs are empty. If we believe Jesus brings life to the full, true life, then we believe that if they know Him, they will be satisfied. So talk about what’s in it for them and what you want for them. Instead of primarily talking about what is happening within your weekly announcements, tell them what you wish for them. Instead of « We have groups that meet… » you could say “We want you to experience deeper friendships.” In your sermon introductions don’t just say “We are going to talk about what the Bible says about forgiveness” but instead something like, “Many of us are constantly trying to prove ourselves. Why? Is there something that can finally help us feel settled?” People want things. They are consumers. They are consuming everything else, but Jesus is the only one that can ultimately fulfill the longings we have.
There is much more that could be said, and this is just a start. Your city is filled with people who are done with church, but that doesn’t mean the church should be done with them. Jesus isn’t done with them.