Are you praying for insight about how your church can impact the unchurched? I remember thinking: If our church ever becomes popular among the unchurched, we'll sure be able to do lots of good. After all, there are lots of people needing redemption in our community.
Think about this: Do you remember who led you to faith in Christ? Numerous surveys say it was probably a relative, friend or co-worker. One survey even claims that 97 percent of people who come to Christ do so through an existing relationship.
I think that's why the church had such a strange but revealing experience on the day of Pentecost, the day the New Testament church began (see Acts 2). Each believer saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that came to rest on them. When this happened, they were enabled to speak the redemptive message in a language somebody in their community understood (v. 4).
In one day 3,000 people were added to the church. What an amazing time that must have been. But I believe God made the reason for their effectiveness clear: People are reached when someone speaks their language well. We ask how big our churches can grow; maybe the better question is, "How many languages can our church effectively speak in our community?"
For instance, my athletic background makes it easy for me to get into the world of athletes and speak their language. Businesspeople know how to speak the language of other businesspeople. Young moms can easily relate to other young moms. I don't personally know what it's like to gaze at unwanted stretch marks or to lock myself in a bathroom for five minutes of peace. But I do know that relational evangelism is essential for churches that want to reach the unchurched.
So how can we help our members better connect within their relational worlds? Jesus shows us in His parable of the great banquet (see Luke 14:16-24). First, He enlightens us about the part each of us plays. As a pastor, I work hard to prepare relevant messages, and my people have to work hard to bring the people who need to hear my messages. If I'm teaching on relationships, I want them to find the woman out there who's been married five times and has given up on trying again. If I have a message about purpose, I want them to invite the person who is moving in the wrong direction. We have to work together as a team to reach those who are outside the walls of our church.
Second, Jesus shows us that our life experiences can help make us effective witnesses. We can see this in the life of Gideon, who grew up in one of Israel's most decadent times. His people had turned from God to worshiping Baal with orgies and drunkenness—even in Gideon's own backyard. Amid all this, God saw Gideon as a hopeful candidate to lead Israel back to Himself. Our experiences can birth in us a confidence in God's ability and a compassion for others in need.
Last, Jesus conveys that to reach the unchurched we must remove the excuses that keep us from making God's work a priority. Certainly we all have business to tend to, but are we putting God's business first? We all have houses and families to care for, but doesn't God want us to care about His house and His family too?
Nothing is more valuable than people—and nothing is more fulfilling than working together to see hearts opened and lives changed around us. Know that God appreciates your efforts to love and influence the unchurched in the community where He has placed you!
JIM GRAFF is the senior pastor of Faith Family Church in Victoria, Texas, and founder of Significant Church Network .