How to Bring Lost Souls to Your Church
- Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
- 2005 24 Oct
No matter how impressive your church building is or how many programs you offer, you can't expect to attract a significant number of people in your community - lost souls who wouldn't dream of walking through church doors. Yet those same people have an innate desire to seek God, and many will respond if you stop expecting them to come to you and instead decide to go to them.
Once you plant seeds for God's kingdom, new churches can grow in even the most unlikely places, including restaurants, parks, offices, homes, university campuses, beaches, shopping centers, and locker rooms.
Here's how you can bring church to people who won't walk through a traditional church's doors:
Bring light to the darkness
Don't hide from the dark places in our fallen world; run toward them with Christ's light. Ask God to give you the courage to take His love and truth to people who are lost in sin. Remember that the power members of your congregation carry with them as Christians can overcome even the strongest darkness they encounter. Know that your greatest significance can be found in the darkness rather than in the light.
Nix the complications of big buildings, bureaucratic committees, elaborate programs, and other things that often distract institutionalized churches. Instead, focus on what really matters: making disciples. Realize that the Bible never commands people to build churches, but instead to disciple people. Understand that the church is much more than just a building - it's a living organism, not a static institution. Know that church shouldn't be bound to a single location; God's kingdom is decentralized.
Recognize that the church is much more than a brief worship service held one day a week. Understand that Christians are God's temples. Trust Him to empower you and those you pastor to spread His hope and glory to family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and even strangers. Free yourself from manmade hierarchical systems so you can spread the Gospel as freely as God leads you to do.
Seek out people who will be especially receptive to the Gospel.
Try to plant seeds of faith in good soil, with people who will be open to Christ's message. Recognize that people who are intellectual, moral, or wealthy have to get beyond their pride to see their need for the Gospel. But other groups of people will be more open to the Gospel message right away: those who are struggling with sin, the poor, young people, those searching for God through other religions, uneducated and powerless people, and those who suffer discrimination.
Seek out these people in creative ways, such as: by going on a ride-along with local police officers; attending local addiction recovery groups; or volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, homeless shelter, food bank, or other place that helps people in need.
Stop trying to control the work of reaching out to lost people. Remember that it's God alone who causes faith to grow in people's lives. Rather than trusting in your methods and strategies for evangelizing people, trust the Holy Spirit enough to follow wherever God leads. Know that by releasing control, you're also overcoming limitations, since God can do far more than you could ever do on your own. Expect to be surprised sometimes by how God chooses to work. Trust Him for the results.
Grow the way natural life develops.
Follow the pattern of how living things grow as you disciple new believers in your community. Start at the molecular level, with the smallest effective group of people - two or three. Then build intimacy from there. Strive to grow from the micro to the macro and from the simple to the complex, not vice versa. Understand that starting with groups of two or three new believers offers your new church the strongest community, accountability, confidentiality, flexibility, communication, direction, and leadership. Expect these new pockets of faith to grow spontaneously through relationships, moving from one changed life to another. Don't dictate the way these young churches should be organized; instead, begin with life and let the structure emerge naturally, driven by the needs of demands of the new life.
Follow the pattern of DNA as you help new churches grow.
Understand that the DNA of a church - the building blocks of life that are essential for its growth - can be simplified to these three things: Divine truth (God's revelation to humankind), Nurturing relationships (loving relationships between people and God, and people and each other), and Apostolic mission (each Christian's purpose and assignment to make new disciples). Live out divine truth in faith by helping new disciples leave their old selves behind and putting on their new identities in Christ. Live out nurturing relationships in love by asking God to empower new believers to truly love all the people they encounter. Live out apostolic mission in hope by praying for Christ's kingdom to expand on earth until He returns.
Don't unravel the DNA by having a separate ministry or program to handle each area. Keep all three strands intact in every cell of your church, remembering every disciple must have all the parts of the DNA at the same time in order to live. Don't subtract from or add to the DNA either; keep your focus on what matters most.
Empower new believers right away.
Don't wait to baptize new believers; encourage this obedience from the start. Give them opportunities to jump into ministry right away, without having to go through a training process first. Encourage new believers to connect directly with Jesus through prayer as they begin active Christian lives, rather than depending on more mature Christians to spoon-feed them for a while as they sit passively by like consumers rather than participants.
Don't assign the church's work exclusively to clergy or mature believers. Urge new believers to put their God-given talents to use for the kingdom right away. Encourage them to see themselves as valuable change agents for God's kingdom. Trust that jumping into service right away will help new believers mature much more quickly and deeply than waiting to put their faith into action.
Seek to build a movement - not an organization, agency, or denomination.
Don't depend on a contract, financial systems, or democratic process to bind groups of new disciples together. Instead, focus on building a common commitment to truth, common familial relationships, and a common sense of mission. Seek to spread an epidemic of faith by praying for expansion, looking for pockets of spiritual sensitivity and joining God in His work there, giving new believers the confidence that Christ's power goes with them wherever they go. Work through people of peace (people who are receptive to the Gospel, have important relationships already established in your community, and possess a reputation in that community), and frequently reminding yourself of your mission of making new disciples.
See people as God sees them.
Ask God to give you genuine compassion for lost people by being able to view them as He does. Understand that, beneath their tough exteriors, people have hearts that have been wounded by sin. Know that sin has imprisoned them, and God wants to use you to help set them free. Stop judging people and start loving them enough to reach out to them despite their sins.
Focus on relationships rather than events.
Understand that events alone rarely bring people to faith in Christ. Don't waste resources trying to plan impressive events when what people really need is to connect with others through meaningful relationships. Know that each new person is a doorway through which Christ's kingdom can enter. Urge those in your new churches to invest the time necessary to build close relationships with others, and be available when people need them.
Encourage them to practice hospitality, listen genuinely to others, and be generous. Realize that when people see how Christ has transformed the lives of those in your new fellowships, they will want to know how they can experience that same power in their own lives.
Adapted from Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, copyright 2005 by Neil Cole. Published by Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, San Francisco, Ca., www.josseybass.com.
Neil Cole is a church starter and pastor, and founder and executive director of Church Multiplication Associates (CMA), which has helped start more than 700 churches in 32 states and 23 nations in six years. He is an international speaker and the author of Cultivating a Life for God.