At the time of this writing, Mecklenburg Community Church has just over 79 percent of its total growth coming from the unchurched. Leaders from other churches often ask what we do to reach such large numbers of non-Christians. They want a program, a style, a series, anything that might translate to their context and work. The reality is that our strategy is constantly changing; our "secret," however, has remained the same for nearly two decades: we are committed to reaching out in the most effective way possible. It's that simple. We do not believe we exist for ourselves but for those who have yet to come. We do not build the church to meet our needs but the needs of others. Our "front door" has been intentionally, passionately, thrown open, and we do not simply invite others in but actively seek them out and bring them. In explaining this to others, I often tell of an event that happened in the early days of Meck. We spent four years meeting in an elementary school, which meant we had to set up every Saturday and break down every Sunday. One weekend we were breaking down after the service, putting things back in trucks and sheds and cars, and Susan and I looked around and realized that our daughter, Rebecca, wasn't there. I thought she was with Susan, and Susan thought she was with me. She was only about 7 years old at the time. At first, we only panicked a little, because we assumed she'd be found right around the corner. But she wasn't right around the corner. She wasn't out on the playground, she wasn't in any of the rooms, she wasn't in the hallway, she wasn't in the cafeteria, and she wasn't in the gym. We couldn't find her anywhere. I have seldom experienced such sheer panic and fear. My little girl, gone.

I started racing through the building, going into rooms we didn't even use, hallways that were darkened, I ran outside and yelled her name until I thought I was going to lose my voice. Nothing mattered more to me than finding my daughter. It occupied every thought, every ounce of energy. Everything else paled in comparison. Just as we were getting ready to call the police, going back over every inch of the school again, I saw, down a long, dark hallway that we didn't use, outside of the doors we always blocked off because it was so cut off and led directly to the fields, a little head with brown hair barely above the glass. She had gone out the door, it had locked behind her, so she had sat down where she couldn't be seen and was just waiting for someone to find her. She had been crying and was scared, and she didn't know what to do but wait. I ran down that hallway, threw open those doors and grabbed that little girl and held her like you would not believe. You could not have pried her from my arms. That is the heart of God. The heart of the Father is one in absolute, ongoing, permanent frenzy to find the lost. And that is to be our frenzy as well.


But there is more than just passivity that we must address. Many Christians view those outside of the faith as needing to go to hell. They are the bad guys, the enemy; we refer to them as "pagans," "secular humanists," "liberals" and worse. Our relationship seems intensely adversarial in nature. It's the pro-family, Christian-radio listening, fish-sticker wearing, big-Bible carrying types versus the left-leaning, evolution-believing, gay marriage-supporting, Harry Potter-reading pagans.

And those outside of the faith have little doubt about our sentiments. In their book unChristian, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons detail research on how those between the ages of sixteen and twenty-nine who are outside of the church view the church and people in it. They offered a set of words or phrases as possible descriptors of Christianity, and then cataloged the number who affirmed their accuracy. Leading the way was "anti-homosexual" (91 percent) and "judgmental" (87 percent). "Outsiders believe Christians do not like them because of what they do, how they look, or what they believe," write Kinnaman and Lyons. "They feel minimized — or worse, demonized — by those who love Jesus."