A Very Revealing Email
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2017 Oct 19
I received an email from one of our staff the other day. It was not atypical—just the kind of email I get all the time from our team. But I realized, after reading it, how revealing it was about the kind of church Meck is and the values that set it apart.
People hear that we are a church of 10,000 or so active attenders, and it’s not news. They hear we have five campuses. Again, there are churches that are larger and with more sites. But they hear that we have more than 70% of our growth coming from the unchurched, and they are stunned.
And rightly so.
We are, too.
They want to know how we pull this off. There is, essentially, only one answer: We truly are on a mission to the unchurched. Lots of churches have that in their rhetoric, fewer in their reality. We would be much, much larger if we were to change our focus to the already convinced.
But what does that mean?
So many things. It impacts almost every decision we make. But that brings me back to the email. Perhaps, in many ways, this is the foundational reason for our growth from the unchurched. First, the email, then, the “why.”
The email read:
OH MY GOSH! I just got a text from the lesbian barista at Starbucks I’ve been talking to about Christianity and inviting to Meck (she works on Sundays at Starbucks and says it’s the worst shift because of the “church people and how awful and rude they are.” The first time I met her was on a Sunday morning as the last person in line and she said – after the people left – “What about the love your neighbor crap people? And thanks for wearing your church shirts so I know where NOT to go!” My heart was broken. (I didn’t tell her I had anything to do with a church for months!) ANYWAY… SHE CAME! And her comment about the message was, “I’ve never really thought about reading the Bible, but his enthusiasm is making me think I should check it out. I mean some of the stuff he was talking about sounded straight out of Game of Thrones!” JIM! THIS IS A HUGE BREAKTHROUGH! I am literally in tears!!! AHHHHH!!!
Think about what you just read.
First, you have a Christian intentionally building a relationship with a non-Christian that is both winsome and compelling enough to really be a relationship.
Second, the relationship had become authentic enough that the individual could share frustrations and attitudes about Christians to her new Christian friend.
Third, you see how terrible the witness of the average Christian is to the average non-Christian. The lack of basic civility (while wearing a church t-shirt!) to others, as opposed to the behavior of this young staffer.
Fourth, there’s the intentionality of an invitation within the context of a relationship to attend. To explore.
Fifth, she had confidence that no matter what series we might be in, no matter what topic we might be addressing, it doesn’t matter. It’s going to be suited for a first-time guest no matter their background.
This email from this young female staffer is why we are able to reach so many unchurched people. And not just staffers like her, but, more importantly, vast numbers of attenders like her.
So how do you get those from the outside in?
It starts by being something different from the inside out.
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.