Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

The Fear of Flying

  • Dr. James Emery White

    James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theologyand culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he…

  • 2011 Apr 18

It’s been a tough few weeks for the airline industry.  Air traffic controllers have been caught sleeping on their night shifts; Southwest airlines found numerous holes that led to the grounding of scores of planes; Air France clipped a smaller jet on the tarmac; and then a woman was sexually assaulted in a Denver concourse.


If you were already reluctant to fly, this didn’t help.

Now compare that to the church.  Scandals with pedophile priests; televangelists caught with their hands in the money jar or up someone’s skirt; pastors burning Korans; churches splitting over the color of the carpet.

If you were already reluctant to attend, this doesn’t help either.  This brings up the formidable challenge facing those churches that are truly wanting to reach out to those interested in exploring the Christian faith, but turned off to the church.

Let’s return to the airline industry.  It is one thing to try and convince people wanting to fly from Charlotte to Atlanta to consider using Delta’s services over US Airways. 

It is another thing altogether to get someone on board who has no desire to fly.

Switching airlines would be akin to transfer growth; attracting the already convinced to your church.  This is what constitutes most church growth in America.  Sheep swapping. 

But getting someone averse to flying to step into the concourse, much less down the boarding ramp, is something altogether different.  That’s conversion growth.  This does not represent much of the growth of churches in the United States, but it is at the heart of the Great Commission given to us by Jesus (Mt. 28).

I’ve often told people that if Meck had been focused on transfer growth, we would be much, much larger than we are now.  Transfer growth is so much easier.  These people want to fly!  They are just looking for the best airline:  best service, best seats, best flight times, best flight attendants, best pilots.  They are making a consumer decision, but make no mistake, they are ready to buy.

Conversion growth is much, much tougher.  These are people who don’t even like airports.  And getting them past security, through the concourse, down the ramp, and into seat 15C?  Well, let’s call it what it is:  it’s trying to turn atheists into missionaries.

This is, of course, the mission of Meck.  It’s what sets us - and churches like us - apart from all others.  And it’s hard work. 

Very hard work.

And I wouldn’t want it any other way.  Just once, experience the thrill of seeing someone move from darkness to light; far from Christ to life in Christ; see them burst up through the waters of baptism – a new creation. 

You’ll never go back.

Want in on the fun?

There is a trade secret I’ll share.  There’s one thing that 82% of all unchurched people can’t seem to resist.  It cuts through their defenses and penetrates their barriers.  Yep, according to the research at Lifeway, 82% of them seem to have a single weakness:

If a friend, or someone they know, invites them.

Yep, 82% of all unchurched people would come to church this weekend if only invited by a friend.

Easter is this Sunday, the one weekend that we all know more unchurched people will at least think about attending a church service than any other weekend of the year.

Who knows?  If you invite them, they might just take a seat.

And even land.

James Emery White


Thom S. Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door: Understanding Faith Stages.

Editor’s Note

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