For many Christians, it’s easy to become a bit insulated. Call it a "church bubble," but more than likely it includes a greater Christian population. Often this happens without our knowledge. We are assimilated into a church with pure intentions of serving in children's ministry or as part of the worship team, but between volunteer meetings and small group, kids programs and weekend services, careers, family, and hobbies, we find little time left over for the unbelievers in our world.
Sadly, some of us would find it difficult to name five people in our lives that fall outside of our faith community. We admit that the world needs Jesus, and it's our job to tell them the "good news," but we often struggle to share our faith. We don't want to offend our neighbors, or get into an argument with our family, or cause others to feel judged, so, we tend to shy away from building deep relationships with unbelievers.
So, how do we begin? Especially if it feels like most of our neighborhood already attends church, or has a faith already? Here are five simple ways to invite unbelievers into your world:
1. Create Natural Rhythms
Intentionally insert yourself into their lives. This will take work; it may even be inconvenient. Choose to have the same cashier at the grocery store every week. Go to the same coffee shop and become "a regular.” Walk your kids to the bus stop and wait so that you can wave to the driver. The receptionist at the salon, the office you work at, the business you frequent--learn their name and then use it. After you have established a continued rhythm, once you have both become familiar faces, then you are ready to move on to the next step.
2. Start a Conversation
Ask questions to get to know them. Note: you are not asking about their faith right out of the gate. Please, don’t. Ask about their family, their job, their kids whose picture you see on their desk. When did they start driving school buses; why are they so passionate about serving great coffee to people? Be genuine in your questions as well as your response as they share. Wait and watch.
3. Start Small - Grab Coffee
It's the most basic of invites. Most people will say yes if you offer to buy them one. If coffee isn't your thing, discover the simple, but personal, next step: Lunch? A playdate with the kids? Attending a local event together? Becoming workout buddies with the person you see at the gym five days a week? It doesn't have to last all day. It's a simple way to get to know someone in an environment where you're both comfortable.
4. Get a Group Together
There is safety in numbers. In the event that you aren't quite up to have the new family across the street over for dinner, take a wider approach and gather a handful of people. Maybe you host a backyard BBQ and invite two or three families from your neighborhood, or you ask the girls from work to brunch on Saturday morning. Chances are there will be more areas of common ground and less opportunity for conversation to stall. Again, this is not the time to bring out the six-inch-thick family bible or bore them with lengthy prayers said over a meal. This is a casual gathering of new acquaintances. No pressure.
5. Rethink Holidays
You're already preparing for get-togethers anyway. Perhaps hosting a group of strangers makes you want to run for the hills. If so, maybe you need to think even bigger--using a special occasion as a way to gather people with ease. What do you typically do for the 4th of July, Memorial Day or Halloween? If you're already planning to get together with a handful of people, invite that new family on the block, or the person at work that you've been praying for. You don't need to put on a second Thanksgiving dinner, although if you know that the family down the street will be alone for the holiday, then inviting them to join you might not be a bad idea either. Consider who would be appreciate feeling included, and open your doors wide.
Perhaps it’s easy for you to spot the unbeliever—they live on your street, or work in your building, or make your coffee every morning at the local coffee shop. Leaving a track, or handing them an impersonal and obligatory invitation to church at Christmas and Easter is not what Jesus means when He said, "go into all the world." He actually meant for us to bring people along on our faith journey, and it happens when we invite them into our world.
We begin by taking notice of who's already in our life and engaging them in conversation. Once we've established rapport, we can move from casual interactions to more personal conversations. This is where we learn about each other-- the things we're passionate about, our life journey, and what we're pursuing for the future. Chances are, with these types of conversations, some element of our faith will be exposed. We will have the opportunity to genuinely share the love of Jesus when we open our door, pay for their meal, bless the food, listen intently, ask to pray for them, and interact with our family and friends in front of them.
Jesus said in the gospel of John, "If you love one another, everyone will know you are my disciples" (13:35). Truthfully, if we are looking for opportunities to love people, to extend them grace instead of judgment, to get to know them as a person, and to listen to their story, they will see the love of Jesus in our lives. This evidence of fruit is more poignant than any question we could ever blurt out about faith and Jesus.
Who are you going to connect with today? How can you bridge the gap between “unbeliever and believer” and bring them a step closer to the Hope of Jesus that you carry with you?
Malinda Fuller and her husband Alex have served at several churches and para-church organizations in the U.S. and Canada for over a decade. Malinda wields truth and grace through the words on her blog and has also contributed content for Relevant, Thrive Moms and The Influence Network. Malinda and Alex currently reside in Southern California, where they are homeschooling their daughters, working in ministry and trying to not complain about the continuous sunshine.
Publication date: August 11, 2016