Before I started Saddleback church 34 years ago, I spent 12 weeks going door-to-door in our area trying to discover the answers to that important question.
The answers I got were not at all what I expected or what I wanted to hear. But over the years, I found these same four complaints and excuses still being used by folks who don't attend any church.
1. "Church services are boring, especially the sermons. The messages don't relate to my life. Why should I go? I don't understand it and it doesn't really help me." In our area, this has been the number one excuse for not attending church. It's amazing how some pastors are able to take the most exciting book in the world and bore people to tears with it. Miraculously, they're able to turn bread into stones.
The tragedy of being a boring speaker is that it causes people to think God is boring. So when I heard this first complaint over and over, I determined to somehow learn to communicate God's Word in a practical, interesting way. I hope I'm getting better at it, because I do everything I can to be interesting.
A sermon does not have to be boring to be biblical and it doesn't have to be dry to be doctrinal. This is an extremely important distinction: The unchurched aren't asking for watered-down messages ... just practical ones. They want to hear something on Sunday that they can apply to their lives on Monday.
2. "Church members are unfriendly to visitors. It feels like a 'clique.' If I ever went to church, I'd want to feel welcomed without being watched or embarrassed." Many unchurched people told me that they felt like the church was a "members only" organization. Because they didn't know the "inside" terminology, songs or rituals, they felt foolish and felt the members were watching them in judgment. The no. 1 emotion unbelievers feel when they visit a worship service is fear! They are honestly scared to death of what might happen. And that means they raise their defenses, so communicating with them becomes very difficult. When I heard this second excuse from unbelievers, we determined to do whatever it takes to make visitors feel welcomed and wanted without feeling watched. There's a simple word for this: politeness! It's thinking more of others than we do of ourselves. Being seeker sensitive is NOT compromising what you believe. It is just treating nonbelievers the way Jesus would!
3. "The church is more interested in my money than in me. All they care about is getting my money—and who knows how they spend it!" Due to the highly visible (and often highly questionable) fundraising tactics of televangelists and many Christian organizations, the unchurched are incredibly sensitive to appeals for money.
Unfortunately, many lost people believe that pastors are "in it just for the money." Opulent church buildings have only added fuel to the fire. We decided to counteract this complaint by giving a disclaimer when we take an offering. We explain that the offering is only for those who are a part of our church family.
We simply announce, "If you are visitor at Saddleback, you are not expected to give an offering. We want you to get something today!" Besides, asking unbelievers to contribute before they have given their lives to Christ is getting the cart before the horse.
4. "We worry about the quality of the church's childcare at church. What will be done with our baby and our children? We're not sure we can trust strangers with the care of our kids." Our area is filled with young couples, so it was not surprising when I discovered this fear. Every church must earn the trust of parents. At Saddleback, we have adopted a set of very stringent guidelines for our children's ministry, including FBI checks, fingerprinting and personal interviews of all children's workers to insure safety and quality. We have a very secure check-in and check-out system. We'd rather go overboard on safety than be thrown overboard with a lawsuit. If you want to reach young couples, you must spend the effort to create a safe and attractive children's program.
Jesus told the disciples to be strategic in their evangelism. "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). When it comes to reaching unbelievers, I think this means identifying and understanding their perceived hang-ups and real problems that they have with the church—and then doing whatever it takes to defuse those issues so the message of Christ can be heard.
In football, successful teams know how to "read the defense." That means when the offensive team lines up for each play, the quarterback looks out at the opposing team to see how they are lined up. He tries to figure out in advance how the defense will respond and what barriers might prevent the execution of the play. Sometimes that means calling an "audible"—announcing a change in plans. If the quarterback doesn't do this, he usually gets creamed.
In evangelism, "reading the defense" means understanding and anticipating the objections unbelievers will have before they voice them. It's learning to think like an unbeliever. That, by the way, becomes increasingly more difficult the longer you are a Christian.
What is most interesting to me about these four common complaints is that none of them are theological issues. I rarely meet people who say, "I don't go to church because I don't believe in God." The truth is, many people are very open to learning about God and spiritual issues, they just don't feel welcome at church or feel that it has anything to offer them. That is OUR problem. We must take the initiative, like Jesus did, to meet people where they are and then move them to where they need to be.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.
For the original article, visit churchleaders.com.
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