I hope you’ve been following this series of articles about understanding our neighbors, specifically those who are “unchurched”. In reading through, The Unchurched Next Door, by Thom Rainer, I’m seeing important things we’ve overlooked in the church about the “unchurched”. Which, in my estimation, is a direct correlation to why we’ve struggled to reach them.
Today’s article contains facts about the unchurched that even the most “outwardly-focused”, “relevant-driven” churches need to remember. In a chapter about things formerly unchurched individuals (who are now very involved in local churches) wanted “church-goers” to understand, we find many eye-opening truths. But what stuck with me the most was their perceptions concerning doctrine.
According to Rainer, doctrine was the most important concern for the unchurched individuals seeking a church home. How important? I quote Rainer, “Over 91% of the formerly unchurched said that doctrine was important, the highest ranking of all issues.” (Pg. 200). In fact, it was so important to them that even if they didn’t agree with every doctrinal belief of a church, they still wanted to see and hear uncompromised convictions about those doctrines. In other words, “We may struggle to understand what you believe, but we respect how much you believe it.”
Rather than me trying to explain it in my words, listen carefully to these actual quotes from formerly “unchurched” individuals:
“I visited a few churches before I became a Christian. Man, some of them made me want to vomit. They didn’t show any more conviction about their beliefs than I did. And I was lost!” (Pg. 200)
“When we were lost, we were looking for something that would not be like the world we were already in.”
“It was really sad to go to churches that thought they were being relevant when they were really just being worldly. I got out of those churches as quickly as I could.” (Pg. 200)
Isn’t that interesting? And also so very true.
Many churches have bought into Satan’s lie that to attract the unchurched, we must dilute our teaching. We must make it more “palatable”; more “politically-correct”. We must be more “accepting”, more “tolerant”, and more “open-minded”.
Church, we need to wake-up and man-up! The problem isn’t our doctrine. The problem is our communication. That’s why Paul tells the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 4:15 to “speak the truth in love”. Paul doesn’t tell them to stop communicating truth. He just reminds them to communicate truth in a loving way.
We have nothing to be embarrassed about. And if we’re embarrassed of strong, “healthy” teaching (“doctrine” actually means “healthy”), why would we expect the unchurched to be interested? That’s like a car salesman trying to sell someone a car and saying, “It’s a good car for you, but I’d never buy it.” That salesman is going to starve. And Christians who believe that and preachers who preach that will be judged by God for having those weak beliefs and preaching those worthless sermons.
On a spiritual level, we have something amazing to offer. A set of teachings directly from Jesus Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Our obedience of these teachings leads to salvation—as we are saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8).
And on a practical level, it only makes sense. Why should we ask the world to buy into something they already own? The church cannot be affected by culture—the church must affect culture. And this isn’t some “old-school, judgmental, hell-fire” preacher talking. These observations come directly from the mouths of those who formerly avoided the church. What brought them to the church more than anything is the very thing so many “weaken” with the world’s “Kool-Aid”. Yes, dilution of doctrine is not only sinful, but counterproductive in our cause for Christ and His Kingdom.
That’s exactly why Paul urged the young preacher Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1st Timothy 4:16) Did you catch that? You will save yourself AND your hearers. In the context of this article, the “unchurched” will eventually become “churched”, if you “hold to your guns”.
Churches and preachers—DON’T COMPROMISE. From baptism to worship to the sanctity of God’s plan for marriage, in love, PREACH THE TRUTH. There’s no other way to be. There’s no other message to preach.