May 17, 2011

Who is it that your church is actually trying to reach?

When churches think of evangelism they usually mean running outreach events in the church, guest-services, mission weeks and explorer courses. These approaches are effective in reaching out to some people.

But are we really reaching outside the church if we think our job is done when our evangelism strategy means we put on an event in our building?

In the ambitiously titled Breaking the missional code Ed Stetzer and David Putman argue that we need new approaches to reach increasing numbers of people for whom traditional church is simply a non-starter. Our authors in this book are urging churches to act ‘among their local communities as missionaries would in a foreign land.’

How do we develop a program for evangelism that reaches our entire communities

Quite simply it begins by recognising that there are different types of non-Christians we are seeking to reach. In the book they identify four types as set out in the diagram below.

Those who are churched are either those who are currently attending our meetings (the churched/reached) or those who perhaps have a church going backgroun (the churched/unreached) and therefore could be more easily persuaded than others to come along to an event.

For the churched our structures and traditional methods probably still work. For them running church events are probably an effective strategy.

What about the other fifty percent?

The unchurched could be defined as those for whom our present structures and present approaches are never likely to work.

For them attending a church can be as intimidating, sobering, and irrelevant as it would be for many of us evangelicals to walk into a bar or club on Saturday morning at 1.00am.

We need new ideas and approaches that reach outside the church to reach the unchurched.

Why is it so hard to make the unchurched a prioirty

1. Challenge. Quite simply it takes more work in every way to reach out to people who are very different from ourselves. Like cross-cultural mission it takes more thought, more time, more prayer, more money and so on. When a busy pastor leading a busy church full of busy church activities is asked to consider more innovative and radical forms of outreach that is asking a church to step up another gear.

2. Comfort. It’s less messy, less risky, requires less skill to run something for people like us. We don’t find it easy to go outside the church with the gospel.

3. Sacrifice. For many churches reaching out in this way would have to be at the expense of other church activities because there is not the time or people-power to do both.

4. Examples. There simply aren’t many churches doing it well. At least not yet. It’s hard to be amongst the first who have to be most innovative and creative.

Stetzer and Putman are honest enough to admit that churhces that make this work a priority ‘are paying a high price. They are discovering that churches that focus on the unchurched/unreached often create a degree of discomfort among some churched/reached.’

It takes a change of mindset to get churches to consistently and with urgency ask ‘what about the other fifty percent?’ how can we reach them. That change comes through the gospel. It comes when we, like the apostle Paul, begin to say ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel

In a future post I want to take a look at what it might mean for a church to reach outside the church.


  • How can you have someone who is unchurched and yet reached? How do they describe that category?

    My guess would be those who are in contact with other Christians informally and relationally. Is that right?

  • Thanks for this Neil, and for all your blogging – always concise and helpful. I really appreciate it. I’ve sent a link to this post to my key guys. We’re reaching the unreached and we’re experiencing the above 4 points keenly. It’s good to know that’s normal!
    Keep up the great gospel work,

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