Cultivating relationships with unchurched people is paramount in our calling to be disciples that make disciples. For my wife and me, the task of engaging relationally with unchurched people can at times seem daunting, draining, and discouraging. At these times, we often reflect on what it was like to be unchurched ourselves, and the profound impact the church has made on our eternity, current lives, and relationships. So, how does one begin engaging with the unchurched?
Pray, Pray, Pray
This concept seems simple enough, as there are numerous examples in scripture of Jesus and the disciples praying for the unchurched. But have you ever tried to pray every day for the unchurched in your neighborhood or workplace? It takes discipline, focus, and extreme intentionality. I’ve heard it said that it takes more effort to pray for someone than it takes to hang out with them. That has certainly been true for me. Prayer has more power than I often give it credit for. Prayer changes hearts and makes you in tune with the Holy Spirit, something that can’t be accomplished by just having dinner with your lost neighbor. Begin with prayer and watch as the Holy Spirit moves in your heart and the hearts of the unchurched.
Meet Them Where They’re At
You’ve started praying for the unchurched by name. Now it’s time to engage them relationally. For me, this requires time, intentionality, and a little bit of creativity. My wife and I are planting a church, so we have lots of opportunities to engage relationally with the unchurched. We have two couples that we spend lots of time with that live down the street from us. When engaging with them, our first question was: what do they like to do for fun? Rarely will you meet the unchurched within the walls of your church building. After all, they are UN-churched! Finding out what your unchurched friends like to do for fun, their interests, and where to meet them are all crucial parts of initiating deep, meaningful relationships. For us, this looks like a weekly board game night at our friends’ house. Think about Jesus for a second. Where did he engage most with the lost? Where they already were! Are we asking people to come to us, or are we going to them?
Be Interested, Not Interesting
Everybody wants a friend who cares deeply about them and their life. If we are to build relationships with the unchurched, we must take a genuine interest in their life and listen to them with care. One of my pastors coined the phrase “it’s better to be interested than to be interesting.” Are you more concerned with sharing about your interests, or learning more about theirs? This step is one of the most difficult for me. I’m an extrovert by nature and would much rather give a 30 minute sermon than spend an hour with someone listening to them and asking good questions. But what did Jesus do? He asked questions and got to the heart of where His people were. Our response to the unchurched should be no different. If you never take the time to understand where they’re at, you’ll never be able to meet them there.
Move with Intentionality
When you start to understand where the unchurched are at, you can then begin to move with intentionality. For my wife and I, this looks like serving our friends and sharing our story and God’s story. After praying, meeting them where they were at, and listening to their story, my wife got to share her testimony with two of our unchurched friends. Because our friends knew how much she loved them, sharing her story and God’s story was natural and relational. We had been praying specifically for an opportunity like this for months, and God was so faithful. The next week, both couples we have been praying for came to our small group! God is continually giving us more and more opportunities to serve them and share new truths.
Initiating relationships with the unchurched can at times seem overwhelming. But if we are faithful in doing our part, we can rest easy knowing that God is always doing His.