Imagine this: You grew up going to church. Your best friends were in youth group. Then you went to a Christian college where you met your Christian spouse. The bridesmaids and groomsmen in your wedding were Christian friends.
You moved to a new city to start a family. You made your first friends at church and put your kids in a Christian preschool. You now work 50+ hours a week and don’t have much free time. When you do, you’re volunteering at church.
The reason that your church is only reaching Christians could be as simple as this: You don’t know anyone who isn’t already a Christian.
Churches seem to be engineered to keep people busy. Often this means keeping them in church buildings where they are surrounded by church people. The result is that pastors, church leaders and the best volunteers are always surrounded by other Christians.
It’s hard to be a Fresh Expression for the unchurched and dechurched if you don’t know any. You might think of people outside your church as a “target market” rather than as your neighbor Joe or your co-worker Sandra. But before you can do church for them, you’ll have to get to know them.
Moving from busyness with other church people into relationships with your neighbors and coworkers outside the church walls will be complicated. It will begin with pastors and church leaders modeling three simple healthy lifestyle changes.
1. Get a hobby.
Your week is generally split a few ways: Family time, work, and hobbies. For many church leaders, “hobbies” gets replaced by “volunteering at church activities”. The result is subtle: when you meet Joe or Sandra, you don’t know what to say. Take up a sport, anything from softball to cycling. Don’t join a church league. Have fun. Soon, you, Joe and Sandra will be hanging out after the game, getting to know each other.
2. Use your front lawn.
You have people up and down your street that would be easy to get to know if you ever saw them. The problem is that, because of your automatic garage door opener you can go straight from work into your house and never have to talk to anyone. Instead, you could plant a garden, work on your car or sit on your front porch. Greet your neighbors as they walk their dogs and check their mail. Soon, you’ll know the name of Joe’s golden retriever and the name of the elementary school that Sandra’s kids attend.
3. Learn to party.
Some Christians are unfamiliar with dinner parties, house parties, bars and dance clubs. There is sometimes a conception that being near sinful activities is the same as condoning them. Jesus was accused of this, because he hung out with drinkers, tax collectors and prostitutes. For Joe and Sandra, this is just where life happens. Getting to know them will require learning to be near them and offering hospitality, even if you do not approve of their behavior.
Does your church want to start a Fresh Expression of church? It happens when church people begin to know and love people who don’t already participate in church.
Chris works across the organization to help get new projects off the ground and into the world. He also helps to manage our email, social media and other digital communications. He helped plant Austin Mustard Seed, where he served for five years as Community Developer. He also works with several other non-profits and businesses to tell their story with content and social media. In 2012, he graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a M.A. in Global Leadership. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Laura.