Reaching the unchurched population

Published 8:50 pm Thursday, February 6, 2014

In a new church I asked the secretary to order the same visitors envelopes we’d used in my previous church.

Most churches recognize guests and ask them to fill out a card or guest register with name and contact information. These envelopes accomplished that purpose, but also included a line: “Please use my offering as an expression of my love for Christ.”

We’d used the envelopes for only a few weeks when Jim, chair of the budget committee, came to see me with an objection. He explained that in their recent meeting the committee talked about these and asked me to discontinue using them.

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“We don’t want non-members to feel that they must give to our church,” Jim said.

I countered that the envelopes didn’t expressly ask for money but were only a vehicle for those who might wish to give. But my argument fell short and I determined this was a battle I didn’t need at the time.

As one of our denominational statesmen used to say, “Choose carefully the hill you want to die on!”

I later learned that the former pastor had attended a contemporary church conference and came back excited about new methods of reaching the unchurched. The conference taught a number of principles such as avoiding “churchy” language, using contemporary music, “dressing down” and not asking the unchurched for money.

One of the chief reasons the unchurched don’t attend, the pastor explained, is that they believe the church is after their money.

I agree with some of these ideas. I do think pastors must use the language of the people in preaching. And I’ve made peace with the “dressing down” idea. Many of us were raised to wear our “Sunday best” to church as a way to reverence God, but it’s also true that God doesn’t look on the outward appearance but on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). So most folk today don’t really care what people wear to church, as long as it’s modest; thus another excuse is obliterated.

But I do believe the church can tactfully and tastefully take money from the unchurched as long as we can demonstrate the funds are used

for worthy projects. One example of this is the pagan king Artaxerxes, who contributed money for Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah didn’t stop him, but used the money in the project God assigned him.

The main thing we want from the unchurched is their soul for the Savior. After that there’s no debate: their whole lives belong to God, including their checkbook. But until then I think we can use anyone’s money to the glory of God. We just don’t want to be crass about it.