A significant study that came out earlier this summer revealed that Americans who don’t go to church are more than happy to talk about religion and often think about the meaning of life.
They are also open to taking part in community service events hosted at a church.
Or going to an event - like a church concert.
Now, this does not mean they think about what happens after they die. Nor, that they are as willing to actually attend a church service. Consider those to be steps taken a bit further down the road. It’s not that they are hostile to church; they simply do not think it is for them.
But according to a survey of 2,000 unchurched Americans from LifeWay Research and the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, they are wide open to the first steps, or approaches, of evangelism.
This. Is. Important.
A full 79% of unchurched Americans agreed with this statement: “If a friend of mind really values their faith, I don’t mind them talking about it.”
So let’s do the math. We are called to convey the message of Christ to a fallen world. Further, we are called to care – and care deeply – about the spiritual state of those around us: friends, neighbors, family and co-workers.
And they are more than willing to listen, more than willing to engage.
That should be adding up to swelling churches, vast conversions and sweeping revival.
But it’s not.
We don’t believe what they are saying.
We think they aren’t interested, and that any conversation - any sharing, any invitation - will simply be awkward. And unproductive.
So we don’t have those conversations.
The irony is devastating: The unchurched are willing to listen to the churched about their faith, but the churched aren’t willing to talk about it.
For all you C.S. Lewis fans, I can’t help but feel we may discover another trove of “Screwtape Letters” and find that this juxtaposition was masterfully, diabolically manipulated to prevent more human “patients” on earth from entering into the Light.
Perhaps one of those letters may read like this:
My Dear Wormwood:
Now that your patient has crossed over to the Enemy, the goal is not only to keep him from drawing near to the Enemy, but to keep him from encouraging others to join their ranks. If he were to be successful in that regard, it would add nightmare to the horror of what you’ve already allowed in your bungled handling of a soul that was almost ours.
We have had a fair amount of success in creating apathy toward the state of their fellow souls, but not as much as we would like. Our latest effort, however, is working brilliantly. An enterprise which, I might add, I had some hand in helping create. Rather than attempt to prevent the relationships from occurring, or even dulling their concern toward those around them, the new effort is to simply sow seeds of poor social taste.
Plant the thought, upon every chance, at how offended others would be if he talks about the Enemy. How painfully awkward it will go. Unfortunately, we know this isn’t true – but your patient doesn’t. If we can get him to believe this simple lie, then it doesn’t matter who comes into his sphere of influence, or how much the sniveling worm may care. He will fear uttering even the slightest word, and the victory will be ours.
(And for hell’s sake, do not let him even begin to contemplate that his efforts might be met with that blinding, searing Light we, as yet, cannot help but flee, the Spirit of the Enemy.)
The most powerful of those in the Enemy’s army didn’t fear us (They had a pathetic confidence in the Enemy that way.). And they didn’t fear the reaction of their peers. This was our great miscalculation. We let them become… I can hardly bare to utter the words… bold in their faith. How I hated them!
Thank the diabolical father that we aren’t making that mistake again.
So this is what you simply must not allow. Counter boldness with timidity; courage with the fear of embarrassment. I think you will find this will work quite nicely.
Your affectionate uncle,
James Emery White
Bob Smietana, “Your Unchurched Friends Want to Know About Your Faith,” Christianity Today, June 28, 2016, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.