Reaching people who are far from God is hard work. Plain and simple. It’s much easier to target the already converted and persuade them to change churches. Many pastors and church leaders do that very thing – they simply “trade sheep” while lost people continue on the road to perdition. When we planted PCC we made the deliberate decision to target unchurched or dechurched people for evangelism. It was our strategy. With more than 100,000 people living in the Pace/Milton area and 80% of them not active in any church, we figured the fields were ripe unto harvest.
Over the years, we succeeded at that mission, turning theses irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. I have baptized hundreds of people; most of whom have never been baptized before. Many of them have grown up into disciples; they are mature, Biblically literate, sacrificially serve, give generously, live morally, and worship God enthusiastically. Currently, about 60% of our congregation was formerly unchurched before attending PCC, and the percentage was even higher in the early days when we were smaller.
This journey has been very, very challenging. It still is. Reaching messy people is messy work. The Great Commission sounds good on paper or in discussion groups, but reaching the lost and discipling the newly converted is not easy. I still wrestle with the challenges associated with this work. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Your church will probably be small for a number of years. Ours was. No one wants to hear this, especially church planters, but it’s true. You’re in a business of trying to convince people they need something you have to offer, but they may not be convinced of that need themselves yet. So you have to trust God to bring people who’s hearts have already been prepared by the Holy Spirit. This takes time. It’s easy to draw in a crowd, but it’s more challenging to advance God’s kingdom. When you live to reach lost people, you see amazing possibilities, but actual converts are fewer. PCC could have built itself on cool events and sensational marketing – which would have made us larger by attracting disgruntled Christians from other churches – but that would not have represented much kingdom advancement. We intentionally try to reach the irreligious, which means most of our efforts are RELATIONALLY BASED. Relationships takes time. Conversion to Christianity takes even more time. Thus, slow growth for churches.
2. Worship will sometimes be bad. Reaching lost people means that they will not have a clue about Christian music. They won’t know what a hymn is. They will have never heard of Darlene Zschech, Hillsong United, Chris Tomlin, or the Gregorian chant. Sandi Patty? Who is that? They are not going to clap along. They won’t sing. They’re not going to lift their hands in worship. They'll give you blank stares when you talk about the sacraments. Why? Number one, they don’t know God. Number two, if they are new to the faith, they’re self-conscious. Number three, even after they are converted it takes a long time for them to open up, enter in, and participate in vertically focused worship. This takes an incredible about of patience.
3. You will always be financially strapped. Irreligious people have no clue about tithing and they often don’t carry cash. Even if they did, your vision of “reaching the community” is nowhere on their radar when it comes to their personal spending. And they haven’t bought in yet to the idea of worshipping God through their giving either. Another reality is that even after they commit their lives to Christ it takes even more time before they contribute financially.
4. Most of your small groups will be a dud. It doesn’t matter if your focus is on building community, fellowship, or digging deeper into the Bible – unchurched people and new converts typically do not attend small groups. In fact, only a small percentage of long term Christians will attend small groups. The main reason is that they do not want to go over to someone’s house they don’t know and feel awkward for not knowing more about the Bible. You can eventually work your way through these issues, but it takes a lot of time.
5. There’s no middle ground – it’s either hot or cold. Reaching irreligious people for Christ has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. There are very few “normal” days. There is nothing that compares to seeing someone convert to Christianity. Then again, there is also nothing that compares to seeing that very same person reject every attempt at discipleship and then stagnate, or even worse, backslide.
Fortunately for us, we have grown enough that our worship is good, financial resources are sufficient, and many of our groups and classes are very effective. Furthermore, God has sent us some remarkable Christians – yes, who came from other churches – who have been an enormous blessing to us and have contributed to our growth. We never targeted them or asked them to leave their previous church, but they came because God led them here and because they believed in the work we were doing. Even so, we have never lost sight of the task of reaching the lost. We still do it. It’s still challenging. It always will be. We will not become an inward focused church. Rather, we still look to the fields that are ripe unto harvest.
Very few leaders comprehend the cost of keeping their church aligned. Pay the price and you’ll experience the compounding outcome.
The Great Commission begins with evangelism.