How to Stay Connected With the Unchurched By Kevin Harney
He was the pastor of a large and growing outreach-oriented church. When he asked if we could meet and talk about reaching lost people, I was glad to carve out a lunch to meet him. After a few minutes of introductions, we ordered our food, and he launched into a barrage of questions all listed on his yellow pad of paper: “What outreach programs are working at your church?” “How do you get your board to invest more money in outreach?” “What is your best evangelistic sermon?” He fired question after question, and I tried to give helpful answers.
Right about the time our food came, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me to ask him two very specific questions. I felt a little awkward because I knew he still had a big list of questions, but I looked at him and asked, “How much time do you spend in a normal week with people who are not yet followers of Jesus?” He looked at me, and then looked down at his food for an uncomfortable amount of time, saying nothing. Finally he looked up and locked eyes with me with a very sober look on his face. He did not speak, but simply lifted his right hand; placing the tip of his thumb against his pointer finger, he made a circle. He swallowed and said, “None! I am so busy doing ministry, I don’t have time to invest in nonbelievers.”
I asked my second question, “How many friends do you have that are not Christians?” The look in his eyes gave the answer—none!
My next words popped out of my mouth almost reflexively: “I don’t think we need to talk about the rest of your questions right now. Would it be OK if we spent time talking about ways we can make sure we have significant time in our week set aside for relationships with nonbelievers?”
What followed was a great conversation about the challenges of staying connected with people who are not Christians, and how this gets more difficult the longer we are believers. This is true for pastors, church leaders and all Christians.
Since that day, I have consistently worked on making sure I always have a number of non-Christian friends and that I have regular time carved out to be with them. This means when these friends come to faith in Jesus, I have to expand my circle of friends again.
Here are some simple ways to battle this tendency to drift away from the very people who most need Christians in their life:
1. Try something new. I once joined a community soccer league just to build some new friendships with people outside of the church.
2. Evaluate your schedule. Once a week, look back and honestly assess how much time you spent with non-Christians. Adjust as needed.
3. Connect with old friends. Call people you have not connected with for months or even years. Seek to rekindle these friendships.
4. Serve in your community. Volunteer in a civic organization, a club, or some other community group. These hours could be more fruitful than time you serve at the church.
5. Enter their world. Ask a nonbelieving person you know if you can participate in something they enjoy. Hang out in their world.
6. Bridge relationships. Get to know a nonbeliever who is close with one of your Christian friends.
7. Bridge relationships among nonbelievers. Ask a friend who is not a Christian if you can meet and spend time with some of their friends.
8. Make your home a prayer hub. Let your neighbors know that you would be glad to pray for any joys or needs they have. You might be surprised how many non-Christians actually ask you to pray for them. This can lead to spiritual conversations and new friendships.
Ask yourself these two questions often:
How much time do I spend in a normal week with people who are not Christians?
How many friends do I have who are not Christians?
If you don’t like your answers, do something about it!
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Kevin Harney is the lead pastor of Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, Calif.; an online editor for Outreach magazine; and the author of more than 70 small group studies and many books, including “Organic Outreach for Ordinary People,” “Organic Outreach for Churches,” and “Organic Outreach for Families.” Learn more »