Let’s face it. This isn’t our grandparent’s America. For better or worse, culture has changed a lot since the days of Leave it to Beaver. One thing that has changed for the worse in recent years is a navigation away from the things of God. Church and faith are no longer ingrained in the lives of the majority of families. For many, matters of faith have become a habit and cultural practice rather than a commitment and matter of the heart. It’s important to draw a distinction today between those who are truly following Christ and those who culturally identify as Christians. The first group will be welcomed into heaven one day. The second group might experience what Jesus describes in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
As Easter approaches, many of our friends who fall in the second group will don their Sunday best, grab their Bibles, and round up the kids for their annual trip to church. They will sit next to you in the pews. But before they ever arrive at the pew, you have the opportunity to engage with them. They live next door, sit in the next cubicle, send their kids to the same school. They are only a conversation away. And truthfully, they may not know the God you do. They have the knowledge but they may have missed the heart of the gospel—the Son of God came to die and create a way to have a relationship with them. So how do you have these conversations? Where do you begin?
1. Take them back to the basics.
“For God so loved.” One of the most popular verses in the Bible begins with the why behind the what (John 3:16). Many of our friends go to church on Christmas and Easter because they believe God exists; they believe He is who He says; they grew up with the traditions of church; but they don’t understand that God wants a relationship with them. Many of them don’t see Him as relevant to everyday life or consider fellowshipping with others as a vital part of the Christian walk. Remind them of the basics—the heart of the gospel. God loved them and sent His Son. They know the story. Remind them of the heart of the story.
2. Engage with them where they are.
Asking questions will always serve you better than immediately sharing your opinion. As you dive into these conversations, seek to understand. There may be a reason they only visit church twice a year. Maybe they saw inconsistency in their Christian role models growing up. Maybe they were hurt by the church in some fashion. The goal is not to convince them why they should be coming all the time. The goal would be to understand why they aren’t coming so you can be sensitive as you encourage them to take a step toward what God desires for them. You have the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ. People don’t care what we say if they don’t feel like we hear them when they speak. Seek to understand, then invite. Go at their pace. And be faithful to pursue, just as your heavenly Father consistently pursues you.
3. Invite them to something bigger.
The goal of the gospel is never to convince people to come, sit in the pews, and then leave. The goal is to reach the lost and broken with the love of Christ, equip the saints for the work of the gospel, and then deploy the body to transform the world with God’s Word…one life at a time. You get to invite your culturally Christian friends to something so much bigger than coming to church once a year. Share the goal of the global church—we have a calling to go into all the world (Mark 16:15). Show them that believers have a built-in support system with one another (John 13:34). We have a direct line of communication to the God of the universe, and not only does He hear us, He answers (Jer. 33:2-3). The church isn’t a place to come and sit. The church is the people chosen to be a part of the grander story God is weaving.
In the same way we want our friends to understand a relationship with the God we serve, we must make sure that we accurately reflect that God to them. We have to be willing to engage in relationship. Hopefully by seeing your heart for them, they will see the heart of God and respond. This Easter, join our My 3 Challenge. Identify three people in your life who need the gospel. Pray for them. Invite them to come celebrate with us this season. But more than that, walk with them and invite them to the bigger picture—relationship, belonging, calling. Then pray as they journey step-by-step toward a relationship with the God who loves them and desires to use them to transform someone else—just like them—with the truth of God’s Word.