I've been told that when you buy real estate, there are three things you need to consider, location, location, location. I believe that when you are starting a Christian community, you need to remember three things, connect, connect, connect. I think the reason many churches are not being visited by new members is that there is a disconnect between church people and not-church people. We have our buildings, our language, our music, and our friendships which makes it difficult for unbelievers to feel welcomed and comfortable in our churches.
Our churches have become places where we talk about how to reach new people, but we don't usually consider that they are just like us. It's a mentality of us and them. We offer something to them and they should be so grateful that they will want to come in on Sunday morning. I know this to be true because I have, as a pastor, led this conversation numerous times. Most often what we offer is help with physical needs, assuming that that will eventually translate to meeting spiritual needs. Very seldom has that worked. And I believe that is because people don't respond because somebody gave them something. They respond because someone has taken a personal interest in them and empathized with their concerns and desires.
It can be intimidating for someone who has never gone to church to walk into a sanctuary and see that everybody else seems to know what to do. And as the service proceeds, they have to look around to figure out what they are supposed to do. Singing can be difficult either because they don't know the song or they don't know how to read a hymnal. If they have never prayed, they may be confused about the method used by the congregation and pastor to pray. If there is a greeting time they may, in some churches, have to stand alone while everybody is greeting family and friends.
So what if, in this new century, we change the way we do church to make it more connectional and more informational and more inviting. That would require us to get out of the church building and gather in a place where those we want to share the gospel with already gather. A home, a coffee shop, or a restaurant to name a few places. God's Holy Spirit can be found wherever we are.
Jesus told Peter, "Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep." I believe this command from Jesus means we need to do more than just offer a food bank. When a shepherd tends his sheep, he looks them over to make sure they have no sores or any parasites that might cause the sheep health issues. He assures that they stay in a safe area, protecting them from wild animals that might harm them.
When we tend to God's precious children, we need to be aware of more than just their physical hunger. We need to get to know those we want to share the gospel with. Sharing the gospel should not be the first thing we talk about with them. We should build strong relationships with unbelievers, as well as, believers. In 2 Timothy we read, "24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." (NIV)
According to Bible.org, "The statistics are clear; once the average person becomes a believer in Christ, he or she loses contact with all unbelieving friends within two years." Once we have repented and accepted Christ as our Savior, our lives will change, but we can't abandon unbelievers. It's only through our relationships with them that we can share the Good News in a way that will have meaning to them. They will learn their value in Christ from the value that we show them in our relationship with them.
I believe that it is imperative that 21st-century churches remember that the church was created to reach unbelievers just as much as it is there to disciple and teach believers.