News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Rev. Robert Sparkman

Surprises about people who do not attend church

I recently saw a study about "unchurched" people in Christianity Today. It was called "Ten Surprises About the Unchurched: Understanding Their Hearts and Minds" by Dr. Thom Rainer. It had 10 surprises learned from a detailed study of people who do not go to church.

Surprise No. 2 was that most of the unchurched feel guilty about not going to church and acknowledge their families need it. They recognize they need the Lord.

Surprise No. 10 was that they are more concerned about their children than they are about themselves. They are highly "concerned about the spiritual welfare of their children."

I do not think God wants us to be guilty. I think he wants us to accept Christ, do the best we can, live in faith in Christ and live a joyful and forgiven life. But this is so interesting. We in the church tend to think of unchurched people as so satisfied with their lives that they do not need us. We put off asking because we think we are intruding on people's busy lives.

Actually, this worry about intruding may be realistic. Surprise No. 7 was that some types of cold calls are effective, but most are not. The types of contacts that are effective are from friend to friend, co-worker to co-worker, family member to family member.

That leads to Surprise No. 3. Ninety-six percent of people would be somewhat likely to attend church if invited. The study said, "What constitutes an invitation? For many, it was a simple invitation to come to one's church. For others, it was an invitation that included an offer to meet someone at church to show them around or walk with them in the building. In either case, the process was pretty basic. If we invite them, they will come."

Another surprise, No. 4, was that few unchurched people had someone share with them how to become a Christian.

Surprise No. 8 was, as the author writes, "The unchurched would like to develop a real and sincere relationship with a Christian."

All our excuses are gone. People want the church, want their children to have healthy spiritual lives, want relationships with Christians and would welcome an invitation. Other excuses were demolished. The study found that most of the unchurched have positive views of pastors, ministers and the church. This is the biggest surprise to me because I thought most people who were not in church had a negative idea of church and pastors. This destroys the last excuse any of us had to not invite someone to Christ and his church.

Do you see the common theme? We Christians are not doing our job. God said to love other people and invite them into a relationship with him. He will give them what they need in their lives. He will help them find meaning and spiritual life, the love and the power they need for themselves and their children. All we have to do is build loving and safe communities of Christ and lovingly invite people to come in.

This study says that such a plan will work if Christians are faithful. Build good fellowships in the church, love people, offer them a relationship with Christ and invite, invite, invite.

I invite people to keep searching to try and find what God has for you.

The Rev. Robert Sparkman, senior pastor of Hartselle First United Methodist Church, is one of several local ministers writing religion columns for THE DAILY. For more information, call Melanie Smith at 340-2468.

Rev. Robert Sparkman Rev. Robert Sparkman

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