Reaching, attracting and retaining people to a new church is a difficult thing to accomplish. In Mansfield, when people are asked what church they attend, more people check "none" than any other choice. Those are the people we at Church Requel are aiming for. We are a church for the "nones." A difficult thing to accomplish becomes a nearly impossible thing to accomplish, if the target audience are people not attending church anywhere else.
Transitioning someone from "unchurched" to "churched" is a slow, sometimes frustrating experience - but when it happens, it's really a beautiful thing!
We are a church for the unchurched. George Hunter coined the phrase, church for the unchurched, with his book by the same name back in 1996. He described a church returning to its apostolic origins, reaching a mission field in its own back yard. America, Hunter pointed out, had become one of the greatest mission fields in the world. Rather than being a country sending out Christian missionaries to other nations, the U.S. was a country in need of missionaries.
In the two decades since Hunter described the unchurched, unchurched people have changed. Twenty years ago an unchurched person in America had a memory of church and, when tough times came into their lives, they often became spiritual seekers looking to the church for answers. Today most unchurched people don't even have a memory of the church having answers. They have been disconnected from the church so long that it doesn't even occur to them to seek out the church or its teachings.
Churches that once targeted seekers are finding that portions of subsequent generations do not have any religious memory at all--and it is harder to appeal to their seeking. They are the "Nones" - those who, when asked about religious affiliation, check "none." In a post-seeker context, churches will have to create new models to lead their people to engage their neighbors who might not find appealing an invitation to church.
This coming Sunday Church Requel will be baptizing 3 adults, who one year ago would have checked the "none" category. All three have a distant memory of the church from their childhood. As adults, for many reasons, they joined the majority of people not attending church anywhere.
This past week I have had the privilege to interview all three for a baptism video telling their stories of coming back to the Christian faith. I listened to one woman describe her "spiritual adventure" this past year, with excitement in her voice. Another man admits that he can't point to one particular moment when everything changed for him, but his eyes light up as he describes how his life, his purposes, and his desires are different now than they were a year ago. Yet another woman, with tears in her eyes, describes the positive change in her marriage that her newfound faith has encouraged over this past year.
In a word, watching these three describe their spiritual journey back to Christ is a BEAUTIFUL thing. And oh so affirming! For this pastor, often accustomed to watching people come and go, attending only when convenient or when the felt need is great, I'm reminded that Christ's Spirit still calls and attracts people to His church.
Todd Rhodes, who writes daily over at Monday Morning Insights, reminded me yesterday of the truth that "the Lord of the Harvest" is responsible for my success. I am responsible for my faithful service. I have to admit that this is one of the most challenging things I am learning. Coming from the business world where success and failure are spelled out with daily, weekly, and quarterly frequency, refocusing on the eternal timeframe is nearly impossible for me.
Perhaps this is the point. Reaching people for Christ, when they don't even remember church as an option, is on its face impossible. Going weeks and months without seeing any immediate numerical increases in the church only increases the feelings of "impossible" for this pastor. God, however, is not overly concerned with my success. He is concerned about my faithfulness in the face of impossible. This weekend the face of impossible changes. This week impossible becomes BEAUTIFUL!