NASHVILLE, Tenn. – I am often amused when I hear myself identified as an expert in any area. If I am a perceived expert, it is because I have had the wonderful opportunity to listen to thousands of people over the past few decades. They are the experts; I am little more than an interested reporter.
Though much of this information could be regarded as dismal, my ultimate assessment is not that pessimistic. I believe in the God of miracles. If my conclusions focused on human ability and goodness, I would have little hope. But my conclusions presume the God of creation is on His throne.
For now, in this list of 10 reasons we have not reached the unchurched, let us focus on what is wrong. Let us look with stark honesty and candor at the ineffectiveness of many American believers when it comes to sharing their faith. And in coming weeks, let us look at reversing the trend through God’s power.
1. Spiritual lethargy. One of the main reasons many Christians do not share their faith is simply explained by the word disobedience. Spiritual lethargy takes place when we fail to obey Him. The problem for many Christians is that they are not growing spiritually, and lack of spiritual growth inevitably leads to a diminished desire to share Christ with others.
2. Growing inclusivism. One of the faster-growing belief systems today is pluralism (all religions lead to God). A variation of pluralism called inclusivism is a dangerous doctrine that is gaining momentum in many American seminaries, Christian colleges and churches. This view affirms that Jesus is the only way of salvation, but he can be found in other “good” religions. There is a subtle but growing belief among many Christians that somehow “good” followers will make it to heaven outside of a true Christian conversion. Our message will fall on deaf ears if this belief persists and grows.
3. Growing disbelief in hell. At one time, this was a view held almost exclusively by unbelievers. However, recent books by those claiming to be evangelicals have brought this discussion front and center. Those who truly have a desire to reach the unchurched have a burden to see people in the eternity of heaven, but they also desire to see them escape the wrath of an eternal hell. Denying the existence of hell undermines the urgency of placing one’s faith in Christ.
4. Busyness. Perhaps one of Satan’s most effective strategies is to get us so busy that we fail to do that which is such a high biblical priority. We can be deluded into complacency about the lostness of humanity around us. The unchurched are waiting for you to tell them about Jesus. They need to be on your to-do list. What priority do you give to reaching the lost?
5. Fear of rejection. In research on this subject, I found that only one in four unchurched persons will be resistant to faith discussions. But nearly four out of 10 of the unchurched will be receptive to your concern for their eternity, and more than one out three will simply be neutral to your attempts. Simply stated, fear of rejection is unfounded. The few people with an antagonistic attitude are not rejecting you personally; their anger is merely a reflection of something in their past. Fear of rejection is an often-used excuse by Christians for their failure to witness. And it is just that: an excuse.
6. A desire to be tolerant. The message of the gospel, in some senses, is intolerant. The one true God insists there can be no other gods. He is a jealous God and leaves no room for other gods. In the post-modern culture of 21st century America, Christians should know the criticisms of intolerance will come. The great concern is that many Christians are unwilling to take a narrow view because they do not want to be labeled as intolerant. But Jesus never wavered in His insistence that He is the only way to the one and only true God.
7. Losing the habit of witnessing. Some Christians have been very active in sharing their faith with the lost and the unchurched. But, for a myriad of reasons, they get out of the habit, and it no longer becomes a priority. Witnessing, like prayer and Bible study, is a discipline. It is a habit to learn, to retain, and, if lost, to regain.
8. Lack of accountability. Programmatic evangelism in local churches is sometimes denigrated because it is seen as a “canned” approach to witnessing. But one of the strengths of many of these programs is that some inherent system of accountability is built into the program itself. Accountability is likely to engender more witnessing attempts to the unchurched. Attempting more evangelistic encounters creates a habit of witnessing that then increases our zeal for evangelism.
9. Failure to invite. When is the last time you invited an unchurched person to church? When is the last time you offered to take a person to church, or, at the very least, meet him or her at church? It’s a simple gesture, yet so few Christians do it.
10. We go to churches that do not reach the unchurched. We only reach one person for Christ each year for every 85 church members in the United States. That is a frightening and terrible ratio. One of the key reasons we do not reach the unchurched is that many Christians in America are members of churches that do not reach the unchurched.
I’ve covered 10 of the most common reasons Christians fail to obey the Great Commission. This list is not exhaustive, though. In God’s power, however, we can reverse this trend and reach the unchurched in America.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Thom S. Rainer is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. This column first appeared on his website, thomrainer.com.)