Reaching the Unchurched
The latest issue of the OPC’s New Horizons has an article entitled “Every Church a Mission Field.” You can find it included in the August-September issue online here. The article describes a conference held before the last OPC General Assembly back in June. The entire article is worth reading, but there was one part that is especially worth sharing:
Dale Van Dyke, the pastor of Harvest OPC in Wyoming, Michigan, presented an engaging summary of the book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them. The author, Thom Rainer, interviewed 353 people who had recently become active in a church after years or even a lifetime outside the church. Rainer also visited churches that he described as effectively evangelistic. Here are some of the conclusions from his study:
- Hiding the denominational name or identity, watering down difficult teachings, and lowering membership requirements do not appeal to new converts.
- The biggest factors that attract new converts are the pastor and his preaching (90%) and sound, clear doctrine (88%).
- Other lesser, though important, factors include friendliness, having been witnessed to, and personal relationships.
- Worship style ranked dead last as a factor (11%).
- The unchurched appreaciate high expectations for membership. (Even a seemingly small thing like arriving early for worship communicates value.)
- Church members should be able to list the core purposes of the church: worship, teaching, prayer, evangelism, and service (consider Acts 2:42-47).
- Pastors of effective evangelistic churches have a functioning theology of ‘lostness’ and communicate that through passionate preaching, pleading with the lost, and commitment to personal evangelism.
Pastor Van Dyke finished his presentation with a challenge that could be summarized like this: Major on the majors (concerning what the Bible teaches). Be biblical, have conviction, and be joyful. Give priority and passion to outreach. Develop effective small-group ministry and Sunday school that encourages teaching, growth, and fellowship. Pursue unchurched family members and colleagues. Uphold high expectations for members. Never forget the power of God!
Rainer’s book certainly sounds worthwhile. His conclusions go against the grain of what many people apparently think should be the shape of an outward-looking church. To me this confirms that Reformed churches do not have to hide their identity or adapt their worship in order to be missional.