Preparing to Embrace the “Never Churched”

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Church leaders underestimate the challenge of embracing people with little or no background in churches. It is essential for leaders to prepare congregations to receive the “Never Churched.”

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

This entire series of posts is necessary because churches are most effective at reaching people similar to themselves. As such, congregations assume new people will share their beliefs, values, interests and life challenges.

Thus, it can be shocking for congregational members when the “Never Churched” start participating in our church. On a personal level, I’ve experienced the following from new participants who had very little experience in churches.  

  • One gentleman interrupted the sermon to ask a couple questions about the message.
  • Another man told a coarse joke, complete with swearing, during a Sunday morning Bible class.
  • Yet another young woman shared she was not really “new” to the church because she had often “partied” in the preschool playground behind our church.

At the time, I didn’t have the wisdom to prepare our leaders for participants who had no real background in church. This is your opporutunity to learn from my mistake. 

Broaden Support for the Effort

A pastor and a couple of lay leaders usually lead the effort to reach people with little background in churches. Too often they mistakenly think other leaders will quickly get on board.

For example, the pastor casts the vision for a more diverse congregation to the church council. The council members nod in agreement. The pastor interprets this as council members saying, “We will lead the charge for this cause.” In reality, the council members were communicating, “Pastor, go ahead and do your outreach. However, it’s not our outreach.” 

It takes time and effort to get formal and informal congregational leaders to engage in reaching the “Never Churched.” If leaders will not embrace the work, then the congregation likely will not either.

Application of God’s Word

While the Scriptures never change, who we apply God’s Word to our congregations does shift. For example, I’ve served a church where who had two teenagers in our community commit suicide the same week. We shifted the application of God’s Word for a period of time, focusing on God’s presence, ministry of presence and hope. 

If God is leading your church to reach the “Never Churched,” you apply God’s Word to reaching people with little background in churches. Teachers and preachers identify appropriate biblical themes for use in Bible classes, devotions and worship services.

Consider this example. In Bible class the Parable of the Good Samaritan is usually applied to the personal life of members. A discussion question would sound like this: “How would you assist a homeless couple in our community?”. If the church is focused on reaching the “Never Churched,” the discussion question might sound like this: “We hope to have participants who thought a church could never accept them. What steps could we take to help them become part of our church family?”

Take a Field Trip

It is helpful to visit specialized ministries such as a community food pantry or financial training class. However, your church is called to make disciples of Jesus. There is greater benefit in visiting congregations that have successfully integrated the “Never Churched” into congregational life.

If you don’t know such a church, ask for recommendations from friends who are passionate about God’s Mission. Most regional leaders know examples of such ministry. As I go around visiting congregation, I will take note of congregations reaching the “Never Churched” so I can help connect congregations.

Find Leaders among the “Never Churched”

When churches are becoming multi-ethnic congregations, the single most important step in the transition plan is staffing. The church staff should represent the ethnic groups the congregation is reaching.

In your community the “Never Churched” may have the same ethnic and socio-economic background as members. It is still important to find or raise up leaders who were once among the ”Never Churched.” It is not necessary to call a pastor who grew up as the “Never Churched,” but it would help.

Such leaders give the church credibility with the “Never Churched.” They also prove invaluable in helping long time members understand those with no churched background. Just as importantly, these leaders help the church avoid pitfalls in the planning process.

What lessons have you learned in preparing God’s people to embrace the “Never Churched”? Answer the question in the comments or shoot me an email.

Additional posts in this series include:

Why Churches Seek the “Never Churched”

The “Never Churched” Challenge for Churches


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