One of the areas where I am growing in my ministry is my awareness of life for people who do not go to church (Which, by the way, is well over half the people in Suffolk and Hampton Roads).
For example, I attended the Ruritan Chuckatuck meeting this past Monday evening. Four of us local ministers were gathered to be the program for the evening. The other three that were there to speak spoke about how people were not coming to church. The minister at St. John’s on King’s Highway, affectionally known as Friar Tuck, said there are 13 churches from the bridge on RT. 10 up to Chuckatuck. He said the vast majority of those churches average under 20 people on a Sunday morning.
We have plenty of church buildings in Suffolk, but not many churches.
One of the characteristics of the unchurched in the downtown Suffolk area that I have observed (and even some of the churched) is indifference. In their minds they don’t need church. This is true for a number of reasons.
- They don’t need the drama that is often associated with church life. Drama is great for a reality TV series, but not in church. Most people have enough drama at work and at home. They don’t want to add to it and I don’t blame them.
- They already have great friendships. One of the big pushes in church life is developing friendships “at church.” What I’ve noticed is most unchurched people have that emotional support with friends they already have- however unhealthy churched people define those relationships.
- They are individualistic in their faith. I have run into many unchurched people who see their faith as just having a relationship with Jesus (Meaning they said a prayer, went through class, or was baptized) but do not see it as being part of the community. This is the churches fault. We might say we live in an individualistic society, but team sports have developed a psychology that when you join you are making a commitment to that team. Why hasn’t the church developed the same way of thinking in a spiritual context?
- They see the consequences of their relationships with each as more important as their relationship with Jesus. They live in the here and now of the emotions they are feeling and do not think eternally. This is what I call spiritual blindness.
One observation I make about myself in my article that I refer to the unchurched as “them.” That’s wrong. I live and breathe in the same community that “they” do. This implies that I see “them” as less valuable than me. My language must change to reflect how I really feel in that I see them more valuable than I do my own church meaning I am willing to leave the 99 sheep to go get the 1 (Luke 15).
The question is how do we reach these unchurched people of Suffolk? How about this as a first step? What if we started showing them by our community of faith how great it is, by how we live, by how we treat each other with God’s grace, instead of telling them how great it is? I think that is a start.