5 Reasons Why Our Outreach Strategies Aren't Reaching Secular People Today
We are living in an increasingly post-Christian culture. This culture and generation are overwhelmed with loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
And sadly, they are not looking to the Church for answers. These are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and co-workers.
The American church has a rich history of bold evangelism, but lately, we’ve been doing a poor job. As culture shifts, our approach to evangelism has to change as well—but we are lagging behind.
We need an honest assessment of why our outreach strategies are largely ineffective. This type of honest review will reveal what has worked before and what will no longer work today.
Below I've outlined 5 reasons why church outreach strategies don't reach secular people:
1. We use Christian language and assumptions that are foreign to secular culture
There are many well-meaning followers of Jesus who want to share the gospel, but who still use their grandfather's words and explanations. This oversight in communication is costly because many secular people are open to the gospel but may not understand, or are simply put off by what we are trying to communicate.
We have to increase our own awareness around “in-house” terminology and discard anything that wouldn’t make sense to someone without a church background. This applies to our use of the Bible in an outreach setting. For instance, to most Christians, the Bible offers a sufficient defense for the Christian faith. However, the problem is that a secular person doesn’t accept the Bible as an authority, making this approach circular and illogical.
Jesus was brilliant at knowing His audience and shaping his message in a way that spoke in a visceral and relevant way.
Unlike in your grandfather’s day, people today are less familiar with biblical language. We have to discard these distractions and learn how to point people to Jesus using words and symbols that speak powerfully to them.
2. Secular people have become suspicious of religious institutions and are less likely to come to church
In the past, you could invite a skeptic to a church event to hear a compelling speaker share the Gospel, and they would actually come, but this will not work today. The emerging secular culture isn’t coming to our “cool church nights,” no matter how often we invite them or how we dress it up.
While we are undoubtedly sincere in our desire to reach people through these events, this approach is quickly losing relevance. We must focus our efforts on those who will not normally come to our churches looking for answers, e.g. the growing majority of culture today.
I think many followers of Jesus are aware of the need, often painfully represented in the lives of their own family members, yet they don’t know what to do about it.
The simple response is to be like Jesus—to get out of our Christian ghetto, develop authentic relationships, and share the Gospel in relevant ways with unbelievers in their places.
3. Christian entertainment rarely connects with secular people
When our “in-house” outreaches invariably fail, we respond by taking the church outside. We line up the best Christian speakers and entertainers, rent a world-class facility, and expect them to come to us. This approach simply relocates the problem.
Our approach remains foreign to a world that did not grow up in our Church context and culture. Bringing church culture outside only proves that we don’t recognize the massive cultural gap that exists between the Church and secular people.
Relevant and effective evangelism is about expressing the truth of the Gospel in the language of the people God has called you to reach.
4. The Church has become known for what we are against
To the average secular person today, Christianity is seen as a system of rules intended to suppress freedom and killjoy. We are against gay people, women, and the environment. We’re anti-science and close-minded. We seem to have an attitude toward the outside world as if to say, “if they would clean up their lives, then maybe we would accept them.”
Youth culture esteems tolerance and inclusion above all else, making this false version of Christianity antithetical to their values.
Too often Christian outreaches focus on moral issues and behavioral modification which perpetuates this religious version of Jesus and drives secular people further from the truth.
We need to present a positive vision of the Gospel, after all, it’s good news! Secular people don’t need to be reminded of what we are against, they already know, but many of them wonder if we are for anything—let’s start there.
5. Secular people have not experienced God’s power!
Every fruitful outreach approach, whether your grandfather’s or the most current form, has one thing in common: God’s supernatural power.
Secular people don’t need a fancy new approach, they don't need world-class entertainment or compelling arguments, they need to encounter God.
When our outreach approaches rely on looking cool or clever taglines, people see a marketing pitch or just another brand, not an opportunity to experience God.
This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.” This is still true today.
This means that we need to hold loosely to any method and seek God like never before. He is the vine, we are branches. In humility, we must recognize that strategies come and go, but if God isn’t in what we are doing, it will produce nothing.
So..How Can We Respond?
When it comes to our outreach strategies—it’s time to rethink how we do everything. The biggest shift is to empower all followers of Jesus to reach the people that don't normally look to a church for answers, not just relying on high-profile evangelists to do the work. All of us need to get in the action.
The first step requires that we learn what people outside of the church are really like. While they may be suspicious of religion, most are not atheists. They are spiritually curious and open to discussing deep topics.
This is a massive opportunity for church leaders. We must become experts at having spiritual conversations with the non-religious.
To help bridge this gap, check out the brand new IsThereMore? Spiritual Conversations for the Non-Religious tool. It's an amazing way to engage in gospel conversations with those in your life who are far from God.
Today’s culture may seem dark, but if we have the courage to invite people to have spiritual conversations and pursue Truth together, God will move and lives will be changed!