3 Keys to Engaging a Post-Church Culture

Lessons from this year’s Outreach magazine/LifeWay Research survey of large, fast-growing churches.

This is especially true for evangelism. Archer explains, “We don’t want to just tell people, ‘Hey, go have a conversation.’ We want to make it easy for them.”

Next Level Church tells its people to constantly be inviting and investing in relationships. That is not a new approach, but Next Level goes another step to make this easy. The leaders make the church incredibly visible in the community. They found that if the community is talking about Next Level, it is easy for an attendee to chime in and say, “Oh, that’s my church!”

They get the community talking about the church through events such as a helicopter egg drop at Easter, a gas buy-down, a Happy Mother’s Day rap on Facebook that went viral and micro websites for seasonal campaigns. There are also small invite cards to assist their efforts.

The instructions for church attendees are to take inventory of who is close to you and far from God, and invite them.

Another complication for many attendees is knowing when is a good time to invite their friends. A church can make it easy for people by making this very obvious. Some of the fastest-growing churches go another step—they are intentional about every week being an invite week. This way there are no schedule conflicts and no confusion.

Next Level Church’s emphasis on inviting nonchurchgoers is tied back to the gospel message that is explained every weekend in its services.

Life Church in Green Bay uses a similar strategy. Each week, the people hear that every Sunday is a good Sunday to bring family or friends, because every Sunday is a chance to receive Jesus. Every Sunday is another game, another opportunity to move the ball down the field further in people’s “Jesus journey.”

Each service is focused on Jesus, and the sermon always includes an opportunity for a salvation response. To help attendees know what guests can expect, Life Church tries to avoid having guest speakers. The leaders want consistency in who will be speaking, to connect with the culture, people and city.

They also took an idea from Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama (No. 5 fastest-growing)—offering a weekly 101 class on what it means to be on the Jesus journey and a 201 class on getting connected. In each class, they reinforce that every Sunday is a good Sunday to bring a friend.

“It’s not a program for us,” says Hennessy. “It’s just a way of life for all of our people.”

3. Prove the value you are offering.

In our research of unchurched adults—those who have not been attending church in the last six months—that we conducted for Wheaton College this year, three cultural realities are evident.

1. Few are thinking about their eternal destiny.
2. They don’t see church attendance as beneficial.
3. Most haven’t heard believable benefits of becoming a follower of Jesus.

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In short, the unchurched are not in church because they don’t understand the value. And the way we are accustomed to explaining the value doesn’t connect with them.

“It took me a while to get this,” says Lindsey. “Not only were the unchurched people indifferent about church, but they were almost jaded toward church. It was almost like ‘Been there, done that.’”

Even though Lindsey refers to Colorado Springs as Christianville, “People are not predisposed to church,” he says.

“Somewhere along the way we’ve made the mistake in the church of thinking people come to church looking for forgiveness and salvation,” says Lindsey, “when really, people come to church looking for help and hope.”

Lindsey is not minimizing telling people to confess and accept eternal life, and he agrees that getting them walking with Jesus is the endgame. But he is convinced Jesus came to do much more than that and people need to hear and see those things, too.

“We’re not just talking about forgiveness,” says Lindsey. “We’re talking about healing, redemption, restoration and life to the fullest.”

Discovery Church shows this value in its community. The church has a food truck on the streets three days a week feeding hungry people. It has partnered with the Springs Rescue Mission, has a big Halloween event, collects turkeys at Thanksgiving, adopts families at Christmas and fills backpacks for school kids.

Service projects can be an easier invitation than to a worship service: “Hey, come! We’re going to feed some hungry people this Saturday morning.”

One Saturday night, a man named Chris was in town for a party during the NFL playoffs. Chris was planning to go back to Denver, Colorado, that night and kill himself. His life had hit a low point, and he had it all planned out.

Shane, who attends Discovery Church, was at the same party and said, “Why don’t you stay the night and go to church with me in the morning?” Shane had no idea what Chris had planned, but he convinced Chris to stay at his house that night, and they went to church the next morning.

Six months later, Chris was baptized. He is now engaged and he serves in the church with his fiancée.

“Our basic growth engine is inviting people,” says Lindsey. “Our people are contagious inviters, because they found life themselves in the church.”

On the other side of the country, Archer describes a similar experience in New England. You can’t simply send a mailer saying a new church is coming. “That’s not a draw for people, because in their life, they don’t have a category for church.”

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Nationally, 1 in 4 unchurched adults has never regularly attended a Christian church.

“They’re not attracted to the idea of church,” says Archer. “So, we’ve got to go in and relationally build trust and show them we’re here to give back.” Next Level seeks to meet the needs in the communities where it has campuses. The church wants to add value to people’s lives in such a way that they become open to God.

Archer finds the easiest first step for people is attending a worship service where they can be anonymous and kick the tires a little. And the staff models inviting people to church. As the lead pastor preaches, he shares about the conversations he has with people in his basketball league or a conversation with the tree guy.

“When you have something that you love, you can’t help but talk about it,” Archer says.

A couple of years ago, a high school student with a broken background had given his life to Jesus at Next Level and was excited that his story would be shown on video. He invited a next-door neighbor he had known his entire life, an older businessman, to come to church, as he had several times before.

What the student didn’t know was that his neighbor was struggling with alcohol. Just a few weeks before, the man had missed a flight because he was too drunk to come home. Stuck in an airport, he found a Christian book and started reading it. He came that weekend to see the high school student’s video and accepted Christ.

It took more than a year for the businessman’s wife to attend. Next Level has service opportunities for people whether or not they believe in Jesus, and she began serving as she worked through her doubts. A couple of months ago she found Archer in the lobby and said, “Today I made the decision to follow Christ.”

Next Level creates opportunities where people feel comfortable enough to come in, explore and see what this Jesus thing is all about.

The church welcomes the broken. The videos make it easy to invite. The story of what God has done proves the value of the message to others.

If the values of our culture have you discouraged, this is not a time to disengage. Cultural engagement involves loving and welcoming the people in our communities, making it easy for our congregations to live this mission and clearly communicating the value of a relationship with Jesus.

Read more about the 2016 Outreach 100 »

Scott McConnell is the executive director of LifeWay Research.