Dan Kimball: “If you don’t have a big budget or you’re not a superstar preacher, that’s OK.”
We just baptized 19 people on a Sunday, and I met with every one before the baptisms as I normally do. Whenever I ask, What led to your baptism? with few exceptions, the stories are almost the same. They go something like this:
I wasn’t a Christian and had doubts and mistrust about Christianity, or I was a Christian but left the faith until recently. I met a Christian and hung out with him and some of his friends. They weren’t weird and didn’t raise awkward conversations about Jesus. They were just my friends. They would mention church, and I eventually asked to go, or they asked me, and it wasn’t anything like I expected. I didn’t expect to see people my age. I loved the coffeehouse and the music. The teaching was helpful. I kept coming back, started reading the Bible and was able to ask someone my questions. I would never have expected it, but I ended up believing in Jesus.
I don’t want to oversimplify it, but that really is almost the same story we hear every time. Here‘s what it’s taught me.
Even though we constantly emphasize a missional approach and teach “We are the church, you don’t go to church,” Sunday gatherings are very important. In almost every case, the Sunday meeting is a major factor in a person’s decision to follow Jesus.
These people tell me the Sunday meetings showed them they weren’t alone in their search. They didn’t know church meetings would be something they could relate to. So much—the teaching, the aesthetics, the friendliness—is very important to them.
These people also say they liked being in a meeting where they could be anonymous. Maybe Christians shopping for a church want more identifying presence, but for someone just wondering about faith, the larger Sunday meeting allows them to hide a bit.
Their friends were intentionally praying for them. It’s a simple thing, but it’s important. Whenever I meet a person’s friend or family member, they always say they were praying, often for quite some time.
Church leaders must instill the urgency of outreach as part of the church culture. As important as the church’s teaching, music and meetings may be, those don’t get people in the door. If you create a culture of care for people who don’t yet know Jesus, then they will come, but generally as a result of relationship and prayer. They come with their friends. Leaders have to help their people see the priority of their own part in the process.
I’ve learned that what brings people to Jesus isn’t usually anything genius or innovative. It isn’t a program or amazing sermons or glamorous Christmas productions. It’s Christians caring enough to pray for, befriend and simply hang out with people who don’t know Jesus. It’s demonstrating that not all Christians are crazy or hateful. Then the opportunity comes. That is evangelism. And that’s the lifestyle the local church must encourage.
So if you don’t have a big budget or you’re not a superstar preacher, that’s OK. What’s important is creating a culture of care for those walking without Jesus. Even in a world called post-Christian, with millennials leaving the church and the “nones” on the rise, there’s still something compelling in the simplistic beauty of outreach.