We are a group of baptized believers in and disciples of Jesus Christ who have voluntarily joined hearts and hands together to accomplish several purposes God has laid down for us in Scripture—worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry and evangelism. We do well to take inventory of whom and what we have, what we’re doing to accomplish our purposes and whom we’re trying to reach.
Let’s think a bit about whom we’re trying to reach. We live in a rural county with lots of wide-open spaces around us. Regardless, within just a few short miles, we have several newer and older communities full of people. Most of these people are not wealthy. Few of them are intact, nuclear families–many are single-parent families because of divorce, and many are blended families. Many of the adults around us drive away from our community to work or play and only return home to sleep, so they’re hard to find at home much of the time. All of these people, of course, fall into two categories: those who are saved and those who are lost. Those who are saved need a church home, and we’d like to be a place where they can plug in and serve as well as find a place of fellowship, worship and discipleship, participating with us in our effort to reach the world with the Gospel. Those who are lost need to find Jesus, the Savior, Who died to pay the price their sin requires. Then, once they’ve been reconciled to God, they’ll have the same basic need as the saved people we’re trying to reach.
Let’s think in a little more detail about the lost people around us. As I see them, they fall into three primary categories: indifferent, searching and religious. Those who are indifferent never go to church and don’t care anything about God or religion. Those who are searching are likely under conviction or, at least, have had their spiritual sensitivities stirred and heightened by some event(s) in their lives. Unfortunately, they are often led astray by false teachers, thinking they can find the answers to their hearts’ felt need in “spirituality” rather than in Jesus Himself. Those who are religious may attend church regularly but without a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus.
Let’s think more about the saved people around us. As I see them, they, too, fall into three primary categories: backslidden, religious and hungry/thirsty. Because they’re children of God, these people have the advantage of having the Holy Spirit resident in their lives, and His job is to convict and to direct, and we have His assistance in encouraging these folks to do what is right. Those who are backslidden, though they’ve been saved, have left their first love. They rarely, if ever, attend church, and their hearts have become hard toward the things of God. There is little noticeable difference between them and those who are lost, and we may sometimes think that they are, in fact, lost. Those who are religious are active in church activities, but their hearts are not in it. Seeing, they do not see the glory of Jesus and His wonderful salvation. Church attendance and Christian service, for them, are a tedious duty to be endured, and many of them do little more than occupy a chair for an hour or two each week, if that. Those who are hungry/thirsty for God are faithful attendees and participants in the life of the church. They joyfully serve God and others, and they count it a privilege to be able to do so. When they move to a new area, they are quick to find a church family where they may continue to worship and serve God. They look for people to encourage and for opportunities to serve.
Rick Warren, in his book The Purpose-Driven Church, identified the people in our community by placing them in five concentric circles. In the outermost circle, he placed the community, those who live in our geographic area but are not involved in our church at all. In the second circle in from the outside, he placed the crowd, those who attend worship services or other events at our church with any regularity. In the next circle, he placed the congregation, those who have entered into covenant with the members of our church by joining our fellowship. In the fourth circle, he placed the committed, those who have taken on some level of responsibility in the life of the church. In the innermost circle, he placed the core, those who are leaders in helping the church accomplish her mission and are actively training others for leadership as they have opportunity. Our goal is to move people from the outermost circle to the innermost circle—to reach them in the community and get them into the crowd so that, at God’s prompting, they may become a part of the congregation and, with consistent discipleship, the committed and, ultimately, the core. As we successfully help people make these transitions, we glorify God, and His church grows.
In a future post, I’d like to help us think about some strategies we may use to reach our community, realizing just who is there and what will be successful in reaching them. I hope you’ll keep an open mind and your eyes on God and His Word as we think on these things together.