As Lyle Schaller points to the reader’s attention in the Forward to William H. Willimon and Robert L. Wilson’s book, Preaching and Worship in the Small Church, the proclamation of God’s Word and the celebration of the sacraments are the primary reason for the existence of the small church. Preaching and worship are the first things on its agenda. The finding of a recent LifeWay survey that only a third of non-churchgoers are open to attending a worship service with a friend is at first glance not good news for the small church. But it need not be.
Marty Duren in his article, “5 Reasons You May Not Be Reaching People in Your Community With the Gospel,” suggests a number of ways that churches may alter their strategy to reach and engage non-churchgoers in light of these findings. All of these suggestions are things that the members of a small church can do.
The members of small churches can talk about Jesus with non-churchgoing relatives, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. They can take time to get to know people well enough to know what they think and to tailor their gospel approach in accordance with what they have learned. They can learn to actively listen to people and to discern what Steve Sjogren, Dave Ping, and Doug Pollock in their book Irresistible Evangelism: Natural Ways to Open Others to Jesus describe as people’s “spiritual address,” the unique address that every human being on the planet Earth has in relationship to the kingdom of God. Sjogren, Ping, and Pollock’s book is a resource that the whole congregation of a small church might study together on Sunday morning and whose insights the small church pastor might revisit again and again in his sermons.
A small church can host community meetings and sponsor community service projects. It can find out what is important to the community and meet the unchurched American population there. A small church can show them that it is interested in the community where they live and where their children go to school.
The members of a small church can join with unchurched members of the community in activities that are beneficial to the community. While these activities may not be directly connected with the gospel, Duren points out, they serve as bridges to the gospel. "Until we have earned the interest of the uninterested," he stresses, "they aren’t hearing our gospel presentation anyway."
The key to reach and engaging this segment of the non-churchgoing population appears to be forming genuine relationships. Like ourselves the unchurched are more likely to listen to a trusted friend than a complete stranger or a casual acquaintance. I have heard story after story of those who have turned to Christ through the witness of someone whom they respected and whom they knew to genuinely have their well-being at heart. The way this person lived mirrored what he or she said.