Why Won't They Come To Our Church?

Why Won't They Come To Our Church?

By John Delius



YOU are talking with the minister of a flourishing West Indian church in one of our cities.   “Pastor, please excuse this question, but I can’t help noticing that there are a lot of white people live near here, but hardly any of them come to your church.”- “Well”, he replies, “I am a black man, and these Jamaicans are my people.  I speak like they do and I know how they think, so when I present the gospel they naturally understand what I am talking about. 

“Although my white neighbours also speak English, they have a different culture.  I think you are asking me why I am not a cross-cultural missionary.  The answer is simple.  Cross-cultural missionaries are specially trained.  I haven’t had the training.  That’s why they don’t come to my church.”

Many churches sincerely try to minister to ‘ordinary’ people, but the ‘ordinary’ local people aren’t drawn in.  Why not?  The barrier is not ethnic, it’s education and the surrounding culture.  They don’t have the same basically Christian, well-educated background that the ministry assumes all the congregation have. 

The preacher says: “You know what Moses / Paul said about this” - but they don’t.  “In this age of technology in which we live” - but ‘Christianity is unscientific’.  “When William Carey went to India ...” - “Who? Is he on Facebook?  “The Bible is the Word of God” - ‘OK Grandad, my mate Mohammed has a holy book, so what’s new?’   “Jesus tells us the way to God” - ‘That’s all very well, but all religions lead to God’; or as the atheist replies, ‘All religions are equal rubbish’.

If a church has a uni-educated minister and deacons from Christian homes, the church membership will reflect their background; they will mostly be graduates or equivalent from real or nominal Christian families - UNLESS the minister and the church begin a cross-cultural ministry.

Fifty years ago most church members were brought up in more-or-less Christian homes, and they had a fair knowledge of the Bible and of the Christian life.  The church provided little social life for them apart from meetings.  But new converts from non-Christian homes don’t know the Bible, don’t have a Christian framework for their lives, don’t have any Christian background knowledge, and they don’t have any Christian social life.

Thus to an incomer, the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac sounds like a primitive religious myth - not exactly what we intend!  He may wonder why God should wish to test Abraham’s faith (or ours) at all since God knows everything anyway.  He may query why God should want a human sacrifice; or if not, why he should pretend to.  Without answering these unspoken questions the whole story will seem to him a trivial and unchristian legend.  When these misunderstandings are cleared up, he can go on to learn what Abraham teaches us about justification by faith and the atonement.  But if the story is not explained taking his world-view into account, he won’t learn the spiritual truth.

Consider a new convert’s social life, organised so far around shopping, pubbing and clubbing.  How will he or she make friends with people in the church?  What will fill the time previously spent in the pub or disco?  We wouldn’t actually advise new Christians to watch TV at home instead of going out with non-Christian friends, but do we imply that by our teaching and church arrangements for them?  5-minute chats after meetings don’t make up a satisfactory Christian social life for a new believer.  Unhurried occasions to get to know some Christian friends socially are necessary for their spiritual growth.

In the last 50 years the background to English life has changed from nominal Christian to secular.  We need to adapt our Bible teaching ministry and evangelism accordingly.  We don’t mean, by watering down the gospel, but by showing them how to read the Bible for themselves, by applying the scriptures to today’s life-situations, by providing social mechanisms that make Christian fellowship part of the new Christians’ daily life, and by teaching them how to confront the common attacks on their Christian faith.

There is a saying from the computer world, “Systems condition their users to accept their output.”  It’s very true.   Applied to churches and their preaching, it means we tend to accept whatever our church supplies as good and reject any criticism.  But we don’t have to be controlled by our system - with God’s help let’s upgrade it to bring the gospel to our generation.

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“OK”, you say, “I see the problem.  What do you suggest we do about it?”    If you are interested you can get the next few chapters by email from John Delius - click here.  

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John Delius (a pen-name) has been a local preacher and home group leader for many years, and he and his wife have lived and worked in a country where Christian outreach is not allowed.  They are members of a YBA church.

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