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Reach the hardcore unchurched

By Sam S. Rainer III

Perhaps you’ve encountered a response to the Gospel similar to this one: “You Christians are so hypocritical! You have a fairy-tale belief system. You look down on everyone else. And most of you look like you are from the ‘Twilight Zone.’”

For many Christians, these words and this attitude represent the majority of unchurched America. But it just isn’t so. In fact, in our research we found that only five percent of unchurched America would be this hostile: highly resistant to the Gospel; antagonistic toward Christians, and belligerent in their conversations with and about Christians.

But unchurched America, by our estimates, account for 160 million adults. So the “hardcore” unchurched would total eight million people, or five percent of the total. That’s not a small number, nor is it a number we should ignore.

What, then, are some of the best approaches to reach this group? Allow me to share four key approaches.

Apologetics can be effective

With the hardcore unchurched you are dealing with people who typically deny the reality of heaven and hell, do not believe the Bible is a book of significant value, have negative views of the church, and view Christians as people who need something spiritual as their emotional crutches. These resistant and often antagonistic unbelievers need to be intellectually challenged to the proposition that the Christian faith makes sense, and that many bright and gifted people are Christians.

Deal with misperceptions about Christianity

A common theme we found among the hardcore unchurched is that they are often uniformed or misinformed about the Christian faith. Christianity can be viewed as nothing more than a psychological prop for the weak. When challenged, many will admit that their knowledge is anecdotal. If you are gracious, perhaps they might begin to listen for the first time.

Understand that they are often dealing with hurt and anger

Some of the hardcore unchurched were once churched. Maybe you’ve encountered a situation like the following: Reid was raised in a home where both parents insisted that he be at church every time the doors were opened. And anytime he made the smallest of mistakes, they told their child that God was disappointed in him. And then his parents divorced.

In many ways it is difficult to discern when people like Reid are angry at the church or when they are angry at their parents. Though we cannot know all of the details of people’s lives, it is clear some of the hardcore unchurched are dealing with hurt and anger leftover from a time when they were churched.

Christians must develop long-term relationships with the hardcore unchurched

Helping people move from antagonism towards receptivity takes time, if not years of investing in relationships. Those that are resistant unchurched people become more receptive to the gospel when they see Christ in the life of a believer over the long haul.

Let us be about the business of loving the hardcore unchurched to a point of greater receptivity toward the gospel. And then, in the timing of God, they may hear the gospel gladly and receive the Savior we serve and love.

Sam S. Rainer III is the president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Murray, Murray, KY. [www.rainerresearch.com] [www.fbcmurray.org]

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