I identify with this issue among many who are unchurched. Another in a series by Randall Peyton.
In this series I’m highlighting some of the insights gained from reading, Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious (by Linda Mercadante). I wanted to get a better understanding of what many of our congregants bring to the equation each time we preach. This kind of information affects sermon content and delivery.
For instance, many of our listeners have had previous relationships with other churches (it would be interesting to know what percentage of our parishioners have no history with a prior congregation). And many of those relationships were not good. This was one of the experiences shared by all five types of spiritual but not religious (SBNR’s) interviewees.
That means they already have a bad taste in their mouth when they sit down at your table and eat your spiritual food. One person reported:
“my mother and father would get mad at the church and pull us all out and I was too young to have a voice in the matter…” (p. 44).
Mercadante summarizes a common refrain: “[they] would find a tenet with which they disagreed, or they became disappointed with the all-too-human qualities of the average congregation, spiritual group, leader, or participant. Either they found the beliefs ultimately unbelievable, or felt that members were not living up to them.” (p. 52)
Here’s what I’m trying to do to help them reconnect with our church while I preach:
before Sunday morning, pray for their healing
showcase the relationship I have with the connected congregants through friendly sermon dialogue (it has a way of showing the hesitant that this is a safe place for their souls; they tend to get caught up in the relationship)
let them know you know they might disagree with a statement and address their concern as you prove your point (quasi-apologetics)
talk frankly about what one of my colleagues calls being a “messy church” (admit that we don’t always live up to what we believe; be honest about who we are)
mix in genuine smiles with all the serious sermon stuff (I’m still amazed at how strangers react to smiles in and out of church)
Preach well for the sake of God’s reputation in the Church and in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:21).