10 Reasons Why Friends and Family Struggle to Believe the Gospel

Southeastern Seminary, where I work, challenged all students, staff, and faculty to share the gospel at least once a day during the month of September. Based on my experiences that month, in addition to years of sharing Christ with family members, here are my thoughts about why my family and friends struggle with believing the gospel.

  1. They have never really heard the gospel. The more I speak to people in North America, the more I realize this truth: some folks on our continent are just as distant from the gospel as unreached people groups around the world. Within the shadows of our church buildings are people who have never heard the truth.
  2. They struggle understanding the Bible. Even for those who are willing to read the Bible, the content is often new – and challenging. If genuine believers wrestle with interpreting the Bible, it shouldn’t surprise us that non-believers face the same battle.
  3. They see the gospel as too good to be true. The story of the gospel really is quite astounding. That the one and only creator God would forgive our sins, make us whole, place us in His family, and indwell us is hard to fathom, especially if the story is new. Nobody I know – believer or unbeliever – fully grasps God’s work of salvation.
  4. They see hypocrisy in the church. I’ve heard this general excuse for years, but more recently I’ve heard the words with specificity. “I don’t expect people to be perfect,” a family member told me, “but if _______ represents what a Christian is, I don’t want to be a part.” We may defend the church all we want, but we must not forget that watching unbelievers see the reality in our lives.
  5. They hear other messages more loudly. Even if a non-believer hears three one-hour Christian sermons per week (which seldom happens), he still hears dozens of hours of other messages throughout the week. The media emphasizes moral stances in opposition to Christian teaching. Preachers of false gospels dominate the television. Political correctness reigns – and the gospel gets clouded in the process.
  6. They are enjoying their sin. There’s no other way to describe this obstacle. Sin can be fun (at least for a while), and some of the people I know are having a good time. Following Christ, they assume, would cost them too much fun. Combining this reasoning with the next reason, they see no need to turn to Christ today.
  7. They believe time is on their side. This is not always the case, of course. Some of my older family and friends are now more willing to talk about eternal matters as they see their own generation passing away. Those who are younger, though, have been more interested in waiting to consider Christianity. No urgency drives them to consider life and death matters now.
  8. They still fail to see their lostness. Their reasoning is neither new nor unique. “I treat people well, and I try to help my neighbors.” “Let me tell you some of the good things I’ve been doing.” “I just don’t believe a good God will send good people to hell.” “I don’t do anything that’s just evil.” Folks who see no need for forgiveness seldom seek it.
  9. They cannot understand the preaching. Obviously, this reason assumes non-believers who have attended church (as does the next one). A family member told me, “I like hearing _______ preach, but I don’t really understand him.” Granted, the Spirit of God helps us to understand the Word, but this message is nevertheless clear: we who preach the Word are not there to impress; we are there to communicate the life-giving message of the gospel. Clarity is a must.
  10. They are overwhelmed by Christian follow up. Frankly, this response has surprised me. Occasionally, a church fully committed to outreach and follow up has been so faithful to the task that they have frightened off a non-believer. I am grateful for churches this passionate, but it’s worth remembering that non-believers may not be prepared for our zeal. Sensitivity matters.

I suppose there are few new findings here, but I needed this reminder. Obstacles to the gospel have not changed much, at least in my experience.

What other obstacles have you found?

37 Comments

  • Ralph says:

    Dr. Lawless,
    I can attest to #10. I was serving as associate pastor at a church and a family of non-Christians started visiting. I visited with them and shared the Gospel. The pastor visited on another occasion and shared the Gospel, and a deacon visited and shared the Gospel with them. After a while they stopped attending. I did a follow-up visit and asked why they were no longer attending and they told me that every time they came in contact with us we were sharing the Gospel and they were tired of hearing it.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      I love that kind of passion, Ralph, and many churches never get to sharing the gospel even once– so I do not want to discourage folks. I just want us to be sensitive. Thanks for the input.

  • Chuck, what an accurate list. I would also add how our culture has made believing and sharing the Gospel an embarrassment. It’s not “normal” even in our churches to share the Gospel.

  • Russ says:

    It’s unconstitutional.
    Preaching against sin is “hate speech”
    The scientist have figured it all out.
    And finally
    Believers run around in the world and act just like everybody else. This is especially true with family.

  • Louise says:

    After a long week at work, church “politics” and commitments on the weekend aren’t restful. Why would friends and family want to involve themselves in such situations? A lot of people in our area like going to megachurches because they can “hide” in them. They aren’t pressed to commit to anything any more than the rest of the crowd, generally Sunday sermons are kept simple and positive, with a specific format that includes a hands-on example or a video segment, and there are so many people whenever a person or family attends, that they can actually “rest” or hide in the crowd–they can go to church, go home, nobody expects anything of them personally. They’re getting the Gospel, and even an understanding of their own sinfulness, but in a comparatively painless way. The large numbers in megachurches also make it harder for individuals to get to know any of the leadership (or really anybody) well, to learn their flaws and weaknesses. People want to be cared about, but not stalked, and they don’t need more drama in their lives than they already have.

  • Mike Willmouth says:

    This article should be titled “the 10 Excuses Why Friends and Family Struggle to Believe the Gospel.” It really comes down to them rejecting God’s gift of salvation, no matter the excuses they give or how they try to rationalize away their own accountability before God. If the gospel was presented to them in a clear and understandable manner, then at that point they are fully accountable for their acceptance or rejection of it — not everyone else.

    • Craig Giddens says:

      2 Corinthians 4
      3. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
      4. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Mike, for your thoughts.

  • Kathy P says:

    I am married to a man who seems to be #6 and #7. I have a sibling who is #8. They both know the Gospel but choose to stay lost. It’s heartbreaking. I continue to pray.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Just prayed for your family, Kathy.

    • Craig Giddens says:

      Just because the gospel message is presented in a clear, understandable manner doesn’t mean the person listening understood it in a clear, understandable manner. Sometimes a person may need to hear it multiple times over periods of years before believing. That’s why the Bible talks about some planting or sowing, some watering, and others reaping.

      John 4
      35 Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.
      36 And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together.
      37 And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth.
      38 I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.

      1 Corinthians 3
      6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
      7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
      8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.

      • Chuck Lawless says:

        Thanks, Craig.

      • Mike Willmouth says:

        I agree Craig, but while Satan is busy trying to prevent the gospel from reaching the person the Holy Spirit is busy working on their hearts too (John 16:8-11; 1 Corinthians 3:6). Every time the gospel is preached/presented it is a message of salvation to those who accept and a message of judgment to those who reject (John 3:18). When the day of judgment comes, there will be no one who can truthfully say, I didn’t understand (even if they heard only once) — the gospel message is so simple that even a child can understand it.

        2 Corinthians 4:3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, (NKJV)

        • Craig Giddens says:

          Whatever reason a person has for rejecting the gospel is between them and God. Our responsibility is to continue praying and witnessing to them. I understood why Jesus died and rose for me when I was 12, but didn’t get saved until I was 27. Someone didn’t give up on me.

  • Joe Tannian says:

    A primary reason is: It is too good to be true. Associated with this is the onslaught of our culture which presses in on us – to include: relativism, materialism and naturalistic explanations. I’m not sure if you would include this in your list but many don’t believe God is Good. This creates doubt and alienation.
    Thanks for your insights.

  • Mike Irby says:

    1. They have never really heard the gospel. If they don’t hear it around Easter in the U.S.A. they are not supposed to. Let him who has ears to hear, hear. The Lord will have compassion on who He has compassion and mercy on who He has mercy. The rest are like unreasoning animals destine for destruction. How’s that for politically incorrect? But, it comes straight from the Bible.
    2. They struggle understanding the Bible. See answer above. Unless He reveals Himself to those who are not seeking Him they will not find Him. The Holy Spirit is responsible for convicting and revealing Jesus to each of us. We get the message out, He prepares the hearts to receive or not…
    3. They see the gospel as too good to be true. Most of them do not believe God is really real. They do not believe there is a 3 times Holy being intimately involved with every aspect of their existence who requires their sin to be paid for in order to have a saving relationship with Him.
    4. They see hypocrisy in the church. Lamest excuse going. Has existed forever and will never go away. Jesus was not a hypocrite yet most rejected Him.
    5. They hear other messages more loudly. It is hard for a rich man to get into heaven… We are the richest people in the history of the world and we have more ways to distract ourselves than earlier generations. Satan has it easy in this USA generation. Consider the fastest growing churches. They are in placing of massive suffering and persecution, like China. Perhaps we should pray for more suffering. Affliction leads people to seek God according to the Bible.
    6. They are enjoying their sin. See answer number 5
    7. They believe time is on their side. See answer number 5
    8. They still fail to see their lostness. See answer number 1
    9. They cannot understand the preaching. See answer number 1 Jesus taught in parables so that they would fulfill scripture in their failure to understand…
    10. They are overwhelmed by Christian follow up. Nonsense, you can’t win for losing with this goofy response. See answer number 1 and 5.
    I would agree we need to be salty and spread the good news but I would not expect a huge response though we wish and even pray that it was. Wide is the path to destruction, but they don’t believe that either… I do pray for them but I believe what Jesus says about the work of the Holy Spirit and how we are not able to convince them of the dire straits they are in without Him. Just seek the ones He has prepared for His glory and be thankful that you are part of the remnant.

  • JM says:

    Christians can unknowingly or unintentionally hinder the Gospel by the way in which we share – such as sharing in a way that makes much of us rather than of Jesus or by taking a proud rather than a humble approach. I once led a seeker study for sincere people from another country and the Southeastern student leading with me often laughed at their questions or made their questions seem trivial and often tried to argue with them. This grieved me to my core. I once heard a UNC professor (Tim Muelhoff) who was making tremendous strides in sharing his faith with his faculty peers say, “Even if everything in you intellectually disagrees with another person, you can still find a way to affirm their emotions.” He would ask, “What has happened in your life to bring you to this point?” And often times they would share emotional experiences that helped him have compassion on them. Listening and caring builds trust and takes down walls. Also Christians can, sometimes with the best of intentions, try to force more theological concepts on an unbeliever than they are ready to grasp and sometimes do damage by not respecting them. There is definitely a time for boldness! But we must deeply love and respect the lost and treat them with dignity and respect. When we don’t, we ourselves can become an obstacle to the Gospel. …And yet with Christ all things are possible. 🙂

  • William Wheeler says:

    I think in general our society doesn’t even use the word ‘sin’ as a description any more. I mean, how many times do we hear ‘sin’ used? We have softened our ‘lostness’ without Christ. I think most unbelievers think Christians have some type of secret agenda when approach with the gospel. Like, what do they really want? Can I really trust them? And basically, people just do not want to commit to anything any more. And we live in a society that people want everything right now. Help me right now. And we need to help people understand that change takes time, but salvation can be right now!

  • Louise says:

    We aren’t living in a “Christian” culture anymore. The culture used to be infused with at least a respect for Christianity, and Christ Himself. No more. We also aren’t experiencing enough pain yet–we’re too comfortable. I just touched lightly on our Christian faith the other day with a well-fed customer in our business, and he immediately said he has doesn’t go for any of that stuff, blah blah. Maybe if/when things get more difficult, he’ll develop some interest. Another customer was just told he needs serious surgery for a serious condition that’s come up in his life, and he’s suddenly talking about things like prayer. In the past he’s argued vigorously with a local pastor at a nearby coffee shop, several times, but now he’s more ready to receive Godly truth. Life can change on a dime–we just can’t forget to be ready when it does.

  • Hurting says:

    As an individual who works with Christian organizations, I have been cursed at, lied to, back stabbed, and generally hurt by pastors and directors. When a man of God, tells you that you are a (rhymes with witch) or to hang yourself (as in commit suicide), and the rampant spiritual abuse in churches, makes me say “Do I really want to go to Heaven with these people?”

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