Our guest blogger today is Ben Mandrell. Ben serves as a church planter with the North American Mission Board in Denver, Colorado. In February, 2015, he and his team launched Storyline Fellowship in the northwest corner of the Mile High City. The vision of Storyline is to become a multiplying center, spawning many churches along the Front Range. In 2017, a strategic residency program will launch for aspiring planters. If you would like more information on this program, please email Lange@storylinefellowship.com.
According to Barna, the city of Denver sits at #14 in the most post-Christian places in America. Since my previous 12 years of preaching took place in Tennessee, I had my suspicions that a move to the Mile High City would require shifts in my communication style. My days of preaching to the choir were over. (People out here don’t know what a choir is.)
Of course, one of the most thrilling aspects of church planting is getting to see unchurched people show up—families who tell us upfront, “This is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this!” These “freshman” come in as a clean slate and while it feels exciting and fun to me, the challenge also brings a sense of gravity. How can I include them, inspire confidence in them, avoid insider-talk that alienates them?
Below are 3 small adjustments that seem to be making a difference. I still have a long way to go.
- I don’t start with “open your Bible to….” Church people relish those words. A few minds even flash back to the days of Bible drill, and the game is on! An inner sense of confidence floods over them as they flip open to Isaiah. Unchurched people feel awkward. A visiting, unchurched friend told me that one of his more embarrassing moments was watching my 6 year-old son rifle through that strange book to the correct page while he sat there feeling ashamed. As a result of that incident, I now do something I never thought I’d agree to: I tell people to open their Bible or simply follow along on the screens.
- I acknowledge the skeptic in the seat. This is a gentle practice, but I strive to say things like, “If you’re new to the Bible, this may be the first time you’ve thought about this,” or “Perhaps you see this issue in a different light, but the Scriptures suggest….” These moments take mere seconds, but send the message that we like having skeptics in the room and appreciate their presence. This is a safe place to explore faith.
- I embrace the culture where I can; oppose it where I must. I’m fairly certain I stole that line from Keller, but the principle has really helped me. People in Denver enjoy talking about their favorite forms of recreation, the latest Broncos headlines, and the unbelievable weather. Anytime I can tell a story in the sermon that illustrates my appreciation for these things, I put change of trust in their pockets. Conversely, it’s those brotherly moments that also create relationship, and grant me the green light to speak out on a controversial issue when the Holy Spirit leads.
I’m sure other church planters figured these things out faster than I, but the learning curve continues in my preaching ministry. Each week, I explore new ways of sharing the Gospel with the freshman class. It’s more fun than I ever imagined.
What are your thoughts? What have you learned about preaching to the unchurched?