Lately, the pastors at my church have been a little more vocal than usual about reaching out to our neighbors. Especially around major holidays, they often give reminders and share specific opportunities to invite guests who may not yet follow Jesus.
This past Easter, we had a specific campaign that challenged our congregation to think of five people they regularly engage with who aren’t Christians. The idea was to keep that list visible in our homes so we could regularly pray for them and look for natural opportunities to talk with them about our faith.
All of this, of course, is good. We should always have this mindset, and the reminders have been helpful since (sadly) it isn’t always natural for me to think this way.
Here’s the only problem: When it came time for me to work on my list, I had trouble coming up with five people. I really had to work to think of five people in my life who aren’t yet Christians.
I’ve been a Christian as long as I can remember. I went to a Christian college. A vast majority of my family members are Christians. I work at a church. The little old lady who lives next door faithfully attends the Methodist church down the street (that was one of the first things she told me). Most days, it is entirely possible I won’t even speak with anyone who doesn’t know Jesus.
Bubbles and tribes
Mostly because of my own life choices, I live smack-dab in the middle of the proverbial Christian bubble.
It’s easy to see why. Our church always has a long list of opportunities to get involved — and they’re all good things! If you’re in a small group, volunteer with AWANA, attend the young adult bowling night, and eat with friends after church on Sunday, all of a sudden your social calendar is pretty full of events designed for Christians.
Besides, whether you’re a Christian or not, we all tend to nestle into a “tribe” — a group of people who subscribe to the same beliefs you do, probably have similar entertainment choices, dress similarly, have similar incomes, etc. That’s the natural drift we all fall into. It’s comfortable and easy to surround yourself with people who look and think and act and believe a lot like you do.
How will they know?
In the book of Romans, Paul asks his audience a couple of hypothetical questions. He just finished saying that there isn’t really a difference between Jews and Gentiles, and he reminds them that anyone who calls on God will be saved. Then he asks:
“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him?
And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him?
And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”
In other words, how do you expect people to come to know Jesus if they’ve never heard of him? If your friends don’t understand faith, how can they learn? If the people in your community are going through life without the hope of Christ, what can you do about it?
If that isn’t motivation enough for you, the next verse quotes an older passage from Isaiah that says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
You do want beautiful feet, don’t you?
Let me be clear: I’m not saying we should stop going to church. Not at all. The author of Hebrews clearly warns us to not give up meeting together. It’s very important to have Christian community and to regularly worship and study and fellowship together.
I’m also not blaming the church. It’s good for your church and mine to offer a ton of activities designed for all age groups to grow and engage with other Christians.
My warning here is for people like me: the citizens of Bubbleville who maybe need to break out and meet new people. We all need to learn to surround ourselves with people who hold different opinions, and I believe it’s a good thing to have several non-Christian friends.
How can they believe if they haven’t heard? And who will tell them if it isn’t you?
Personally, I’m not a fan of the brand of evangelism where you walk up to strangers and talk with them about God. In my opinion and from my experience, that isn’t very effective. In order to introduce people to Jesus and the truths of the Bible, you have to do it gradually with people who know and trust you, which is one reason why we need to develop those friendships.
If you want to get started on this with me, here are a few tips: Don’t make anyone feel like they’re on your “list.” Don’t make them feel targeted for being different. Don’t crowd and attack them. Instead, just love them well and try to do two things:
- Be normal.
- Be nice.
Let them know where you stand with your faith, but then be normal and nice. Odds are most non-Christians in America today know some Christians who are weird and mean. We do some weird and mean things sometimes. We should stop that.
Hopefully you’re already doing better at this than I am, but I think all of us would do well to increase the reach of our influence. We have good news to share that the world needs to hear.
Do you know any non-Christians? Do you regularly interact with them? What are some practical ways you can get out of Bubbleville and start developing meaningful relationships with your non-Christian acquaintances?