As I drive the freeways of southern California, I often find myself praying, "Lord, how can I get all these people to slow down long enough to hear the Good News? How can I get their attention?"
It didn't used to be this hard. In the earlier part of last century, this wasn't as much of a problem for churches. The church was usually the biggest building in town, the pastor was often the most educated and prominent person in town, and the church program was the social calendar of the community. You automatically had everyone's attention.
That's no longer true. A church can sit right next to a freeway with 100,000 cars driving by daily and it will still be ignored. Pastors are often portrayed on television shows as con-men, wimps, or crazed perverts. In our entertainment-driven society, church programs have a lot of competition. How can the church capture the attention of the unchurched? There's only one way by offering something they cannot get anywhere else!
Ministry is meeting needs in Jesus' name. We take that seriously at Saddleback. The first line of our vision statement says, "It is the dream of a place where the hurting, the hopeless, the discouraged, the depressed, the frustrated, and confused can find love, acceptance, guidance, and encouragement."
Written into the bylaws of Saddleback Church is this sentence: "This church exists to benefit the residents of the Saddleback Valley by providing for their spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, and social needs." Our objective is to minister to the total person. We do not limit our ministry to so-called "spiritual" needs only. People cannot be compartmentalized. Their needs spill over onto each other. And we believe God cares about every part of a person's life.
James gave a strong rebuke to Christians who think the answer to every need is a sermon or a Scripture verse. "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?" (James 2:15-16) Meeting human needs, regardless of what they are, is being a "doer of the Word."
Look beyond the hype of every growing church and you will find a common denominator: They have figured out a way to meet the real needs of real people. A church will never grow beyond its capacity to meet needs. If your church is genuinely meeting needs, then I promise you attendance will be the least of your problems. You'll have to lock the doors to keep people out. People are dying to have their needs met, whether spiritual, emotional, relational, or physical.
I can't list for you the needs of the unchurched in your community. That's why I urge you to take a community survey. Every community is unique. I know of a church that discovered through a survey that the number one felt need in their community was potty-training for preschoolers! The area was filled with young couples who wanted help with it. Rather than ignore this need as "unspiritual," they used it as an opportunity for evangelism. The church held a "Parenting Preschoolers" conference which, among other things, taught this vital skill. Later the pastor joked that their biblical basis was Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go!"
The idea is funny but the results were serious. Through that initial contact, dozens of couples were reached for Christ.
When it comes to using felt needs as an open door for evangelism, the possibilities are limitless. Saddleback has more than 70 targeted ministries to the Crowd and Community, each built around a specific need. We have a support group called Empty Arms for couples dealing with miscarriage and still births. Hope For The Separated ministers to people who are trying to save their marriage after a partner has walked out. Celebrate Recovery ministers to thousands of people struggling with alcoholism, drug dependency, and other abuses. The list goes on and on.
Are there any universal needs which exist among the unchurched everywhere? I believe there are. Regardless of where I've traveled, I've found that people feel the same emotional and relational needs. These include the need for love, acceptance, forgiveness, meaning, a place to express abilities, and a purpose to live for. People are also looking for freedom from fear, guilt, worry, resentment, discouragement, and loneliness. I want to state it again: If your church is meeting these kinds of needs, you won't have to worry about pressuring people to attend. Changed lives are the greatest advertisement.
Wherever needs are being met and lives are being changed, the word quickly gets out into a community. Just today I heard of someone who visited a Saddleback service last weekend because "a hair stylist told a client who told my boss who told me that this is the place to go when you really need help."
Every time your church meets someone's need, a good rumor about the church begins traveling the interpersonal network of your community. When enough of those good rumors get spread around, the church begins attracting people that no visitation program could possibly reach.
Want a crowd, pastor? Start caring for the unchurched.
Until next week,
This article is adapted from Rick Warrens book, The Purpose Driven Church.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005 Pastors.com, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Adapted from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders, available at Pastors.com.