I am reading, and enjoying, Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide. It is typical Andy Stanley writing. That is, it reads like he has dictated it (and not in a dull dictation mode, but in a page-turning high energy presentation). The story of North Point Community Church is fascinating, and the advice that pours through every page is thought-provoking. You may not see church quite as he does, I have my differences too, but I think it is foolish to dismiss the advice without pondering it.
So I thought I’d ponder a bit through his seven guidelines for preaching to unchurched people. This is one part of one chapter, but since the chapter is on preaching, it got me thinking. I won’t quote too much, but just a taste:
Ultimately, I want people to fall in love with the Author of the Scriptures and his Son. But I don’t have any control over that. So my best option is to arrange the fate. I figure if I do a good job, even if they don’t fall in love on the first date, there is always the possibility that something will happen on the second or third date. . . . I meet people who’ve been attending our churches for several years that say they aren’t there yet. Nothing I can do about that except to continue arranging dates. As long as they are sitting under the proclamation of the gospel, there’s hope!
So let’s meander our way through his seven guidelines for preaching to unchurched people, something that many admire in his preaching:
Guideline 1: Let ’em know you know they’re out there . . . and you’re happy about it.
People who have not been to church in a long time feel like the odd one out. “In many churches, they feel like guests who snuck into someone’s home. They are not sure you are happy they are there.” Stanley goes on to suggest that if you never reference them in your message then it will only confirm their suspicions. He is pushing for more than a “if you are here for the first time…” reference. He is suggesting comments that demonstrate recognition of discomfort, but seek to overcome it.
As early as possible, he suggests making it clear that you know they are present and that you understand where they are at. Not every visitor is a “spiritual seeker.” Some are resistant, some are there under duress, some feel profoundly awkward. Lovingly addressing the congregation as if it is not all “insiders” is important. Not only for the guests present, but also for the congregation who are considering inviting someone next week.
We’ll press on through the list tomorrow.