Are you only reaching the reached? Jesus had some words about that: “And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matt. 5:47). Making disciples—the primary mission of any church—cannot be accomplished without reaching unchurched people. Therefore, an essential role of any senior pastor is not only to encourage reaching unchurched people, but to model it as well. You know how it works: your actions speak louder than your words and people are looking to you to see what is important. If you don’t do it, no one else will either and your church becomes nothing more than a glorified social club.
Reaching Unchurched People
For the purpose of the Senior Pastor Profile, Reaching Unchurched People means lovingly living and communicating the gospel to encourage people to follow Jesus.
Jesus called his disciples to be fishers of people (Matthew 4:19). They were to reach out and share the way of Jesus with others. Likewise, the calling of all generations of disciples, pastors, priests, and ministers since then has not been to take disciples and make them better or more knowledgeable disciples. It is rather to make disciples from non-disciples. Consider the lyrics of the old camp song based on the Great Commission in Matthew 28:
Go ye now therefore into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
Go ye now therefore into all the world and make disciples of all the nations.
I came to the world to seek what was lost.
You go to the world and tell them I paid the cost.
We see the Apostles preaching the gospel message far and wide as they traveled the known world. Paul writes of the importance of this endeavor and urges us to pursue it as well:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14
7 Habits that Demonstrate Reaching Unchurched People
What does it look like to reach unchurched people? Although it’s a bit different for everyone, here are some of the features held in common:
1. Directs ministry towards an outward focus, both locally and globally
Because there are so many needs right here within the congregation, every senior pastor will struggle to some degree with the tension of inward focus vs. outward focus. Although internal pastoral care is essential to the health of the church, the mission of the church requires a focus that is primarily directed outward: on the making of new disciples of Jesus.
2. Pursues relational engagement with people outside the church
The first step in an outward focus is relational engagement. We must know people before we can hope to reach them. Even for a senior pastor, whose job requires working with many Christians, relational ties with those who don’t yet know Jesus must be built and maintained. If the pastor doesn’t model this behavior, others in the congregation won’t bother either.
3. Contextualizes the gospel
Just as Jesus used agricultural and livestock examples to communicate the essence of the gospel and the Kingdom of God, so must we contextualize our message if people outside the church are to have any hope of understanding it. We must learn the language of the people, both literally and metaphorically if we are to communicate effectively.
4. Articulates the gospel clearly as the Spirit leads
Senior pastors must not only be prepared to preach the gospel, in and out of season, but must actually do it. How will people know if they are not taught? How can they believe if they have not heard? And that preaching needs to be led by discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit to understand how and when to share that message most effectively.
5. Preaches the gospel in both word and deed
Words must match actions or both are discredited. The gospel senior pastors preach must be lived as well. And the gospel modeled must be spoken aloud to be understood. Each without the other will be incomplete and fall short.
6. Equips people to engage their relational networks
If the senior pastor is reaching people they know with the gospel, they need to also consider how to help others reach the people they know in their own networks. It’s not intuitive, but requires intentional equipping. People must be taught how to share the gospel with those in their circle of friends and acquaintances.
7. Develops disciples from the harvest
Discipleship starts in the harvest. How can disciples grow if they are not made in the first place? Jesus called his disciples to be fishers of people, and we–even so many generations later–must be the same. Senior pastors must be able to make new disciples from the harvest, as well as equip those in their congregation to do the same.
How well are you engaging in Reaching Unchurched People?
If you would like to assess yourself in this area, take some time to reflect on the following questions. Write out your answers for more complete processing, or talk them through with someone if you’re more of a verbal processor.
- How have you directed ministry towards an outward focus, both locally and globally?
- How have you actively pursued relational engagement with people outside the church?
- What are some ways you have contextualized the gospel appropriately for others?
- When have you clearly articulated the gospel as the Spirit led? What was the result?
- How have you preached the gospel in both word and deed?
- How have you intentionally equipped people to engage their relational networks?
- How have you developed disciples from the harvest?
Reaching Unchurched People is 1 of 12 qualities that have been proven to be essential to successful and healthy senior church leadership. To learn more, read The BEST qualities in a Senior Pastor. Next week, look out for another crucial quality for senior pastors.
Want to reach the unchurched but not sure where to start? One way is to think like a church planter! There are several strategies in The Church Planting Journey how getting to know your community and designing effective outreach ministries that you may find helpful.
We are firm believers in discipleship beginning in the harvest. That means meeting people where they are at in their spiritual journey and helping them take their next best step to Jesus. The Discipleship Difference lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship that is individualized to meet each person wherever they are.