I was listening to a podcast recently that confirmed what many of us have intuitively known for a long time.
People are having spiritual conversations every day…they just never think of turning to a preacher or the church for answers.
I’m not talking about people who have other religious backgrounds. I’m talking about your neighbours, your friends, maybe even your family members as well as cultural leaders and thought leaders in our cultural context who are unchurched.
It’s not that people aren’t interested in spirituality; it’s that they don’t think the church can help them.
It’s completely worth the 45 minutes for you to listen to this conversation between Lewis Howes and Prince Ea. (The direct iTunes link is here). Lewis is a pro-athelte turned podcaster and Prince Ea has dedicated his life to fitness, inspiration and music.
As you listen to this conversation, you’ll see how much the dialogue has completely shifted. Lewis is clearly looking for answers to spiritual questions, and Prince Ea is giving them, but the conversation is completely different than any conversation I’ve ever heard in any church.
Jesus comes up once, but they quickly move on to having dinner with Buddha instead.
Truthfully, most of the people they reference in this conversation are people I’ve never read…or even heard of.
The dialogue is moving, friends, and we preachers and church leaders are increasingly not a part of it.
A Shrinking Audience
If many preachers and church leaders were musicians, I’d say we’re increasingly cutting records nobody’s listening to, let alone buying.
Yes, that’s a bit harsh.
And I write this in a year when our church is seeing a year of encouraging growth—mostly from unchurched people.
But I’m painfully aware that we have over 250,000 people within a 30 minute drive of our locations who are completely unchurched.
Who’s talking to them?
I think that’s crickets I hear.
I say this not so much as criticism as I do out of a sense of burden.
I just think we need to get better at this. I need to get better at this. We all do.
6 Steps Toward Having the Conversation No One is Having
So how do we get better at this?
Here are 6 steps that I think can lead us toward the evangelism conversation far too few of us are having.
1. Listen to voices that don’t simply affirm what you already believe
Look, it’s great to listen to people who believe what you believe…to have your faith strengthened or your skills sharpened.
But don’t stop there.
Listen to people who disagree with you, people who think differently than you, people who don’t believe what you believe.
And I’m not talking about people who watch Fox News watching CNN or MSNBC as an alternative. Or people who listen to John Piper checking out Rick Warren for radically different views.
I mean just listen to people who don’t share your faith system at all.
Podcasting makes this so easy.
I love creating my podcast for church leaders every week (you can subscribe for free here, btw) and I love listening to other preachers and Christian leaders, but I make it a discipline to listen to other, non-Christian voices.
I have to get better at this, but simply listening to people who agree with you doesn’t make you a better thinker or preacher.
2. Listen to Top 40 radio
My personal music preferences don’t tend to lean toward Top 40 anymore. I like current music, just not the stuff the people I’m trying to reach are buying.
You might find yourself in a similar position as a Christian leader.
Making yourself listen to music your unchurched friends are listening to helps you get into their world.
Yes, you’ll find the music morally objectionable. And you won’t like the beats. But I’m not asking you to like what unchurched people are listening to…just to listen to understand it.
Music contains so many clues to the value system of our culture, the struggles of our culture and the hopes of our culture. A culture that I assume you’re trying to reach with the ultimate hope of Jesus.
If you want more on music and approach to church, Rich Birch and I talk about how even contemporary church music isn’t contemporary anymore in Episode 8 of my leadership podcast.
3. Read what your unchurched neighbour is reading
So this isn’t an excuse to dive into 50 Shades of Grey, but when was the last time you checked out the Amazon Top 100 bestsellers?
Or the New York Times Best Seller List?
The spiritual dialogue has moved, and the clues to what it looks like are found all over today’s best seller lists.
4. Understand the culture’s vocabulary
Even one listen to the conversation between Lewis Howes and Prince Ea will show you how much the dialogue has shifted.
Their conversation sounds nothing like anything I’ve heard from any church platform lately, but they’re asking all the questions Christians ask.
This doesn’t mean you should start talking street if you’ve got no street in you. You’ll come off as inauthentic, awkward and even weird. Avoid that.
But people will be able to tell if you’re trying to connect with them where they’re at.
Ask yourself some tough questions:
Would any message I’ve preached be easy to understand by anyone who had never been in church?
Am I answering questions people are actually asking?
Do I even know the questions people who have never been to church are asking?
Can I convey the answers in language anyone can understand?
5. Explore all the language of scripture
Most of us get stuck using only a few of the metaphors for God and faith that the scripture uses.
We might love preaching about the blood of Jesus, but to our culture, that seems increasingly weird. I’m not saying you should never use it, but if you do, try to explain why it matters.
And look for other metaphors. The Apostle Paul was masterful at this, engaging and quoting Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in front of a group of Greeks who had never read the Hebrew Bible.
He started with their language, rather than his. And culled from scriptural metaphors that would make the most sense to them as outsiders before getting to the resurrection.
So what are you favourite metaphors? Just listen to your last 20 messages or conversations and you’ll figure it out.
Then as you read your bible, get ready to get surprised at how many different ways scripture describes God or even salvation.
The metaphors Scripture uses to describe God are far richer than most Christian leaders realize.
6. Get around some people under the age of 30
If you want to hit the deep end quickly on understanding culture, this is it.
I was talking to Perry Noble recently and he completely surprised me by telling me he meets monthly with a group of high school students just so he can stay current. And he gives them his cell number so they can stay up to date.
This is a leader who leads one of the largest, fastest growing churches in America who finds the time to meet a dozen times a year or more with students so he can stay fresh.
If Perry can do it, you and I can probably find the time.
Whether you decide to meet with junior high kids, high school students, a group of millennials outside the church or whomever you choose to meet with, the point is this: meeting with teens or young adults who understand culture, where it’s at and where it’s going keeps you from becoming irrelevant.
I usually do random meetings with young adults, but this kind of structured intentional meeting really challenged me.
The truth is churched people will ask you to meet with them all day long. So will people your age.
Students never will.
Unchurched people never will.
Millennials never will.
So make the time.
Want to know where the hope lies in all of this?
Let me show you.
As most iTunes users will know, if you locate a podcast or even album on iTunes, it tells you what people who listen to that podcast also listen to.
Look at what I found under Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness Podcast.
I found Michael Hyatt.
Michael is a giant in the leadership world these days, as are John Lee Dumas, Pat Flynn, Tim Ferriss and other others listed.
But Michael is also a Christian. And he speaks about his faith often and openly in his writings and on his podcast.
The church needs more leaders like Michael who not only respond to culture, but influence it That’s exactly what Michael is doing…largely because he’s so great at leadership.
Wouldn’t it be great to see a day when people who are listening to podcasts on spirituality see a church’s or Christian leader’s podcast come up under the “Listeners also subscribed to…” section of an iTunes page?
What if that was you?
Or your church?
The better we get at understanding and addressing our rapidly change culture, the more frequently this will happen.
Two More Resources
If you want to drill down more on this subject, here are two more resources I’ve put together.
Let’s Get Better At This Together
Got books you’ve read that have helped you get better at connecting with the culture?
Music you listen to?
Podcasts you’ve listened to?
Scroll down and leave a comment listing what you’re reading, listening to or discovered.
We can all get better together.