Speaking to the Hearts and Minds of Unchurched People

(Notes from breakout session led by Lee Strobel at Willow Creek's Evangelism Conference.)


What is the difference in preaching to the unchurched?

1) Their attitudes are different.

-The Bible is a book of myths.
-The church is full of hypocrites and charlatans.
-Sermons are primarily meant to shame people.
-Church is boring.
-The pastor is on an ego trip.

2) To seekers, the message is the most important part of the service-and so the message has got to work!

-Every part of the service could miss the target; but if the message hits a homerun the seeker will think it was a good service.

3) Seekers have little tolerance for anything that is not relevant to their lives.
-Topical preaching seems to work better for seekers.


What does it take to preach to seekers?

1) You must have the right spiritual gifts.


2) You must have the right heart.

-The greatest obstacle to the spread of the gospel is unconverted clergy.
-We must have the good news ourselves before we can share the good news (modeling). Seekers need: gentleness, openness, integrity, and role models that seek first to genuinely avoid hypocrisy.

3) You must have the right relationships.

-You cannot know the world of seekers unless you visit them and develop relationships with them.
-Too often there is an "us" against "them" mentality-therefore you need to establish a relationship with them to break down walls.

4) You must have the right commitment to the work ethic.

-30 minutes of preparation for each minute of seeker sermons.
-Make your most productive time the time you use to prepare the message.

5) You must have the right commitment to feedback.

-Be willing to improve.
-Receive the positive and the negative.
-The person giving you the feedback should love you and be a person whose advice you respect and value-so choose wisely.

6) You must have the right attitude toward popular culture.

-You cannot be an ivory tower academic and preach to seekers.
-You need to know enough about their world so you can reach them.

7) While preaching to seekers, you must have the right skills in edifying believers.

-Rarely are you going to have a room full of seekers.
-Your seeker sermons need something for the believer as well as the seeker.

8) You must have the right attitude toward innovation.

-We need to be able to break from old paradigms if they become a hindrance for evangelizing seekers.
-If we agree to only use one model, then we have decided in advance to limit our reach and the response to our message.

9) You must have the right attitude toward the gospel.

-We need to resist the temptation to water-down the message. If we do, we do not serve Christ.
-We don't want to transform the message into something that it isn't; rather, we want to translate the message so that the seeker can understand it.
-The more we water down the message, the less the seeker wants it and the more the seeker will wonder why they need it.

10) You must have the right kind of skin to preach to seekers.

-You need to have a thick skin to preach to seekers not for criticisms from the seekers, but from Christians who will criticize you for not preaching what they are used to hearing.


10 Reasons Willow Creek's Preaching Reached Unchurched Harry

What was it about the messages that kept this one-time skeptic (Lee Strobel) progressing in his spiritual journey? (The things Willow Creek did right.)

1) Speakers strategically acknowledged and facilitated my seeking process.

-Conversion can be thought of as a process.
-The average person is exposed seven times to the gospel before converting.

Reasons for rejecting the gospel are:

i) Intellectual.
ii) Moral.
iii) Psychological.

Becoming a Christian can be thought of as a process which consists of more zigging and zagging lines than straight lines. This process can be thought of in six stages (adapted from Timothy Keller):

i) Awareness of God: "This is it."
ii) Relevance: "I need God."
iii) Credibility: "I need Christ because he is true and real."
iv) Trial Stage: "I can envision it" (the seeker "tries on" Christianity but isn't a Christian-which is where I'd place all "ex-Christians").
v) Commitment: "I take it" (the seeker commits/converts to Christ).
vi) Reinforcement: "I get it" (the one-time seeker learns what & why they believe, faith to faith, glory to glory).

Implications for seekers:

i) Seekers need a "safe place" to investigate-to hear a very dangerous message.
ii) We need to keep the stages that a seeker goes through in mind as Christian leaders.
iii) Churches need to help seekers in the trial stage-some kind of community work.
iv) We need to create small group opportunities for new believers to get reinforcement (by going over the basics of the gospel and then other doctrines).

2) The messages where foreshadowed by creative programming that tilled the soil of my soul.

i) Connect with the seeker: music genre that seekers are familiar with.
ii) Respect the seeker's perspective: power of the arts (drama, video).
iii) Must communicate with the seeker that we understand the seeker's world.
iv) Must always be advancing the seeker.
v) Must come from authentic hearts.

What can you do as the speaker?

-Work with others to create a seamless integration of the elements of the service.
-Brainstorm ideas (music, drama, other elements).
-Be willing to shuffle the elements around to enhance the overall message of the service.
-Elements must always enhance the message (Willow Creek puts the message at the end of the service because it is the most important part of the service for the seeker-the last thing they will remember).

3) The messages weren't "holier than thou."

-As a speaker, admit that you struggle/struggled with similar issues to build empathy and interest.
-Be real: show the seeker empathy.
-Explain your own struggles (You can get away with a lot with seekers if you explain it. Example: Explain that the offering isn't for visitors who are only checking out the service, but is only for people who call this church home).
-Instead of pointing out to people who think, but are not Christian define Christianity so that they will become convicted on their own that they are not Christian.

4) The message "spoke my language."

-Contemporize the message. If using Christian terms clarify your meaning by explaining in some detail what the Christian words mean.
-when praying don't be scripted-act like you really know God with humility.

5) The messages built a convincing case for Christianity, and at the same time skillfully dismantling my own philosophy.

-Dismantle the seeker's world view while building a case for the Christian worldview.

The two most counter-intuitive things about postmodernism:

1) Doctrine-Never having heard about how Christianity works, seekers are interested in doctrine.
2) Evidence-People reach a certain age where they want to know that what they believe is built upon reasonable evidences.

6) The messages had high user value.

-The messages helped me meet God because the messages had practical wisdom (they applied biblical principles).
-If the Bible had this kind of practical advice, then this is something that helped erode arguments against Christianity (the Christian faith was no-longer an abstract choice one makes).
-A lot of seekers aren't asking if Christianity is true; they are asking if it works.

7) The messages dealt with the "why" as much as the "what."

-Example: why God says sex outside of marriage is wrong

i) If you refuse to obey God's law (disease).
ii) Relational problems.
iii) Physiological problems.
iv) Emotional problems.

-Example: cost/benefit analysis as to why it is better for "X."

8) The messages never failed to captivate me.

-It is arrogant to bore the audience.
-The pastor used all kinds of figures of speech and literary devices to make the message captivating.
-Appeal to more senses to keep the audiences attention.

Six handy tools of the trade:

i) Video (get use permission).
ii) Props. (a L-Z Boy to illustrate that it doesn't all work out; a treadmill to illustrate trying to earn you way to God)
iii) Slides.
iv) Handouts (seekers don't know how to read the bible; supplement a bibliography of additional reading to supplement the message).
v) Live Drama.
vi) Action Sets (an immediate way of doing something or an announcement that you will be available to answer questions after the service).

9) The message made me laugh.

i) Unexpectedly.
ii) Dismantles the stereotype that church is boring.
iii) Shows the seeker that Christians are "normal."
iv) That we don't take ourselves seriously.
v) Establishes common ground.
vi) Breaks down defenses.
vii) Relieves tension (self-abasing humor is best because it is "safe").

10) The messages didn't shy away from challenging me.

-This is counter-intuitive.
-If you don't challenge the seekers, the seekers will not come back.
-We need to challenge them on the specifics.
-Give them different levels of challenge by offering options (Illustration: talking with the church cadre to handle intellectual obstacles or stating that people act on what they have learned already knowing what is the right thing to do).


Miscellaneous Stuff
Five things Lee Strobel wanted to mention but couldn't figure out where to put them.

1) We should spend time to develop the most appropriate and relevant topic.

-Everything depends on the topic.
-53% of seekers will not come to church unless they know in advance what the topic is so that they will not waste their time.
-Seekers want to hear topics that interest them.

2) Messages should have intriguing titles.

-There is a curiosity factor that draws people to sermons.

3) Seekers, as well as believers, like to learn from stories.

-Story telling draws people in.
-Seekers are interested in hearing biblical stories-even if they do not believe them.
-Personal stories of change are the most powerful.

4) If you don't capture seekers in the first three minutes, you will not capture them at all.

The Introduction Must:

i) Connect.
ii) Intrigue.
iii) Generate interest.
iv) Step up and calmly scan the congregation so that they can connect with you and you to them counting to five-then begin the message.

5) The message structure that works best is the message structure that works best.

-In other words, do not concern yourself if you fail literacy tests or break the mold.

The Classic Approach:

i) Make your point: introduction captivates and causes you to wonder making you want to be there right now.
ii) Back up your point with Scripture.
iii) Explain the point.
iv) Illustrate the point.
v) Apply the point.
vi) 4-5 part series of messages.


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