Many Christians assume that non-believers are simply unfamiliar with the good news of Christianity. In actuality, many atheists and agnostics and even people of other religions are former Christians. Many people have grown up in church. Many people have left. Quite often, they’ve experienced what we call “church hurt” and more than we care to admit they’ve experienced abuse or the covering up of abuse. You may be walking on wounded ground here. Don’t assume they know nothing. Don’t talk down to them as if they need an elementary lesson. There are atheists that went to bible college. There are pastors and ministers that have left the faith. I wanted to do this blog to hopefully help clear up some misconceptions about non-Christians and offer guidance on how you can reach someone.
Did I ever go to church before becoming a Christian? Yes. Several times actually. Both of my parents are Christian and my entire extended family is. My parents are different denominations and did not go to church together. My Dad’s side is a mix of mainstream Protestant. My Mom’s side is almost entirely Mormon.
As a child, I was taken to the Mormon church a few times. I was very young and have hardly any memories of this. I do remember being moved from one Sunday school class to another because of my age. I remember what the rooms looked like and the piano in the corner. I remember making Christmas crafts with a group. I don’t actually remember what was taught. Everyone was very friendly there. Even at a young age, I could tell there was tension in the family over the church matter. Everyone else went to church. All my aunts and uncles were raised in church. All my cousins (regularly in my life) were in church weekly. We were the ones not raised in church.
In my early teens, I went to church with a friend. I was around 13. At that point, I was calling myself atheist. I only went to church with her once or twice because I was spending the night with her and her grandma said we had to go to church. It was charismatic. I did not enjoy it. I think I only went twice.
In my mid-teens, I went to a few youth group services with a friend. I just went to hang out. I don’t remember what they said, but I do remember how they lived. I knew some of the people from school. Even though I was not Christian, I felt comfortable there. I felt welcomed. Several years later this would be the Southern Baptist church I became a member at. Going to youth events was a reason I was okay with going to church there.
Even though I was staunchly atheist, I was willing to go to secular events or social events if invited by a friend. I absolutely would have gone to free classes if people were nice. I think there was always that expectation for Christians to take issue with anyone not like them and that fear that someone would be confrontational, but if people were kind I wouldn’t have minded being in a church building. Remember that. You can spend time with and genuinely be friends with people of different faiths. There’s nothing to be afraid of about being friends with non-Christians. Don’t be one-sided.
When I did become a Christian in 2005, I never went exploring. I didn’t go to church for over a year after becoming a believer. In hindsight, I wonder why that is. Why didn’t I go to church? Especially after becoming Christian, why didn’t I find a church right away?
I realized in writing this blog that the most obvious answer is my parents were not in church. Parental influence is arguably the strongest factor for a young person going to church. No one else stepped in to be the spiritual ‘parent’ and see to it that I knew the Lord.
People weren’t inviting. I get it. You don’t want to invite an atheist to church. Offer it anyway. You don’t know if they’re interested. People weren’t showing me Christ. Nobody ever shared the gospel with me. Nobody ever talked about who Jesus is. I was vaguely familiar with Christianity, but I didn’t know the basics.
I wasn’t hearing testimonies. The stories of what God has done for people is a powerful tool that can draw the attention of even the unbeliever. I know some of the testimonies I’ve seen and known today absolutely would have caught my attention especially if I’d been hearing them repeatedly. Glorify God in all things! People are listening. I didn’t see why they had their faith. I didn’t understand why they went to church so much. Be talking about your why. Be talking about what you love about church.
What could have changed my willingness to go to church despite my lack of belief? There are a couple things I thought of here that I know for me personally would have made a difference.
What can you do to reach someone not in church?
I invite you to take a little time to reflect on this topic. How have you approached it in the past when you know someone doesn’t go to church? Is there anything you will do differently now?