[Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts on the overly churched culture congregation. To see the full series go to Author Archives: George Bullard.]
The first transitional action an overly churched culture church can take to bring about a change in attitude, aptitude, and alignment toward the non- or post-churched culture is to embrace a new prayer focus. Forward action does indeed begin with prayer. However, perhaps not in the way you initially think.
Pay careful attention to what is being said in this blog post. It is not a simplistic approach to prayer. It is not saying that if we just pray everything is going to be all right. It is not suggesting that if we pray appropriately pre-Christians, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched persons will flock into our congregations. [Note: See definitions of these terms in the third article in this series.]
It is saying that prayer is generally a non-threatening initial step in which 100 percent of the people in a congregation can participate.
Generally our prayers outside liturgy or order in worship are about pastoral care concerns for people who are connected either with our congregation or personal network. These prayers range from ingrown toenails and colds to the devastation of cancer, AIDS, job loss, financial reversals, moral failure, criminal situations, divorce and death. Is it bad to prayer for these? Of course not. Does such prayer empower the conversation to be more missional? Not usually. Does such prayer deepen the disciple making process of the congregation? Some. Does such prayer increase the ability of the congregation to attract people to connect with it? Occasionally.
While it might be an overstatement, it is probably not too far from reality that what congregations pray for they focus on. [Of course, they also focus on what they provide money and leadership for, but that will come later in this discussion.] It they pray primarily for pastoral care needs, they create a pastoral care-oriented congregation. They may even become well known for their care and compassion for people. This can be a great reputation to possess. It may also increase the overly churched culture of the congregation, rather than opening it up to the non-churched culture.
When congregations focus on thanksgivings and petitions to God then they are appropriately focusing on the Triune God. This is good. When congregations focus on praying for those who are sick and other needs of people within their personal and congregational network then they are appropriately focusing on people who need the comfort of God and God’s people. This is good. When engaging in these prayers, congregations usually name their specific thanksgivings and petitions, and name the specific people for who they are praying. Can it get any better than this? Yes!
Prayer for the non-churched
When congregations fail to pray for preChristians, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched persons—especially by name and circumstances—they may be committing a sin of omission. This is not good. It is easily correctable with some simple intentional action. A refocusing of prayer can over time create a new attitude, aptitude, and alignment of their prayer focus.
What if congregations added to their pastoral care praying an intentional focus on praying for specific people by name who are preChristian, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched. What would this impact?
What would happen if a congregation began praying earnestly that they would be sensitive to the opportunities God opens up for them to speak words of love and to develop relationships with preChristian, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched persons? What would happen if a congregation developed support and accountability for people who feel led to proactively develop social and spiritual relationships with people outside the congregation and outside the Christian faith?
Not confrontational evangelism that is focused more on success than the person. Not trying to see how many people can be “saved” so evangelistic numbers will be high. Just a genuine unconditional love for people that emanates out of an authentic discipleship on the part of people caught up in an overly churched culture.
Think about it. How could this happen in your congregation? What difference would it make in your congregational focus if it became a significant emphasis? Who are the people you should bring together to start this prayer focus? Perhaps your first action should be to pray about God’s leadership for this emphasis.