If you’ve read Rico Tice’s book Honest Evangelism: How to Talk about Jesus Even When It’s Tough, a good book to read as a follow-up is Rick Richardson’s new book, You Found Me: New Research on How Unchurched Nones, Millennials, and Irregligious Are Surprisingly Open to Christian Faith.
In Honest Evangelism, Rico gives two halves of the story. In our secular culture, when we cross the pain line to tell someone about Jesus, we don’t know what kind of response we will get. From many we will get hostility, but Rico says there is another half to the story, “There is also increased hunger. The same rising tide of secularism and materialism that rejects truth claims and is offended by absolute moral standards is proving to be an empty and hollow way to live.”
In You Found Me, Richardson reveals findings from several research projects, including a study of 2,000 unchurched people by the Billy Graham Center Institute of Wheaton College and Lifeway Research. One key conclusion is that unchurched Americans are more receptive than most of us think.
From our study of two thousand unchurched individuals, half of them told us that they would respond positively to an invitation to attend a church if the invitation came from a friend. That is one out of two.You Found Me by Rick Richardson
Fear of how people will respond is keeping many Christians from ever sharing the gospel but Richardson tells us, “79 percent of unchurched people are fine with us talking about our faith if we value it. Of course, it is also important to value that other person when we talk about our faith.” According to the survey of the unchurched individuals, “71 percent have never had someone explain how to become a Christian, it seems like there is a huge gap between people who would be fine with hearing and people who are actually sharing.”
We Christians need to understand that the unchurched have fears too. As Richardson observes, “Crossing the threshold of a church is a greater challenge than just wanting to or being open to. The way we invite people and the sensitivity we show to the fears people have could go a long way toward helping people cross that threshold.”
I had a vivid illustration of the kind of fear Richardson references from a greeter at the welcome desk of a church I visited a few years ago. She told me of the fears she had to face in coming to a church for the first time. She is now a greeter welcoming new people so she can help others overcome the same kinds of fears she had. She explained that the first time she attempted to visit the church, she just drove by, afraid to even turn into the parking lot. The next time, she drove through the parking lot without stopping. The third time, she parked, opened the door, but was about to close it and drive away, when a greeter met her and helped her overcome her fear.
As Richardson explains, “Often the reason people don’t seem receptive to our faith is that we do not capitalize on their receptivity but instead raise their resistance.” Richardson suggests four steps to help people take the next step: Build trust, affirm what you can affirm, challenge what has replaced God in their lives, and then talk about what Jesus has done as you invite them to take the next step.
The first part of Richardson’s book helps us recover a missional imagination for the unchurched in America. That includes exposing common myths through exploring many surprising insights from both quantitative and qualitative study of unchurched Americans. The second and third parts bring in data from other studies to help us understand how to become the kind of leader and the kind of church that can reach unchurched Americans.
You can find Richardson’s book here.
Follow @ChristExplorUSA for tweets from Richardson’s book, You Found Me over the next few weeks.