Christian love is all about seeing those around us in ways that recognize them for who they are, appreciating their uniqueness, and then tailoring our message to reach them.
God asks us to extend our circle of love to embrace those around us, turning neighbors into friends, and associates into fellow members.
“Can love be commanded?” is a key question. Another is, “Who is your neighbor?” Christian love is all about seeing those around us in ways that recognize them for who they are, appreciating their uniqueness, and then tailoring our message to reach them.
Research with another denomination helps us understand the critical role of interacting and engaging with our neighbors as a part of retaining members of the church. The Church of Christ denomination is headquartered in Texas and has about 300,000 members. After a yearlong emphasis on evangelism in most of its churches, a Church of Christ seminary conducted in-depth research on how people come to Christ and come into the church. More than 1,200 in-depth, face-to-face interviews were conducted during this year of evangelism. People fit into three categories with about 400 in each. First, about 400 converts were still active in the church more than a year after joining. The next category involved converts that dropped out that first year. Finally, there were about 400 people who did not join the church, despite being contacted, and attending small groups, seminars, and evangelistic meetings.
During these 1,200 interviews, the question was asked, “Who was the person that contacted you about becoming a Christian and joining the church?” The follow-up question was “What relationship do you have with that person?”
Although the primary reason for conducting the survey was to assess certain evangelistic programs, these questions resulted in some of the most important findings. A high correlation of responses was discovered among each of these three groups. Among those who didn’t become converts, most said, “That person was a religious teacher.” Among those who joined the church but dropped out within the first year, people said, “This person was a religious salesman.” But among those who accepted Christ, joined the church, and a year later were still active members, many replied, “This person was a friend of mine.” In many cases they meant this was somebody they knew before the evangelism emphasis came along. In a high percentage of cases among the “dropouts” and “unconverted,” the person who contacted them was a stranger, someone who came to their door. The bottom line is that people come to Christ and into the church and stay primarily through relationships.
Friendships are especially needed with what we might call the “hard to reach” category; the unchurched, secular person who’s not interested in religion. Many think of religious broadcasting as a powerful evangelistic tool. But nine out of ten Americans never listen to religious broadcasting. Imagine asking how many have tuned into the basket-weaving channel on cable television. Most people won’t know if there is a basket-weaving channel because they are not interested in it.
The primary way to reach unchurched people is through personal relationships. You probably know some individuals who are not interested in religion of any kind. They are not actively opposed to it. They don’t disbelieve. Their response is, “It’s good for you, but I’m not very interested.”
The only way we will ever reach these people is at the personal level. They are not going to come to any kind of Bible seminar. They are not going to join a program. The only way we will be able to bring Christ to them is at a personal level.
In fact, you are the person most likely to reach the people within your circle of acquaintances. If we were to ask you to jot down the names of everybody you know, assuming you are an average North American, you probably could write down 100 to 200 names. People in your circle who aren’t Christians and don’t belong to a church are more likely to respond to you than to any evangelist, media ministry, literature, clergy, or church program. You are in a better position to bring them to Christ than any of these.*