I came to God from a completely unchurched, non-Christian background. Ever since, I have been giving my life to helping other people come to know God.
In my experience, I’ve also seen a lot of churches who, in their attempt to point people to God, actually end up turning people off from faith. Seeing this has led me to discover three easy ways to discourage people from being interested in Christianity:
1. We Don’t Lead with Love
People need truth and love, and what Christians have to offer the world is truth and love. It’s a perfect match. It should work.
But if you want to keep people from being interested in God, all you have to do is lead with truth. Often, leading with truth prevents a relationship from forming. Leading with truth puts people in a defensive posture and closes their ears and hearts to receiving your message.
People want to hear truth. People need to hear truth. But they don’t want or need to hear it from a jerk. And if you share truth with people before earning their trust, it’s almost impossible not to be perceived as a jerk.
Ted used to be the sound man for the Grateful Dead. He had never gone to church and had no interest in God. His sister, a Christian who lives in a different state, begged him to check out our church. One day, he finally showed up. Eventually, he volunteered to help run sound. At our pre-service production meeting, he announced to everyone that he didn’t believe anything our church taught. I asked why he continued to attend. He got choked up and said, “I’ve never felt loved like this before.”
Ted continued coming to our church, and four months later, he accepted our truth. Actually, he accepted Jesus, who is the Truth. As I write this, it’s 10 months after Ted first showed up, and he is currently overseas on a mission trip where he is loving people, hoping they’ll come to know the truth that can set them free.
2. We Ask People to Behave Before They Believe
Sandy didn’t grow up in a Christian family, but she always believed there must be a God, and she wanted to know Him. As a child and young adult, she tried going to several churches, but never went back to any of them a second time.
Every church told her what she should and shouldn’t be doing. Several churches asked her to dress more appropriately on her next visit. Of course, there would be no next time. She felt judged and incapable of living by the church’s requirements.
Sandy moved to Las Vegas and became a Brittany Spears impersonator, dancing provocatively in salacious costumes at a casino on the strip. Then one day, she showed up at our church. Yes, she was dressed inappropriately, but we chose to ignore that. We felt that our role was to point her to Jesus, not to point out what was wrong with her life.
We can’t expect non-Christians to live like Christians. In fact, without the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit, people can’t live the way God wants them to.
Sandy thanked our church family for “keeping it positive” and came back a second time. In fact, she kept coming—until she came to faith. And then, she changed everything. She dressed differently, broke up with her boyfriend and quit her job. Why did she start “behaving”? Because she now believed and had God prompting and helping her make those changes.
3. We Base Community on Shared Beliefs Instead of Shared Brokenness
Every community of people who make up a church hold many things in common, often music preferences, geography, ethnicity and so on. But in many churches, one common factor often acts as the litmus test for inclusion: shared beliefs.
When you base your church on shared beliefs, it can lead to pride. “We’re right. They’re wrong.” It leads to an “us versus them” mentality. It leads to exclusion. People who don’t believe like we do feel like outsiders who could never be insiders.
Instead, we should base our church communities on shared brokenness. That’s not to say we shouldn’t share beliefs, but our shared beliefs should not be the glue or the litmus test. Instead, Christian communities should come together around the fact that we live in a fallen world where it’s easy to get bruised. We’re all messy, we’re all hurting and we’re all looking to Jesus as the one who can clean us up and heal us and put us back together.
When you base your church on shared brokenness, it leads to humility. It leads to inclusion. It leads to a mindset of “We’re all in this together.” People who feel like outsiders quickly become insiders, because they’re broken too.
Violating Our Purpose
Jesus often got angry with the Pharisees for keeping people from God when they were supposed to be helping people to know Him better. He cleared out the Temple when the religious leaders told the people the sacrifices they brought weren’t good enough. He publicly denounced the Pharisees, saying “Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11:46).
When Gentiles started coming to faith for the first time, Jewish Christians insisted that these new converts start keeping the Jewish traditions. This was difficult for the Gentiles. The situation was taken to the church leaders in Jerusalem, who looked at it and announced their conclusion: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19).
Our mission is to seek and save the lost, to help people come to God. But it turns out it’s still easy to make it faith difficult for people. When we do, we violate our purpose. We need to do everything we can to allow God to use us to draw people closer to Him.
Vince Antonucci is a pastor at the Verve, a church on the Las Vegas Strip for people who don’t like church. Vince shows what leading with love looks like practically in his new book, God for the Rest of Us.