Several years ago I read of a new pastor in a community who began to make friends with some of the people in that community who did not attend church. As his relationship with these folks developed he asked each of them why they didn't attend church. He invited four of them to share their stories with the congregation he served. For four weeks each of them in turn shared their story of why they did not attend church.
One was the local sheriff who told the congregation that his department was called to the homes of as many Christians as non-Christians. He felt that if what they believed was true it should change the way they behaved.
The next week the speaker was a lesbian social worker who grew up in a pastor's home. As a child she had witnessed the difference between what church people said they believed and how they acted.
The third person was an official from the local school system. He could not understand why Christians were known more for what they opposed than for what they supported. His experiences with Christians had been mostly negative.
On the final Sunday a local waitress spoke. She told the congregation how everyone at her work hated to work on Sundays. They found church people to be rude and demanding, their children out of control, and to be very poor tippers. As she explained, she can't raise her children on Gospel tracts.
As you might expect, not everyone in the congregation was pleased with this series of messages. Some walked out never to return. What this pastor wanted to do was to show the congregation how unchurched people often saw those who did go to church, and how this influenced their thoughts about both the church and, more importantly, about Christ.
I developed a sermon using this story called "How will the world know?" Scripture is clear that people will know we are Christians by our love. The way we treat one another as well as those outside the church has an impact on how others view the church and Jesus Christ. The way we live our lives will often be the first gospel message some people will hear, and in some cases they will not be interested in hearing a second.
More of us needs to have the courage of the pastor in the above story. I'm sure it pained him to hear the stories of those who were not involved in church. Yet, if we do not ask to hear those stories how will we know what we need to change in order to reach more people? What stories might you hear if you began to ask people in your community why they are not involved in a church? How might you use that information to improve your church's outreach?