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A Pastor’s Perspective on Reaching the Hard to Reach

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As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
By Chris Elrod
A few weeks ago the wonderful folks at ACS Technologies asked me to write a series of articles about what is takes to reach the “hard to reach” for Christ.  When we launched Compass Point Church in Lakeland, Florida, eight years ago, we did so out of frustration. In our community there were over 250,000 people that did not attend church on a regular basis – yet it seemed like every church in town was only interested in reaching those already attending other churches. In essence, churches in Lakeland were “trading sheep” while people were going to Hell. As a response we launched a church with the sole vision to reach the hard to reach for Christ.  Currently over 80% of the people that regularly go to Compass Point never went to church before. Over 70% came to know Jesus and were baptized in our church.
I meet church leaders and planters all the time that say they have the same desire – reaching people far from God with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  The reality is that I see very few follow through. The main reason seems to be that reaching really messy people sounds good and looks good on paper, but the reality of reaching them is something entirely different.  I thought I would start this series of posts with an article about the realities of reaching the hard to reach.
1.  You church will probably be small. No one wants to hear this, but it is true.  Church is the only “business” in the world where our “target market” doesn’t want or realize they need the “product” we are selling. In reality, it is easy to grow a crowd, but not easy to grow the Kingdom. When you live, sleep and breathe reaching the hard to reach the potential is overwhelming, but the actual converts are few.  Compass Point could have done marketing, mail outs and cool events – which would have made us larger by reaching disgruntled Christians going to other churches.  However, we intentionally only try to reach the hard to reach, which means that all our efforts are relationally based. Relations take time – conversion to Christianity takes even more time – thus resulting in slow growth.
2.  Worship just stinks. Reaching the hard to reach means reaching people that have no clue what a hymn is or who Hillsong United is. They are not going to clap along, raise their hands or sing out. This is for two reasons: a) They don’t know God so they can’t really praise Him. b) They may be used to getting drunk, stoned or raising their cigarette lighters/cell phones when live music is being played. They are moved by musical performances and visual presentations – but they are not going to participate much.
3.  You will always be financially strapped. Hard to reach people have no clue about tithing and they often don’t carry cash. Even if they did, your “vision for your community” is nowhere on their radar when it comes to personal spending.  They may throw a few bucks in the offering plate out of guilt or obligation. The other reality – even when they come to know Jesus it is usually two to three years before they contribute financially.
4.  Small groups are a dud. It doesn’t matter if your focus is on building community or digging deeper into Biblical truths – unchurched people do not attend small groups.  The main reason is that they do not want to go to someone’s house they don’t know and feel stupid for not having more knowledge about the Bible. You can eventually work through this, but it takes quite a bit of time.
5.  It is either hot or cold – there is no middle ground. Reaching the hard to reach for Christ has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. There are very few “normal” days. There is nothing that compares to seeing someone far from God accept Jesus Christ. There is also nothing that compares to seeing that same person reject every attempt at discipleship and revert back to the life they came out of. One minute you want to shout praises from the top of your lungs – the next minute you want to curl up in a ball and weep.
I debated a long time about starting this series of posts with this article. However, if you are a church leader or potential church planter you need to know what reaching the hard to reach truly looks like. I personally live to see people come to Christ and that is what gets me through each of the realities listed above. If you have the same passion – and this article didn’t scare you off – read the next in the series.  🙂
Next week, come back here for the next installment of Chris Elrod’s series, where he shares some of the big rewards of reaching the hard to reach for Christ.
And be sure to share your thoughts in comments – we’d love to hear what you think.

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