A View from the Pew: Talking Church with the Unchurched

During my college experience in a campus ministry I once heard a speaker say there are three ways to tell what people truly care about: how they spend their time, how they spend their money, and what they talk about.

If I sincerely care about my church, I will naturally talk about it. And that’s the key—naturally talk about it.

A good friend is a huge soccer fan and can’t help but regale me with the latest news from the sport. My great challenge is that while I value his friendship and enjoy our conversations, I cannot relate to his passion for soccer.

I recently realized that the way I feel about soccer conversations is the way some people feel about church conversations. So, what am I to do with this revelation?

I’ve started to pay closer attention to my conversations in general, and I’ve noticed people’s eyes glazing over when I make irrelevant small talk. But when I share something real and personal or, better yet, I elicit something real and personal from them by asking good questions, there is a connection.

Here’s an example of what I mean. One of the most common Monday morning conversations at work around the coffee pot or water cooler begins with “How was your weekend?” If you go into detail about your Sunday morning routine, you will lose them. If you weave in a casual mention that after a busy Saturday of this and that you had some down time on Sunday after church, then you’ve let it be known you attend church without overwhelming them with pointless details. If they want to know more, they can ask.

In addition to eye contact, I’ve also noticed when people are truly engaged in our conversation by the questions they ask. No questions, no engagement. My friend knows that when I do ask the occasional soccer question, he has an opportunity to make his case about how great the sport is.

When people find out you attend church, the most logical question is “What church do you attend?” This is another tricky spot where the conversation can go off the rails. Stick with the facts. I find it helpful to just answer it honestly and not draw conclusions about what the person might think about my denomination or my church. Don’t sound defensive. It’s obvious when we start defending our choice of church from the outset.

You should also avoid the temptation to over-explain. Don’t rehash hundreds of years of denominational in-fighting. The fact is, when you show up to worship, almost none of that is in the front of your mind. Instead, focus on the experience and what it meant to you. Choose your words carefully and make sure you don’t lose them in overly churchy words. Speak in plain English and people will stay with you better.

There is no need to hide our participation in church in secular environments, but there’s also no reason to flaunt it. The only thing worse than coming across as defensive is sounding self-righteous. You are not superior to them because you showed up at church. You are both on a journey, and if you want them to one day choose to more actively engage in a relationship with God, you will do well to remember that you haven’t and still don’t always choose to be in church.

I’m curious to hear from you on this topic. How do you handle conversations about church with folks who don’t go? Leave a comment and help the community better represent the life of faith to the world.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications.

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