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how do you get unchurched/dischurched people in your inquirers' class?

An email list I'm on for those interested in evangelism had someone ask, as we were talking about various curricula for people inquiring about Christianity and/or church membership, how a congregation can get people to attend other than the same faithful members who go to nearly every church program already. This is what I wrote in response, and I thought it might be helpful to some people.

In it, I talk a lot about 'Klesis.' Klesis is a three-part curriculum I wrote with John de Beer (one of the founders of EFM, for those familiar with that). It starts with 'Connect,' a six-session course that mature Christians have gotten a lot out of, but that is designed to be friendly to unchurched and dischurched people wondering whether they want a spiritual home in which to explore Christianity, discover more of where God is calling them, and find nourishment to pursue that call with joy and peace. Klesis is released on an 'open-source' basis, meaning that you don't have to pay a thing to download and use all materials -- though of course we appreciate donations so that, among other things, we can build and maintain a user-friendly and lively online community for people to share their adaptations of, experiences with, and questions about Klesis. All we ask is that: a) you share with us and with the user community feedback about and adaptations of the material; b) you don't claim adaptations of the material or another's version of it as your own wholly original work; and c) you never charge anyone for Klesis materials or your adaptation of them.

That said, here's my answer to the question, "How do you get people who don't already go to church to go to Connect (or whatever your inquirer's class is)?":

Other curricula could be launched, pitched, adapted as necessary, and run to offer the things I'm talking about below, but here's what we did to to help reach unchurched people with Klesis:

We assumed that the first time we did the course we'd most likely have only people who were currently going to the parish. We did have some inquirers sign up who were just checking out the congregation and Christianity in general, as I recall, but we didn't advertise the course in media outside the parish. We also had the vestry take the course on its first offering. That meant that for subsequent offerings of the course we had: a) a bunch of mature Christians who had taken the course and could serve as table leaders or in the cooking/cleanup crew in the future; and b) a bunch of people in the parish who could talk from personal experience about how good it was for them and, when they invited a non-churchgoer, could say specifically why they thought that particular person would enjoy it. We also had a chance to smooth out any kinks in its implementation.

In subsequent offerings of the course, a *huge* part of how 'Connect' enticed people who did not consider themselves Christians and/or members of the parish was that we offered:

a) a NICE, if fairly simple, dinner (for the whole family, and with good and free child care) for which participants were not expected to cook, set tables, or shell out money.

A lot of people balked initially at signing up for the course, thinking that it was too much of a time commitment for busy people -- until it was pointed out to them that it often takes as much time as the course does to get, cook, serve, eat, and clean up after a nice dinner. The community was full of chronically busy and stressed out folks, and the invitation was "You're too busy and stressed out NOT to give yourself an evening in which you don't even have to think about dinner and you do get to de-stress, reflect, and have some real, nourishing conversation." Which brings me to the other enticement the course offers:

b) an opportunity to connect and be nourished in an experience of real spiritual community.

Klesis works well for older generations, but also it is, so far as I know, the first GenX-native curriculum for inquirers, and it tends to have an immediate and intuitive appeal for 'next generations' (and I'm not talking about 'youth ministry' -- the President of the U.S. is a GenXer!). I find that Alpha and similar courses appeal mostly to the head, asking questions like "Have you ever wondered about the meaning of life?" That doesn't tend to resonate with 'next generations' nearly as much as "Are you looking for spiritual community?" and "Come share your story with a great group of people and form some connections."

Klesis was built around the fundamental assumption that Christianity is about connection -- about God's mission of reconciling all with one another and with God in Christ -- and that a fundamental part of forming disciples is helping people discern where God is calling them AND form relationships in community that will sustain them as they pursue that call. I do a great deal of ministry with completely unchurched people (I'm currently part of a community of rock musicians in which I and one other member are the only people who have ever set foot in a church building), and I can say that that invitation to personal connection is really powerful when it's issued to a friend.

As far as getting members to invite unchurched or dischurched friends, I like to turn to the story of the calling of the first disciples in Luke, with its miraculously abundant catch of fish. The question on a fisher's mind every day was always, "Will I catch enough fish today for my family and me to survive, with all the strains on us?" When Jesus called, the catch of fish threatened to swamp the boat -- a serious matter, as the fishers could have lost their lives as well as their boat! The urgent question then shifted from "How will we catch enough?" to "How can we gather enough people to take in this abundance?"

We need to form church members who experience spiritual abundance in community such that they feel a natural need and excitement to share it with anyone else within shouting distance. That's why I think success in reaching out to unchurched people is predicated on having serious, ongoing adult formation. Otherwise:

a) the community won't be able to handle the inevitable changes that come with new members, especially new members from other cultures, social classes, and generations; and, more importantly ...

b) the community won't be the kind of spiritually vital, nourishing, exciting place that we promise. "Come prop up our dying institution!" is not an appealing invitation. "You're welcome to join us!" is only Good News if the community issuing the invitation has experienced and embraced Jesus' radical welcome and can offer deep lifelong spiritual nourishment. In my experience, that requires a strong core of disciples mature enough in their faith to serve as apostles.

Sorry this post is so long, but I hope at least some of it is helpful.



October 18, 2009 in Churchiness, Religion | Permalink


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I just received Kliess by email from St. Marks Episcopal Church in Burlington, MA. If you are responsible for the mailing list, thank you.

One issue, however, the pdf file for the connect volume is not found. If you can, let them know. I did get the .doc file.

God's blessings

Posted by: joel | Oct 31, 2009 6:51:52 PM

Thanks for this. I often check your website and receive much from it. As a Californian (CDSP 89) who now ministers in country Australia, I enjoy and profit from your work. Thanks for your cyber neighborhood.

Posted by: Robert Whalley | Nov 13, 2009 5:27:29 PM

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