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“Outside These Walls: Part Three”
Hillcrest Church Office
October 23, 2003

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Here is this week's LeaderLines. . . .

“Outside These Walls: Part Three”
by Tom Goodman

Where are Austin Al and Alice spiritually?  Three weeks ago I asked you to describe the “typical” resident of north Austin—“Austin Al and Alice.”  You responded with over 425 lines of text, all total!  I’m taking a few editions of LeaderLines to summarize your responses and offer some “outreach implications.”  In this third and final part of the series, we’ll look at what you said about Al and Alice’s spiritual health.  You can see all the unedited e-mail responses at www.HillcrestAustin.org/austin.

Most of you wrote that Al and Alice have some kind of church background.  One wrote that, growing up, Al “went to church regularly with his Mom.  Dad went occasionally.”  Some of you observed that Al and Alice just drifted out of church to the point that church attendance is now a “fringe thing” in an over-busy lifestyle.  Others of you noted that Al and Alice made a deliberate choice to quit attending because they got “sick and tired of the same thing over and over in the service” or became “disillusioned as a result of a childhood religious upbringing which neglected to make God ‘personal’ and Christianity ‘relational’.”

As for now, Al sees himself as a “basically good person” and he “values spirituality although not in its traditional Christian expressions.”  One wrote, “He now believes that there may be a greater being, but why does that have to be God?  Why not Buddha or Mohammed?”  Another said, “He heard that Coach Phil Jackson of the Lakers, is into Zen and it looks like a pretty cool thing.”  Austin Al “believes in God,” and “believes Jesus was real, but thinks that not all the Bible is probably accurate and might not be relevant to today's problems.  Plus Al doesn't like it when anyone says they've got the only way to Heaven.  It really turns him off.”  One of you confided, “The whole thing drives me nuts.  How do I talk to someone like this, honestly?”

Regarding church, “He doesn't feel like he has time for himself, much less church.”  Still, Al and Alice have accepted invitations to church, or tried it on their own.  But when he visits, Al’s “shield is up and he really can't understand what he sees in the service.”  One of you reported, “Al visited his mom's church with her one year.  He barely knew the songs and he felt like he was underdressed with a pipe organ playing.  Since he doesn't go to church, Al also didn't have a Bible, nor would he know where to turn if he did.  Sermon was half over by the time he would've found it.”

Several of you wrote that having children in the house intensifies Al’s and Alice’s feeling that they ought to include church in their routine.  Alice especially feels this.  Austin Alice would “love for her husband to start taking the family to church because she knows they need something.”  And another said, “Alice has been suggesting that they need to start going to church since the kids are getting older.  Al figures church is for those people with nothing better to do with their time.  Most of their friends don't attend church and they seem to be doing fine.  Still, Al thinks he might go just to make Alice happy.  He just wishes that he could find a place where he knew somebody.  Then he wouldn't feel like a total stranger.”

When they make the decision to find a church, Al and Alice “couldn’t care less about church denominations,” and “it will be Sunday morning only.”  They “want opportunities for their children.  They want activities that will challenge them and are exciting.  They want something meaningful out of a service, not just surface coating.”

Implications.  Each week I’ve asked some questions about our outreach in light of the observations.  Here are a few questions from this week:  Your neighbors probably consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”  Is there a way to affirm their “spirituality” while also nudging them toward a relationship with Jesus?  (We dealt with this in the message, “The On-Purpose Seeker.”  You can listen to it at www.HillcrestAustin.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=47386.)

The spiritual search is a process.  Those in the early stages have a lot of questions, faulty assumptions, and prejudices about the faith and the church.  When you make a decision to be comfortable, not defensive, with those at this stage of the process, it will change you, your Sunday School class, and your church!

Austin Al and Alice are big on tolerance (as it is currently defined), and they are touchy about people who claim to have the only way to truth.  So, we will need to take great pains to show them how our confidence in biblical truth does not diminish our respect and love for those with whom we disagree.

Can we develop a worship style that resonates with us and also “connects” with Al and Alice?  I mean, are we really that different from the people we’ve been describing?  We all live in the same neighborhoods, graduate from the same schools, work in the same offices, grew up on the same music, and probably have the same five radio stations programmed on our car radio buttons.

In other words, we like the music styles of our neighbors, and it may surprise you to know that Austin Al and Alice are just as moved by our hymns as we are.  They especially like the really durable ones (“really durable” means “really old” not “recently old”!).  Surveys of favorite religious music among young adults reveal a great love for stately songs like “A Mighty Fortress,” roots/folk songs like the Celtic “Be Thou My Vision,” and songs that authentically reveal struggle, like “Come, Thou Fount” (“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it”).

So, today’s churches are arguing about the wrong thing in the debate between old hymns or new choruses.  The churched and unchurched want, and need, both.  But, when planning today’s church services, we DO need to pay attention to three things:  fresh arrangements, contemporary instrumentation, and seamless integration of the worship elements.  You’re seeing Gene and me making the changes that reflect this reality.

Based on what you said, if Austin Al and Alice have kids, our chances of reaching them increase dramatically.  What does it take to make children want to come to church so badly that they drag their own parents out of bed?  What does it take to make a teenager actually ASK his parents to bring him to Hillcrest?  And, just as important, are you ready to take that step if we identify what it takes?

The good news is, churches that are willing to do what it takes will find the fields are “ripe for harvest” (John 4:35)!  I’ll close with this great promise from Thom Rainer in his new book, The Unchurched Next Door:

Our research shows that many of the unchurched are looking for Christian friends.  They are open to an invitation to church.  They do want to know what Christians believe.  And you could be that person who will make the eternal difference in the life of an unchurched person. . .  There are unchurched people only a walk, a desk, or a classroom away who are eager to hear from you about your faith in Christ.  These unchurched people next door often wonder why you are so reticent to say anything about the most important aspect of your life.  Several million unchurched will eagerly listen to you.  Many will be ready to receive Christ when you talk to them.  The largest portion will probably appear noncommittal, but they will not reject what you have to say.  And only a small number will be resistant; an even smaller number will be hostile. . . .  What do you have to lose?
Into the harvest,

P.S.  This Sunday is “Hi-Attendance Day” in Sunday School.  If you are a teacher or officer, make sure to contact your class roll and get them here for this special emphasis.  Also, if you attend the second service after Sunday School, park at Anderson High School and use our shuttle this week so we can make it easy for others to find a parking space near the church!  Our Hi-Attendance Day kicks off the 4-day event, “OUTSIDE THESE WALLS” with Tierce Green.  Be praying now for spiritual renewal during this special event.