LeaderLines – from Hillcrest Baptist Church, Austin, Texas  Contact Tom Goodman, Pastor
Manage Your Subscription – Subscribe/Unsubscribe  Contact Us About Your Subscription

"How Are We Doing With People at the Preconversion Phase?"
by Tom Goodman
June 7, 2007

Our church community can be a place where people find and follow Jesus together.  I’ve been focusing our attention on that—okay, hammering on that—for several weeks now.  You can find an 8-day devotional about that vision here.

That’s why an article by Doug Murren and Mike Meeks caught my eye.  It’s called “Preparing Your Church to Evangelize.”

Murren once baptized a woman who had crossed into faith two weeks earlier after attending the church for two years.  After the service, he caught up with her:

“You have to tell me.  Were you here every week for two years, or once a year, or what?”

“I came almost every week.”

“And you just received Christ last week?”


“I don’t want to make you feel bad,” I said, “but why did you wait so long?”

“My family started out Christian and kind of broke up.  I’ve had three abortions and drug problems.  I attended one of the church musicals with a friend, and she brought me to the worship services.  I had heard this was a place where I would be loved for who I am.  But it took me a while to believe it.”

Murren said that this conversation illustrates something he’s discovered about reaching unchurched people today.  They usually go through a long “preconversion phase” that may last a year to two and be marked by sporadic attendance.  He says,

When unchurched people walk into our building, they’re at a different starting point than the unchurched of fifty years ago. . . .  They need a safe and often long preconversion stage, in which they build confidence in the church, establish the authority of Scripture, and cement relationships.  We have to honor that phase.  Unchurched people today distrust the church, and they need to come and just watch for a while.

He adds:  “The biggest difference between a church successful in outreach and one that is not is willingness to begin with people, and patience with them during the preconversion phase.”

Drawing on his experience, his article covers two of the things his church has done to work with people in this preconversion phase:

Get Members to Focus on Their Relationships.  He writes, “A church will fail if it tries to assimilate today’s unchurched person only through events and programs.  The effective glue is relationships—friends bringing friends and including them in church life.  Research has shown that of ten people who visit a church and stay, nine were brought by a friend.”  So, the leadership spends a great deal of time equipping church members to bring and to include new people.  In fact, Murren’s church is so committed to this strategy that the leadership not only follows up with the newcomer after their visit: the church member who brought the newcomer gets three phone calls.  They ask the church member, “Are there specific issues we can help you with as you’re working on your friend?”

Even more: If someone brings a friend to the Lord, he or she gets to baptize that friend.  Murren wrote about what happened when they added this feature to their outreach strategy:

Immediately we saw an explosion in the number baptized.  Big burly guys would step into the baptistery tank and start crying.  Joe the mechanic would tell how his buddy Bob came to one of our musicals and three months later received the Lord.

Get Leaders to Create a “Safe Place.”  Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Church tells his people that their church is supposed to be “a safe place to hear a dangerous message.”  If unchurched people don’t feel “at home” when they’re around church people, they will not stay around long enough to hear the truth.  Murren says that a church that feels safe to the unchurched is a church where you . . .

. . . explain what you mean.  “When we ask the unchurched why they don’t come to church, the number one complaint is they can’t understand what’s going on or what preachers are saying.  We try to make no assumptions about what visitors will understand, and we work hard to talk the language of those unfamiliar with church.”  That’s applicable to group leaders and Bible study teachers, not just preachers.

. . . explain why.  “Postmoderns resist directive-type communication.  A sermon that starts off with an authoritative statement about how people ought to behave turns them off.  I’ve found it works better to speak persuasively, sometimes taking twice as long to explain a point.  ‘If you believe this, so-and-so occurs; if you believe that, such-and-such happens.’”  Sometimes the “pound-the-pulpit-and-tell-it-like-it-is” is what saved people want to hear, but that style doesn’t do a thing for the friends they ought to bring with them.

. . . don’t rush people.  Our job is to love, and the Holy Spirit’s work is to convince.

. . . don’t get surprised by their problems.  Murren writes, “Unchurched people assume churches don’t want people with sin problems.  They assume those who come to church are perfect—or hypocritical enough to act like they are.  When your jaw doesn’t drop at their sins, they feel safe.  When the pastor is transparent in sermons, it gives seekers permission to have problems.”

To become a church where people find and follow Jesus together, we simply need to keep Murren’s two principles in mind.  First, we need to be sure our people are building relationships with their THEMs, bringing them and including them in church activities.  And, second, those of us who are leaders need to make sure we are creating the kind of community that helps people feel “at home” the moment they come into contact with us.


LeaderLines is a weekly "e-briefing" providing valuable information and inspiration to those who serve at Hillcrest Baptist Church.

Do you know friends who would appreciate LeaderLines?  Just forward this e-mail to them!

Have you subscribed to LeaderLines?  You can subscribe by clicking here and following the instructions.  Your e-mail address will not be sold or given away to anyone, and you can automatically change your subscription or drop it by following the easy steps provided with each e-mail.