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04 Sep '11

Building authentic relationships with unbelievers

Posted by T.J. Addington in evangelism, friendships, Intentional living, relationships
Much evangelism strategy in the church today assumes that unbelievers will show up at our services. This is certainly a true assumption for many congregations at Christmas and Easter and they take full advantage of the opportunity. However, evangelism rates in the Unites States and Europe remain exceedingly low and I believe one of the key reasons for this is the lack of intentionality in developing relationships with unbelievers.

By nature, many of our relationships change as we come to Christ. We move from a majority of our relationships being with fellow unbelievers to a majority of our friendships being with believers. That is a natural development as they are our new family and fellow members of God's family. What is lost, if we are not careful and intentional are the very relationships that are necessary to influence our former friends toward a relationship with Christ. And the challenge increases as our spiritual age grows.

The key is to be aware of all the folks around us who don't know Christ and be intentional in developing relationships with them: our neighbors, workmates, restaurant servers, clerks at local stores and all those that our paths run across. 

Mary Ann and I have been deeply intentional in getting to know all of our neighbors for the 23 years we have lived in our neighborhood. We have seen several of those come to Christ as a result of long term relationships. Some years ago we chose a restaurant that we both enjoy and go back regularly and have developed friendships with most of the wait staff and owners. Because I am an author, we have shared my books like Live Like You Mean It and When Life Comes Undone with all of them. Mary Ann has done the same at her hairdressers. Then there is the fellow who cuts our lawn and helps with projects around the house who is now sharing with us the challenges of his life. We also stay in touch with doctors, nurses and aids who cared for me over two long illnesses.

Authentic relationships build trust and trust leads to conversation and often disclosure of issues in our lives. Those conversations lead to the opportunity to love, accept, empathize and share the good news of the Gospel. We have found that because these friends know that we have a different kind of relationship with God than they do (a real friendship and relationship) they gravitate to us in times of crisis and ask for prayer which leads to further opportunities to share the good news of Jesus.

Neither of us would consider ourselves to have the gift of evangelism but we have learned to be intentional in developing long term relationships with those who don't know Christ. Those relationships when coupled with prayer are a powerful combination for opportunities to see people come to Christ.

Congregations that see many people come to Christ are intentional in developing and maintaining relationships with unbelievers. And I am talking about authentic relationships here where at whatever level, life rubs off on life. It is not simply about wanting them to find Christ, it is about caring about them as people loved by God. It is that genuine love through relationship, conversation and the work of the Holy Spirit that often brings them into the greatest family we could ever have.