How can the church communicate God's love to people who have 'switched off'?


I had to smile. He was completely baffled and yet it was such a simple question. I asked him: "Do you have any rubbish in the bin in your bedroom?"

I asked him this as he and his family prepared to leave us the other day. And then it dawned on me. He was a Texan, on his first visit to the UK, and the word "rubbish" had gone completely over his head. "He means trash," his mum explained with a smile, and then the penny dropped and he smiled too.

This amusing event was yet another useful reminder that we can speak the same language as someone else and yet fail to communicate what we are trying to say, however earnestly we try. It was this discovery that prompted Garry Chapman to write his brilliant book "The Five Love Languages". As the blurb on the cover says, "If you express love in a way your spouse doesn't understand he or she won't realize you've expressed your love at all."

As a pastor, I'm only too well aware that fewer and fewer people, particularly young people read the Bible today, and so I'm constantly looking for ways to communicate the sense of purpose, hope and love that they would find in it. And I find myself asking, "How can I get those who have switched off God to take an interest in what I believe?"

Well that's where the church comes in, or at least should come in.

Recent research (Talking Jesus) shows that two thirds of non-religious people bump into Christians on a regular basis. This is both a massive challenge and a huge opportunity.

As one of the earliest Christian writers said, "Your very lives are a letter that anyone can read by just looking at you. Christ himself wrote it not with ink, but with God's living Spirit; not chiselled into stone, but carved into human lives." (2 Corinthians 3: The Message)

In other words those of us who claim to follow Jesus should grasp the opportunity to tell everyone about Him through the values and the lifestyle we adopt and display. For when we do this well, they are far less likely to trash (i.e. to rubbish!) Him.

Concord Church in Dallas, Texas, clearly understands this principle as the recent report in Christian Today shows. Senior Pastor Bryan Carter wants people to discover the joy and the fulfilment that can come from marriage and is clearly exercised by the number of people who are simply choosing to live together.

It would be all too tempting (and probably) too predictable to rage from the pulpit. But Carter has chosen a different route. 

"We believe that in days like these, it's important for the Church to step up and redeem the covenant of marriage", he says.

And his church is doing exactly that in the most costly and wonderful way. They are encouraging cohabiting singles to marry and promising them that the church will pay for everything, from the rings to the wedding cake if they do.

Every three years, the church agrees to pay for the weddings of cohabitating couples who wish to get married. Since the church first implemented the marriage programme in 2009, nearly 60 couples have walked down the aisle. And it might come as no surprise to learn that Carter hopes other churches will do the same.

If anything proves the pastor and his church truly believe in the institution of marriage, let alone a generous God, this amazing initiative does. And in so doing they have delivered a massive Texan sized challenge to the churches of Britain too.

Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God