When I was in training to be a pastor, I was taught to create a sense of urgency to reach people for Jesus.
I was taught wrong.
- “Jesus is coming and you’d better be ready!”
- “The world is a mess and only Jesus can fix it!”
- “What if you were to die today and didn’t have a relationship with Jesus?”
All of these were common phrases and tactics for decades – centuries, really – that created a sense of urgency, designed to convince people that they need what the church has to offer.
Theologically, they weren’t wrong. Jesus could come any moment. I could die at any time. And only Jesus can fix the mess the world is in. But talk like that is more likely to push people away from Jesus and the church than to draw them in.
My theology hasn’t changed. But my methods have. I’m now fully convinced that urgency is no longer the best way to help people understand their need for Jesus. If it ever was.
Because it only works on the converted.
Urgency Is For Insiders
For instance, I never go to a store between Black Friday and Christmas if I can help it. The very idea of doing so fills me with something close to terror.
And I always wait several days or weeks, at bare minimum, to see the latest movie or buy the newest product. I sit back and relax until long after the hype dies down – along with the crowds that go with it.
Why? Because I’m not a shopper. Or a fanboy. Or an early adopter. I’m not in any of those “clubs”, so the urgency of the insiders doesn’t draw me in, it pushes me away.
The holiday shopping season was designed for shoppers. It creates a sense of urgency in the hearts of people who love to shop and heightens their desire to do so.
But if, like me, you’re not a shopper, the urgency of the Christmas sales rush doesn’t create a sense of anticipation, but of dread.
When I have to go to a store, I want – I need – to go at a time and place that reduces my stress as much as possible.
Urgency Is Not The Antidote To Apathy
Just as the urgency of the Christmas shopping rush only works on shoppers, the urgency of spiritual crisis only works on churchgoers.
Those who don’t go to church won’t be attracted to us or to Jesus by creating a sense of urgency – whether real or imagined.
People have enough stress in their lives. They’ve had goods and services sold to them through a false sense of urgency so often that there’s a built-in distrust of it.
In western culture, the resistance to the church and the message of Jesus (not necessarily the same thing) is not primarily based on ignorance, anger or even stubbornness.
They’re not upset or worried, they just don’t care.
The uncommitted person isn’t waiting for a cue that “this is the weekend to get the deal of a lifetime at your local church!” They’re not thinking about it at all.
Not only is urgency not the antidote to apathy, it’s the enemy of importance. Of joy. Of community. And of curiosity.
Urgency doesn’t pull new people in, it reminds them of why they’re staying away.
A Place To Cast Your Cares
Churches that want to reach new people need to work against urgency, not foster it. To reduce people’s stress, not increase it.
Instead of pushing a sense of urgency, we need to foster a sense of wonder, of love, of beauty and of hope.
Don’t add to people’s burdens. Show them how Jesus came to ease their burdens. Create a church environment that is welcoming, engaging, joyous and calming.
Jesus didn’t say “Come to me, all who are hurried and excited, and I’ll give you the deal of a lifetime – but only for a limited time!”
He told us “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
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