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Does anybody care?

STEVE MILLS

EVERY BELIEVER knows Jesus can change anyone. Yet we struggle with how to handle seemingly impossible situations–how to reach the hard to reach. Is it possible? Should we even try?

It is possible, and we should. Let me introduce several people I tried to understand and reach when I was a pastor.

Bert was a friendly, simple, mildly retarded man. He was also known as the town drunk. He had no friends and felt alienated.

Tonya was a prostitute who walked into church one Sunday night. High on drugs, she sat in the second row from the front. Her hard, hollow expression exposed her emptiness and pain. Because her lifestyle was different, she felt shut out at church.

Ramona was raised in church and in a solid Christian home, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with God, the church, or Christians.

Jim and Sue faithfully served God and were involved in the church. One day they were no longer active and faithful. Slowly they dropped out and were gone.

These stories are true; only the names have been changed. They fit the four groups that Robert Dale and Delos Miles discuss in the book, Evangelizing the Hard-To-Reach: the left-outs, locked-outs, opt-outs, and the drop-outs.

The "left-outs" are like Bert–excluded, often unintentionally, because they are unattractive, handicapped, poor, migrant, or socially and ethically different.

The "locked-outs" are like Tonya–with diverse and deviant lifestyles. They may be addicts, criminals, divorced and remarried, or celebrities. These types are often locked out of the church.

The "opt-outs" are like Ramona–those who have consciously rejected God. They may be atheists, into cults, pleasure seekers, or materialistic and want nothing to do with God.

The "drop-outs" are like Jim and Sue–those who fall away because of cares, work, or hurts. They may dislike the pastor or they may have burned out with involvement.

Jesus knew how to reach those hard to reach. His ministry was filled with those whom society and the religious overlooked, ignored, rejected, or despised. He built bridges to them, such as Bartimeus (who was left out), Peter (who by betraying Him dropped out), the woman caught in adultery (who was locked out). He wept over Jerusalem and His own people who rejected Him and the truth–who had opted out.

To reach the hard to reach we must first decide to reach them. That may involve going places that make us uncomfortable, such as Bert’s house.

His basement apartment was dark and dirty. He lived among exposed water and sewer pipes and tattered walls. His bed was a ragged couch. Visiting him was not pleasant for me, but it was transforming for him. Our church reached out to him–washing his clothes, helping with his broken-down car, or reading the Bible to him. Like a child he responded to genuine love and continues to attend church.

We must build bridges to reach the left-outs and locked-outs–telling and showing them Jesus’ love and taking active, aggressive approaches to minister to them.

One church ministers to these by going into the community once a month and bringing the homeless, unattractive, overlooked people to the church where they feed them, give them showers and clothes, cut their hair, give them medical and dental care, and help with other needs. Many are finding Christ as their Savior.

Reaching the drop-outs and the opt-outs requires a different approach. We must deal with them sensitively, personally, and wisely, living a life that reveals the power and reality of Christ. It is important to let them know we still love and accept them.

The opt-outs, in addition to acceptance, need someone who demonstrates the difference that Christ makes in life. Keep dialogue open and live a consistent life.

Here are some things churches are doing to reach out to the hard to reach:

1. Have support groups for dealing with problem areas, such as alcohol, grief, tragedy, and transitions.

2. Identify those who have dropped out of the church in the last 5 to 10 years and build bridges to them through listening and dialogue.

3. Teach a class on apologetics to help people know what they believe, why, and how to communicate it to others.

4. Start a class for single-parent families or a Sunday school for children in a housing complex.

5. Contact families with newborn babies. Let them know the church wants to help them with their family responsibilities.

Minister to migrant workers.

Bert, Tonya, Ramona, and Jim and Sue all represent thousands who need Christ’s love and His church. While they may be hard to reach, Jesus hasn’t given up on them. God forbid that we care less. In their loneliness or indifference, the question each has is, Does anybody care? Our response must tell them we do.