Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions How the Church Can Reach Nominals and Seculars

How the Church Can Reach Nominals and Seculars

Evangelism requires a strategy.

Whether you’re reaching out to Muslims, bikers, students, business people, previously unreached people—it doesn’t matter—there’s a unique way to go about it, ending in the same gospel. The mission is always the same, but the method is usually different.

There’s a certain strategy needed when you engage people who are a part of the church culture, and another when you’re looking to reach people who want nothing to do with church culture.

In each case, you need to speak the gospel in a way that connects and challenges those listening to respond to Christ. I am convinced that every church needs to have a strategy to reach both those who are close to the things of God and those who are far off.

I think most of our evangelism methods, particularly many of the seeker-movement methods from the ’80s and ’90s really appealed to people’s religious memory. A lot of it was saying to people, “This is not your mama’s church—we are updated and rocking. Now, you come back and be a part of it.” So they would say, “OK. I never disliked the church, but I’ll go and be a part of it if it is updated.”

The Issue With Nominals

There are many people in our society who came out of a church, but they didn’t come all the way out. They are disconnected—probably not being genuine Christian believers.

These are nominal Christians, or “nominals” as I’ll call them here.

“Nominals” were raised to appreciate (though not know) the Bible, a certain moral code and general Christian-ish principles. They may have had some experiences with God, but they do not have a vital walk with the Lord. They are not disciples being transformed by the indwelling of His Spirit.

A Nominal knows about Christ, but doesn’t really know Christ, at least in the way evangelicals mean it.

He or she considers himself to be “Christian” because he isn’t Hindu, or because he or she said a meaningful prayer 40 years ago at a youth camp. He or she doesn’t hate God, but just doesn’t love Him with all of his heart, mind, soul and strength.

Nominals see God as the source of good things in life, but not necessarily as the only source of eternal life. They have an appreciation for the things of God, even though they don’t have a thriving relationship with Him. They respond positively to the Bible, and they see value in the church. They even live according to some Christian-ish principles.

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.