Recently I shared Christ with a young adult whom I would call a believing non-belonger. At some level, he believes in Jesus, but he does not belong to Him or to His church. As I thought about this, I realized I have spoken to many people like this, especially in Oklahoma. I would even go so far as to say that believing non-belongers make up a large majority of those we engage with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A 2007 study of spiritually lost young people in Oklahoma, ages 13 to 17, reveals that 95 percent of them identify with a Christian church and 86 percent of them say they are Christians. These are young people who do not know basic Bible information and give no understanding of who Jesus really is. Yet, they identify themselves with the Christian faith.
What are we to make of this? How does this inform our efforts to reach the lost of our state with the good news of Christ? Allow me to share some observations and suggestions.
First, Oklahoma is largely populated by believing non-belongers. To say they are “believing” is not to say they are spiritually saved. It is to say that most people in Oklahoma are inclined toward Christianity and not toward Hinduism or Jainism or any other ism. Though our state is changing, it is mostly true that to reside in Oklahoma is to live within site of steeples, not temples or mosques. In Oklahoma, lost people believe it is better to greet your neighbors than to eat your neighbors, which couldn’t be said of every culture that has existed on the Earth! Most people in Oklahoma do not believe that a person born with a birth defect has been cursed by bad karma because of sins in a past life, whereas most people in India do believe a birth defect is the result of bad karma for sins committed in a past life. In Oklahoma, the thinking of lost people is largely formed in the after-glow of the Gospel’s influence on our culture. Therefore, to share Christ with a believing non-belonger is to call them to follow
the Christ in whom they already claim to believe.
Second, in Oklahoma all evangelism is relational. Even if you don’t have a relationship with the lost person, they have a relationship with someone who believes like you do. In Oklahoma, virtually all lost people have friends who are Christians, and many of these lost people are believing non-belongers. They don’t have an argument against Jesus. Like the old song, they say “Jesus is just all right with me.” This is important because some believe that witnessing to people with whom you do not have a personal relationship is ineffective. This simply is not true. Most of the churches in Oklahoma that are consistently evangelistic have some form of evangelistic training and visitation planned into their weekly calendar. And though you may not realize it, when you share Christ with someone you don’t yet know, you are likely benefitting from their relationship with another believer.
Third, remember that people often come to true faith in Christ AFTER they feel a sense of belonging with a group of Christians. This is the principle behind enrolling unbelievers in our Sunday School classes and even including them in certain ministry projects. It’s easier for the unbeliever to clearly hear the Gospel once they experience friendship with God’s people. Before undergoing spiritual conversion to Christ, the believing non-belonger will determine whether they enjoy being with us. This has been called the “first conversion.” First they convert to us; then they convert to Christ. As the Word states, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20a).
Are you engaging believing non-belongers with the truth of Christ? Do you have a plan to help them experience a sense of belonging with your Sunday School class or ministry group? Every ministry of the church can be used of God to bring the lost into God’s kingdom and Church. So what are you waiting for-engage!