*Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Corey Trimble’s An Authentic Experience: Creating an Inviting Culture with Biblical Integrity. Corey is convinced (and has shown as a pastor of an influential church) that it is possible to cultivate an inviting church culture without sacrificing biblical convictions. In the following excerpt, Corey describes how he has cultivated a personal culture that helps lead to discipling relationships.
Disciples of Jesus need to foster a culture that loves people and wants to get to know them. This will almost always naturally lead to talking about Jesus and inviting people to come and be a part of the church community. If we don’t connect with people on a personal level, it makes it virtually impossible to make them followers of Jesus Christ. In America, getting to a point where we can naturally breach the conversation of faith can be a slow burn that takes much care to accomplish.
Here is a simplified list of how I create a personal culture that may lead to a discipleship relationship:
1. I frequent the same places.
I go to the same coffee shops for long periods of time, I eat at the same five restaurants, I shop at the same Kroger. In doing this, I see the same people at the checkout lane or serving my food. I get to know them, ask their names, talk about music and movies, ask about school or work. We’re talking normal conversation.
In doing this, I am cognizant of not being a weirdo. I just act like a nice person. If a local pastor has a smaller congregation or has a new church plant, this is how they grow a church to 200 people. If the leaders of churches are not conversational and relatable, the church likely won’t be either.
2. I don’t speak “Christianese.”
(“Christianese” is a made-up language that only Christians speak.) When I engage in conversation, I talk like a normal person. I consciously try not to use words or examples of things that are overtly culturally Christian. This isn’t because I am ashamed of my faith; it is because an outsider does not get the metaphor or reference.
I know words like sanctify, redemption, justification, and similar terms are important, but they are insider words and must be explained in a humble way to people who are not familiar. At our church, we also consciously avoid cultural Christian references and lingo. We aren’t trying to be rebellious or snobby, but we are constantly focusing on evangelism and outreach. How we speak either connects or puts distance between others and us.
3. I ask questions and listen more than I speak.
I want to get to know them, not just talk about what I do. At the core of Christianity is the denial of self, and if we are going to minister to others, we must hear their story first. As they are speaking, I pay attention and look for opportunities to shine some light on whatever may be going on in their world. One of my biggest pet peeves is Christians, and especially Christian leaders, that talk too much. Our goal is to get to know others so we can build a deep relationship with them. That is impossible if we never shut up and listen. Though it is uncomfortable, I have had to have direct conversations with people I am discipling about how much they talk and how little they listen.
4. I look for common ground.
Whether it is music, movies, art, sports, or whatever, I try and connect with people through simple commonalities. Many Christians may get uncomfortable with this, but the non-Christian music and movies I watch can be great conversation pieces to connect with non-Christians. This is why I encourage people not to confine themselves to just Christian entertainment. Of course, we don’t allow things that can contaminate our hearts, but we need to know what the culture around us is watching, listening to, and being led by. If we don’t know our hurdles, we will not be able to jump over them.
5. I am not looking to share my faith or what I do for a living in my first conversation.
I don’t believe in handing out tracts or walking up to strangers and asking if they need prayer. Does this work at times? Yes, but it’s one in roughly 10,000 times that it works. The other 9,999 times, you just freak people the heck out. In my initial conversation, I just want to open the door. I want people to know that I am a normal guy with likes and dislikes and troubles just like anyone else.
I want to bridge the gap between my world and theirs and hope that I can engage again on a deeper level sometime in the future. This doesn’t mean that it is wrong to share your faith in the first conversation, but it should be a very natural progression. And it is best that they open the window for the conversation to take that turn.
God has placed opportunities all around us.
There are people at your work that just need someone to reach out and say hello. There are students next to you that are struggling with depression and just need a smile or someone to eat lunch with. Your next-door neighbor may be going through a divorce, or your barista may be thinking of taking their life.
We are called to be the salt and light, and sometimes the light starts to shine in a simple conversation over a cup of coffee. We need to be aware of the people around us, all around us! In a world that is increasingly narcissistic and closed off, we as the beacons of God’s light must be willing to put down the phone, smile at those around us, and engage in some meaningful conversations. Does this make the seed grow? No, only God can do that, but it does plant seeds that we can come back to and water through more conversations.
(To check out An Authentic Experience: Creating an Inviting Culture with Biblical Integrity, click here.)