Churched vs. Evangelized

Words mean things and therefore words communicate meaning. I think it is important to use biblical terms whenever possible in order to communicate biblical concepts. Otherwise, it seems we run the risk of communicating erroneous concepts.

For example: Churched.

It seems to be popular with many authors and teachers these days to talk about the "churched" and the "unchurched" (with an emphasis on the solution of "planting churches"). It is my contention that these terms tend toward error because they communicate the false concept that our mission is to get people into a church building and a church-going lifestyle.

Consider what Aubrey Malphurs says in his book Strategic Disciple Making (and please understand that I like Aubrey Malphurs a lot and would recommend just about all of his books; just be careful with his Druckerism [and if you don't know what Druckerism is, you might want to read this, along with the comment on Chuck Smith, and this]; emphasis in the following quote is mine).

As many as 80 to 85 percent if not higher of American churches are plateaued or dying. While a number of church organizations and denominations have returned to church planting, this has not yet stemmed the tide toward a post-Christian culture in the United States.

Along with the plateau and declining of the American church, a significant number of Americans are unchurched. George Gallup defined the unchurched as "those who are not members of a church or have not attended services in the previous six months other than for special religious holidays, weddings, funerals or the like." Christian pollster George Barna writes that the number of unchurched Americans has increased 92 percent in the last thirteen years. [From Strategic Disciple Making, pp. 23-24]

Now, as striking as the surveys and statistics might be, here is the problem:

  • "Churching the unchurched" and "church planting" do not at all communicate accurately the Commission given to the Church and each of her members by the Lord Jesus Christ, and later reiterated by the Apostle Paul.
  • We are called, primarily, to evangelize the lost-–to go to where lost people are and verbally communicate the message of the Gospel to them (2Cor 5.18-21; Rom 10.13-17; and you could add in all the Great Commission passages in the Gospels and Acts, too).

If we focus solely on "churching" people, we will fall into the trap of pragmatism: doing anything to draw (and keep) a crowd in order to fill our church buildings, thereby keeping people "churched."

Would it not be better to use biblical terminology to communicate biblical concepts? I think so. Instead of inventing a new word ("churched"), why don't we just talk about "evangelism" or "preaching the gospel" to the lost? Why not just say it?

"We are called to go and evangelize the lost."

"We are called to go and preach the Gospel to the lost."

When we obey that command, we will see churches start naturally as the new believers gather together weekly in order to be edified–-to grow in their knowledge of Scripture and the application of the same in all areas of life (Eph 4.11-16). Church planting is the natural result of intentional, biblical evangelism. This is the pattern we see in Paul and this is the mission that the Lord has given us through him (2Cor 5.18-21; Eph 4.11-16): go to the lost are and evangelize them by communicating the Gospel message to them, then gather together weekly for the edification of the believers through the teaching and application of Scripture (2Tim 3.16-4.5).

Words mean things and therefore words communicate meaning. Let's stop talking about "churching the unchurched" because we're not called to "church" anybody (we're not even called, primarily, to "plant churches"). We're called to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and we do that by evangelizing the lost and edifying believers. If we are to communicate our call and mission accurately, we should use biblically accurate terms and avoid the popular, buzz words that only cause confusion anyway.

[P.S. When I ran my spell checker on this article, for some odd reason it flagged "churched," "unchurched," and "churching." The words don't exist in the English language. Somebody just made them up...]