The church where I work has a passion to reach out to people who have not yet met Jesus. And yet, when attempting to articulate this value, we often get stuck at the phrase “people who have not yet met Jesus.” While descriptive, it’s lengthy. Other “labels” seem to have different issues. So we’ve been having a bit of discussion about how to refer to those people we want to reach.
Many of the words we use have a rather negative connotation. “Non-Christians” is a little like referring to people of other ethnicities as “non-whites.” It kind of presumes a superior position. We used to call them “the lost.” Which, while theologically true, is not such a great way to open a conversation. The “unchurched” also starts with a presumption that everyone should be “churched,” but more importantly, it doesn’t really describe our purpose. Which is not just to turn people into “churched” people.
Because what we really want to do is connect them with God.
We’ve tried a few others on for size recently. The “unaware.” Not bad, and not too negative. Or the “indifferent” which refers to an assumed lack of interest in religious things.
I think it was Leonard Sweet who suggested we simply call them the “normal” people. Which, when you consider getting up early every Sunday morning, regularly giving away a portion of your income, and all that turning-the-other-cheek stuff, actually kind of makes sense.