Is it such a bad thing to question, to wonder, to want to taste and see?
In the same way people learn in different ways, people experience God in different ways. Thomas was a sensory learner. He wasn’t just going to take someone’s word for it, he was going to check for himself. And he was going to use his God-given five senses to assess the truth. It was an important part of his faith process. And Jesus allowed it.
Faith for Skeptics
Looking at it from Thomas’ perspective, shouldn’t we be skeptical of something as amazing as a body resurrected from the dead? Jesus views his skepticism as an invitation to belief. Jesus invites him to touch and see… and then calls him to belief.
When Thomas embraces that belief, he goes all in. “My Lord and My God!” This is the first time in scripture when a disciple calls Jesus God. And it’s a direct result of his recognition of the reality of his resurrection. When Thomas actually touched Jesus, he went from skeptic to all-in belief. The encounter fundamentally changed Thomas.
Church for Skeptics
Many people are like Thomas. Telling them they shouldn’t be “that” way or do “that” thing closes and locks the church door on them. Instead, you can work to create an atmosphere where skepticism isn’t seen as threatening but a normal stop on some people’s faith journey. Here are 7 ways you can create a church where skeptics can engage and grow.
1. Welcome them
Welcome questions and questioners without judgment or offense. Even if the question feels disrespectful. Thomas challenged the disciples who had seen the Lord. He didn’t believe them. Yet, he was still with them when the Lord appeared to them a week later. He was welcome in his disbelief.
Instead of being offended or defensive, consider how you can posture yourself and your church to be a safe place to ask harsh—yet honest—questions.
2. Engage them
There is nothing worse than looking for community and feeling invisible or unwelcome. Churches become tightly knit communities and while that is a blessing, it also creates a barrier to newcomers. Especially newcomers who are different or “don’t get it.”
Take an honest look at how your congregation reacts to new comers. Are they talking with their friends before and after church, during meet and greet time? Are small groups growing or have the same families been meeting together for years? The answers to these questions give you valuable insight into how people are engaging with people that are different from themselves.
3. Love them
God’s love for you is unconditional. His plan for reconciliation was strategized and put into action “while we were yet sinners.” Like post-Christian societies that have gone before us, the church in America is in very real danger of dying out. It all hinges on how well we love those who are outside of the church well.
Are you loving others with the same unconditional God has lavished on you? Chances are that there are very real obstacles standing in your way. History, culture, fear and pain get in the way of accepting and loving others. What steps can you take to invest in your health and the health of the people you serve in order to overcome obstacles and expand capacity to love unconditionally?
4. Take a Posture of Curiosity
If you are spending the majority of a conversation trying to find ways to share your perspective, you are attempting to influence instead of connect. Important truths are better received upon invitation. Every single person on the planet has a deep need to be seen and heard… including skeptics. Maintaining curiosity helps you listen well and demonstrates care in a meaningful way.
How can you work to build and maintain a posture of curiosity in yourself and your congregation?
5. Keep your Doors Open
The church celebrates being a place where everyone is welcome. Easier said than done. Close your eyes and picture a person who would make you uncomfortable if they walked through the church doors. They aren’t dangerous, just different. Just by the look of them, you may think that you have nothing in common, you don’t know how to connect, and honestly, it would be easier if they went to church somewhere else. You have a choice. Ignore them and they will go away or open your doors and your arms to embrace the person who walked into church looking for answers to spiritual questions.
What needs to be addressed in order to create an open door and open arms policy at your church? How can you raise your church’s capacity to embrace people who think differently?
6. Meet People Where They Are
Revelation 7 describes heaven as populated by a multitude from every nation and tribe and people and tongue. Your future is to be together forever with people who are different than you. At that time, you will have everything in common. For now, you can help populate that party by meeting new people and meeting them where they are. Then, prompted by the Holy Spirit you can help them take their next best step in their faith journey. Keep in mind that everyone’s testimony is different.
In what ways can you position yourself to meet people outside of the church? What can you do to slow down in order to meet even skeptics where they are?
7. Maintain Equity in Ministry
It is absolutely necessary to balance inward and outward focus in ministry. I will admit skeptics can take the air out of a room. Addressing their questions shouldn’t derail your ministry.
How can you make space for skeptics and their questions while meeting the needs of your church? What boundaries (not walls) need to be in place to help you maintain a balanced inward and outward focus?
The Discipleship Difference lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship that is individualized to meet each person wherever they are and help them take their next best step toward God.
The Guide for Discipling is a downloadable and highly customizable study for individuals or small groups. Based on the 8 areas that Christ helped the disciples grow. instead of fill-in-the-blank answers, you will find open-ended questions that allow for personal reflection and application.