Does CMI ministry to churches reach unbelievers?
You might be surprised to know who attends church these days
Published: 26 January 2012(GMT+10)
From time to time, we at Creation Ministries International (CMI) hear this criticism from our supporters: “You refer to your ministry visits to churches as being ‘outreach’. But true outreach means reaching out to unbelievers. CMI should hold more meetings specifically to address non-Christians.”
Implicit in that comment is the understanding that non-Christians don’t attend church—a view I used to hold, too, until I became one of the international panel of CMI speakers in 1999. Since then I have met and heard of many people who have been brought to belief through having attended a church on the day of ministry from a visiting CMI speaker. Some of those people were regular attendees at that church.
A recent article in an Australian newspaper highlights this phenomenon, and gives an insight into why people would bother attending church regularly if they don’t believe in Christ as Saviour, or even in any creator God at all.1
Andrew Burnard is a 45-year-old father of three who attends church every week, and is chairman of his church’s council. However, he “hasn’t believed in a traditional god, the virgin birth or the literal resurrection of Christ” since his teens.
Andrew Burnard is a 45-year-old father of three who attends church every week, and is chairman of his church’s council. However, he hasn’t believed in a traditional god, the virgin birth or the literal resurrection of Christ since his teens.
The newspaper article says Mr Burnard is hardly a rarity, as a survey by the Australian National University “suggests this could describe a quarter of people attending church monthly or more”. The poll found 1% said it was impossible to know if there was a god, 2% didn’t believe at all, 3% ‘sometimes believed’, 6% believed merely in some sort of ‘higher power’ while 13% acknowledged belief in a ‘personal god’ but had their doubts.
So why do they attend church? According to the newspaper article, it’s “for the sense of community, shared social values, the ritual—or even the choir—despite holding religious convictions that are wavering, non-traditional or completely absent.”
This is certainly the case with Andrew Burnard, who says he “wants to be in a spiritual community that has a sense of mission to do good things and to help do justice in the world. But I also like the Christian and other religious liturgies and spiritual practices—I find that they’re very good for me. But, for me, belief in a literal god is quite unnecessary.”
According to the pastor, Reverend Ben Gilmour, the atheist parishioner can ‘appreciate his atheism through the silence of the [church] service’.
Really? It seems Mr Burnard is unaware that the only alternative to a creator God, evolution, renders religious liturgies and ‘spiritual’ practices nonsensical (see Evolution—the ultimate antidote to spirituality). However, in company with certain well-known atheists, he recognizes the link between church and charity—see Atheists credit the Gospel.
While Mr Burnard rejects the label ‘atheist’ for himself (instead preferring ‘non-believer’ or ‘agnostic’), a fellow parishioner is happy to be known as an atheist. According to the pastor, Reverend Ben Gilmour, the atheist parishioner can “appreciate his atheism through the silence of the [church] service”.
So in light of such widespread unbelief in church circles, I’m no longer surprised at the number of people converted, or brought closer to conversion, through hearing CMI ministry outreach to churches. (See also the box about other ways this happens.) Nor am I surprised at the strength of opposition that a CMI presentation at a church can sometimes stir up. Such is only to be expected when not everyone in attendance is a believer!
So there should be more CMI ministry outreach at church services, not less, so that each new generation of teens at least get to hear that the Bible (including Genesis 1–11) can be trusted, before they would otherwise reach the point of leaving the church. I say ‘leaving the church’ because attending makes no logical sense if the evolutionary paradigm they are taught at school, college and university is true. In fact, the aforementioned newspaper article cites 25-year-old atheist Helen Hughson as an example of someone who remained at church while her appreciation of church music lasted, but has now left. She said, “I think I’ve come to a more mature view of religion, which is probably that it’s not for me but I have nothing against it.” What a pity she apparently hasn’t yet read this article: That’s nice for you, but it’s not for me. (Incidentally, Ms Hughson estimated that as many as half of her former fellow performers in the choir were also atheists.)
“We want CMI ministry at our church”
In the countries in which CMI has accredited speakers,2 we are happy to consider all requests for ministry from churches. But there’s the rub—we can only go out to minister at churches which have specifically invited us. Have you considered asking your church leadership to request that CMI come and minister to your church? (See Ministry programs for your church.) You can point out to them that CMI speaker presentations demonstrate that there are straightforward answers to the common objections and queries people have relating to the creation/evolution issue, which are some of the most frequent objections to faith in Christ.
The testimony of a gentleman in Canada, whom we’ll refer to as Larry, is a good example of the ‘fruit’ possible from creation ministry. CMI–Canada speaker Calvin Smith addressed Larry’s church in 2009. Larry recalls:
“After Calvin spoke, many questions that I had had for years were answered and I became a ‘capital C Christian’. I have always gone to church but now I realize I was an agnostic during those years. I really didn’t believe the Bible and thought that many questions like, ‘How do we know God exists?’ just didn’t have answers.”
Larry related that after hearing Calvin he experienced a growing love for studying the Bible and listening to sermons.
However, we should perhaps warn you gently that some pastors and ministers might not be as enthusiastic for creation ministry as you might have expected.3 Because when it comes to Genesis, we hear from many people who, when they begin to lobby their church leadership to invite CMI, are consequently dismayed to discover that “we have a pastor who doesn’t believe the Bible!”
Andrew Burnard’s own testimony of his experience at the church he attended in his teens is instructive. At that time he was called to confirm his belief in God, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Christ. However:
“I just went to this minister and I said, ‘I just think this is all rubbish.’ And he said, ‘Well, you know, I think you’re right.’”
Reaching unbelievers in many ways
It’s not just the unbelievers within a congregation who are reached by CMI ministry to churches. In fact, on average, even more are reached who are not actually at those CMI sermons. This happens because many of the believers present have been ‘switched on’ to the total trustworthiness of the Bible—and armed and equipped with powerful creation resources. It’s because this information often finds its way through them to their unbelieving friends, relatives and acquaintances, that scarcely a week goes by without hearing of a testimony from one of the many people around the world who have had their lives transformed from such resources. Your support keeps making a huge difference.
- McKenny, L., Churchgoers keen to take a pew despite their disbelief, The Sydney Morning Herald, www.smh.com.au/nsw/churchgoers-keen-to-take-a-pew-despite-their-disbelief-20120106-1posf.html, 7 January 2012. Return to text.
- USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. CMI also regularly sends speakers to Singapore at the invitation of churches in that country. In addition, CMI speakers have periodically toured other countries too, e.g. in Europe and Pacific island nations. Return to text.
- Having a chairman of the church council who doesn’t believe in God is probably an indication that the hierarchy of his church has abandoned Genesis as history. Unbelief rarely stops at Genesis—the ‘slippery slide’ syndrome is all too common. Return to text.