(Teaching Outline of G.C. Hunter’s How to Reach Secular People)


Humanism—Loss of God; Secularism—Loss of Shame; Pluralism—Loss of True Truth; Narcissism-Loss of Meaning


How to Reach Secular People

By George C. Hunter III

Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992, 192 pp.



This book proposes to answer an important question:  “How do you communicate the Christian faith to the growing numbers of “secular” people in the western world?”  Hunter’s thesis is that the West has again become a vast mission field. 


Books that help our understanding of secularization are Newbigin’s Foolishness to the Greeks and Cox’s The Secular City.  However, they offer little practical help.  Hunter seeks to offer practical help in this regard.  He also attempts to bridge the gap between effective apostolic ministry and the contemporary world.


Introduction:  How The West Was Lost

Most secular people are not agnostic (professing ignorance about God) or atheistic (convinced that there is no God). Most people are “ignostics.”  They simply do not know what we are talking about!


Our problem in reaching the lost West is compounded by the fact that the West has been effectively “inoculated” from being able to hear the real thing.  Most in the West have been exposed to a diluted and/or distorted version of Christianity.  This is what they have rejected:  “the Western world is now the toughest mission field on earth.  There is now more resistance to the Christian faith in the heart of old Christendom than anywhere else—England, Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  Only in the United States is the church more than a minority movement—more people go to church in Moscow than in London” (p. 24).


Hunter defines secularization as “the withdrawal of whole areas of life, thought, and activity from the control or influence of the Church” (pp. 25-26).  How did secularization happen?  How was the West lost?  How can the West be engaged by the Gospel again?  Two facts coupled together are rather frightening to me.  Fact #1 – Western culture is extremely hostile to the Christian Gospel.  Fact #2 – Western culture is being rapidly exported to the rest of our planet.  Is a window to the world for the Gospel rapidly closing?  This is a chilling thought.


Hunter believes that there are two fundamental causes of secularization.  The first causes have to do with what he calls “six watershed events.” 


The Renaissance – Secularization began with the Renaissance when the West rediscovered ancient Greek philosophy, science and literature.  It affected people in three ways:  It redirected people’s attention from God to man; It offered an optional worldview centered in Greek

Philosophy rather than the Church’s, thus introducing pluralism;   It created the cultural soil out of which humanism would emerge as a vital competitor for Christian truth claims and ethics.


The Reformation – Christendom continued to fragment with the advent of the Protestant Reformation, breaking Roman Catholicism’s stranglehold on nations and peoples.


The Rise of Nationalism – United Europe broke up into proud nationalities.  This killed Christendom as a political unity.  War led ultimately to disillusionment with the Church’s God. 


The Rise of Science – Science challenged Christendom’s prescientific assumptions about the universe and human life.  The Church’s pigheaded refusal to acknowledge the legitimate truth claims of science (such as the position of the earth in the universe system) caused the Church to lose credibility with the thinking world.


The Enlightenment – The Enlightenment escalated the secularization process.  It is such a big part of secularization that many writers treat it like the only cause.  The Enlightenment mood taught that people were intrinsically good and reasonable, but environment makes them less good and reasonable.  Is this the breeding ground for the current tidal wave of “victim mentality?”


Urbanization – If the Enlightenment escalated the secularization process, urbanization stampeded it.  Urbanization is the migration of people from the rural, farming community to the mass of people joined in the “secular city.”


The second cause of secularization, after these six watershed events, was the “Church’s pathological pattern of responses to these events—responses that undermined the Church’s credibility and distanced the people from her witness. . . The Church’s behavior (i.e. in relationship to Science mentioned above? Made it appear to be the enemy of thought, rationality, and truth” (p. 29).  From Hunter’s perspective disastrous things happen when the Church sides with the reigning political philosophy or the “status quo.”  “Something happens to the Church’s credibility every time she fails to throw her influence behind movements working for justice and democracy.  Throughout Catholic Europe, the Church sided with monarchs and money. . . .  The effect, everywhere, has made the Church appear reactionary and against progress, democracy, justice and the people” (p. 30).


Secularization has captured the West as a result of the dynamic impact of the six watershed events and the Church’s failure to respond properly to those events.  Secularity has different shapes in society.  It is limited; it is not inexorable, nor irrevocable.  Martin Marty suggests that secularity as “the schism between the Church and western culture has taken at least three different forms.”


Utter Secularity – This form is characteristically found on the European continent and features an utter clash between ideologies, a virulent and hostile form of secularism wherein many people lose their faith.


Mere Secularity – This form is characteristically found in Great Britain.  The Church is not so much attacked as it is imply ignored and seen as irrelevant.

Controlled Secularity – This form is characteristically found in the United States where Christianity has been distorted into a folk religion which typically deifies traditional American



Hunter makes three other observations in order to place secularity in perspective.  In the first place, “other religions and worldviews are also experiencing secularization and losing their earlier influence with large populations.  Secondly, though ‘secularity’ is not synonymous with the ideology of ‘secularism,’ the secularized soil out of any religion breeds ‘secularism.  Thirdly, it is also noteworthy that Christianity is not alone in experiencing difficulty in communicating its message and way of life in a secularized culture.” (pp. 32-33)


How should the Christian movement appraise the loss of Christendom and the rise of a secular culture?  Some have seen the loss as a real loss—some have celebrated the loss, i.e., Kierkegaard, who said, “When everybody is a Christian, nobody is a Christian.”  (p. 33)


We have much to be pessimistic and preoccupied about . . .and much to be enthusiastic and excited about!  We are living in days somewhat similar to the original apostolic age.  During the Christian movement’s first three centuries, four objectives had to be achieved in order for Christianity to be communicated:  (1)  People needed to be informed and educated as to the Church’s truth claims;  (2)  In the midst of a hostile populace, people had to be influenced;  (3)  In the midst of a diverse religious atmosphere, people had to be convinced that at the last Christianity was plausible and at the best true; (4)  Since people have to willingly choose to enter the Kingdom, people had to be invited to adopt the Christian faith as their own (p. 35).


The contemporary Church must brace up and face the facts that the playing field has changed.  We no longer possess the home field advantage---but we are presented with an unprecedented opportunity.  “Today we must first plow, seed, and water the fields before we can reasonably expect to gather harvests.”  For more on this, Jim Petersen’s books dealing with lifestyle evangelism from NavPress are invaluable.


Two aspects of the Christian movement’s emerging opportunity must be noted:  One, Human beings are not as good as enlightenment ideology taught.  Evil is an ever more persistent and pervasive problem with each passing day.  Secondly, enlightenment teachings about a common “natural religion” in human nature cannot survive honest examination.  In fact, the core views of many of the great world religions are contradictory, mutually exclusive.  As we watch, weeping, as Western culture collapses, we should realize with hope and optimism that “when the dust settles. . .the field [will be] ripe for the harvest.”  (p. 38)


Chapter One – Profiling the Secular Population


The Church now faces the daunting task of re-evangelizing Europe and North America.  Hunter confronts three myths concerning secular people.  First of all, it is simply not true that we are entering an era marked by no religion.  If anything, people are more religious than ever.  Secondly, it is simply not true that we are entering an era marked by no morality.  It is not that people have no morals.  Quite the contrary!  People today make an unprecedented number of “moral” decisions on a daily basis.  The question is, where do people derive their morals?  What will be their standard?  Thirdly, it is simply not true that most secularized people have constructed an elegant and intelligent rational for rejecting faith.  “The vast majority of secular people are not epistemologically sophisticated; most are naïve, superficial, gullible people who may fall for anything.”  (p. 43) Take note Church!


Hunter chronicles ten characteristics of secular people:  1.  Secular people are essentially ignorant of basic Christianity; 2.  Secular people are seeking life before death; 3.  Secular people are conscious of doubt more than guilt; 4.  Secular people have a negative image of the Church; 5.  Secular people have multiple alienations; 6.  Secular people are untrusting; 7.  Secular people have low self-esteem; 8.  Secular people experience forces in history as “out of control”; 9.  Secular people experience forces in personality as “out of control”; and 10.  Secular people cannot find “the door.”  (pp. 44-53)


Chapter Two – Themes and Strategies for Reaching Secular People


This chapter seeks to answer the question:  “How can we reach secular people and communicate the faith in the post-Christendom mission fields of the western world?”  1.  Provide ministries of instruction; 2.  Invite people to dedicate their lives; 3.  Help secular people find meaning; 4.  Engage secular people in dialogue; 5.  Address secular people’s doubts and questions; 6.  Provide opportunities to meet credible Christians; 7.  Provide opportunities for people to overcome alienation; 8.  Engage in ministries of affirmation; 9.  Help people discover their dignity and self-worth; 10.  Offer people hope in the Kingdom of God; 11.  Provide support groups for people with addictions; 12.  Identify and reach receptive people; 13.  Reach across social networks; 14.  Offer culturally appropriate forms of ministry; 15.  Multiply “units” of the Church; 16.  Offer ministries that meet needs; 17.  Engage secular people on “their turf.”


Chapter Three – Communicating with Secular People


God uses people to reach people.  Hunter seeks to answer this “haunting” question:  “How do we effectively communicate the message of reconciliation and life to the secular unchurched people who have no Christian background, memory, or vocabulary, the millions of ‘ignostics’ who do not know what we are talking about?”


We need to understand as did Augustine that all truth is God’s truth.  Aristotle’s model for communication which involves ethos, logos, and pathos is still quite useful as relates to the informed communicator.  Consider the following defining outline:


The “ethos” of the communicator as perceived by the audience


            Intelligence                                           Informed

            Character                                             Moral

            Good will                                             Interested, empathetic


The “pathos” of the audience


Message must make sense to the audience

            Message must consist of good reasons and sound arguments

            Message must be clear, interesting, even moving

            Speaker must understand or perceive the emotional state of the audience and adjust accordingly


Hunter also outlines the six-step process whereby people plug in to a Church family:  1.  awareness; 2.  relevance; 3.  interest; 4.  trial; 5.  adoption; 6.  reinforcement


Canon Bryan Green maintains four prerequisites for conversion that parallel Hunter’s six-steps somewhat:  1.  Secular people who lack a sense of God or the transcendent must somehow attain to some sense of the supernatural; 2.  The Church’s communicators must demonstrate the Christian message’s relevance to the needs and motives that drive people’s lives; 3.  There must be communication of some adequate knowledge of Christ’s life and work; 4.  Jesus must be lifted up for people to see


Hunter presents four models for how secular people may become Christians.


John Wesley’s “Order of Salvation”.


  1. People must be awakened to a personal knowledge of their lostness, their need for God.
  2. Awakened people were always invited to enroll in a Methodist “class meeting.” 
  3. Every week they were coached to expect to experience their justification.
  4. Once they experienced their justification they should expect to experience their sanctification


Agnes Liu’s “Triangle” scale


  1. Attitudes
    1. Find church “boring”
    2. Find likable, enjoyable Christians and then like Church
    3. Start liking Jesus
    4. Become open to commitment to Jesus

B.     Experiences

C.     Theological Knowledge


The “Target” Model


Steps towards the “bull’s eye” must negotiate the following barriers:

A.     The Image Barrier

1.       Assume Christianity is simply not true.

2.      Assume Christianity is irrelevant

3.      Assume Christianity is boring

B.     The Culture [“stained glass”] Barrier     

C.     The Gospel Barrier

D.     The Total Commitment Barrier


The “Multiple Conversations” Model


Secular people are not usually converted today by the one time, “BIG BANG” approach.  Rather, secular people are usually converted through multiple conversations rather than by a single confrontation.


Seven questions are warranted concerning the theology we communicate and how effectively we communicate it:


1. The theology we communicate must be authentic, that is, consistent with “the faith delivered to the saints.”  It must be, like Coca-cola, the “real thing,” “Classical Christianity.”

2. We must understand that the truth claims of classical Christianity are not effectively communicated merely by parroting the tradition.

3.  Though many secular people are turned off by dogma, many are quite fascinated with Jesus and what Jesus had to say!

4.  When communicating with secular people, we may explore a new sequence of possibilities.

5. The Kingdom of God is a message needing meaningful interpretation in our post enlightenment west.

6.  The relevant communication of the Gospel to secular people will emphasize the doctrine of vocation [that every person has a “calling”] and the meaning of work.

7.  One special objective for reaching secular people is to communicate an accurate and positive “image” of Christianity.  We must begin again to share the “good news.”


Ten Specific, Positive Things that Effective Communicators Do to Assist God’s Revelation:


1.  They are active listeners.

2.  They engage people on neutral turf, or their turf, in the secular world and not in the Church building.

3.  They relate to seekers as a friend and ally, not an adversary who is out to “win” them.

4.  They do not try to do all the communicating.

5.  They speak early to the questions, unmet needs, and unfulfilled motives that drive secular people’s lives.

6.  They are aware that the communication of the Christian message’s meaning takes place, by cumulative effect, over them, so they nourish the adoption process over time.

7.  They “personalize” the message.

8.  They do not pressure people to respond.

9.  They will find communication value in word plays, proverbs, and other maxims that distill important truths in a vivid form that people can recall for reflection.

10.  They have recovered the art of discovering and telling stories, particularly “redemptive analogies.”


Chapter Four – What Kind of Christians Reach Secular People?


We have some serious obstacles to overcome:  1.  Many Church leaders are still oblivious to the changed map of the Christian world mission today; 2. Many Church leaders do not yet share, as a deep and driving conviction, Samuel Shoemaker’s declaration that “we have found a way of life which fully and entirely satisfies, and we do not care to keep it to ourselves:”  3.  Many Church leaders have lost, or never acquired, the vision of apostolic ministry to unbelievers in the West.


There must be a recovery of the apostolic teaching of the priesthood or the ministry of all believers.  We must make the paradigm shift back to Wesley’s credo:  “The world is my parish.”  Far too many ministers have reversed it to “My parish is the world.”


Why is it so crucial that ministry be restored to the laity?  Because of he problems inherent in the “That’s your job, pastor” mentality which are:

1.  Despite a pastor’s best motives and efforts, many of the people a pastor recruits do not, psychologically, join the Church; they join the pastor.

2.  The laity have a better opportunity than the clergy to reach undiscipled people.

3.  Evangelism may be the only enterprise where the “amateurs” outperform the “professionals.”


A Profile of Christians Who Reach Secular People:


1.  They are familiar with the big picture of the secularization of the West.

2.  They are honest about themselves.

3.  They are people of faith, who deeply place their trust in God.

4.  They demonstrate a credible faith, a visibility of their redemption

5.  They have heroes or role models in apostolic ministry.

6.  They have clear objectives to achieve in their outreach to secular people.

7.  They believe in the possibilities of people by grace thru faith.  They don’t write people off.

8.  They study, analyze, and even research the population and culture they are called to reach.

9.  They identify with the people they are called to reach

10. They are involved with ministries that minister to a wide range of human needs.

11. They develop a point of view, a set of driving, core convictions that they communicate over the decades.  For example:


Rick Warren


A.  God is a personal God, who cares about you and your life; he wants a relationship with you.

B.  God is in control, and the things that are out of your control are not out of His control.

C.  You cannot control the things that happen to you, but with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power, you can control your response.


Jim Harnish


A.  God is good.

B.  God understands you

C.  God has already won the factory in Christ

D.  God is involved in this world

E.  The Church has a role in this




Bill Hybels


A.  You matter to God

B.  The Christian life provides, not only a way to die, but primarily, a way to live.


(Effective Communicators continued)


12.  Though possessing settled core convictions, they engage in reasonable dialogue with seekers.

13.  They are characterized by a remarkable persistence in pursuing their apostolic vision, in believing in people’s possibilities, in identifying and ministering, in communicating, reasoning and conversing.  They determine and endure with courageous patience.



Chapter Five – What Kind of Church Reaches Secular People?


The Church-at-large no longer has the “home-field advantage.”  In our western world, at least, we face a hostile audience.  We must take this fact seriously if we are to successfully achieve our mission of winning the world for Jesus.  There is a higher percentage of confessing Christians in Uganda, South Korea, and Fiji than there are in the industrialized West.  The mathematics of reaching the unchurched in the West is staggering.


It is extremely important to understand that successful Churches have not “re-invented Church.”  They are simply using ideas and models that have been available for the last twenty-five years, ideas and models that have been largely ignored by the contemporary “church-as-usual” congregation.  The first challenge of the local Church is to “transcend the usually stream of parish problems” by moving forward with a threefold agenda---


Relational Theology – We must rethink our goals---why we exist, why we do what we do.  Bruce Larson feels that “relational goals liberate us from stagnation.”  The quality of our spiritual life is determined by our “1.  Relationship to God; 2.  relationship to ourselves; 3.  relationship to the “significant others” in our lives; and 4.  relationship to the world.” (p. 173)


Lay Ministry – Certainly, if the Church is to be successful in reaching the secular man, the laity must be mobilized!  The message [kerygma] must be proclaimed, fellowship [koinonia] must be experienced, and service [diakonia] must be rendered.  Sam Shoemaker’s suggestions that e must “get changed” (the Gospel/Jesus properly proclaimed his life-changing power), “get together” (fellowship, love for one another/small groups), and “get going” (a focus on the lost world/mission) are a concise description of what the authentic Church is all about.  The following is a sorry indictment of the Church.


Ken Chafin once discussed the role of fellowship with some Baptist leaders in Mississippi.  He asked whom they would want to know if they ever got in trouble—if their son was in jail or their daughter was pregnant.  A sadness came over the room.  One person, speaking for the group, said, “I don’t know who I’d like to know first, but I know who I’d like to know last.  I’d like for the people of the Church to be the last to find it out.”   (p. 141)     


Church Strategy – Churches must become serious about strategizing their vision.  They must articulate a vision and then strategize to realize, to accomplish that vision!  Four strategic areas must be developed if the Church is to be successful:  1. Worship; 2. Small Groups; 3. Retreat Program; and 4. Serious Training.


What Effective Apostolic Congregations Know


1.  People who aren’t disciples are lost

2.  Lost people matter to God

3.  Church is primarily a mission to lost people, not primarily a gathered colony of the faithful

4.  The importance of high expectations for their people

5.  What to change and what to preserve

6.  The importance of understanding, loving, and liking secular people

7.  The importance of accepting unchurched people

8.  The importance of using music that secular people understand

9.  The importance of starting new congregations

10. The importance of involvement in world mission


Rick Warren’s “Four Questions for ‘Saddleback Sam’”


1.  What do you think is the greatest need in our area?

2.  Why do you think most people don’t attend Church?

3.  If you were looking for a Church, what kind of things would you look for?

4.  What advice would you give me?  How can our Church help you?


Four Reasons Unchurched People Don’t Come to Church


1.  Sermons are boring and irrelevant

2.  The members are unfriendly to visitors

3.  Churches seem more interested in your money than in you as a person

4.  They want quality child care if they go to Church


Bill Hybels’ Two Prerequisites for Reaching Secular People


1.  You must understand the way they think

2.  You must like them.


What Effective Apostolic Congregations Do


1.  Research the community and the unchurched population.

2.  “Profile” their target population

3.  Define a clear mission and plan for the future

4.  Develop and implement a strategy for reaching unchurched people

5.  Deploy their laity in ministry

6.  Train their people for Christian witness

7.  Offer a “seeker sensitive” Sunday worship service

8.  Challenge people to commit their lives

9.  Open their hearts to the presence and power of God

10. Want other churches to join them in reaching out to secular people.


Willow Creek’s “Seven-Step Strategy” (with discussion questions)


1.  Some believer will have to build a relationship with Unchurched Harry.  What are the crucial elements of this relationship?

2.  The Christian (must) give a verbal witness of the Gospel to Harry.  What is essential for the effectiveness of such a presentation?

3.  The Christian brings Harry to some weekend services.  What must be absent for this step to be successful?

4.  When Harry becomes a Christian he is invited (usually brought) to the New Community service for believers.  What does this involve Harry in?

5.  Close to the same time, Harry is to join a small group.  What vital Christian experiences or elements is he supposed to find here?

6.  Close to the same time, Harry is to become involved in some service or ministry.  What must this be consistent with?

7.  Harry becomes a steward of his time and talent, and now works to advance the kingdom, bringing the strategy full circle!


Willow Creek’s “Impact Evangelism Seminar”


Necessary time commitment

Two and one half hours one evening per week for four weeks



         1.  Gives people options

         2.  Encourages people to be themselves

         3.  Prepares Christians for an apologetic role



         1.  Being yourself

                     a.  Confrontational approach, Acts 2

                     b.  Intellectual approach, Acts 17

                     c.  Testimonial approach, John 9

                     d.  Relational approach, Mark 5

                     e.  Invitational approach, John 4

                     f.  Serving approach, Acts 9

         2.  Telling your story

         3.  Making the message clear

         4.  Answering questions


Willow Creek’s “What Harry Wants When He Visits a Church”


1.  Anonymity

2.  Understandable communication

3.  Relevance

4.  Excellence

5.  Time without pressure


Chapter Five – Discussion Questions


Has the United States ever been a “Christian” nation?


         Hunter states:  “Our greatest priority is to raise up a very great number of intentional missionary congregations.”  Do you agree or disagree?  Why or why not?  What are the practical ramifications of this statement?  How can this be implemented in the typical Christian Church/Church of Christ/


What is the Church’s primary mission?  To nurture the saved, build up the faithful?  To win the secular, reach the lost?  How do we balance these two purposes?  Are they mutually exclusive or do they actually complement one another?  Why do most contemporary churches fail in this?


What will it take to reach the 120 million secular unchurched?  Will the traditional Church reach them?  Why or why not?  How?


Would “From tradition to mission” be a viable theme or strategy statement for the congregation you serve?  Why or why not?  What is the profile of the Church that successfully reaches the secular man or woman?  Is it possible to profile such a Church?  Are we forced to “reinvent the wheel” or can we use churches like Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, Illinois) and Saddleback Valley Community Church (Mission Viejo, California) as models?


Does the description of a typical church on pp. 136,7 sound vaguely familiar?


What are some practical ways that you are reaching individuals with the good news?  That you are helping people find peace with/within themselves?  That you are assisting people develop a beneficial relationship with their significant others?  That you are moving secular people into ministry?


Is Larson’s “two necessary conversions” a Biblical model?  Does every person need a conversion out of the world (salvation) and then back into the world (service)?


“We are not trying to make people believe ‘the right things’ so much as enabling them to experience a relationship with God and with one another” (p. 140).  Do you agree or disagree?  Why or why not?  Are “believing” and “behaving” mutually exclusive?


Is Maslow’s hierarchical understanding of human nature (stair-stepped below) a proper tool for evaluating where people are and how ready they are to receive the Gospel?  How far do we go with this?


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs


                                                                     Worldview Needs

                                                         Aesthetic Needs

                                             Self-realization Needs

                                 Esteem Needs

                     Love and Belonging Needs

         Safety and Security Needs

Physiological Needs


Why are proclamation, fellowship, and service vital for effective ministry to the secular man?  Are they enough?  What would you add?  What would you subtract?


Is Larson’s characterization of fundamentalist churches (“all kerygma but not much life”), unity churches (“enjoy all their hugging, but no kerygma”), and liberal churches (“are out there picketing and organizing food banks—and burning out”) fair and/or accurate?


Would you use Rick Warren’s four questions to evaluate your ministry audience or neighborhood?  Have you?  What have been the results?


Robert Schuller states:  “Their needs determine our ____________.  Their hang-ups determine our ________.  Their culture determines our __________.  Their population determines our __________.”  (p. 155)  Do you agree or disagree?  Is there any validity to Schuller’s statement? 


Have you written a personal mission statement?  Has your congregation formulated a purpose statement?  When will you write a personal mission statement?  When and how will your congregation formulate a Biblical purpose statement?


What are the obstacles you have encountered in transitioning a traditional “evangelistic” church in a church that effectively reaches secular people?