How Do You Disciple Those Who Don’t Know Christ?

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This is the second post of a five-part series based on Pastor Daniel Im’s book, The Discipleship Opportunity: Leading a Great-Commission Church in a Post-Everything World. In his first post, Daniel explained each of the four types of people in your church. You can read it here. In this post, Daniel will talk about the type of church-goer that he calls a “sleeper”—someone who isn’t a Christian and isn’t particularly interested in becoming one.

Six words. Just six words. After being challenged to write a story in only six words, legend has it that this was Ernest Hemingway’s response—“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Isn’t it profound how much can be packed into a mere six words thoughtfully strung together? 

If I could use only six words to describe sleepers’ attitudes toward Jesus and the church, here are some ways I would do it: 

  • “Spiritually asleep. Not Christian. Quite uninterested.” 
  • “Apathetic toward spirituality. Uninterested in Jesus.”
  •  “The church? Not relevant for today.” 
  • “Christmas Eve or Easter? Only times.” 
  • “Unchurched. Never church. No more church.” 
  • “Jesus? Don’t care. Not on radar.” 

Do you know anyone (friends, family, neighbors) with this sort of attitude toward Jesus and the church? Anyone who has placed someone or something—other than King Jesus—on the throne of their lives? 

If so, do you believe that God can awaken them out of their spiritual slumber? To new life in Christ? To a vibrant and living relationship with Him as a disciple of—and a disciplemaker for—Jesus? 

Just like God created the heavens, the earth, and everything in them through His Word, He is re-creating or awakening these dry bones through the power of His Word: “‘This is what the Lord God says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live.’ . . . And they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army” (Ezekiel 37:5, 10).

This is the same power that was at work during Creation, when all God had to do was speak, and then things happened! The repeated spoken pattern of “Then God said . . . and it was so” (Genesis 1) is how “the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed” (Genesis 2:1). 

However, it’s not just through His Word but through His Word and His Spirit that God created everything and is awakening these dry bones! After all, before God spoke the command “Let there be light,” we read in Genesis 1:2 that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” The word of God and the Spirit of God are inseparable. 

How to Reach the Sleepers

Many people in the church—pastors, church leaders, and congregants—are asking, “Should we reach the sleepers?” 

Just consider the results from three recent research projects. In 2019, Barna Group (in a study commissioned by Alpha USA and stated in Reviving Evangelism by the Barna Group) found that nearly half (47 percent) of US Christian millennials believe that it’s wrong to share their faith with another person in hopes that they will become Christian. And in 2022, Lifeway Research found that 44 percent of US Christians do not think it is very important to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus as their Savior.

While I find this deeply disappointing, I’m not surprised, given the post-everything world that we’re living in. Everything from the authority of Scripture to the doctrine of sin, the exclusivity of Christ, and the existence of absolute truth seems to be up for grabs—both inside and outside the church. 

To reach sleepers, you must start by recognizing that most sleepers are neither in your church nor interested in going to your church. Unlike seekers, sleepers are uninterested in spirituality, Jesus, and all things related to church. (Exceptions might include attending church on special occasions like Christmas Eve, Easter, or another holiday; visiting for a wedding or funeral; or going to church mainly for social reasons or to appease parents.) 

Now, just because sleepers aren’t regularly in your church doesn’t mean that you should give up on your plans to reach them! It’s just that reaching sleepers is different from reaching seekers. You can’t reach sleepers directly through your weekend services, discipleship pathway, programs, or outreach events. To reach sleepers, you need to do it indirectly through your disciples. 

After all, research shows that while the sleepers in your community may not even think about entering your church, they aren’t necessarily anti-Christian. In a fascinating study of two thousand unchurched Americans, Lifeway Research discovered that while 67 percent of unchurched Americans are unlikely to attend church regularly sometime in the future, 79 percent do not mind their Christian friends talking about their faith to them if they really value it.

This is why we need a plan to indirectly reach the sleepers in our communities—a plan that involves equipping the disciples in our churches to be the good news and to share the good news of Jesus with the sleepers whom they live, work, study, and play with. 

How to Disciple the Sleepers

Sleepers aren’t interested in spirituality. However, as we saw, research shows that they’re not closed to it either. The key word here is friends. In the same study, when unchurched Americans were asked how they feel about the faith of their Christian friends, 33 percent of respondents said that they admire it, in contrast to 1 percent who give them a hard time about it and 1 percent who try to change it. Neither of these questions referenced Christians in general; participants were asked specifically about their Christian friends

In other words, the most effective way to reach the sleepers in your community is by helping the disciples in your church learn how to be better friends with everyone they live, work, study, and play with.

Doing Evangelism Together 

We can’t and shouldn’t do it alone though! Reaching the sleepers in our lives cannot be seen as a solo endeavor. And while I’m obviously referring to the fact that it’s ultimately God who saves a person, I’m also referring to the fact that in today’s post-everything world, evangelism is most effective when done in community—when we aren’t the only Christians that our non-Christian friends know.

If my family and I are the only Christians that my non-Christian neighbors know, they might dismiss our love, interest, and care as exceptions—or as us just being nice— rather than results of our faith in Jesus. But if my neighbors begin meeting other Christians who are living the same way—and they start noticing that all Christians aren’t hypocritical, judgmental, or __________ (whatever other stereotype they have of Christians)—this unbelievable way of Jesus will slowly become believable. And this won’t happen through facts, evidence, and data that prove the believability of Christianity for them. No, it will happen because of community—and the countercultural love of Christ shown through and among the people of G No wonder Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35)! 

With sleepers, the point is to be present, to love them, to be good friends, to pray for them, to bless them, and to “merge your universes.” As you do this consistently over the long haul, the uninterested non-Christians in your lives—and in the lives of those in your church—may become interested non-Christians, or seekers. And that’s when you can begin sharing the good news of Jesus in word, just as you have already been doing so in action.

In our next post, we’ll learn about those who don’t know Christ and are curious about learning more (the seekers).

Daniel Im

Daniel Im

is a pastor, Bible teacher, writer, and podcast host with a passion for the local church. He is the lead pastor of Beulah Alliance Church and the author of No Silver Bullets, Planning Missional Churches, and You Are What You Do: And Six Other Lies about Work, Life, and Love. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta with his wife Christina and their three children. For more information, visit and connect with him on social media @danielsangi.

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