“For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body-so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free-and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many…Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. And God has placed these in the church* (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-28).  

*For the purpose of this discussion, I will use Millard Erickson’s simple definition: The church is “the whole body of those who through Christ’s death have been savingly reconciled to God and have received new life… while universal in nature, it finds expressions in local groupings of believers that display the same qualities as does the body of Christ as a whole.” You can disagree with this premise if you prefer, but at least it is a starting point. 

Our Christian culture, like any other culture, is prone to buzz words. One pertinent one, “Body Life” was popular several years ago. More recently the terms “intentional” and “missional” have permeated our rhetoric. Two others – the subject of this discussion – “unchurched” and “dechurched” are commonly heard in the context of  “the vision of our church is to reach those who are unchurched and dechurched.” Although the intention may not be skewed, these terms concern me. Why? Because one might easily surmise that the goal of reaching the unchurched and dechurched is to get them “churched.” And, to me, that can be a problem, depending on one’s definition of the church. 

You might complain that I am straining at a gnat or arguing over semantics (and I may be) but seeing people “churched,” if that means seeing them become involved (or the ambiguous and sometimes dangerous of concept of  becoming a “church member”) in an institutional organization that bears the name “Christian” alone, then the effort is misguided. We all know that being an active or passive “member” of an institutional church really has little to do with someone being united with Christ or a part of the Body of Christ, His spiritual Bride. And in some cases the label “church member” is an impediment to people actually being united with Christ, being part of His Body in its truest sense. I’ve often said one of the greatest mission fields in America can be found sitting on pews (or other pieces of furniture) on Sunday morning. Far too many have religion (they are churched) but have not been made alive in dynamic relationship with Christ (being a part of His spiritual Body, the true church).  

Now I’m not saying that those who preach a mission of reaching the unchurched and dechurched do not have something more substantive in mind than promoting attendance or participation in an organized “Christian” gathering, but it could be interpreted that way. It all depends on what one means by the term “churched.” For we all know that term, in its most superficial sense, has nothing to do with someone moving from spiritual death to spiritual life, from being lost to being saved, to being adopted into God’s family. These things are not the manifestations of going to a physical (visible) church but an act of regeneration. As Wayne Grudem says, “Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. This is sometimes called “being born again (using language from John 3:3-9)” (see Grudem’s Systematic Theology, p. 699). 

Although not current, culturally relevant, seeker sensitive (another of those buzz words), or popular, what’s wrong with the terms “lost” and “saved?” Should not the goal of the true Body of Christ be to see people who are spiritually dead come alive in Christ, grow in His image, and be agents and ambassadors of His grace? Only then is one “churched” in the most biblical sense. After all, even Jesus Himself claimed that “[He] came to seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).

For this reason I will share a passage with you. The first section describes what it means to be “lost.” The 2nd describes regeneration. And no matter if one is unchurched, dechurched, or a “church member” these truths apply. For I believe, in the end, it doesn’t come down to being “churched” in its most shallow definition, but to being redeemed and all that implies.  

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1-3). 

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” ( Ephesians 2:4-9).

For an interesting article on this very subject, see Trevin Wax’s thoughts at Unchurched or Unsaved? What Our Vocabulary Reveals About Our Beliefs