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Ten Surprises About the Unchurched
by Tom Goodman
November 4, 2004
One of the purposes of LeaderLines is to introduce you to resources that will help us be more effective as church leaders. I liked what Thom Rainer had to say in the following article. I’ve condensed it, but you can read the whole piece at www.christianitytoday.com/bcl/areas/missions/articles/102704.html.
“Ten Surprises About the Unchurched”
by Thom Rainer
Over the past few years, I have been privileged to enter a world that I really did not know very well. It is the world of the unchurched. Now, like many Christians, I have interacted with the unchurched, worked with the unchurched, socialized with the unchurched, and witnessed to the unchurched. But I really did not understand the hearts and the mindsets of the unchurched until recently. For the past three years, my research team and I have been involved in extensive and intensive interaction with the unchurched. We will present 10 of the surprises our research uncovered about the unchurched.
Surprise No. 1 — Most of the unchurched prefer to attend church on Sunday morning if they attend. Perhaps the unchurched responded this way because that is the time they have always heard church should be. But when we asked the formerly unchurched (new Christians attending church) the same question, they gave us the same response.
Surprise No. 2 — Most of the unchurched feel guilty about not attending church. Though we did not ask a specific question about their feelings about not attending church, the majority of the unchurched expressed guilt in different ways. These guilty feelings were especially prevalent among adults who had children living at home.
“Every Sunday morning I wake up and feel terrible about not taking Shanna and Tim to church,” Mary G. of Sarasota, Fla., told us. “Mike [her husband] feels the same way. It's tough to start a habit of doing something you've never done before.”
Surprise No. 3 — Ninety-six percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if they are invited. Perhaps we need to pause on this response. Perhaps we need to restate it. More than nine out of 10 of the unchurched said they would come to church if they were invited. If you glean anything from this article, please remember this point.
Are Christians inviting non-Christians to church? The heartbreaking answer is "no." Only 21 percent of active churchgoers invite anyone to church in the course of a year. But only 2 percent of the church members invited an unchurched person to church.
We who are leaders in the church must challenge the church members. When is the last time they invited an unchurched person to church? When is the last time they offered to meet someone and show him or her around the church? The answers they give could make the difference in the eternal destiny of a person. Perhaps it is time we sounded the clarion call to invite the church. It may be that simple, and it may be that profound.
Surprise No. 4 — Very few of the unchurched had someone share with them how to become a Christian. And Christians have not been particularly influential in their lives. The surprise is no longer a surprise in light of the previous discussion. If Christians do not invite non-Christians to church, we cannot be surprised if they do not share the gospel with or influence the unchurched.
Surprise No. 5 — Most of the unchurched have a positive view of pastors, ministers and the church. The scandal of the televangelists is a faded memory for most of the unchurched.
Surprise No. 6 — Many of the unchurched have a church background. Some had previously been members of churches and left for various reasons. Others visited one or more churches for a season. Still others were taken to church as children. The point is simple. Do not assume that all unchurched persons are clueless about the church.
Surprise No. 7 — Some types of “cold calls” are effective; many are not. “I really don't mind talking to people from churches,” Roger S. of Wisconsin told us. “But please don't show up at my home without an invitation. It reminds me of a telephone solicitation, only worse!” “I would be glad for church people to come talk to me in my home,” said Millie B. of Odessa, Texas. “I just want to know when they're coming.”
Surprise No. 8 — The unchurched would like to develop a real and sincere relationship with a Christian. When Christians used a canned evangelism tool to witness to the unchurched with no obvious concern for the person, the unchurched immediately detected this impersonal approach.
“I had some people come to see me from the Baptist church just three blocks from here,” Monte G. of Baltimore told us. “I felt like they were meeting a soul quota with me. They just wanted to spill their presentation and move on. But I would've been happy to talk with them for a long time if I thought they really cared.”
If we who call ourselves Christians really believe that a person is lost outside of salvation through Christ, we would make the lost and the unchurched one of our highest priorities. And if we really had broken hearts for these unchurched persons, we would take whatever time is necessary to get to know them and to share the love of Christ in word and deed.
Surprise No. 9 — The attitudes of the unchurched are not correlated to where they live, their ethnic or racial background, or their gender. The unchurched are not a monolithic group.
Surprise No. 10 — Many of the unchurched are far more concerned about the spiritual well-being of their children than themselves. A few years ago my research team and I studied the Bridger generation, those born between the years 1977 and 1994. We discovered a large unchurched population among these young people, but we also discovered a generation highly receptive to the gospel.
I have found that churches that are highly intentional about reaching youth and children tend to be among the most evangelistic churches in America. The unchurched with children and youth at home are deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of their children, even if they articulate little concern for themselves.
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