Acts 1:8 (part one)
Breakout: How Well do We Know the Unchurched?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
August 10, 2008

Acts 1:8 (Holman) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

We are commanded to be Christ’s witnesses. He granted us no other option and no way out.

The question this sermon seeks to answer is, “How well do we know the people we are commanded to witness to?” Understanding unbelievers better will help make us more effective in communicating with them.

This sermon and the next are based on research by Thom Rainer. His study of the unchurched can help us be better witnesses, and make us more effective in our witness.

To supplement Rainer’s research, we interviewed six members of Second who had been unchurched at least three years before coming here: 4 males, 2 females; 1 female under 20; 2 males 30-39; 1 male 40-49; a male and a female 50-59.

1. True or false. Most of the unchurched have little interest in attending church. False. 82% of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.

We need to pause here, and restate this response. 82% of the unchurched said they would come to church if invited. If you take nothing else from these sermons, remember this point.

The obvious, painful question is: Are Christians inviting non-Christians to church? The heartbreaking answer is no.

Only 21% of active churchgoers invite anyone to church in the course of a year. Only 2% of church members invite an unchurched person to church. Perhaps the evangelistic apathy evident in many of our churches can be explained by a simple laziness on the part of church members in inviting others to church.

When we asked our formerly unchurched members of Second if anyone other than family ever invited them to church, 5 said no, 1 said “one friend.” When we asked them if they would have come if someone had asked, three said yes. That’s 50% yes.

Perhaps it is time we sounded the clarion call to invite the unchurched to church. It may be that simple, and it may be that profound. They want to come. Let’s invite them.

2. True or false. Most of the unchurched do not want to discuss spiritual things. False.

Most of them have a spiritual view of life, have a fairly high view of the Bible, and believe in Heaven and Hell.

Unchurched persons tend to be nervous about discussing matters of faith, but are willing to do so. Most of them would rather talk to a layperson than a minister about religious matters.

For many of the unchurched, talking with them about the religious views of their parents can be a great way to open conversations about spiritual things. Talking about the unchurcheds’ negative church issues of the past can also open the door to further conversation. Just be careful to not fester their negativity. Remind them, we can always find fault with followers of Jesus, but we will never find fault with Jesus.

3. True or false. Many of the unchurched wonder why their Christian neighbors and coworkers do not invite them to church. True.

When we Christians think the time is just not right, the unchurched are often wondering why we are so reticent.

A formerly unchurched man said, “I just didn’t know what I was missing. I can’t understand why Christians aren’t beating down doors to share the gospel. Why didn’t someone tell me about Jesus before I turned twenty-three?”

Personal invitations are powerful. When Rainer asked a lady if she had ever been invited to church, she replied, “It depends on what you mean by invited, I’ve received a call or two from someone in a church in the area, and one person has come by the house. But I didn’t know anything about those people. It really wasn’t as much an invitation as a marketing effort. No one I know personally has invited me to church.”

Rainer asked her, “Do you know any Christians or active churchgoers?” She said, “I’m not sure. I think Brett, a guy who works with me, might be active in a church. And Diane, my neighbor ( her car is gone a lot on Sundays, but she has never mentioned anything about her church. Now that you mention it, you just don’t hear church people talking much about their churches. Isn’t that odd?”

Don’t be guilty of silence. There’s no virtue in defeat by default.

4. True or false. The unchurched are turned off by a denominational label in the church name. False.

The unchurched usually do have some familiarity with churches, but often don’t know enough about denominations for the labels to make any difference in their thinking.

5. True or false. Most of the unchurched have a positive view about pastors, ministers, and the church. True.

Despite the seeming flood of negative coverage institutional Christianity receives, most people are also hearing positive things about churches and believers.

As Rainer’s interview team gathered for report meetings, team members would be asked their perceptions thus far. A common response was, “These people don’t have the negative attitudes about the church that I expected.”

Most unchurched are not anti-church or anti-Christian. Some have been burned by bad experiences with churches and Christians, but as a rule they tend to be forgiving. They do not typically judge all Christians by one bad experience.

6. True or false. The unchurched never attend church. False.

Of the six we interviewed, only 2 did not attend church in their last unchurched year. Four had often had contact with a church through the years.

Easter seems to be the best time to invite the unchurched to attend. On Easter Sunday in 1999, 12 percent of atheists and agnostics, nearly a million adults, attended a Christian church service. On Easter, church attendance increases by an average of 25%. For us at Second, the Easter percentage increase is often higher. Much of this increase is due to the presence of unchurched people.

7. True or false. The Sunday School and other small groups are ineffective in attracting the unchurched. False.

Rainer’s research showed a resurgence of Sunday School in effective churches. The formerly unchurched were positive about, and attracted to, Sunday School.

8. True or False: The formerly unchurched were more affected by their second visit than their first visit. True.

Obviously, good things happened on their first visit; they did return. But in a technical sense, the issue is often second impressions rather than first impressions.

Why did the formerly unchurched tell us they really noticed the church on a second visit? They were overwhelmed on the first visit, and issues like cleanliness and even friendliness were not as noticeable because they were “on spiritual overload,” as one formerly unchurched man told us. “God was dealing with me in so many ways. I couldn’t even have told you if the church building was brick or wood that first time.” The point of the difference between first and second impressions is interesting but does not alter the primary concept that the unchurched do notice their surroundings each time they visit a church.

9. True or false. Excellence matters. True.

A consumer-driven society is changing the landscape and culture of an entire nation. The church is not exempt from this major cultural trend.

Note some factors that were important to the formerly unchurched before they became Christians: adequate parking and space, clean and modern facilities, high-quality nursery/preschool/children’s areas, variety of quality programs, relevant and quality music, clean bathrooms, friendly people, organization as opposed to chaos, good signage, comfortable pews/chairs, attention-holding preaching.

The emphasis on excellence is a major part of the remarkable story of Southeast Christian in Louisville KY, where tens of thousands have become believers in recent years. Pastor Russell says, “Why have our people been so bold in inviting their friends and so effective in getting them to come? Because they are excited about what they’ve experienced and are confident that every week the grounds, the nursery, the greeting, the singing, and the preaching will be done with excellence.”

Our duty is to be witnesses. We can not opt out of this duty. Hopefully these lessons will make our task easier.