Acts 1:8 (part two)
Breakout: The Unchurched Can Surprise Us
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
August 17, 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.”

This sermon continues our analysis of Thom Rainer’s research regarding the unchurched, and of the six formerly unchurched members of Second. We hope it will help us be more effective in reaching the unchurched.

10. True or false. Many of the unchurched are more concerned about the spiritual well-being of their children than of themselves. True.

Many unchurched people measure the quality of a church by the quality of its childcare, and its children and youth programs. The way a church cares for the younger generation could make an eternal difference in the lives of many families.

The paradigm of the role of youth and children’s ministry is changing. In the past, we tried to reach parents in order to reach children. Today the paradigm is, reach children to reach parents. Almost one out of five of the formerly unchurched who were influenced by some relationship indicated their children were the most important of these relationships.

11. True or false: The unchurched usually find churches to be friendly. False.

Almost all churches think they are friendly, but if you walk into a typical Sunday morning worship service, no one will talk with you. Someone may give you a quick hello and a handshake, but he or she will rarely engage you in meaningful conversation. The greetings are often more obligatory than expressions of care and concern.

When the unchurched do come to church, they decide within minutes of their arrival whether they will return or not. Their most important reason for returning to a particular church was the friendliness of the members.

In nearly one-third of Rainer’s interviews, the formerly unchurched shared positive first impressions of churches which had a good greeter ministry and an effective welcome center. A good welcome center is one that is clearly marked, functional, keeps current information about the church, provides a map of the church, and gives away items. I am grateful for our Go Team here at Second.

Effective churches often have greeters placed in numerous strategic places, including the parking lot. These churches seek their friendliest members to be greeters. Many churches ask new members and new Christians to be greeters because their enthusiasm is often contagious.

12. True or false: We must be careful in our teaching and preaching so that we do not communicate deep and complex Bible truths that will confuse the unchurched. False.

The unchurched come to church knowing we honor a special person and use a special book. They expect both to be explained. Studies of the formerly unchurched indicate they felt doctrine and preaching were important. Of our six, three listed this as one of the most important factors on their choosing Second.

13. True or false. Most of the unchurched feel guilty about not attending church. True.

Then why do the unchurched continue to avoid church? As strange as it may seem to churchgoers, a church intimidates unchurched people. Uncertain about church protocol, they fear they will feel out of place or do something wrong. They think they can not fit in at a place where they have not attended.

Of our six, three felt anxiety at attending Second. One bluntly said when he arrived, his first thought was encouraging, “My wife is off my back.” But he then went on to say he was under-dressed and felt inferior. Two said, “Scared.”

14. True or false. Very few of the unchurched have had someone share with them how to become a Christian. True.

Christians have also not been particularly influential in the lives of unchurched people.

The research indicated the unchurched would be open to developing a real and sincere relationship with a Christian. This would be our chance to move someone from being a -10 to a -9 to a -8, etc., as opposed to trying to get them saved instantly. Realizing it’s okay for us to help people take baby steps toward God should encourage us not to give up. We need to be willing to play even a small part in the conversion of an unbeliever.

15. True or false. The most important evangelistic relationships are family and friends. True.

In our own research with Second members, “Family members attending” was marked as one of the most important factors in choosing Second.

While we would not diminish the importance of marketplace relationships for evangelism, the study of the formerly unchurched found that family member relationships were more important. Wives were the ones most often mentioned as important in influencing the formerly unchurched to Christ and the church.

Most churches indicated their members included a significant number of churched wives who were married to unchurched husbands. The implication of this fact could be profound. We may have within our churches today a group that could be the most effective in reaching unchurched America.

When we compare Rainer’s conclusions about relationships to conventional wisdom, we see not a contradiction but a difference in the levels of importance. For years, Charles Arn did excellent work on researching the unchurched. He focused on why people come to church: Special need 1-2%, Walk-in 2-3%, Visitation 1-2%, Church program 2-3%, Mass evangelism 0-5%, Sunday school 4-5%, Pastor/staff 1-6%, Friend/relative 75-90%.

Arn’s research showed that relationships are overwhelmingly the most important issue in reaching the unchurched. Rainer agreed, but added two clarifications.

First, Rainer found the reasons the formerly unchurched chose a particular church were complex and could not be simplified into one or two major issues. Second, while Rainer found relationships were important in bringing the unchurched to the church, this factor usually was not the only reason.

Forming relationships is the best way to lead a person into the church, but not the only way. God sometimes works to reach the unchurched without using any relationships. About 25% of the formerly unchurched came to church without any established relationships. Don’t misunderstand. Relationships are very important. Rainer’s clarification is, they rarely alone explain the total way to reach the unchurched.

16. True or false. The biggest problem can be the churched, not the unchurched. True. Here are seven reasons we are not reaching the unchurched:

1. Spiritual lethargy. Our hearts often are not in tune with God’s heart. He cares about the unchurched. Do we?
2. A growing disbelief in Hell. We say we believe in Hell, but our silence shouts otherwise. A subtle universalism seems to be making inroads among us.
3. Busyness. We must learn to touch people across whatever room we find ourselves in. Touching the unchurched must be part of our daily routine, not an add-on to our schedules.
4. Fear of rejection.
5. Losing the habit of witnessing. Pastor Paul Brooks says a church should introduce a new soulwinning method every two years. It’s hard to keep people sharp and fresh on a given method much longer than that.
6. Failing to invite people to church. Fearing a deep theological discussion, we avoid any religious talk whatsoever.
7. We go to churches that are not conducive to the unchurched coming. This is why we are starting an 11:00 service, and a Saturday night small group option. These will give us more opportunities to invite an unreached person to come to church.