LUKE 14:23
Breakout: The Unchurched Next Door
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
August 3, 2008

Statistics in this sermon are from Thom Rainer’s book, “The Unchurched Next Door.” In his study, the words “unchurched” and “unbeliever” overlap, but are not identical. Many unchurched are believers who quit attending church.

This sermon is for our members, not for visitors. Hopefully, there will be a message in this lesson for everyone, but occasionally a Pastor needs to have a heart-to-heart with his church members. This is one of those days. We hope the message will help us be more effective in inviting the unchurched to church.

Jesus told the parable of a man who gave a large banquet and sent a slave to invite guests to come. The invitees said no. Our text tells us what happened next.

Luke 14:23 (Holman) The master told the slave, “Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled.”

The purpose of the parable was to tell us God cares for people outside His house. In the USA, there are an estimated 160 million unchurched persons. Many live next door to us. We who are churched must reach out to them.

Rainer’s research identified levels of response from the unchurched, and sought ways for us to reach them at their different faith stages. The Rainer Scale can help us determine spiritual receptivity of USA unchurched persons.

The scale may seem cold and impersonal, but is merely a tool to help us better understand precious, priceless souls. The U’s (standing for unchurched), adjectives, and percentages are only shorthand, used for ease of reference concerning precious persons, not nameless numbers.

U5 Antagonistic 5%
U4 Resistant 21%
U3 Neutral 36%
U2 Friendly 27%

U1 Very Friendly 11%

U5 Antagonistic 5%

U5s tend to be the wealthiest unchurched people. This is not surprising. Jesus said bluntly, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).

U5s tend to be the most educated of the unchurched. More than 39% of U5s had a master’s or doctoral degree, compared to 14% of the total unchurched population. Over one-fourth of U5s had a doctorate, compared to only 4% of all unchurched.

U5s are likely to be over 50. The research team was surprised to discover the most resistant to the gospel were the oldest unchurched persons.

This may reflect bad history between them and the church. Younger people, who are much more likely to have had no church history, would be less upset with the church than would be people who had bad memories of contact with churches.

U5s almost never attend church. Most of the unchurched do attend church at least once or twice a year, but not U5s.

U5s typically do not pray. This is no surprise. With their antisupernatural bent, U5s see no value in prayer.

U5s are not representative of most unchurched people. U5s comprise only 5% of all the unchurched in America. We too often let the antagonism of U5s scare us into doing nothing to reach the other 95% of the unchurched. Don’t let this happen.

How do we reach U5s, the toughest group? One of the simplest approaches to U5s is simply to ask them if they are really happy. Most of them admit they are dealing with difficult issues and have not found happiness.

Friendships can help. U5s may become more receptive after they have spent significant time with a Christian. Apologetics can be effective in reaching U5s.

Whatever we do, reaching U5s is tough. We could probably reach fifty U1s in the same amount of time it takes us to reach one U5.

U4 Resistant 21%

U4s are resistant, but usually try not to offend Christians they talk with. U4s are unlikely to attend church on the first invitation. They resist attempts to convert them, but say they might change their mind at some point.

One of the few open doors for discussion with U4s is a conversation about Jesus. As a rule, U4s have little patience for the established church, but in an ironic twist they tend to have deep respect for Jesus. The mere mention of His name elicits a pause and can often move a conversation from resistant to pleasant.

The possibility for open dialogue about Jesus remains high unless the Christian decides to talk about one key issue regarding Christ: the truth that He is the only way of salvation. No single issue makes the blood of a U4 boil more than exclusivity, the doctrine that belief in Jesus is the only way to heaven.

U4s see exclusivity as intolerant, narrow-minded, and bigoted. They can not fathom a rational person holding to a belief in such a narrow way of salvation.

U4s see value in prayer, 46% of U4s pray to God regularly. The number would be higher if we asked for those who pray at least occasionally.

Of U4s, the second most resistant unchurched group, 62% said they were very likely or somewhat likely to attend church if invited. This amazed Rainer.

To reach U4s, invite them to church. Some will come. Try to discuss eternal issues, especially prayer. Seek to provide clarification on Jesus. Be honest about exclusivity, but at the same time be humble and gentle.

U3 Neutral 36%

U3s are the largest in number, more than one of three (36%) unchurched persons. Rainer estimates there are 57 million U3s in the USA.

Of U3s, 63% indicated they are somewhat likely to attend if invited. Another 23% said they are very likely to attend if invited.

Do the math. Nearly nine of ten U3s are at least somewhat likely to attend church if we invite them.

U3s pray. Rainer asked if they prayed regularly. He did not provide a precise definition for “regularly,” but U3s were quick to respond one way or the other. Nearly two-thirds (63%) indicated they practice a regular prayer life.

U3s have attended Sunday School and small groups in churches in significant numbers. Seven of ten U3s attended Sunday School as children; another two of them attended small groups or Sunday School as adults. Only 9% of U3s have never attended either.

To reach U3s, invite them to church; they tend to like the clergy. They are open to attending a small group Bible Study. Talk with U3s about prayer. Speak with them about life after death. They worry about the possibility Hell exists.

U2 Friendly 27%

U2s number some 43 million, about 27% of the unchurched population. U2s are typically receptive to overtures made by Christians.

U2s usually have less family income than any other unchurched group. Nearly two of three (62%) U2s are females.

The conversations with U2s clearly showed they are eager to study the Bible, want to talk about eternal issues, and would like to be invited to church.

U2s usually believe in salvation by works. Grace can be hard for them to understand, but they are true seekers, willing to listen.

U2s have attended church in large numbers. The reasons many U2s dropped out of church in their youth are numerous.

Many U2s mentioned the important role their parents played in their religious upbringing. It seems Christians have a good opportunity to talk about spiritual matters to many unchurched persons by asking about their parents. The ensuing conversations are often prime opportunities to talk about Christ.

The best ways to reach U2s are to get family members and close friends to show Christ to them and invite them to a Bible study and/or to church. Talk with them about the Bible, start spiritual discussions, ask about the religious views of their parents, ask why they quit attending church.

U1 Very Friendly 11%

U1s are waiting on us. Rainer estimates 17 million U1s live in America, 11% of the unchurched population. More than four of ten U1s have attended, or been a member of, a Baptist church at some point in their past.

They tend to be younger to middle age adults; half are under 35, 83% below 51. They are, like U2s, predominantly female.

This group overwhelmingly said busyness was the main reason they did not attend church. More than 97% of U1s said they would be somewhat likely or very likely to attend church if invited. Are we hearing their cries for help?

The best ways to reach U1s are to invite them to church, and to tell them about Jesus. When a U1is invited to church or hears the gospel, a common response is: “Where have you been?”

Many Christians are in despair about USA spirituality. Don’t be totally dismayed about the unchurched. U1s show us over 17 million people will accept Christ if presented with the gospel. Another 43 million U2s are close.

Rainer’s research is overwhelming and encouraging. Many of us have long felt most of the unchurched are U5s. This is not the case. Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to go before us, to encourage us, to give us a wise, appropriate approach, as we invite people to church.