We hear much today about the hostility of unbelievers towards Christians: don’t say ‘Merry Christmas,’ take down those Nativity Scenes from public places, make sure the children don’t sing any Christmas carols at the ‘Winter Program,’ etc. Just yesterday I read about some customers at a restaurant who were offended by the Christmas music that was playing softly in the background. Who are these people?
Well, according to a recent survey, they do not represent your average unchurched neighbor. Actually, according to this survey, there is among America’s unchurched a surprising openness to conversation about religion and an invitation to church. The following piece was taken from an article by Thom Ranier entitled “Five Surprising Insights about the Unchurched.“ ( http://www.ThomRanier.com )
They aren’t antagonistic.
They welcome a conversation with believers.
They aren’t staying out of church for the reasons you may think.
They are the unchurched. And because many church leaders and members have such misconceptions about them, churches often fail to reach them, or even attempt to reach them.
In one of the most comprehensive studies ever done on the unchurched, LifeWay Research, in partnership with the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism in Wheaton, Illinois, surveyed 2,000 unchurched Americans. They defined “unchurched” as someone who has not attended a worship service in the last six months.
One-third of the respondents were non-white. Genders were almost equally represented (53% male), and almost half have a high school diploma or less. Let’s look at five surprising insights about the unchurched.
- Most unchurched do indeed have some church background. Contrary to some perceptions, the great majority of unchurched have a church background. Almost two-thirds of them (62 percent) went to church regularly as a child.
- Most unchurched quit church because they got out of the habit of churchgoing. For certain, a number of them did leave churches for negative reasons, but that is not true of the majority.
- One-third of the unchurched have plans to go to church in the future. Please read that statement carefully. One of three unchurched Americans are actually planning to return to church. Is your church actively inviting them?
- The unchurched are very open to a gospel conversation. Nearly half (47%) would interact freely in such a conversation. Another third (31%) would listen actively without participating. Pause for a moment. Look at those numbers. Almost eight of ten unchurched Americans would welcome a gospel conversation. Another 12% would discuss it with some discomfort, and only 11% would change the subject as soon as possible. We can’t use the poor excuse that the unchurched really aren’t interested in gospel conversations. In reality, church members are more likely not to be interested in initiating gospel conversations.
- If you invite them, they will come. About a year ago, I received requests to provide a framework for churches to invite people to church. We called it ‘Invite Your One.’ We are now getting responses from churches that have initiated this ministry, and we are blown away at what God is doing. Among the unchurched, 55% said they would attend church if invited by a family member. And 51% said they would attend church if invited by a friend or neighbor. These numbers are staggering. The opportunities are incredible.
I have been involved in church research and practice for four decades, a testament to both my passion and elderly status. These data confirm my anecdotal observations that there has never been a more opportune time to connect with the lost and unchurched.
It’s truly an incredible opportunity.
Numbers 10:29 — And Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place of which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will do good to you, for the Lord has promised good things to us.”
Mark 1:17 — Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
Acts 8:30-31 — Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
Matthew 11:28-30 — (Jesus said), “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Revelation 3:20 — (Jesus said), “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me.”
God of love, who sent Jesus Christ to seek and save the lost, may we who have been found by him value those who do not believe, and never shun neighbors who reject you. Remembering how our faith was given, may we preach good news with good will, trusting you to follow up your Word, so that all may hear and believe and come to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Presbyterian Hymnal, 1970, page 180.