Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lessons from the formerly unchurched

Several years ago Thom Rainer wrote a book that examined the things his research discovered about new Christians. He called these people the formerly unchurched. The title of the book is Surprising Insights from the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them. When I first read the book I felt it should be a must read for pastors, and I still do. Rainer's research team wanted to learn what factors influenced, and did not influence, a person's decision to attend church and come to faith in Jesus Christ.

There's always a lot of speculation about this, and most church leaders will have an opinion, but this was a study of 353 formerly unchurched persons to learn what actually impacted their decision to go to church and commit their lives to Jesus Christ. As such, it offers a great deal of practical insights into what churches need to do in order to reach unchurched people. Here are just a few of things learned in this study.

  1. Over 80 percent of the people surveyed said that the name of the church had little or no influence on their decision to join a particular church. For the past several years some churches have debated removing the name of their denomination from their church name, but this seems to have had little impact one way or the other on the decision to join a church.
  2. The pastor did not need to be a dynamic and charismatic leader, but he or she did need to be authentic and a person who spoke with conviction.
  3. It is not necessary to dilute biblical teachings to reach unchurched people. In fact, 91 percent of those studied indicated that doctrine was an important factor that attracted them to the church. They were looking for conservative churches that would not compromise their beliefs.
  4. Many people claim that Sunday school is nearly dead, but almost 70 percent of the people in this study reported being active in a Sunday school class. They believe Sunday school is a great place to learn about their new-found faith.
  5. The unchurched want to be challenged. They want to be involved in activities that will make a difference in people's lives. The church does not need to water down its expectations of these people.
The book covers more than just these five things, but it also goes in detail about how a church can best address each of them. Much of what we've believed about unchurched people may be wrong, and until we correct those myths we will continue to struggle to reach them with the gospel. Many are receptive to hearing the gospel and becoming involved with a good church. This book continues to be a good resource to help us do that.

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