15 Characteristics of Today's Unchurched Person

If you’re like many Christians, you have an authentic desire to share your faith with people who don’t yet follow Jesus. I know I do.

One of my deepest longings is that every person would come to know the love and salvation that Jesus extends to them.

Our vision at Connexus, where I serve as lead pastor, is to be a church that unchurched people love to attend – a vision we share with all North Point strategic partner churches.

But unchurched people are changing.

Even since I started ministry 18 years ago, there’s been a big shift in how unchurched people think. Particularly here in Canada, we are a bit of a hybrid between the US and Europe. Canadians are less ‘religious’ than Americans, but less secular than Europeans.

Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman have outlined helpful characteristics of unchurched people in UnChristian and David tackled it again in You Lost Me. I won’t repeat those characteristics here. (Both books are fantastic reads.)

Post-modernism has a deeper toe-hold here than in almost anywhere in American except perhaps the Northwest and New England, where it might be about the same.

Here are characteristics of unchurched people that I’m seeing today.

1. They don’t all have big ‘problems.’ If you’re waiting for unchurched people to show up because their life is falling apart, you might wait a long time. Sure, there are always people in crisis who seek God out. But many are quite content with their lives without God. And some are quite happy and successful. If you only know how to speak into discontent and crisis, you will miss most of your neighbours.

2. They feel less guilty than you think. They don’t feel any more guilty about not being in church on Sunday than you feel guilty about not being in synagogue on Saturdays. How many Saturdays do you feel badly about missing synagogue? That’s how many Sundays they feel badly about missing church.

3. Occasional is regular. When they start coming, they don’t always attend every week. Giving them easy, obvious and strategic steps to get connected is important. Disconnected people generally don’t stick. (I wrote more about the declining frequency of church attendance here.)

4. Most are spiritual. Most unchurched people believe in some kind of God. They’re surprised and offended if you think of them as atheists. As they should be.

5. They are not sure what “Christian” means. So you need to make that clear. You really can’t make any assumptions about what people understand about the Christian faith. Moving forward, clarity is paramount.

6. You can’t call them back to something they never knew. Old school ‘revival’ meant there was something to revive. Now that we are on the 2nd to 5th generation of unchurched people, revival is less helpful to say the least. You can’t call them back to something they never knew.

7. Many have tried church, even a little, but left. We have a good chunk of people who have never ever been to church (60% of our growth is from people who self-identify as not regularly attending church), but a surprising number of people have tried church at some point – as a kid or young adult. Because it wasn’t a good experience, they left. Remember that.

8. Something is generous. Because even giving 10% of your income to anything is radically countercultural, the only paradigm of giving they have is a few dozen or hundred dollars to select charities. I hope every Christian learns to live a life of sacrifice and generosity, but telling them they are ungenerous is a poor way to start the conversation. They are probably already more generous than their friends.

9. They want you to be Christian. They want you to follow Jesus, authentically. Think about it, if you were going to convert to Buddhism, you would want to be an authentic Buddhist, not some watered down version. Andy Stanley is 100% right when he says you don’t alter the content of your services for unchurched people, but you should change the experience.

10. They’re intelligent, so speak to that. Don’t speak down to them. Just make it easy to get on the same page as people who have attended church for years by saying “this passage is near the middle of the bible.” You can be inclusive without being condescending.

11. They hate hypocrisy. Enough said.

12. They love transparency. When you share your weaknesses, everyone (including Christians) resonates.

13. They invite their friends if they like what they’re discovering. They will be your best inviters if they love what you’re doing.

14. Their spiritual growth trajectory varies dramatically. One size does not fit all. You need a flexible on ramp that allows people to hang in the shadows for a while as they make up their mind, and one that allows multiple jumping in points throughout the year.

15. Some want to be anonymous and some don’t. So make your church friendly to both. Also see the previous point. This is huge.

What are you seing? What describes your friends and the people you’re reaching at your church? Let’s grow this list.

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  • Ed

    After pastoring a number of years I have started serving Celebrate Jesus, a nonprofit that partners with local churches with the purpose of helping churches connect with the community around them. I’m using your blogs like a training manual. My experiences of prayer walks, meeting people where they live, where they work, praying with/for those people and then connecting them with church people who will love them like Jesus loves… well, it doesn’t get any better than that! Thanks for the blog.

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      Ed…this is so encouraging. Thank you! And thank you for how you’re serving and leading. Sounds amazing.

  • Redsilas77

    #6 and #7 hit me to a tee. I grew up Catholic, but never ‘felt’ anything. I went through the motions of the service because I was required to, even going through Confirmation. I never once ‘felt’ anything during my time in the Catholic church. As my mom was the piano/choir accompanist, she got a job at another church, and I was exposed to Missouri Synod Lutheran and later Evangelical Lutheran. When I was posted overseas, I tried the Anglican church in the UK as a way to try getting back into church.

    Didn’t matter what denomination I went to, I never felt anything during a single service. I prayed for something, any way of God or Jesus letting me know I was doing the right thing and hoping I would get something out of going to church service. I never did, despite years of trying different denominations, and even giving a Catholic service a go again.

    Every church I’ve attended, with the exception of one, had groups of cliques that I just couldn’t break through or be a part of. Since I was the new person, I felt I had to ‘earn’ the privilege of being a part of a group, as everyone else had been members for years in those particular churches. We left (my husband and I) left our last church because we were constantly being pushed to volunteer as new members for various activities while never feeling like we were a part of the larger group. There were other little reasons that I did not feel comfortable being around certain people in the congregation, but my husband had enough and was being pressured to volunteer helping out in the church on a consistent basis.

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      I don’t know your name, but I’m glad you shared your story. Thanks for that. I’m sorry it seems like the same thing over and over again.

      This is just a thought…I could be totally off base. But I know sometimes I’m a little shy in crowds and feel like I don’t fit in. (People who know me find that hard to believe but it’s true). And sometimes I need to remind myself that it’s not the other people who are hesitant to receive me, but it’s me who is hesitant to connect with them. Not sure if that’s in play here, but if that’s your experience in every church, it might be worth praying about exploring.

      Either way I wish you well and hope the connection happens sooner!

      • Redsilas77

        Thank you! My first name is Rachel. My husband and I are shy, but before we were without kids attending services before, now with two toddlers, our free time is extremely limited. Reflecting back, a lot has to do with churches trying to pigeonhole (not a great word, but it will do) us to participate in groups just because we have expertise or talent in a certain area. I was a music major and grew up around a church choir, so I was consistently being pressured to either sing in the choir, join handbells, or play ‘special music’ during the services. After most of my youth and young adulthood spent already providing that service, I wanted to actually feel what it was like to sit in the congregation for once. My husband was a former landscaper and now a finance specialist, and although he already does finance and accounting for a living, he was being pressured into providing the same services at each church we attended, which he would love to do when he retires, but not now.

        When churches hear that we want to sit in the congregation for once and don’t want to volunteer right away, it’s almost as if we get thrown into the ‘they won’t help with anything, so why bother’.

        We’ll give another church another chance down the road, but we need to wait until our kids are a bit older (as most churches don’t have a nursery….or a nursery attendant that we trust). I know we’ll heal and find a church that we feel comfortable in.

        • Carey Nieuwhof

          Rachel…I wish you lived near us. We’d love to have you join us. I think people need space to engage their journey at their own pace. I hope you find a great church where you can learn and grow and eventually become involved as you’re ready. Don’t give up!

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  • Riley

    We shouldn’t be “altering the experience” to fit the tastes of the unchurched, either, but instead invited them to authentic Christian worship.

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      I agree. :)

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  • unchurchme

    “It is an act of charity to cry out when the wolves are amoung the sheep.”

    St.Francis

  • unchurchme

    Your consensus on the unchurched is rather condescending. Unchurched is not atheist, not nominal christians, but “unincorporated” churched–they are a distinction from your protestant dribble. The authority of the Church is G-d–and the Sovereign Christ. Not, I repeat, not incorporated voluntary subjects of the state. The “United States” incorporated in 1871. Each state is incorporated–and protestants subject themselves to the State and under the united nations, protestants incorporate to them as subjects as council of churches. Romans 13–is not applicable to Christians–it only applies to Romans. If the Bible/scripture is sacred writings, then why will you not accept Gospel of Thomas, Barnabus, as sacred. Protestants worship the bible that the Roman Catholics made (480), and then ommited Maccabees, and Danial 13. Protesting Rome is not a Christian principle, if Romans 13 is to be applied: Please subject yourselves to Rome(Vatican) as authorities ‘that G-d placed in position.” (see Roman 13). I know, lowly protestant man, your interpretation is by the holy spirit, and you subject yourselves to Business leaders who started your “church.” If the cities do not have to pay tax…churches are exempt–unless they are incorporated, then they need an attorney from the BAR association, unchurched means not INC.

    Canada is just as bad as the states…the RCMP takes children, they beat citizens, they destroy books sent to copyright office, and the courts take your earnings based upon false legal precedence, in their court of admirlty. Sitting in a pew, safe and secure, because you submit your false church, means you allow by consent to harm others whom you deem “unchurched.” Tithe to people not corporations. When you begin to have a sovereign church, a flock will appear…unchurched only see the state and the flag on the alter: unincorporate and “experience” what Christ went through for you!

    It

  • unchurchme

    hey

  • elaine1leach

    Southern Lady, I am so sorry that this is what you received from the above. As a Christian, my personal goal is to tell you about the greatest thing that ever happened in my life, and that is Jesus. Our best witness is our lives and, unfortunately, Christians are failing in this regard. We have become like the world, totally against the teachings of Jesus. I love you and I don’t even know you…..God loves the entire world and wants, as their creator, to bless them and help them and give them everything. I pray that one day you may know our Savior, Jesus, as your personal friend too. May God bless you.

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      Elaine…thank you so much for this.

  • Southern Lady

    I abhor the arrogance of your assumption that people need or want to hear about your religious views as posited in the first sentence. The world would be a far better place of you Christians just put a lid on it. Your use of “un” – anything is off-putting, belittling, and symptomatic of real reasons many people turn from organized religion – the constant categorization and us-vs-them mentality.

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  • Ron Tant

    I agree. My former church indebted itself greatly when the US economy was flush, and now spends much of its energy trying to “fill the pews” to pay the bills. If it were a movie house, the attitude would be understandable. I doubt I will return to a ‘bricks and mortar” church environment. I will seek a group that challenges me to understand myself and help others, without paying for the Emperor’s new clothes.

  • ihen1

    This is a truly excellent list! When we speak of people who not have a church home, we use “unchurched” to mean folk who have no real experience with a congregation in the Christian tradition, but may hold some sort of Christian faith in their hearts and actions, “dechurched” for people who were involved and left (for whatever reason) and “non churched” for people who have no real exposure to any form of Christianity at all. It is very helpful to know where people are in these categories before saying or doing too much. The hardest challenge is the dechurched who may have been badly hurt by their experiences.

  • yup

    i hate to break the number of comments already here (69) but maybe this comment relative enough for such a disgrace/possible lack of tact. If God’s real then maybe he’s just really not a nice guy. I’m gonna create a world of inferior beings that supposedly have free will but if they don’t love me and worship me they will be subjected to the most terrible mental and physical torture literally forever once their body stops functioning. Well maybe we could turn a blind eye on what appears to be an insanely jealous and narcissistic attitude and lack of respect for individuals if it was a small percentage of his creation that were damned. However…. considering the full history of the earth (or what we know of it at least), a very very small amount of people are actually getting into heaven. Why would a loving god create so much misery and terrible suffering through his design when he could have just done nothing, or maybe created a better system that doesn’t have obvious evidence of a manmade construction based off of time-specific philosophy. This is not to say that something didn’t create the universe, i don’t believe that something came from nothing, but that doesn’t mean that you found the correct answer in Christianity. Maybe your life isn’t supposed to be fulfilling, maybe you aren’t supposed to be filled with an all consuming sense of purpose accompanied by an objective source of morality/ethics. Maybe you simply are a product of matter and motion. Time and change. Maybe to call yourself a person is simply an empirical generality to describe how matter behaves and that each choice you make defines ‘who’ you are, yada yada [insert more existentialism]. But certainly, there seems a mystical quality to this place the universe. So just know that the guy who wrote this knows he could be entirely wrong about every single thing he just said, and in fact, most certainly is.

    • yup

      typos, sorry about that

    • elaine1leach

      Would you take advice on how to run your car from a baker? God is our creator and wanted us to Love, and thus serve, Him in this life. He knows what we need, what we want, what motivates us, etc., etc. He wants to provide for us, heal us, protect us, feed us, take care of us. He gave us every instruction we need in His Word, the Bible. God is love…..His people have let the world down, not Him. God bless you!

  • Andrea

    I’m enjoying reading about some of the information you’re presenting about the unchurched on your website. A friend recently brought up the fact that many Canadians are unchurched and it peeked my interest. I only began attending church at the age of 26 (I’m 38 now). I live in NC and most of the Christians I know grew up in church, so sometimes it can be a bit isolating when friends talk about childhood church experiences. Perhaps this is an area where I can serve and lead the unchurched to Jesus. Thanks for the info and insight. :-)

  • Solemn Bastion

    My wife and I are unchurched. We are devout. In fact, as devout as the most devout Christian I have ever known, and sadly I have only known a few. I was raised Baptist, moved into Charismatic circles, then Orthodox circles (where I was tonsured as a monk), before leaving organized religion altogether 20 years ago. If no one else is saying it, I believe there is a growing number of us who are neither Catholic nor Protestant nor Orthodox who spend time with the Lord constantly, take our own Holy Communion at home (not symbolically as many Christians choose to believe), study the Bible daily, depend upon Rhema and dreams and visions and other gifts of the Holy Spirit for our hope of perfection in Him, offer the proof of healing the sick and casting out demons and even raising the dead to any who need to see the power of God, and live in the Kingdom of Heaven now, and forever. One proof of our devotion to Jesus is the fact that we are under constant demonic attack to have our marriage torn asunder. We belong only to the Church made up of the Cloud of Witnesses and all true believers on Earth and also those who have not heard but who follow natural law (these God brings to Himself, as the Bible teaches us).

    • Richard

      I love the fact that you are depending on the Holy Spirit, reading your Bible daily, and taking Communion. As a pastor, I can tell you that the church in America desperately needs you. I can understand frustration with organized religion. Sometimes it becomes way too stale. But we need people who actually care about the Bible, love and serve God daily, and actually take spiritual warfare spiritually. But they are not in the larger church. We need to be a body, as no passage in the New Testament (or Old) indicates to me that we were meant to be alone in our faith. PLEASE rejoin a church and bring something of the Holy Spirit to it.

  • nondescript1010

    The term “Unchurched” seems too vague to me. It can mean anything
    from a devout Christian who doesn’t believe in worshiping in a church
    to an all out atheist. You really cannot say much about such a wide
    swath of people. Since I am an “all out atheist” and know a lot
    of other atheists, I’ll speak to that end of the spectrum. Here is my
    critique of your “characteristics”.

    1. They don’t all have big ‘problems.
    I find that people have the same about of big and little problems, no
    matter what their religious belief or lack of them are.

    2. They feel less guilty than you think
    Well, we feel less guilty about not following your dogma than you think.
    There is plenty of other reasons to feel guilty about various things.
    Our basis for morality might be different, but most of us reach
    consensus on most of what we think of as good or bad.

    3. Occasional is regular.
    I have visited churches for various reasons, but even among my various
    atheist groups, I’m not a “regular”. Some are. Most atheists shy
    away from anything that smells like indoctrination.

    4. Most are spiritual
    Some atheists call themselves “spiritual”, though the meaning differs.
    I find that when people use the word, they basically equate it with
    “emotional”. This is true of theists and non-theists I know.

    5. They are not sure what “Christian” means
    Um, no. Most people, at least in this country, grew up in Christian
    households. Even if they didn’t, they have been exposed to the
    various tenets and myths through their lives. In fact, I know more
    about Christianity now than I ever did as a Christian. When you are a
    Christian, you rarely have to think about why you believe what you
    do. As an atheist in a religious society, I am often challenged about
    my beliefs and usually by Christians. So, I have had to learn more
    about Christianity just to defend my own worldview.

    6. You can’t call them back to something they never knew
    Again, don’t assume their ignorance.

    7. Many have tried church, even a little, but left
    Again, most grew up with church.

    8. Something is generous
    Most of us don’t count money given to churches as charity. Only a small
    percentage of church income goes to charity. Most of it goes to
    proselytizing. We tend to try to give more directly and intelligently
    to charity.

    9. They want you to be Christian
    Actually, I find that those that do not follow their “scriptures” closely
    are much more humane than those that do. I would befriend a member of
    a Unitarian church or United Church of Christ much more readily than
    someone from Westboro Baptist Church. This holds true of other
    religions, too. So please, don’t be too Christian.

    10. They’re intelligent, so speak to that
    I try not to assume the intelligence of anybody until they show it one
    way or another. There was a study that shows that atheists are more
    intelligent than theists, but I think that is more cultural than any
    kind of inherent thing.

    11. They hate hypocrisy
    Who doesn’t?

    12. They love transparency
    Ditto.

    13. They invite their friends if they like what they’re discovering
    Again, who doesn’t?

    14. Their spiritual growth trajectory varies dramatically
    Per what I said earlier, I find “spiritual growth trajectory” a
    meaningless phrase.

    15. Some want to be anonymous and some don’t
    Atheists tend to call themselves many things for many reasons. I prefer
    atheist. Some prefer agnostic, free thinker, or other term. I also
    consider myself a Secular Humanist. Atheism is just a statement of
    one particular lack of belief that I have. It doesn’t say much about
    me. In fact, you’ll find that atheists don’t inherently have much in
    common with each other. Secular Humanism is a label that states
    something about some beliefs I do hold.

    I hope this gives you some insight from this end of the spectrum of
    “Unchurched”.Leave a message…

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      I wish I knew your real name, because I’d like to say a more personal thank you. But thank you. I really appreciate this thoughtful response, whoever you are.

      • nondescript1010

        You’re welcome. I’m glad you got something helpful from my response.

    • katie99

      I have often found when someone says “Unitarian,” they generally mean “Unitarian Universalist” as it is more common than the Unitarian Christian denomination. It should be noted that UU is not a Christian religion at all (something else that is often a point of confusion, especially since many UU congregations are called “churches”) but its own distinct religion that grew out of two very progressive Christian denominations. UU members have a wide variety of beliefs, and many (such as myself) are actually atheists when it comes to belief in god/gods/other supernatural concepts. We are united by common values that are largely reflective of Secular Humanism, but with room made for a variety of spiritual beliefs.

      That said, I find both the Unitarian and Universalist Christian denominations to be pretty awesome, and realize it’s possible you were referring to the former.

  • Jayson

    Hi Carey. I’m a former Christian who was very active in my church and its mission. I am now an atheist. You say people should be offended if people think they are atheist. Why do you feel that way? Atheists are just another part if your community and I see no reason for them to feel the term is offensive, just descriptive. Thanks!

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      Jayson..thanks. For sure. An atheist who is an atheist isn’t offended at all by the term. I was trying to point to pastors and Christians who just assume that most people who don’t go to church are atheists or don’t believe in God. Many consider themselves ‘spiritual’ and not atheist, and they tend to get offended when Christians equate not going to church with not being spiritual. Hope that clarifies things.

  • steve h

    If you want to connect with people, I wouldn’t start by labeling them “un” anything. It’s a real turnoff. It projects a sense that you think you are superior. My first reaction to your 15 characteristics of the “unchurched” is to put together 15 characteristics of the “churched’ – and it wouldn’t be very flattering.

    • Solemn Bastion

      “Unchurched” was first used in Orthodox Christian circles, I believe. It seems to be a very old term, like their other strange one, ‘unmercenaries,’ or people who did not mix their calling with making money.

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  • renewal

    “Church” to me is a building and the people congregating in it, many of which are less “Christian like” than those that don’t attend. It is governed by conferences/big businesses that take a % of the tithing and in our case spend, if memory serves me, $225,000/year on maintenance of the Conference recreation center ++ The woods, near a stream etc to me is being closer to God than sitting in some churches….not all, but the one I grew up in, which has changed dramatically through the years.

    Just recently the D.S. gave a sermon before a conference meeting in which he touted that humans are God’s chosen one’s/favorite, animals being lower etc…”God did not die on the cross to save dolphin’s did he?” to quote one of his statements. I sat there appalled, thinking this man is a blithering idiot and apparently Methodists are supposed to believe Speciesism as well. It is things like this that turn people off from “church”.

    I prefer to subscribe to people like Wayne Dyer although I do enjoy watching & reading the books of Joel Osteen, as well. They are inspiring to me.

  • JimA

    Maybe as a part of #14…With their best interest in mind, also give some consideration to offramps, how to suggest an alternative nurturing setting for those who might be struggling to thrive in this particular one.

  • JimA

    I’m a latecomer to this good discussion.
    Perhaps missing are:
    1) Conversation communicates better than lecture/transmit. Just watch where the energy develops in the two different kinds of settings.
    2) Familiarity with stories and teachings of Scripture (or tradition) cannot be assumed. Additional context is required when making reference to “prodigal son”, and in familiar service observances.
    3) Offering of the Gospel by invitation to consider becoming a “follower of Jesus” (may not be the same as a traditional end-of-service invitation into redemptive salvation and/or membership). What some have dismissively labeled “cafeteria Christianity” seems to me to be a good thing, indicating a more personal, rationalized, internalized, and evolving spiritual formation, …as contrasted with concurrence and compliance with a well-defined, inherited faith.

    • cnieuwhof

      I appreciate your points Jim. I’m thinking #3 might be a both/and, not an either or.

      • JimA

        Yes, I agree, but probably greater than two in number of mutually respectful distinctive expressions, even within a given tradition. We might consider the notion of organizationally helping each follower find the setting that nurtures them best. Contrast that with focus on retention.

        I’m still working at how to articulate the #3. It might be something like:

        Expect each enquirer’s belief system to be, and continue to be idiosyncratic and restless (not neatly or completely rationalized and expressible). Expect strong internalization (“ownership”) of that system, as contrasted with concurrence with a prescribed tradition. But expect it also to be more malleable and perpetually restless over time (their own timetable) than what we may traditionally expect. Expect this to be true, but in varying extents.

        Still ruminating…..

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  • Kati.batil

    You forgot a characteristic of the ‘unchurched’ – many of them are Christians. I think ‘Unchurched’ is a narrow minded term that assumes that church is what makes someone a Christian or not. That’s not biblical at all. This is just another example of how the church is where many attitudes such as this “them vs. us” develop. Spend some time trying to actually get to know this so called “unchurched” group (without trying to convert them) and I think you’ll find that they don’t quite fit into a neat little box of stereotypes that you’ve created.

    • cnieuwhof

      Thanks for the question/challenge. Unchurched does not mean unChristian. It means they are simply not attending church. And one of the challenges I would have for Christians not attending church is an encouragement to either join one, start one or in some way figure out a way to carry out the mission Christ gave to his followers. That may look very different than the current church but it can’t simply be to say you believe and engage in no mission. Not saying this is what you do all all Kati (I’m sure it’s not) but it is a growing phenomenon.

      • Pam

        So this brings up an interesting question… Do we need four walls and a roof to be called a church? It is easily argued that the church that Jesus calls us to build is not confined to a building. Could this possibly be another reason we are not reaching the Mosaics? They want the flexibility of meeting at a friends house, in a coffee shop, at the park, etc. Jesus went to the people, maybe we should too?

      • Solemn Bastion

        You said: “in some way figure out a way to carry out the mission Christ gave to his followers.”

        Precisely what my wife and I are doing. We take the Great Commission quite seriously, still being unchurched.

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  • Brian Newman

    Christianity is not about going to heaven. Christianity is about drawing on the strength of God to live a good life (a life filled with the fruits of the spirits, taking care of the widows and orphans, etc.) – a righteous life, a sacred life. It acknowledges that we are all error-prone, but focuses on the constant pursuit of a good life. So, don’t talk to them about going to heaven. Talk to them about the church as a place where everyone works together, strives together, supports one another (in a spirit of humility) to achieve a good life. Without a constant effort to live a good life (and making amends/repenting when we fall short), we won’t get to heaven. Going to heaven is a side effect of being a Christian and should not be the cause cé·lè·bre many treat it as.

    • Alan

      Brian, That almost sounds like our living a good life is what earns us a way to heaven. Or that God’s goal for saving us is so that we’ll be “good people.” I understand there are verses that support that. I’m not certain that’s the overall message of Christianity. Christianity – and this is simply my paraphrased understanding – is: We’re dead inside. We try to find life through anything else (relationships, charity, humanism). What God does is restore life back into the depths of our being. Being filled with life and reconnected to the source of life, through salvation, we can grow and live a life that is truly “alive.” Life spreads life and a person who is truly alive will have fruits of the spirit, good works, etc. You’re right. Heaven is a side effect. But the good life comes after receiving the true Life that Christianity promises.

      • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

        Alan, this is an extremely helpful short summary of the Gospel. Right on. Thank you!— Sent from Mailbox

      • Brian Newman

        There is Christianity as a religion and there is Christianity as a spiritual dedication. Regarding Christianity as a religion; James 1:27 _Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world_. This is what Christianity should focus on. By doing so, we begin to express the fruits of the spirit in our lives. There are two halves of Christianity. As for Christianity as a spiritual dedication, surrendering ourselves and our egos to Christ leads to us expressing the fruits of the spirit in our lives. If we aren’t expressing those fruits in our lives in everything we do, then we don’t have a relationship with Christ. As for restoring our spiritual lives, when we are spiritually alive, we are producing the fruits of the spirit in everything we do.

  • Luke

    Carey,
    Thank you so much. I’d love it if you would flesh out what # 14 looks like.

    Luke

    • cnieuwhof

      Sure. I think people come in at different points. Some have zero knowledge of Christianity, some have a base knowledge. And people mature at different rates. Our groups model helps people mature spiritually at a pace that’s different for each person. Maturity takes time, and once leaders recognize that, it makes it easier on everyone.

  • joey

    this is great stuff and so true. sharing this for sure.
    joey
    –www.un-learning.org

  • http://twitter.com/jambric John Hambrick

    Invaluable, especially for those of us working with Starting Point or similar environments. Thank you!

    • cnieuwhof

      John…that means so much. Thank you! I can’t say enough good things about Starting Point. So appreciate what you and the team are sharing with us. It’s changing lives.

  • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

    Regarding #2, my sense is that most people, churched or unchurched, don’t have a significant problem with guilt–and not just about church attendance. That makes evangelism a challenge for those of us schooled to present guilt as the problem and forgiveness as the solution. I’m curious to know how others are dealing with this, namely, how we conceive of the “good news” that we are offering. As reconciliation? Purpose? Justice? Interested to hear your thoughts.

    • http://twitter.com/NarrowGauge Narrow Gauge

      The longer I walk with God, the more I realize that there is a reason for the cross, beyond the forgiveness of our sins. That’s why it is called a new birth. This is the beginning of a new life.

      In order to fully understand the Christian life, I think it is helpful to understand why God created humanity in the first place. Christianity is not a new direction for humanity. It is an invitation to come back to God’s design and purpose for us. In the beginning he made us and had a plan for how the human race should live. He even spelled it out for us.

      I think framing the discussion around world view is better. We all have to choose a path or course to navigate through the murky waters of life. All of us are desparately searching for it. We are not all aware of our desparate need for Christs work on the Cross, but we are aware that things are not as they should be.

      Someone once said that the purpose of life is to live it! The question is how best to do that. Jesus sacrifical death on the cross for our sins, and our embracing of the forgiveness he alone offers opens up the best possible path we could every choose.

      • cnieuwhof

        Well said.

      • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

        I like that thought. I also am more an more drawn to Jesus’ vision for reconciliation–meaning bringing people together with one another as well as with God. This is something that people seem to hunger for, though they can’t always name it.

    • cnieuwhof

      I’m struggling to come up with a vocabulary that connects with ‘successful’ people. I think in an affluent society, preachers today run into the same problem Jesus did – the rich hear the Gospel less readily than the poor or needy. And yet of course, we all need it. The parable of the sower comforts me on days when I get discouraged.

      • http://www.lawrencewilson.com/p/about-me.html Lawrence W. Wilson

        Yes, well put.

      • Raybo57

        In the last few weeks, since Easter, I have been using the term, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but to make dead people alive.” I think one reason people don’t have a guilt problem is they can always find someone who is “Badder” than them, Hitler is always the ending point in making anyone feel as thought they are OK. But you can’t be a little dead, dead is dead and that is a great starting point to tell how we all are looking for life. We buy stuff to feel alive, we do stuff to feel alive, so I have been sharing that, that “Alive” we are looking for is only found in a relationship with God, through the “”Life” giving gift of Jesus. Ephesians 2

        • Carey Nieuwhof

          Ray…I love that. What a great phrase. Thanks for sharing it.

  • ruis2002

    “Unchurched” is a funny word. Does it mean Christians who stopped going to church? People who grew up in nonreligious households and never attended a church in the first place? People who have relocated to a new town and don’t have a local church in that town? Unchurched people aren’t a monolithic group. A childhood friend of mine is very Christian, married to a man with a theology degree, and they are “shopping around” for a “church home” and are having difficulty finding a place to belong. They are the church’s
    “ideal” nuclear family with 2 or 3 children. I’m not sure why they haven’t found a church they like yet. I have other childhood friends who were baptized in a church, and married in a church, and that’s about the extent of their lifetime involvement (they are mostly Baptists!). I am an unmarried woman in my mid-forties. I grew up going to church every Sunday. It was the Methodist church my parents picked out when they got married in the 1960s. My younger brothers were happy and made lots of friends at that church. I always had a sense I didn’t really fit in to my Sunday School class (part of the problem was that I attended a different – competing – school, so the kids in my class were one big clique that didn’t include me). I persisted in attending church services, although in high school I gave up on my Sunday School class and just hung out in the church library – reading – during the Sunday School hour. When I was a college student, one of my brothers fell in with the wrong crowd at high school. I noticed his behavior change, but my parents laughed at me when I told them I thought he might be using. He nearly OD’d on drugs. My parents never saw it coming and it really broke them. My mother (of the generation of women whose whole identity depended on the success or failure of her kids) just couldn’t face their friends at church any more, or answer questions about how her kids were doing. So, they stopped attending the Methodist church. They started going to another church – basically, the Baptist church next door. They have been “visitors” there for probably 20 years now. I think they don’t want to be re-baptized, so they haven’t officially joined. The Baptists always want you to be re-baptized, if you come from another denomination. It is an annoying peculiarity, that is somewhat off-putting. I like their Baptist church, however. It has a very good feeling about it. It’s large, and I don’t know anyone there, but it seems very welcoming, without putting visitors on the spot. I tried to continue attending the Methodist church, on my own, for several years. I finally gave up in the mid-1990s. The church became very large, it was growing, but they were pretty much marketing themselves to young married couples with 2.5 children. Since I was single, and still am, I just felt very out of place there. I was uncomfortable, at first, attending without my family. Gradually, it became very painful to sit through services, all alone, not recognizing anyone, and feeling more isolated than if I had just stayed home and watched church services on T.V. So, I gave up and stayed home on Sundays, and watched church on T.V. I have visited a few other churches in the years since, but none felt like home. For one thing, most Sunday school classes are based on age, marital status and/or motherhood. I am single, never married, and do not have kids. I can’t fit into the young couples group, the young singles group, the older widows group, the young mothers group or the single mothers group. There is no place for me! I would point out that since 40% of women in their early forties right now have NEVER had children, that it would be a great idea for churches to focus less on organizing women’s Sunday School classes along the lines of marital status and motherhood. Themed Bible study classes that are open to all ages and stages are the way to go. Our culture is changing. Gen X either didn’t get married at all, or married too young and got divorced. Gen Y has moved in with their parents, and might never be able to marry at all. How will your churches grow if you continue to market yourself primarily to the nuclear families? They are all but extinct.

    • perc2100

      I took “unchurched” to mean either those who might believe in God but don’t ‘subscribe’ to a specific religion, or even those who might consider themselves Christian but haven’t gone to church in ages. I’ve not heard of the term before this blog, and I think it’s an interesting alternative to using a more potentially offensive term like ‘godless’ or ‘atheist’ or something else.

  • Madeline Jean

    “Most are spiritual. Most unchurched people believe in some kind of God. They’re surprised and offended if you think of them as atheists. As they should be.” – Excuse me, but you are confusing spirituality with theism (believing in the existence of a god or gods). Spirituality is what gives one’s life meaning, and does not require belief in a deity. It goes beyond religious affiliation, striving for harmony with the universe: nature, the arts, philosophy, and our relationship to all living things. I could go on, but I hope you understand my point. I am an atheist and I’m spiritual. Why should I be surprised or offended if you think of me as an atheist? What’s so offensive about that?

    • cnieuwhof

      Thanks for your comment Madeline Jean. Appreciate the insight.

      • Madeline Jean

        Haha alright, you’re welcome. :3

    • For Him,Whom my soul loveth

      Because you deny the creator from whom all things are patterned. The ultimate artist. Spirituality, as you call it, is acknowledging the commonality of the Universe, but denying The force that made it common.

    • Madeline Jean

      And this “force that made it common” is automatically the Judeo-Christian god, why? I have no reason to believe in that particular creator among the thousands of other deities humans worship and have worshipped throughout history. And no, a book written by *humans* in an uneducated land thousands of years ago that claims itself to be true, doesn’t mean it is actually true.

      • cnieuwhof

        Madeline, I would encourage you to read the Bible a little more deeply. To say that those who wrote it were uneducated is a little simplistic. Even many non-Christians would concede the Bible contains some of the greatest wisdom recorded. I believe it points to God as revealed in Jesus, but even if you don’t, the scriptures provide keen insights into life.

      • John

        I hope I am responding to Madeline Jean. To say, “we live in a very complex world” is an “understatement.” The world confronts us with so many philosophical points of view. One’s view of things depends on what we use to interpret what is around. How do we test, or is even possible to put something to the test to verify and or justify our point of view of the world and the universe? Really there are two points of view when it comes view life and the world around us. It is either theistic or it is atheistic. The debate goes on and on. There are those who view life without God being a part of the equation, and there are those who view life with God being behind the equation. If one is convinced there is no God it becomes pretty simple, we live, we breath and we die and after that we die. Thus we adopt the ancient view of the Greeks and the Romans, “We eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” If one’s view is theistic, then which deity(s) are we to believe in. If there is a deity, can we know who this deity is? If this deity can be known, does this deity have a way for us to know what this deity would want us to know? Does it make any difference if this deity can be known and or even wants to be known and if so, how would such a deity make us to know? What if this deity could be known and to believed in so that a person could say, “I know in whom I have believed and I am persuaded of who He is and what He has done for me, but also for you.” If there is such a God and one is convinced He is God and He knows me and loves me and He proven beyond even reasonable doubt this is true then what? If He is all knowing and all powerful and if He is everywhere present; then what?

        It seems a fair question. Is there any evidence for such a God that even a man of science would consider such evidence as proof for such a God as this could or does exist? What about someone like Johannas Kepler most certainly one of the most brilliant of scientist and maybe even the most brilliant? He was absolutely sure such a God does exist and He lived his life so that his work would glorify God. He was the only scientist who thought and believed like he believed and studied. To study true science used to mean to study the thoughts of an all knowing and all powerful God. Copernicus, Michael Angelo, Leonardo Devinchi (sp) were among many scientist who lived between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, and they held similar view as Kepler who possibly was the brightest of them all. Oh what I would not give to have had such a brilliant mind and believe in an all powerful, all knowing and everywhere present God who loved me. I do not have their brilliance but I am persuaded like them that God loves me, knows me by name just like those men of brilliance believed. If facts do matter I know by documentation these men so confessed such belief before the world in which they lived. I wonder why this side of these men is not known today about these true men of science who had true faith in God. If you are an honest atheist and thus open to reconsider your views you might want to consider the honest atheistic attorneys Lord Littleton and his friend (I cannot recall his name at the moment) who set out to disprove the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle who on the road to Damascus met and was converted by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. One set to disprove the resurrection and the other set out to disprove Paul’s conversion. They did their studies independent of each other. When they met to share the result of their investigation of their independent subject to disprove these two historical events they both were converted to faith in Christ and were convinced of who Jesus Christ was and that He indeed was risen from the dead and did in fact meet on the road of Damascus to convert his vociferous opponent Saul of Tarsus who became the greatest of all ambassadors of Jesus Christ. There is no other God who is so verifiable as the God of the Christian faith and how glad I am that He loves me, as well as the entire human race and that I have been baptized in His NAME (note singular) the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (note plurality) Trinity. Oh that I could sing His NAME more adequately, GOD IN THREE PERSONS, BLESSED TRINITY.

      • William Pardy

        interesting that you think people from history were uneducated. that is a bold statement. not to mention we have seen structures from ancients proving that they, were capable of reason and understanding in art, architecture, communication, and so on…so why not religion, spirituality, and philosophy.

    • Teresita Matos

      I can relate to your statement as a former atheist (now a Christian at Seminary) I also find insight in your comment as I was a non-spiritual atheist. There are nuances to all forms of belief. Spirituality is so complex, and yet so simple. I think we make a lot of assumptions about people’s spiritual journeys and your comment warns us about that. To Carey Nieuwhof: Great article! http://poeticprophecy.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/arielgayle Ariel Hirsch

    Carey, I just subscribed to your blog yesterday and I am absolutely loving it. I have already read several of your blogs and am looking forward to many more! Thank you so much for your insights and your leadership!

    • cnieuwhof

      Ariel…thanks for the encouragement and feedback. I’m grateful to be able to share my thoughts and love the growing community we have here among readers. Welcome to the journey!

  • http://authorhouse.com/ Robert Goeringer

    The book ‘Offspring’ has been purchased on three continents, spreading God’s spiritual truth. God chose me to slate a book for others to understand life and where we shall proceed. God spoke what to title, order of chapters and all words within: here is one of numerous in which God desired quoted.

    ‘What has occurred globally, throughout history remains spiritual through weather and humanism. What we must contemplate is Our future. I have wonderful plans through you and I bless countless humans, from all continents, increasingly further.
    Rather than controlled unwell with anxieties, overwhelmedness, anger, impulsivity, thus, chaos in humanism and weather as Satan wants, I, yield calmness, confidence, direction, focus and peace: countless remain aware of My good power. Continue focused on medias depictions, thus, negativity or remain aware of My global plan: calmly embrace and do My will or remain stagnant, distorted through thoughts and feelings, thus, only yours. Living abundantly in My good spirit, negativity decreases through and around you. When praying and praising, you are living perfectly in my good spirit. If reading these words, you shall understand in my time. Life is good and you are enlightened further.’

    http://bookstore.authorhouse.com/Products/SKU-000476554/Offspring.aspx

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  • James

    Perhaps your concept of “church” is too narrow. Perhaps there are people who ponder our place in the universe and the amazing life force that flows through all things differently than you. Perhaps some people consider this process to be private and introspective. There are many people who find understanding of the universe and our place within it through careful observation and experimentation. Why should these people be called “un-churched?” The phrase implies some sort of deficit and is insulting. Perhaps it is you that is “unchurched.” The lack of understanding of the creation that we live within and ignorance of life formation and origins could be percieved as disrespectful of your God’s creation. Perhaps this spinning sphere we all live on is the Church, and its secrets and wonders are waiting to be unlocked by careful scientific study. Perhaps the stubborn unwillingness of many Christians to accept scientific fact is an “unchurched” attitude.

    • cnieuwhof

      Hi James. Appreciate your perspective and I know that not everyone shares my world view of the biblical worldview. My vantage point is as understood through scripture, so of course that narrows it right there. Or, as some would say, sometimes its in these limits that we find our freedom.

    • For Him,Whom my soul loveth

      I love your comments. Somewhere in the midst of all science and Faith God Almighty resides. We who are finite seek often to make the Infinite God, finite as well. But we cannot know Him, or relate to Him except we find common ground.
      The term “church” as defined in the Christian bible means. “Ecclesia”, or “called out ones.”. While I do not ascribe to the concepts of “Church” common to the Christian community today, the definition provided by Jesus Himself will suffice. “Whererver two or three are gathered together in my name, there I will be in the midst of them”.

  • Mark Archibald

    They are looking for something interactive. This really can go under point 14, as I’m sure not everyone wants an interactive, participatory feel to the service. But as I’ve talked to a few next gen folks who are either not connected or disconnecting from church, the “sit and stare” feel of church does not always jive with them. The idea of someone teaching in a lecturing style on spiritual things to some seems odd – they want the ability to ask questions, interact, or push back. This may be difficult to implement – you can do some things with twitter, or have a brief Q and A post-service. But other than that it seems all you can do is be 9, 10, 11, and 12! All of those communicate “I’m open for discussion, interaction and debate.”

    • cnieuwhof

      Thanks for this Mark. Increasingly we’re seeing social media and group take the place of the connection that Sunday morning lacks, even with a Q and A. Social media and groups allow hundreds of people to interact personally.

    • For Him,Whom my soul loveth

      Ponder if you will the comments form the bible itself on gathering in Jesus name. From I Corinthians 14:26-40 One has a song, one a hymn, one a tongue, one an interpretation, “…. ” let all be done decently and in order”.It is assumed that many, if not all would contribute. Decently,…taking turns, and in order,,,. Perhaps, it is the “Churches themselves who need to consider.
      And where , in the churches. Are people prophesying, speaking a tongues, and interpreting, ? And all the other actions spoken of by Jesus.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ChosenRebel Marty Schoenleber Jr

    Great post Carey. Extremely helpful. I will be chewing on this for days.

    • cnieuwhof

      Thanks Marty.

  • Trevor

    Good points Carey – too often we construct strawman versions of the ‘unchurched’. I think it’s worth recognising that the unchurched aren’t a single, holistic group, any more than the ‘non-Jewish’ or ‘non-Sikh’ are. Christianity is no longer the default, privileged religion of our society, and the world doesn’t divide neatly into two groups – Christian and Other.

    • cnieuwhof

      I agree. I think when I started out my assumption was that unchurched people were unspiritual. That’s just not true (anymore). At least not where I live.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=650802417 Bob Cleveland

    This pretty well agrees with what Ed Stetzer pointed out in his book “Lost and Found .. The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Are Reaching Them”.

    • cnieuwhof

      Thanks Bob. Haven’t read Ed’s book but appreciate the connection.

  • Ron Baker

    Great article Carey! I’m amazed when I visit a church that tells me they are about reaching the “unchurched” and the whole service has an “in house” feel. There are times for “in house” conversations but if we are going to have a greater impact on that first time person, we must consider the type of words we use. I think about the old school church mailboxes with the family name on it….it screams us and them! Thanks for keeping the “unchurched” person at the heart of your community!

    • cnieuwhof

      So true Ron. Been to that church. :)

  • J Calaway

    Carey, This is good good stuff, Point #10 made me smile. For years I have discribed where to find the passage I am speaking from in the Bible. I will usually start with a little fact about the bible, such as the kinds of books, the authors, how it is arranged, and then state if you aren’t very familiar with the bible that’s OK we are all learning about it as we go. I get more comments on that 2 or 3 minutes, how that helped than anything else.

    It creates a curiosity (thirst) to know more about this book — the bible

    • cnieuwhof

      I think you’re right. Being inclusive of non-Christians also speaks to many Christians who might not be sure of the context of a text too.

  • http://twitter.com/JeremyPostal Jeremy Postal

    Good stuff. The “they/us” language is challenging for me though; I think it shows the difference between being a missionary to a culture and being a missionary in a culture, ya know?

    Anyways, I really resonate with the “They want you to be Christian” bit – love that.

    • cnieuwhof

      Thanks Jeremy. For sure. “They” is never optimal. Wonder how else you might phrase it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/loribyron Lori Witmer Byron

    Carey,
    This is well written and great article. Thank for sharing these good & very useful points!
    ~~Lori

  • Greg Martin

    Thanks Carey. I just shared this with everybody I’ve ever met. GREAT thoughts. #5 was especially helpful to me; as a pastor, I make WAY too many assumptions. Thanks again, and blessings.

  • Matthew Ruttan

    Hi Carey, these are some thoughtful observations, thanks for sharing. I think one thing it can be easy to do is oversimplify people, and you’ve given some good advice in the other direction.

    • cnieuwhof

      Thanks Matthew.

      • JTRica

        We all miss the point. Why do they need the gospel or Jesus for that matter? They are not afraid of hell, thank God; they are spiritual, seeing God or Spirit in everything; and Jesus, as much as we like to think he is about all love and sweetness, promises strife and ultimate destruction of all that we love. These deeper questions need to be answered. That is why I find so many young people moving more deeply into Buddhism, Zen or other ‘non-deity” specific spiritualities.

        • For Him,Whom my soul loveth

          Do you know Him? Jesus. “II Timothy 1:12b. Timothy spoke of Him, and said”I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him”. NASB
          If you know Him, you love Him, for He is all in all I do not need to fear Hell to believe, I need to know Him…
          At this moment there is a “strife”. Between you and I.
          The Ying and the Yang. Any action has an opposite reaction, otherwise there is no action at all. If the truth indeed sets us free, it will “win out” and some one, or thing will lose. Until things are changed, that is the nature of the universe we live in.