9 Signs Your Church Is Ready to Reach Unchurched People

 

9 Signs Your Church is Ready to Reach Unchurched People

Almost every church I know says they want to reach unchurched people. But few are actually doing it.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that many churches don’t really understand unchurched people (here’s a post on 15 characteristics of today’s unchurched person).

And part of the problem is that our model of church is designed to reach and help churched people, not unchurched people. Churches haven’t embraced change deeply enough.

So you can say you want to reach people all day long. You can teach about it every week. But if you haven’t designed your church around ministering to people who don’t go to church, you might as well be preaching that you want to lose weight while eating a triple cheeseburger.

Your model simply doesn’t match your mission.

So how do you know that your church is actually ready to reach unchurched people?

Here are 9 signs your church is ready to embrace unchurched people:

1. Your main services engage teenagers. I’ve talked with many church leaders who want to reach unchurched people who can’t understand why unchurched people don’t like their church. They would be stumped until I asked them one last question: do the teens in your church love your services and want to invite their friends? As soon as I asked that question, the leader’s expression would inevitably change. He or she would look down at the floor and say ‘no’. Here’s what I believe: if teens find your main services (yes, the ones you run on Sunday mornings) boring, irrelevant, and disengaging, so will unchurched people. As a rule, if you can design services that engage teenagers, you’ve designed a church service that engages unchurched people.

2. People who attend your church actually know unchurched people. Many Christians say they want to reach unchurched people, but they don’t actually know any unchurched people well enough to invite them. One of the reasons we run almost no church programs at Connexus where I serve (other than small groups and few other steps toward discipleship) is that we want our families to get to know unchurched people. We want them to play community sports, get involved at their kids school and have time for dinner parties and more. You can’t do that if you’re at church 6 nights a week. We don’t do many ministries because our people are our ministry.

3. Your attenders are prepared to be non-judgmental. Unchurched people do not come ‘pre-converted’. They will have lifestyle issues that might take years to change (and let’s be honest, don’t you?). Cleaning up your behaviour is not a pre-condition for salvation, at least not in Christianity. What God has done for us in Jesus saves us; not what we have done for God. Is your congregation really ready to love unchurched people, not just judge them? (I wrote about why Christians should let non-Christians off the moral hook here.) One of Jesus’ genius approaches was to love people into life change. If your people can do that, you’re ready to reach unchurched people.

4. You’re good with questions. This one’s still hard for me. I like to think that every question has an answer. I think one of the reasons unchurched people flee churches is they feel shut down when every question they ask has a snappy or even quick answer. They will find answers, but you need to give them time. Embracing the questions of unchurched people is a form of embracing them.

5. You’re honest about your struggles. Unchurched people get suspicious when church leaders and Christians want to appear to have it ‘all together’. Let’s face it, you don’t. And they know it. When you are honest about your struggles, it draws unchurched people closer. I make it a point to tell unchurched people all the time that our church isn’t perfect, that we will probably let them down, but that one of the marks of a Christian community is that we can deal with our problems face to face and honestly, and that I hope we will be able to work it through. There is a strange attraction in that.

6. You have easy, obvious, strategic and helpful steps for new people. I am still such a fan of thinking steps, not programs (Here’s an older but awesome (free) Andy Stanley podcast of all Seven Practices of Effective Ministry). One sure sign that you are ready to handle an influx of unchurched people is that your church has a clear, easily accessible path way to move someone from their first visit right through to integration with existing Christians in small groups or other core ministries. Most churches simply have randomly assembled programs that lead nowhere in particular.

7. You’ve dumped all assumptions. It’s so easy to assume that unchurched people ‘must know’ at least the basics of the Christian faith. Lose that thinking. How much do you (really ) know about Hinduism or Taoism? That’s about how much many unchurched people (really) know about Christianity. Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Make it easy for everyone to access what you are talking about whenever you are talking about it.

8. Your ‘outreach’ isn’t just a program. Many Christians think having a ‘service’ for unchurched people or a program designed for unchurched people is enough. It’s not. When you behave like reaching unchurched people can be done through a program or an alternate service, you’re building a giant brick wall for unchurched people to walk into. You might as well tell them “This program is for you, but our church is for us. Sorry.”

9. You are flexible and adaptable. In the future, you will not ‘arrive’. I think the approach to unchurched people and the strategy behind the mission of the church needs to be flexible and adaptable. Don’t design a ‘now we are done’ model to reaching unchurched people. You might never be done. Churches that are adaptable and flexible in their strategy (not in their mission or vision) will have the best chance of continually reaching unchurched people. “How quickly can your church change?” will become a defining characteristic of future churches. (If you want to read more about change, I wrote Leading Change Without Losing It last year. Additionally, John Kotter’s Leading Change is a must-read classic.)

Those are 9 signs I see that your church is ready to reach unchurched people.

What do you see?

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  • Jim Blair

    I appreciate this, except for the first point — about teenagers. No matter what you do, teenagers will not engage unless their parents are engaged. As much as we may hate to admit it, parents still set the standard for “coolness”. These days, parents, particularly in the burbs, are lukewarm in their witness, to say the least. And as a result their teen aged children will not engage. Doesn’t matter what you do.

    • http://www.careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      Thanks for your reply Jim. Our experience is very different. Often the teens lead the parents.

  • http://tonymyles.blogspot.com/ Tony Myles

    Do you think this can be accomplished if even a core group of the church sync up with all of this? Can they become the catalyst?

    • http://www.careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      I think it could Tony. The key would be if the small core could effectively spread the vision to increasingly wider circles. That’s what happened in my case as we engineered change.

      • http://tonymyles.blogspot.com/ Tony Myles

        Appreciate that. Just a quick follow-up… would you typify how that spread as having people who intentionally chose to reach out and strategically bring others in to enlarge that circle, or that it just sort of happened more relationally and grassroots-like. Of course, there’s always a blend of both, but which dominated as things played out?

        • http://www.careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

          Great question Tony. Think of concentric circles. Start with your core and work out from there. If you core is ten people, then after you’ve worked through it, include another 5-10 key leaders and once they buy in, take it beyond that to 20 more key people. By that point you have 35-40 key people bought in. Cast vision more widely from there. Once you have a solid core, you can change almost anything. Hope that helps.

        • Diane

          Tony if we think through other “change management” processes that are successful in other contexts, one would have a pilot program (your initial core group) who achieves clear success, which is then proactively and intentionally communicated to the rest of the congregation, The next group of “changers” is targeted and proactively approached, and phase 2 begins. I think this is what Carey is saying below. So no, it’s not an organic, “happens all on its own” process — though it may APPEAR that way to the casual observer who doesn’t see the core group leadership working hard behind the scenes to move it forward. Like an airplane taking off the ground, a tremendous amount of planning and sustained energy is needed to create sustained change. Which is why it pays to be strategic about what change we’re willing to take on as initiatives. There is a set of activity needed to move the change along, and another equally valuable set of activity needed to create the friendly environment for the new change in the existing environment. So you may never get everyone in the congregation on board, but you do want to make sure they’re not hostile to it, and you do that by shining the spotlight on the successes, and controlling the messages. I’m sorry if it sounds so corporate, I’m condensing this way down….

  • mattproctor.blogspot.com

    #1: You know the God of the gospel, believe in the Jesus of the gospel, and filled with the Holy Spirit that empowers the gospel.
    #2: Your heart breaks for those going to hell more than you prefer your comfort.
    #3: You are prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in you, with gentleness and respect.

    Then just maybe you move to this list of 9 signs…

  • Rob Penny

    Carey – just stumbled upon your site today through a Facebook share. Amazing stuff here, spent the last hour or so reading through various posts. Love your heart. Also, I love how many atheists are engaging with your posts – that’s a good thing!
    Although, I do think we should drop the ‘unchurched’ label, if I was atheist that would probably bother me.

    • http://www.careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      Rob thanks. I get a lot of feedback on the ‘unchurched’ label. Appreciate your feedback!

  • Danielle Schneider

    I’ve been pondering the question of what brings people to Jesus mainly because the ideas espoused in your post above have been multiplying within the church. However, the church gets continually smaller. Clearly, we aren’t ‘getting it’. As I look to scripture, I see Jesus and the Apostles doing the works of God and that is what drew people. Interestingly though, it didn’t keep everyone engaged. Even after Jesus and His disciples did miracle after miracle before his death, by the time he left, most had left. Why? Because Jesus is offensive to people. Jesus requires obedience to Himself alone. This is what keeps people away from Him. ‘Church’ is not the answer. Jesus is the answer. Those who are drawn in by the Spirit will come and it is not going to matter what kinds of programs, or approach, or sound system, or lighting setup, or presentation a particular church is offering. People who come to church come to worship Jesus. If they are coming for some other reason, then the gathering of believers is not a scriptural gathering.

    Your post is doing what marketers have been doing more and more under the guise of ‘church’ and that is to try to sell something to people that they’ll want to buy. You’ve completely missed the point of the gospel. Jesus is not a good selling point. He said so himself. He came to bring a sword, to divide families and friends and so forth. Jesus is offensive.

    But when people who choose obedience follow Him and love him, then they are transformed by that and they are able to love people around them in such a way that those people are pointed to Jesus! NOT to church. The thing that keeps most people out of church is that the people in the church don’t actually love. The Word says that they will know we are Christians by our love, but again and again what I hear from non-believers is that Christians are hateful people. So we, as the body of Christ, need to learn to love and THAT is what will make the difference.

    • Danielle Schneider

      In addition, I’d like to suggest that though many people below have made good points, you’ve explained them all away as though yours are the only valid ones. This is in direct opposition to your point #4. Can you admit that your POV could be flawed?

    • Matthew Skelton

      I really agree with what you’re saying Danielle. I also find that attitudes toward church services like this miss the point of the gathering of believers. I believe that the role of a church service is for the building up of the body of Christ for the work of ministry in the World (Eph 4:11-13).
      What you say about Christians being transformed by their obedience and loving people in a way that points people to Christ is in agreement with the way ministry and mission is portrayed throughout the Bible. It particularly agrees with the “kingdom of priests” language which implies both centrifugal and centripetal ‘mission’. For that reason Point 2 in this article is one point i can really agree with. But for most of the rest it comes across like you say as marketing, trying to sell the gospel under a facade of happy-go-lucky people. Jesus does bring abundant life and love, but he also separates the sheep from the goats, and that WILL offend people.
      The true Gospel, and true obedience is what will draw the ‘nations’ in. In my experience, churches like this give rise to many Christians who ‘spring up quickly, but wither because they have no root’.

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    One more point… I think there is also a distinction to be made. There is a big difference between “unchurched” and those who are unchurched but are more “hostile to the church.” The average Joe or Jane who might have attended church a few times as a kid or comes at Easter and Christmas is a big difference between an Atheist or someone who simply doesn’t trust religion or the establishment of “church.” Two quite different people groups with two quite different approaches.

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    Love this and fully agree. I’ve always thought that we (church people) tend to over complicate it a bit. People, unchurched or not, want to know that they matter… they they are cared about and that they are not alone. We all want that. Many of us also want help navigating the struggles of life, support through the difficult times and hope for a better tomorrow. It begins with a need (a need we have a solution for). The problem I see is that too often we are focused on the accomplishment (winning someone to Christ) vs focused on the person. Don’t get me wrong, the relationship with Jesus is the game changer but I think people need to first know we care about them (since we are a reflection of Christ, or at least we should be). If you want someone to care then you must show them you care about them first. Not say it, show it. We can have all the programs and crafty messages in the world but if our actions don’t align, the back doors of our churches will remain as open as the front doors. — Side note: The Sunday sermon definitely needs to relate but to me its’s what happens the other 6 days of the week that can matter even more.

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      Well said Daniel. Thanks for your points throughout this thread. And you are so right…most people who don’t attend church are spiritual, not atheists. Very true. Appreciate you!

  • Susan

    Actually, us ‘unchurched’ people (what a ridiculous word) flee churches, or stay away from them completely in the first place, because we don’t believe in any god. We believe in evolution. We believe that humans and dinosaurs did NOT co-exist. We believe the world is billions of years old and not 6000 years old. We laugh heartily at the Creation Museum and openly voice how stupid one must be to believe that nonsense. And we are quite happy to carry on believing as we do, just as you are. Don’t try to ‘church’ anyone. It reeks of desperation on your part. When I walk through China Town, I NEVER go into a restaurant that has a girl out the front trying to entice me to come in. I think to myself, “Why are they so desperate for customers? The food must be bad!”

    • Kevin Barnes

      Susan, I agree. Unchurched is an unfortunate term because it clumps together people who don’t necessarily want to be together. Sort of like when all Christians are accused of being Creationists who refute evolution. Or or when someone assumes all Christians believe in the young earth theory and not the old. But what is most disturbing about the term unchurched is that it assumes people should be in church enjoying the benefits of their ‘product’. It’s like their advertising something they believe in and anybody with half a brain knows the only advertising that’s acceptable is for material goods that are designed to wear out, break down, and be replaced. Anyone who tries to tells others about the transformation Jesus has done in their life need not do so because everyone knows people are the smartest beings around and we know how to do what’s best for earth and others; just look at the pages of history. I’m glad to hear there’s someone with a keen eye that can point out ridiculousness when others might mistakenly take it as truth. Thank you.

      • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

        It sounds, Kevin and Susan, that you’ve made up your minds. I get that. But don’t assume all churches are like the ones you stereotype. Far from it. Really. There is much hope to be found and I hope you encounter a different kind of community from what you’ve encountered.

        • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

          I think Susan does bring up a good point. If Susan doesn’t know me, respect me or trust me then anything I say to her doesn’t hold as much merit as it would if Susan and I had become friends first. If, instead of trying to convert Susan I simply showed her that I genuinely cared about her… over time I might earn the right to share. Not because of what I said but because my actions exampled my faith, or the faith I claimed to live by. Doesn’t mean we should force anything on anyone, because I don’t believe that we should, but… when we focus on relationships first… we might find that others are much more willing to listen.

  • keep your eye on Jesus. WWJD

    Being critical is not a good thing, suggest what you would call this program, if unchurched is not satisfactory. I’ve known uneducated people, that were the smartest people I ever knew. Sam Walton had a 4th grade education.

  • Dan Repp

    Going to church is not the same as Being the Church. I believe the same 4 walls that keep people inside also keep people out. Too many people believe/are taught that missionaries travel only to foreign lands. They equate their Christian walk with church attendance. The lost/ unchurched easily notice the hypocrisy.

  • econklin

    I have spent (and spend) most of my life with “unchurched people.” They are intelligent, highly moral, and seriously engaged with multiple community charities and causes. There are two main things that repel them about churches: First, the overwhelming perception that Christians are narrow-minded, judgmental, and prefer ignorance to enlightenment; and second, intense intellectual discomfort with the essential concept in Christianity, the resurrection. The first is addressed by efforts such as the very public support for marriage equality in Hawaii by our Episcopal bishop and other clergy. The second will be more difficult.

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      David Kinnaman has written some great books on attitudes of unchurched people toward Christians. UnChristian and You Lost Me are great looks at how to deal the tensions you address without compromising beliefs. I really appreciate David’s perspective and the many voices he quotes.

  • Bill

    The best way to bring in unchurched people is to get them saved FIRST then invite them to church because if they are indwelled with the Holy Spirit they will want to be in God’s house and you won’t have to preach to them like a “teen” to keep their attention. Just being “churched” doesn’t get anyone saved automatically. Its best if the vast majority of people in attendance are saved because church preaching is supposed to focus on edifying the saints not just constantly having to explain the gospel over and over every week (not that it shouldn’t be presented regularly, but if trying to get people saved is the focus of every sermon, the saints are not getting the “strong meat” they need from preaching). Whenever possible, give people the gospel first, THEN bring them to church.

  • Jack Brooks

    Two questions: What is the difference between being understandable to teens, versus being popular with teens? Christ’s church exists for all ages of people.The most popular, high-attendance mega-church in my region has meetings that are like a giant youth-group on steroids. They make unprovable “conversion” claims, which include their leadership claiming that anyone who raises their hand for any reason has become a newly-saved person. Frankly, I don’t want to be like some TV network executive who only cares about the coveted 18-35 demographic. Second, where is New testament polity on worship and evangelism factored into this? I read the New Testament defining the Lord’s Day meeting as for the worship of Jesus Christ and the edification of Christ’s people. This will center around the Gospel, but the primary purpose of the Lord’s Day meeting isn’t supposed to be evangelistic. There is no evidence in Acts that the Christians as a rule evangelized their neighbors by bringing them to church. All the evangelism in Acts happened out in the local homes and marketplaces.

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      Jack I think that’s a good distinction. The goal isn’t to be popular among teens, but simply understood and able to engage them. A lot of preachers are just frankly irrelevant and incomprehensible. Teens are a good test of comprehension and engagement. As to where evangelism factors into worship? I think 1 Corinthians 14 provides clear instruction to the church to create a style of worship that’s accessible to outsiders. That’s also what the Reformation was about to a large extent – reclaiming worship for everyone.

  • kerry57

    I have been to many churches over the years..and I keep finding that a lot of those in churches ..well bible churches..they only thing or things they keep trying to change is their sins..and to stop sinning. personally i don’t find that ..progressive or enlightening. I do find talking about God and the love of God and the spiritual very inspiring and enligtening and healing..esp the unconditional love of God

    • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

      Thanks for sharing Kerry. I think the church that can share both grace and truth is the church that many unchurched people flock to.

      • kerry57

        for myself..i am done with the church thing. for others they need it.

        • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

          I’m sorry to hear you’ve given up on church. One of the things I love about our Saviour is that he hasn’t given up on you or his church.

          • kerry57

            Myself and a lot of others are more happy not being in and going to church with religious people. I don’t believe eckart tolle goes to church either. I am in God and it’s all good and ok.

  • kerry57

    I believe all pastors need to be able to and want to resolve any issues within the congregation and people and to help people come together in a healthy supportive way..not all pastors are or will do this..and those churches i believe are not ready for anything new or any new challenges

  • kerry57

    there are those who are unchurched..because it’s best for them to be that way..just another truth

  • rockmelon

    great post, shared it with my pastor.

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  • Guest

    Great article.
    Who’s the pretty lady in the picture? Hahaha
    But seriously though..

  • Meredith

    I believe another criteria that applies here is that churches are not yet prepared or “ready” themselves for understanding the spiritual paths other people may have followed in their quest for a closer relationship with God. There is a presumption (even in this article) which many “unchurched” find unappealing, and that presumption is that Christianity is still the “best” path to God. In truth, there are many paths to God, and the “unchurched” may be more familiar with them than churched believers. The languaue used in churches still leaves large sections of the population (women) out of images of God that are relevant and meaningful to them. One major question I would ask the “churched” is, “How prepared are YOU to grow in the presence of spiritual truths and wisdom that may come from sources other than Christianity?”

    • cnieuwhof

      I appreciate the view point, but you’re essentially asking people to stop being Christian at that point. Which kind of defeats the purpose of being Christian.

      • Erin

        Trying to “church” the “unchurched” asks people to abandon their own beliefs. It kind of defeats their purposes.

        • http://careynieuwhof.com/ Carey Nieuwhof

          It’s surprising how many people are open to different beliefs and who are searching for different truths than the one’s they’ve experienced on their own.

  • Jennaya Robison

    I truly agree with points 2-9 but have questions about point #1 – what does a service that engages teenagers look like? Be specific. Are you talking worship music, casual style of worship, how the pastors engage the congregation, etc.? I, for one, do not feel that a service that engages teenagers engages me. I feel that the church too often seeks out that elusive teenager/young adult population at the expense of the more seasoned, learned adult members. I have three children and the oldest is a pre-teen. Believe me, what engages her is not what often engages me.

    What bothers me is that this discussion doesn’t address the aspect of our culture that is “spiritual” but non-religious (e.g. does not subscribe to any particular denomination or church.) Many of these people do so because the church’s focus is at the teenage level and there seems to be a lack of intelligent discourse and intense learning. Many of these “unchurched” (I agree with one of the commentors that this term is negative and should be changed) are college graduates, intellectuals, people who want to be challenged intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

    Many of the churches with large populations of teenagers and young adults focus on creating a highly-energized, emotional environment rather than a relationship with Christ that is built in long-lasting discipleship, study, and a multi-generational community. Just food for thought….

    • cnieuwhof

      Thanks for the point. I was thinking of connecting with teens from a communication standpoint. If your message can’t be understood by or isn’t engaging to teens, you probably won’t connect with unchurched people.

    • Diane

      I think “community” is the key word here, and that’s what will draw people but it’s harder to define and deliver what will be relevant to them. It can be lifestage specific, social cause, etc. You can lead them to whatever you want but if it isn’t wrapped in a community (or even a small group) that is relevant to them and their lives they won’t engage. I think this is the beauty of small groups– they have the potential to deliver both the relevance and the growth. But the relevance part is so important, and it’s not generic or one size fits all. Having a variety of small groups existing in a larger structure gives opportunity for cross-group relationships but the core part will be the relationships in the small group (as the delivery mechanism for whatever you are trying to deliver).

  • Leigh Carlson Burgess

    My church is small. Has a steady number of people joining — mostly middle-aged and some young adults (age 30 or under). Most are either “nones” or they have left other more conservative faiths. Quite a few ex-Catholics. We have many openly gay people/couples because we are publicly “open and affirming.” I dispute the notion that you HAVE to have teenagers to be a healthy church. We have few children due to the kind of people who are attracted to our congregation and messages. Yet, we are growing in our niche market of gay people who want to attend a blended church and middle-aged people coming back to church when their lives have calmed down after the children are raised. I think we can be a vibrant, relevant church without a large number of children. Our main message is peace and social justice.

    • cnieuwhof

      Thanks for this Leigh. Just a quick clarification. I’m not saying your church has to reach teens. I’m just saying if it can’t reach them it may flag an issue.

  • Karin

    Definitely drop the term ‘unchurched’ if you want to reach out. ‘Unchurched’ brings to mind negative words like uneducated, uninformed, unacceptable… you get the idea!

    • Bruce Coolass

      agree

  • BrotherRog

    11. And when your congregation realizes that “the basics” of Christianity are likely more minimal than you’ve traditionally believed.

    • Greg

      The church must reduce “the basics” to a bland, simplified, secular spiritualism that doesn’t challenge anyone to believe anything beyond the nominal deism of our culture. We should just speak about love and how we should all just “be good people.” We dare not talk about the death and resurrection of Jesus or the means of grace or encountering God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … all that “church stuff” that might scare off the “nones.”

  • Daniel Chamberlain

    I’m glad I stumbled on your site. Thanks!

    • cnieuwhof

      I’m glad too Daniel. Welcome. How’d you find it?

      • Daniel Chamberlain

        A facebook friend posted it on their timeline, I took a look-see, and whammo! Here we are! Seriously, this is good stuff.

        Thanks Cary!

        • cnieuwhof

          Well welcome. :)

  • DKC

    Stumbled upon this article via FB and had to respond. I’m an atheist … a caring, generous, charity-minded, happy atheist with a very spiritually fulfilled life, and a former churchgoer. Why do you want to recruit me to your church? You say it’s because you selflessly want unchurched people to experience the joy of Jesus or something like that, but I’m already joyful. I can see what’s in it for you (continued high attendance rate with lots of donations rolling in), but what’s in it for me? I like to sleep in on Sundays and can’t imagine that anything you would say to try and attract me would motivate me to drag myself there.

    • cnieuwhof

      DKC…Thanks for responding to this. It’s really great to hear from you.

      To answer your questions, you’re why we started our church. I’m so glad you’re joyful and I agree, many people live relatively joy-filled and contented lives without God.

      So what’s in it for you? A relationship with God through Christ and perhaps a deeper level of purpose, meaning and joy than many realize is there. I walked away from my faith only to walk into it again because I found in it a resonance I could not find anywhere else. Success? Yes. You can find that. Contentment? Sure. But meaning, purpose and a deeper satisfaction. For me I have found that in Christ and in the connection I have with those who share faith in him. I don’t gather because I have to or get dragged there. I gather because I find a resonance in a movement of people whose lives have been changed.

      Many successful people I know have found that a level of contentment comes in their relationship with Christ that always eluded them in every other successful area of their lives.

      • JCF

        Frankly, I can’t imagine the above being persuasive to DKC. I’m a Christian (committed church-member), and it says nothing appealing to me. I’d like to know more about DKC’s life. One needs to be “in a relationship” *with* DKC, for the whole “in Christ” thing to begin to have meaning. Maybe.

        • cnieuwhof

          I agree that relationship is key. But you don’t know him and neither do I. I’d be interested in what your better answer is since mine doesn’t resonate with you.

    • http://www.cw-arts.com/ Roy Snow

      DKC, my first question is what happened that pushed you away from God in the first place?

      I wouldn’t necessarily say Connexus is actively recruiting people.

      More so, Carey and the Connexus team offer an opportunity for people to attend a Sunday service that is informative, interesting, engaging and relatively exciting.

      I personally find the music immensely entertaining and uplifting and the message that is presented relaxed and openly informative without being exclusionary to those who may not believe in God or Jesus.

      As you know every Church offers a different experience. I personally have 2 young children and find the children’s programs that are offered in Connexus fantastic. The leaders are intelligent and interested in the well being of my family.

      In January we lost my mother inlaw. This loss was devastating for us and the our kids group leaders took the time to call throughout the week just to talk to the them and see how they were doing. When we missed a week with everything going on the group leader came to our house and dropped off a b-day gift for my daughter. You can’t imagine how much of an impact that had on my daughter. To know that someone outside of her family cared.

      I personally would never assume that you’re life would be more joyful or fulfilled if you attended church. Only you can make that decision. This is why the focus within Carey’s church is on opportunity. Connexus offers the opportunity for something more if we are interested. You attending and getting involved may not offer you any more than you already have BUT you’re attendance may have a drastic impact on someone else. I myself have been walking through the halls and got pulled into a conversation with someone who is in need and completely missed the sermon.

      You see, Connexus offers something different. We come on Sundays, enjoy some music, worship together and leave. That’s the simplest form of Church we can get. The Church that Carey and his team have designed offers us the opportunity for so mush more than that. Simply put, it gives us a communal place where people can serve others easily and without being judged.

      -We can join a small group and directly impact others.

      -We can work with children in a way I have never seen anywhere else

      -Or we can simply hold the door for someone and help them find a seat.

      All of this for about 70 minutes on a Sunday. Whether I learn anything on that particular Sunday or not I know I’ve had an impact on those around me. I know others have had an impact on my wife and children and I know that many others who I may not have ever met have been impacted as well.

      You can find all this at other churches. Carey and the Connexus team make it interesting and appealing.

      • cnieuwhof

        Thanks for sharing this Roy. Our community really is something that amazes me. That’s one thing you miss when you’re not a part of the church – a community of people who are trying to love God and love others.

      • RMerriam

        Roy, you clearly feel you have something to share with others and are willing to speak about this. Your statement “DKC, my first question is what happened that pushed you away from God in the first place?” is very off putting. It makes a ton of assumptions that may be totally invalid. What if DKC never was with God in the first place? If so, then there was never a pushing away.

        Not meaning to proselytize, but you might be surprised to find that Unitarian Universalist services are very much as you describe your services. As is the community you experienced. At least this is true of my UU church.

        • http://www.cw-arts.com/ Roy Snow

          Sorry; my assumptions are based on this excerpt that DKC shared: “I’m an atheist … a caring, generous, charity-minded, happy atheist
          with a very spiritually fulfilled life, and a former churchgoer”. The “former churchgoer” made me assume he was interested in God’s teachings. I’ve personally never heard the term “Unitarian Universalist” This is something I will have to look up. DKC’s question is in short “What’s in it for him?” My answer in short is that’s up to him to decide? Maybe a better question would be “What drove DKC from Church?” I was more interested in his specific situation and provided examples of why we have chosen a Church filled and God filled life and why we attend Connexus. In our town there are over 70 churches of different denominations within city limits. We chose Connexus not because it was the closest church (we are almost 40 minutes away from our campus) but because we just seemed to fit within it’s ministry.

          I feel to many people expect the church to do all the work for them (not that this is the case DKC). In a later post on this thread I mentioned that church is more of a training ground for us to do Gods work. However minor or major that may be. Just because we are not David slaying Goliath with a sling and stone doesn’t mean we aren’t all important. David’s father or grandfather or some other family member was commissioned in some way shape or form by God to pass down the method of how to make a sling and what stones to use and how to use it.

          The question should never be “What can the Church do for me, or what can I do for the Church” but rather what can I do to further God’s work.

          God Bless

    • Myra Carter Symons

      Unitarian Universalist is a church that has atheists and humanists and we all sit together with Christians, Jews and people who refuse to be labeled. if you miss community and you are attached to atheism you might want to look into Unitarian Universalism…

      • kerry57

        I went to one of the churches you mentioned ..and i never went back. The people in there were so cold and unfriendly..and i am not the only one who has experienced that in one of the unitarian churches.

    • Mark P

      Hello DKC :) It’s good to hear that you are already joyful in your life here on Earth — and I won’t dispute that. Many people who aren’t Christians or are “churched” are indeed very satisfied in their lives right now. However, what happens after you die? The Bible says that you either go to Heaven or Hell *forever*. But you might think, “Well, the Bible might not be true”, but using that same reasoning, what if it was true? If we are not right with God when we die (or when Jesus comes here on Earth), we then go to Hell *forever*. Here’s the thing though: we do not, ever, ever get right with God through being a “good person.” It’s only through Jesus that we can ever be right with God, because He lived a sinless life for us and then died a very horrible, long death so that He could serve as the punishment for our sins. What He wants us to do now is to simply stop trying to earn our ticket to Heaven by good works, turn our back on our sins (“repentance” if you’ve heard it before in church) and trust Jesus to be our savior (or “ticket”). Only then will you naturally realize that going to church and living the “Christian life as Jesus taught” is simply our voluntary response to the great, great love Jesus has shown us. If you want to know more about what I have just said, please go to http://goodpersontest.com. Thank you very, very much for reading this, and I hope you have a nice day!!

      • kerry57

        I disagree with the jesus is the only way to god heaven etc. I was raised and bathed in that..for 18 years. I have understood that it’s not true..as many others have also found..but God is pure unconditional love..unconditional love means no strings means no requirements to be in God.

        • Mark P

          Hi kerry57! Thank you for taking the time to read my comment and even respond to it. :) Here’s the thing though: we think we may have understood some things, especially on matters about God (even I am guilty of this), but let’s look at what the Bible says about these things :)

          The first point you made is about disagreeing with “Jesus is the only way to God, heaven, etc”. In John 14:6, Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

          The second point is that “God is pure unconditional love.. unconditional love means no strings, no requirements”. Yes, that is true, but let’s take a look at this scenario: Suppose that you did a crime, were put to jail, and then moments later someone comes up to you and says to you, “Hey, want to get out of jail? Here is the key to it. I’m giving it to you for free, no strings attached, and you don’t have to do anything to get this key. I’m simply giving it to you. When you get outside, there’s a Ferrari waiting for you, and inside is the address of the brand new house for you to live in. I’ll take your place here in jail.” But then you refuse to take the key from the person. Will you still get out of jail and get the things he just described? In the same way, God, in His unconditional love, offers us mercy in forgiving our sins (that would have warranted us eternal torture in Hell), and grace so that you can have a relationship with Him and eventually be with Him in heaven. But it is still up to us to receive it, just like the key to jail that the person in my story is offering.

          That “key” to restoring the relationship between man and God is Jesus, and it is up to us to simply receive Him. You don’t have to work good deeds to receive this gift. You just receive it. In receiving it, you renounce your sins (“repentance”, which is the same thing you do when you realize that you’ve wronged a person and you ask him/her for forgiveness), give up working your way up to Heaven, and simply trust Jesus to be your “key” to a relationship with God and heaven. That’s it! Regardless of what you’ve done in the past, all those sins can be covered by Jesus living a sinless life on earth but still paying the price for our sins through suffering, dying on the cross, and rising up from the dead. He did all the work! You just have to “take” it.

          Here’s a wonderful verse that pertains to God’s unconditional love: Romans 5:8. “But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

          While He knew that I was going to sin against Him a bazillion times, Jesus Christ still chose to suffer and die for me. And for you. And for everyone. :)

          I hope I’ve given you something worth to read, and feel free to continue discussing this with me! Thank you for reading this!

    • oldsringsandthings@mail.com

      Dody, I don’t understand how you can be atheist and at the same time “very spiritually fulfilled”. To be an atheist means you do not believe in any god…god being a spiritual supreme being. As a Christian (by the way…I have no knowledge of the Connexus church) I have learned that the fall of man means that we lost touch with God’s Holy Spirit that had once dwelt in Adam & Eve. Mankind, then being spiritually dead (void of spirit) lost the ability to directly communicate with God. The purpose of the church is to lead people to the place where we can re-gain that spirit. Jesus said we must be born again (of spirit) just as we were once born of flesh. So as I understand, until we are born of spirit we do not have a spirit, only a body and soul (intellect & emotion). I also believe that if we do gain a spirit without being born again, then it is not God’s Holy Spirit that dwells in us. The only other spirits there are are demonic spirits. Sure, many churches get side-tracked with concerns about paying the bills, keeping attendance up, etc, and risk losing sight of their purpose. As a home owner I worry about the same things and sometimes destroy my own peace in my home. Us humans have these problems…”churched” or not. But the purpose of the church is also not about finding joy in Jesus, but rather finding God through Jesus. It isn’t primarily about joy, but rather re-gaining the Spirit of God that we were born without and making us again complete as originally created. I hope I have not come across as being to churchy :). Your body and soul, as I understand, cannot enter into God’s spiritual kingdom. We actually need a spirit (He lets His spirit fill us) to enter that kingdom…thus He says: Flesh and blood cannot inherit eternal life. I hope this means something to you. Take care, Tim.

    • Kristen

      Dody,
      I like your honesty, and I would think the exact same way are you if I had went to the churches you have been to. I now you are thinking how do I know what churches you have been to. I know because If you have ever truly felt the power of God come upon you and in you, you would not be saying that you have true joy. True joy is found in the Holy Ghost, in the presence of The Almighty.! Sounds like you have been to DEAD churches where the demonstration of the Holy Ghost was no where to be seen or felt. I suggest you give Jesus another try, and find yourself a spirit filled church like in the book of Acts. A oneness apostolic/pentecostal church that preaches the same doctrine

      that the apostles preached, where we lay hand on the sick and they recover. Where when you receive the only biblical experience of receiving the Holy Ghost, you speak in tongues. You will not be wanting to sleep in on Sundays anymore, you will not be able to wait till Sunday! I know I can’t, can’t wait to see what God is going to do each service! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!

  • Joney

    Teens are actually easier to reach than adults…

    • cnieuwhof

      Statistically you are bang on. More teens come to faith proportionately than adults. But gathered in the room, teens are more difficult to engage.

      • Joney

        True. I am the director of a camp for teens… they are harder to engage; however, once you get them engaged, you’ve got them. Versus… dealing with adults whom, once you get them, you got them UNTIL they assume something that is untrue or until they are offended. It is at that point that your name becomes mud :/

      • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

        Teens are harder for some adults to engage, especially in a big group setting like a tradit8ional service. Some of us find teens and young adults easier to engage. That’s a good sign it’s a time for partnering. 8^)

  • Nate A

    Seems like a very pragmatic approach to evangelism, as if we can “sell” the gospel to the unchurched by convincing them we are just as cool as they are. The problem with entertaining the unchurched to get them in the door is that the entertainment must continue to keep them; a slippery slope and on the surface appears to contradict Scripture’s call to not be conformed to the ways of this world. In fact, the article encourages the opposite by encouraging churches to ensure their services aren’t “boring, irrelevant and disengaging” to teenagers, after all is there a better gauge of conformance to the ways of the world than the “typical” American teenager (emphasis on typical)? The Bible is clear, the message of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing. Why is the American church so bent on showing the Jews a sign and Greek wisdom? Why can’t we just preach Christ crucified as Paul instructs the Corinthians (1 Cor. 18-23) and allow the Holy Spirit to do the saving?

    • cnieuwhof

      I hear what you’re saying, but I think it’s not that simple. Taking all of the approaches I speak about does not mean changing the message. We preach Christ crucified. We just want to present it in a way that gets us out of the way and brings the Gospel front and center. When I’ve seen the approach in action, it’s very much how like the Apostle Paul would change his angle based on whether he was talking to a Jewish audience, a Gentile audience or the men of Athens. It’s a change in approach, not in content at all.

    • llrmiller

      Actually teens can often handle “difficult” truth better than adults. Do you know any unchurched teens?

    • http://www.cw-arts.com/ Roy Snow

      Connexus does follow Paul’s teachings in 1Cor 1:18-23 right to the letter. Not only does it follow those teachings it teaches to 1500 people each weekend. Connexus does this BY keeping the information entertaining and from a perspective that teenagers understand. Connexus separates the teaching into different age groups so the message each group receives is relevant to them. I’ve seen too many churches lump 8 year old’s with 16 year old’s then wonder why the message isn’t engaging to each individual age group.

      A Church can’t just “tell” someone what to believe. It has to offer an opportunity for personal growth. The only way for a person to come to God is on their own accord. A Church or a leader or a pastor can’t bring God to them. The Churches job is to offer an inviting, informative and open space for each person to grow within God.

      Keeping things entertaining and inviting in no way hinders Gods message. It allows his message to flow freely to those who otherwise may not have attended or considered attending any specific Church.

  • Cathy B

    perhaps if you want to reach the ‘unchurched’ people, you might want to come up with a better term. It sounds a bit condescending and too similar to uneducated.

    • Carey Nieuwhof

      What would you suggest Cathy?

  • Chuck

    Serious question to ponder here: I shared this blog entry with my OWN church, since we are in a state of transition, and need to re-evaluate where we are on many of these issues (esp. Point 8! Score!) One of the biggest pieces of feedback I got from my own re-posting of this seemed to take the form of a debate over whether you were intending “unchurched” to refer to those who were not yet Christians, and outside the church, vs. Christians that are outside the church (i.e. looking for a new fellowship; recovering from a time of non-fellowship, etc. etc.).

    I personally feel that it applies to EITHER / BOTH (perhaps in different perspectives or approaches) but that’s just ME.

    What was / is YOUR take on that issue, Carey? Unchurched as in unsaved? Or Unchurched as in yes, Christian, but out of fellowship for any number of reasons? Or EITHER? And how does that affect your approach (or should it?)

    • cnieuwhof

      Chuck…thanks for the question. It’s a good one. In this post, I’m referring to people who are not yet in a relationship with Jesus. I personally find it you begin to reach them, you also can reach people who used to go to church but quit. They gave up for many of the same reasons non-Christians haven’t attended either. Make sense?

      • Chuck

        It makes sense perfectly, but in the same way, and with similar urgency, I also think we need to recognize that there are PLENTY of “unchurched’ CHRISTIANS out there who have a relationship with Christ, but perhaps that’s gotten stale for any number of reasons. Churches fail, churches disband, people fall in sin and leave the church willfully, their church lets them down in one of many ways (either in reality or as perceived by the believer)… As you’ve also pointed out, there are plenty of people who’ve left denominations or organizations, some for very inflamed or dramatic reasons, who’ve been burned or hurt, or whatever. Those good people can all be considered “unchurched” in my opinion; and they are sheep that need to be tended to as well. I’m not wanting to make a priority-based statement at all, but I will say that Jesus loves ALL these folks, and we as the church need to be aware of and actively pursuing BOTH of these subsets of the unchurched: those that don’t yet have a relationship with Christ, and those that do, and have gone astray. Just my feelings on the matter. Yours?

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

    I couldn’t agree more with point 8 “Your Outreach Isn’t Just a Program”. For many seeker driven churches, this is precisely what the church service has become. A program that primarily engages the non-believer.
    I think one of the unintended consequences of this type of programming is that the congregation learns to invite people to church, where the professional representative of Christ can explain things to them. I get invited to church all the time by well meaning, Christ loving people. But the “bait” they use is the service itself. I have heard these reasons to come to church muliple times: “We have a great band” or “Our pastor is very funny and laid back, he doesn’t wear a suit” “We have a wonderful children’s program” and things like that. I will let others decide if that would motivate them to get up early on Sunday during football season and visit church, but it surely doesn’t motivate me.
    Of course our services should be able to engage those who are seeking answers to life’s ultimate questions. However, making these the focus of the service has serious unintended consequences. When the focus is on helping us as believers follow Christ ourselves, encouraging us to actively engage others and equipping us to be better at it, we become more faithful followers of Christ and more of the lost are added to the Kingdom as a result.
    A congregation of 200 people, who are living for Christ and actively seeking engagement outside the church walls will be far more effective in influencing the non-christian than our church services ever could.
    I think that is the way God intended for it to be.

    • cnieuwhof

      It’s a good discussion. I would encourage everyone on whatever side of the ‘fence’ you find yourself in this discussion to read Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide. It’s a great book and explains the kind of church I know we at Connexus are trying to create (disclosure: we are a North Point Strategic Partner). I love it when a discussion doesn’t have to be either/or but both/and.

    • http://www.cw-arts.com/ Roy Snow

      I think there is a point here that has been missed entirely. I agree with everything you said BUT at some point we as Christians have to take the step and engage those around us as opposed to waiting for the Church to do it for us. Connexus offers us the opportunity to take that step on our own. As a Christian I feel compelled to get up out of bed on Sunday and make an effort to change someones life. The Church’s job is to offer that opportunity and give support during those times. We, the people as a whole are the Church and ministry. It’s our job to provide that ministry to others.

      The physical Church edifice is a training ground for us to minister to those outside and within. Having a good band is great, it also needs to be supported. Getting involved with them affords us the opportunity to get God’s message out to those who may be new to Christ and attending the Church. These new people have made the decision to attend because they are looking for more.
      The children’s program’s are a training ground for our children to go out and minister to others. These programs also help our leaders grow and learn how to interact with others in better and more accommodating ways.

      Going into the Church edifice prepares us for our interactions on a daily bases. We can’t expect the Church to do it for us we have to make the decision and effort to further God’s teachings attending Church service on Sunday just gives us more tools to do so. Buy a PVR and make going to Church and watching the game later an example to others how important fellowship is.

  • CUrtis

    I wonder however if that is supposed to be the role of the church. I totally agree that Church should reach unchurched people to some degree but church (or at least the Sunday morning aspect) should be discipleship….of course large parts of discipleship is reaching the lost and so church should reflect that but I am not convinced all churches need to be heavily “seeker” sensitive…

    • cnieuwhof

      Hi Curtis…great question. I think part of the challenge is to ‘make disciples’, not just build them. It’s both and, not either or. At least that’s how I see it.

      • Joe

        I think the problem stems in the belief or assumption that “discipleship is reaching the lost”…. it’s not. Discipleship is what comes after the lost have been reached.

        The other issue is that we as church leaders rely on God to bring them to the cross… “Please Jesus, show them who You are. Reach them. Break them… help the find You.”… Then, when they accept Christ we throw up the hand as if to say, “OK God, good job, we got it from here.”

        Why aren’t we relying on Him just as much to “make them learners” as that is what the word actually means. We think making a Disciple means making a follower, it doesn’t mean that at all. It means making a learner.

        And the unfortunate reality is, most people want to WANT to become a learner first…

        • Joe

          That should say,..

          …most people HAVE to want to become a learner first.

          TYPO. Sorry.

    • Brian

      Discipleship is a process, and the first step of the process is to make a decision to follow Jesus. Why not do everything we can to make that a possibility to those who do not believe? Andy Stanley’s “Deep and Wide” is a great balance between reaching those who have not yet made that decision, and continuing to growing those who have.

  • http://leadright.wordpress.com/ Brent Dumler

    Good stuff! Our church is reaching (attracting) unchurched people every week. What we’re constantly working on now is how to ‘make disciples.’ A way to escort new believers through their early journey with Jesus. We’re not there yet, but we are taking big steps to discover what this looks like in our church.

    • cnieuwhof

      Hi Brent..thanks for this. It’s more organic than linear for us (even though we have clear sequential steps). People mature at different times and rates, and I think having the patience to embrace questions, stumbling and progress helps not just unchurched people, but all of us.

  • Van Riggins

    Carey, great post! This is something I have been questioning myself about. How do we reach the unchurched? I specifically like your first point of making sure the main services attract teenagers. I think we too often are setting up services that are over teenagers heads or just not engaging enough for teens. Great post!

  • David Moody

    Awesome. It can take a while to get to this especially if you move into a church where these factors aren’t the normal culture, but it’s worth the journey to be this aware and culturally positioned where this is normal!