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7 Things Christians Should Give Up To Reach Unchurched People

So you want your church to reach people who don’t go to church.

That’s wonderful because that’s basically the mission of the church: to share the love of Christ with the world in the hopes everyone will come into a relationship with Jesus.

The challenge is that unchurched people aren’t exactly flocking to most churches, and many Christians seem stumped as to why that is.

There are many reasons, but a surprising number center around one thing: Christians who treat the church as if it’s their private club.

The gravitational pull of human nature is toward self, not towards others, and churches behave the same way. You will focus almost exclusively on your needs and wants unless you decide not to.

And that’s exactly what far too many churches do: focus exclusively on the needs and wants of their members.

Okay, it’s worse than that. Maybe it’s not even about needs and wants. Maybe it’s about preferences.

So many church leaders (staff and volunteer) struggle to lead beyond the preferences of the church members. And as soon as they try, they get inundated with complaints and angry emails. Too many Christians feel like it’s their right to have a church that caters exactly to their tastes and whims, and millions are paying the price for that (including unchurched people).

Catering to the preferences of members is a terrible idea for three reasons.

First, it’s killing the church. Attendance continues to stagnate or decline as people drift further and further from Christ (here’s a 5 part blog series I did on declining church attendance).

Second, it’s an unwinnable game. Even in a church of 100 people, you’ll never be able to please everyone.

Finally, and most importantly, it’s just wrong. Since when did the personal preferences of members become a legitimate reason to keep people away from God’s love?

When your preferences keep unchurched people from the promise of Christ, it’s time to change your preferences.

Here are 7 things Christians should give up to reach unchurched people.

give up


1. Music

You would think by now we might have solved this one. But even churches who think they’ve solved it often haven’t.

Many churches who call themselves contemporary… aren’t. They’re just more contemporary than they used to be.

Have you listened to the top 40 on iTunes or Spotify recently? Probably not… because you hate that music. You even tell yourself it isn’t music.  There’s no guitar. It’s all beats. And what’s with the vocal Olympics? Why can’t they make music like they used to (like in the 90s), you say to yourself?

Which may be part of the reason your church struggles to reach anyone under 40.

Be honest. Don’t call yourself contemporary if you’re some paler version of it. Self-awareness and honesty actually matter if you’re trying to reach unchurched people.

Sadly, well-meaning self-deception runs rampant in church leadership today.

Be truthful about what you’re doing. If you are, it might just make you frustrated enough to make you change again.

In the meantime, realize that despite all the change, you could still be miles away from being relevant to the people living around you.

If you want more on music, here are 5 ways to battle the never-ending worship wars.

2. Politics

I’m not sure politics has been this divisive in a generation or two. But I promise you; it’s divisive. Just check your social media feed.

I know many people who say they have stopped following people on social channels and avoid the news because they’re so upset by the divisiveness.

By definition, your church needs to include people who are different than you.

God is not a Republican, a Democrat, a conservative, a liberal or a socialist. He transcends all our political categories, however important they might be to us.

Politics matters, but it will never change the world the way the Gospel can (or has).

Should Christians vote? Of course. Should Christians run for office? Absolutely. We need more women and men of character and conviction in government.

But the church doesn’t exist to elect or defeat politicians. It exists to glorify Christ and grow his Kingdom (which is an alt Kingdom) in the world. (Here are a few more thoughts on being the church in the present political climate.)

Just know this: if God has all the same opinions your political party does, you’re probably not worshipping God.

3. Style

It seems the likes and dislikes of Christians run deep and wide these days.

We have opinions on everything from the coffee we serve to the color of the paint to the flooring in the auditorium to what we call the auditorium (“It’s a sanctuary, people!” he said, loudly) to the color shirt the greeting team wears.

Christians seriously leave churches and try to divide churches over issues like that?

You know what that is? It’s pettiness.

Obviously, at some level, all those things matter.

But instead of running it through a filter of what you like, run it instead through a filter of whether what you do is effective in reaching the people you’re trying to reach.

And church leaders, you need to choose who you focus on: members or those not yet coming to your church.

I agree with my friend Reggie Joiner who says leaders should focus on who they want to reach, not who they want to keep.

4. Buildings

As Christians, sometimes we get more attached to our buildings than we do to our mission. Christians should also be willing to give up their buildings to reach more people.

This can happen on several levels.

First, don’t resist renovations. If you’re still asking toddlers to meet downstairs in a mouldy basement with green carpet, don’t be surprised when you can’t keep young families coming to your church.

Second, be willing to do what it takes to reach people. Sometimes that might mean moving from a permanent to a portable location. Other times it might mean doing a huge expansion. Don’t resist.

Finally, in a growing number of cases where churches are dying, this will mean flipping the keys to a growing church that lacks a building.

One of the oddities of the era we’re in these days is that the churches who have buildings often have no people, and the church plants that have people often have no building. Flip that.

I love hearing about the growing number of churches who are giving their building, assets, and leadership over to a young church that’s reaching people.

5. Money

Dying churches that own buildings also often have money.

If a church doesn’t flip the keys and simply closes, then in many cases, denominations (many of which are also in decline) often take the money after a church closes and uses it to prop up, well, a dying denomination.

What if instead that money was redeployed to plant new churches? Even new churches that aren’t part of that ‘denomination’?

In the emerging post-Christian era, it’s time to build THE Kingdom rather than YOUR Kingdom.

Similarly, older Christians tend to have more money than younger Christians.

What if Christians who had money used their resources to fund innovation rather than fight it?

Could you imagine what might happen?

6. Time

Being the church is about a lot more than showing up for an hour on Sunday or tuning in online.

If you’re really going to reach the next generation, it means giving your time too.

Authentic Christianity is more about what we give than what we get. Our giving doesn’t earn us our salvation, of course, but it’s a joyful response to a God who gave everything for us.

7. Our lives

Christians should be the most generous and selfless people on the planet.

Sadly, we’re often known as the stingiest and most selfish (ask any non-Christian who’s worked at a restaurant).

The Gospel calls us to die to ourselves so that others may live and to put something bigger than ourselves above ourselves.

If you give your life away, you find it.

When you die to yourself, something greater rises.

Let’s Help Change The Story in The Canadian Church

If you do ministry in Canada, I’d love for you to take some of these ideas (and many others) and put them into practice.

I’d love for you to join me for the first ever Canadian Church Leaders Conference in June hosted at Connexus Church.

We’re bringing top national speakers and practitioners for three days to learn together, grow together and equip you and your team to reach more people in your community. Plus, you’ll be seated around tables, not in rows, to learn and grow from each other.

The early bird rate is on through March 17th. So register your team today to get the best rates.

You can register here.

What Do You Think?

I’d love to hear what you think Christians should do to help reach our communities and the people God loves so deeply.

Scroll down and leave a comment.

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  • antiutopia

    Behind you 100%

  • Darren Young

    John 14: 21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.

    Matthew 28: 18 – 20 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. We see Jesus’s promise here. He has all the power.

    19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

    Here is a command. Go, Teach what Jesus did on the cross for all man’s sins and who he is.born of the virgin Mary, Problem-Sin/ Anon-dote; Jesus. Another command: Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

    20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

    Here is another command: Teach them to do everything I have taught you. If you break it down, Jesus says all in verse 19 meaning everyone. Then again in verse 20 Them.

    He also gives us another promise: lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

    This is what Jesus said after he rose from the grave and then he acceded into the heavens. If you want to follow Jesus here is a great way you can do that by following exactly what he said to do. Go, teach, baptize in the name of the father the son and the holy spirit, and then teach them to observe all things I have commanded you.

    Pretty simple

  • Carla Zwicker

    Churches should not be paying retired folks to travel the globe under the auspice of missionary work. Its creepy

  • Carla Zwicker

    Money: I attended church in a school auditorium the money went towards enriching our community instead of a steeple.

  • Carla Zwicker

    Racism has got to go. Listening to Church talk about who is right and who is wrong contradicts the foundation of the bible. Racism is what propelled Trump to his seat in Office.

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  • sisteract

    I would like to hear of churches who did #4 and #5.

  • Ryan Connor

    Some good points… but I’m not convinced that a church in decline just needs a renovated building, super hip Top-40 like music and an avoidance of politics. Sure, we can turn our preferences into sacred cows. But, I’d say the unchurched aren’t looking for a social club that caters to their preferences either. The church needs to retain some sort of otherness. People are looking for God when they enter a church, right? If they find God there, I doubt the out of fashion carpet will matter too much. Sure, update the carpet. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s really about the carpet.

  • Mark Pasinski

    Carey, I always learn so much from you and contributors to your site. I pray for your success in the good fight of Gods work.

  • diamondinruff

    You say we need to give up politics and be more inclusive of people with other views. We are not to be OF the world but we are IN the world. We have to vote, to be a voice in our community – even if it’s considered political. For example, most democratic support abortion, most conservatives believe abortion is taking a human life. This issue is SO very important for our time, that its beyond political, it is a LIFE issue. We must talk about abortion IN the churches, we must be active in our community to support single mothers, to adopt unwanted babies, to be the voice for the voiceless. Scripture supports saving those being led to slaughter (Prov. 24 11-12) – if that is political, so be it. We must not be silent.

    • CramItClowns

      Wow — and congratulations — I wouldn’t set foot in your church. Politics should have been issue #1.

    • Chris

      Of course, I might also argue that the belief that life begins at conception is logically incompatible with the belief that Jesus is the way to heaven. If life begins at the moment of conception, then the consequence of that is that more people are in heaven than have ever been born, and that of the people in heaven, less than 1% got there because of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross.

      It’s possible for two people to have opposite opinions that they both believe are supported Biblically.

  • britain

    I see the problem with Christianity as the same as all other religions. For some reason there is this idea of “good guys” (Jesus, God, Allah, and all those claiming to be believers) versus everyone else that doesn’t believe in everything they believe in. Jesus Christ, Allah..God Almighty, live and let live. Allow God to make you a better person rather than trying to change everyone else. How about concentrating a little more on life after birth rather than life after death.

  • Jeff

    Doing “church” is for believers. We aren’t called to invite pagens to watch us worship God (even tho guy they are of course welcome to observe us).
    We regularity assemble to worship God through Christ exalting music (contemporary or not), the proclaiming of the Word (through exegetical preaching), and to perform the “one-another’s” of the New Teatament. All of these things will equip us to actually go out into the harvest field on our own and proclaim the Gospel to the lost.
    Once we redefine what church is (as this article does) we are no longer following the Bible, but rather the latest seeker sensitive, attrationnal model, or self help styled “church”
    Our highest aim should be to honor God – not make our worship services appealing to the lost. The lost hate Jesus. So if our worship is Jesus focused – they should hate it too.
    We need to witness to others and then point believers to good, biblical churches.

    • Robbie Neiman

      Great comments, Jeff! I agree wholeheartedly!

    • Respectfully, I’ve never met a lost person who hates Jesus. I’m sure they exist but I’ve never met one. I have met a few who hate Christians and there’s always a pretty compelling story behind it.

      • Jeff

        I’m not so much basing this statement on my personal experiences, but rather on the Bible.
        Romans 8:7 says the sin nature (the only nature a lost person has) is hostile against God.
        This hatred of God is demonstrated in the fact that no one even seeks God (Rom 3:10-18)
        So while most people would not say they hate God – their words and actions prove otherwise.
        Before God regenerated me and saved me – I too was a God hater. This is simply how the Bible describes the relationship between the unbeliever and God.

      • loudstone

        Building off of what Jeff said, lost people often love pop culture ideas of Jesus, but they hate the actual Jesus of the Bible. They love a Jesus that says “Love all the people and don’t judge” and stops there, but hate the Jesus that tells them He is the only way, the Jesus that calls people out for their sin, and the Jesus of Matthew 7:21-23 who says that not even all who claim Him will make it into heaven.

    • diamondinruff

      Churches need to ask themselves if they want a huge mega church with all the “stuff”, or do we want to go passionately after Jesus, obeying His command to love one another and show the world the fruit of the Holy spirit so that they are drawn to Him. Will we “seek Him first” or are we going after the trendy cool and hip chuch. God and His word never change, but the culture and society does. Stick to the truth and know that we are saved by Grace, not by the latest cool trend in our culture.

  • John Wallace

    Good article. We all profess that we want to please God and not people. Our problem is that each of us seems to act on the assumption that Jesus likes what we like. The points of this article challenge us to get over our egocentrism.

  • Janie French

    I essentially agree with the gist of this however, the article assumes that all unchurched people are under 25. I applaud those groups that apply the same self last/ God first principles to reach groups that may be defined by being part of other generations as well as other cultures – all of whom are part of our communities and all of whom need to see the Church both BEING Good News and sharing Good News.

  • John Chisham

    I believe the problem lies deeper, and it is much simpler. Lost people are dead in trespasses and sins, members of Satan’s kingdom, and they HATE the Light because they love their sin (Ephesians 2:1-3, John 3:18-20, 36). No amount of cool music, clothes, and speaking and acting like the world and imitating its system is going to entice those who hate God and are in rebellion against Him to come to church. It is not about politics, money, buildings, time, or anything else. If God has a man’s heart, NOTHING will stop that man or woman from following Christ and desiring to be with His people. Look at is this way: would a criminal go and find a cop and a judge because the jail was more attractive?

    • Jeannette Shields

      I say this with all due respect Mr. Chisham: I was once ‘dead in trespasses and sins, a member Satan’s kingdom, and hated the Light because I loved my sin.’…etc. , but now by the grace of God, I am alive to serve my Lord and a member of His family. I think the real problem is me, I need to give up my pride in thinking I am better than them because I am a Christian and they are not.

      • John Chisham

        Amen! That’s what the grace of God makes us realize- I know I am a wretch who is only benefiting from the goodness of God in salvation. I am not good, certainly no better than anyone else. I am a Christian not because I am good but because God is good. And because He has seen fit to give His grace to me, I feel motivated to share it with others. You do not do that by making the church ‘cool’ or making yourself think,look,and act like the culture, you do that through loving and serving others as you proclaim the Gospel.

  • Mike

    Good article, Carey. I’ve experienced my share of fights around these elements (especially music).

    One thing that kept me scratching my head was what you mean by “unchurched”? Do you mean people that have no relationship with Jesus Christ or do you mean people that don’t attend a structured gathering?

    If you mean the second I might have to politely disagree. For me when I hear the word “church” I don’t hear “ecclesia” or a group of people coming together to celebrate the presence of the risen Christ in their midst. I hear dead religion that is too scared to go up to God’s mountain and meet Him face-to-face.

    What would you say to people like me that equate being “unchurched” to being born again into a living relationship with the living Christ?

  • The article assumes that all our reaching the unchurched happens within the gathering space on Sunday morning. While I don’t totally disagree with the points I do disagree with the assumption. We are the church and we need to be changing the way we think about reaching the unchurched where they are instead of inviting them to church where the Pastor will do all the work for us. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples, teaching them.”

    I’ve had this gnawing feeling that we’re not doing church the way it was intended. The church is a parallel of the original synagogue which arose out of a need for a place of worship and teaching when the temple was torn down in the Old Testament. In the NT the church began in homes because of persecution. The eventual established church was a gathering of believers for worship, prayer, teaching and sharing the sacraments with a mission to go out and reach the unbeliever.

    The word church comes from the Greek word “Ecclesia” which means assembly. In the NT it referred to the Body of Christ in general and those meeting together for worship in a particular place. Church is people. The saved were being added daily to the church (Body of Christ) through the sharing of their lives with others in the marketplace and their homes. While some did bring unbelievers to the meeting, the main purpose of the meeting was for edification (maturing) of the believers and worship of God in preparation for going out to live life in a way that unbelievers would want what they had.

    I don’t know where the deception began but I believe it’s roots have been in the church for a long time and we’re reaping the results now in the 21st century. The church is being redesigned to be the place of attraction and assimilation of the unchurched. Everything we do or say in the building is filtered through this lens. We don’t want to offend so altars are taken out. Worship is shortened and sermons sanitized, and the place is redesigned to look more like a club than a place of worship. There’s nothing wrong with the space being warm and welcoming or modern as along as it’s used for its intended purpose.

    We need to be training our people to be disciple makers who engage and include people in their lives where they have the opportunity to lead them to Christ and help them learn to grow as disciples. Their lives and love should be attracting others to Christ. Then they invite them to join the assembly of believers in worship at church. Not that they can’t be invited before that decision but we don’t leave all the responsibility to the Sunday morning worship service.

    Even our use of “unchurched” is politically correct instead of using the “lost “or “unsaved.” This places the emphasis on getting them churched instead of inviting them to a relationship with God through the saving grace of Jesus. In reality, they would be “churched” while being surrounded with believers in relationship, whether they go to a building or not. (yes, I do believe going to church is important.)

    I think we under challenge our people and rob them of the joy of engaging the unchurched in a relationship that causes them to want to follow Jesus too. We rob them of the joy of leading someone to Christ and thereby fulfilling the great commission.

    While I agree with many of your points, especially #7, I think we get caught up in the outward trappings more than the spiritual dynamic of God’s power drawing people and moving in the hearts in such a way, while in that space, the Father is revealed, the Word made real and the unchurched want to come back. This has been the experience of people in our church and we have all ages, races and ethnicities.

    Maybe if we spent more time seeking God and being with people we’d see the mission of the church fulfilled without having to read lists of 7 this and 10 that.

    We are in a ripe time for the harvest because now more than ever people are isolating themselves and in desperate need of connection and accepting relationships – and, yes, a Savior. The church, as people, should be the very best at connecting people to people and people to God in heart to heart relationships; not buildings.

    8 Things to Give Up to Reach the Unchurched:

    1 Give up the False Idea that my only responsibility is to invite the unchurched to church.

    2 Give up my life to live as I want, how I want when I want – give yourself over to being a disciple of Christ who lives to make disciples.

    3 Give up time in front of TV, digital games, social media and time consuming hobbies to spend time being with Jesus so your have something to share with the unchurched. You cannot give what you have not received.

    4 Give up my comfort zone and move out of the four walls of the church building and my home to be with people. Leave time for hanging out at the Y after the workout. Go to community events and g to know new people. Hang out at Dunkin Donuts and buy someone a donut and share your space with them.

    5 Give up the status quo for creative ways to connect with people in your neighborhood and community- head up an interest group, community project, fun activities for youth and/or families. Volunteer.

    6 Give up your privacy and invite people you’re befriending into your home for fun/food and interaction.

    7 Give up your self focus for Other focus – intentionally be mindful of others, ready to listen, ready to seize opportunities to engage. Stay off of social media in public so you’re ready.

    8 Give up your fear of man for God’s boldness and share your story and the Gospel with your new friends and invite them to follow Jesus with you – yes, even to church. (It won’t feel like an exclusive club when they have you as friends. )

    • John Chisham


    • Rosemarie Radcliffe

      Sometimes the Holy Spirit leads you down the rabbit hole of the internet just to find gems like this response. Thank you, Angela Coon

  • Franck Schilling

    Thank you Carey for these good insites.

  • corey sauer

    Really? Seven things to give up?/

    Take it from the “unchurched”, you only need ONE…

    Give up the hubris in thinking that other people need any church at all, especially the fatally flawed Christian version.

    The only thing this so-called list should focus on is the prioritization on being kind, decent, loving, generous, compassionate, non-judgemental human beings.

    Living one’s life in such a manner, especially in one’s own family and local community, would bring about more peace, progress, social justice and equality than a million churches loaded with tens of millions of “Christians” attempting to reach the so-called “un-churched.” In fact you’d realize that church itself is obsolete.

    Reaching us is not only completely unnecessary, but in reality a detriment to society. Your lives, time, energy and resources are far better spent actually serving HUMANITY, and not a church that is attempting with a gaudy, prideful vanity to reach the “unchurched” or the “godless”.

  • Wild M Ranch

    I think the very reasons you cite to fix the problem IS the problem. Churches, pastors and teachers need only one focus which they can find in Colossians 3:23. Quit trying to appease, please and appeal to people to fill quotas. Instead, focus work to please the Lord Jesus Christ. His promise is He will bless the work. His righteousness demands He honors it. Let Him figure out numbers. It is not about numbers anyway. A VERY small populus with positive volition can bless whole nations (see Genesis 18:27-33). This world needs Biblical truth taught from its church’s pulpits, not a “dumbed down” gospel to keep chairs filled and offering plates heavy. Please God, not man. He controls history and indeed it is HIS-story. Stay true to His Word. That’s all it takes. Watch Him do the work in ways our minds would have never imagined. Psalm 37:4

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  • Jason Bonnicksen

    Nailed it!

  • Mark

    When we say “un-Churched” what we often mean is, “not coming to MY church.”

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  • n9wff .

    This article uses the model in which the modern church wants to follow. Our foundation in Christ is weak, we are so consumed with entertainment that the unsaved see very little difference. There is a great cost to follow Jesus and we don’t showcase this to the world. American churches have little separation from the world; we are nowhere near His holiness.
    I recently left a church that held selfishness among their own group. As soon as I challenged the leaders (both pastors left within 2 months, they weren’t getting paid), they removed us from their media. They lost half their people w/i six months, have no compassion for the “lost sheep.”
    Here is the real issue; we are not presenting the true gospel and the old rugged cross in its cruelest form. What I mean is A. W. Tozer wrote “Old Cross vs. the New.” The old is about death, the new is entertaining the flesh and keeping the old man satisfied. Pulpits are filled with business minded people who are not Spirit led. We boast more about who we are in Christ instead of Christ in us. We have lost the message of the Cross. This bloody spectacle is the core of Christianity. Sadly, it is no longer preached.
    We have more people believing they’re out of hell’s way but not living for Him. We want the crown but not the Cross. We want to reap the benefits but not dig into the soil to plant. All We care about only what we want. A country club/hospital that heals no one. As Billy Sunday said,
    “The reason why sin flourishes is we treat it as a cream puff rather than a rattlesnake.”
    We no longer walk in power because we don’t seek it for His glory; we seek it for our glory.

  • ServantHeart2012

    If we just set aside our egos many of these obstacles to reaching the unchurched will grow smaller or even disappear. Everyone from the pastor(s) to the newest nursery worker has one. Some are more evident than others. But if we would just “check it at the door” and be open-handed to try new ideas without expecting OUR ego to be stroked in the process, perhaps we’d become more attractive to those presently outside our walls.
    In most cases, the individual local church does not ‘belong’ to the pastor. Why then must the pastor’s name be prominently displayed on everything from the marquee sign out front to the tissues in the ‘bridal dressing room?’ Also, when the pastor’s moniker is preceded with multiple titles (Reverend, Doctor, Bishop, Elder, etc.) and followed by an alphabet soup of degrees there might be an ego problem, and it’s often a turn-off to new comers. Don’t get me wrong. I admire those who have accomplished advanced educational goals, but do they automatically improve the character, competency, or work product of the person? No. (I’m not a fan of outdated parochial titles, but that’s a personal thing.) Most newcomers don’t care “who’s the boss” and aren’t impressed with titles and degrees. They just want to feel welcome and comfortable.