Just because a church is growing doesn’t mean it’s filling up with unchurched people.

How do you know you’re really making inroads with the unchurched?

signs you're reaching unchurchedFirst, you can find out whether you are attracting transfer growth or truly unchurched people.

At Connexus, where I serve, we ask new people to fill out a card. Through that we’ve learned that over 50% of our first time attenders self-identify as having no church background.

But you can also tell because of how unchurched people change the dynamic in your church. Your church will simply not be the same anymore.

Hoping to reach unchurched people is one thing. But when unchurched people actually start connecting with your church, things change deeply.

When you see these 7 signs pop up in your church, you will know that you are really making inroads with the unchurched:

Hoping to reach unchurched people is one thing. But when unchurched people actually start connecting with your church, things change deeply. Click To Tweet

1. People Aren’t Singing Much During the Service

If you think about it, this shouldn’t surprise you. Christians are about the only people left in our culture who sing corporately on a weekly basis. Unchurched people may like your music, but they won’t necessarily sing it. Be okay with that. We’ve learned to be.

Churched people visit our church all the time and remark on how few people sing (even though we have an exceptional band). I’ve just decided I don’t care. The goal is not to get unchurched people to sing…it’s to lead them into a growing relationship with Jesus. We limit the music to a few songs. Christians get to sing. Unchurched people appreciate the band. And people’s lives get changed.

Christians, the goal is not to get unchurched people to sing...it's to lead them into a growing relationship with Jesus. Click To Tweet

2. Long Time Church People Are Unsettled

Not all long time church people will be upset, but some will be. They’ll be concerned that people who don’t look like them, behave like them or share their moral value system are now sitting beside them on Sundays or in group with them mid-week.

This is a good sign. Some of those churched people will leave, but you will also have a group that have waited for this day all their lives. They have unchurched friends who are coming and they’ll be thrilled that the church is (finally) accomplishing its mission. Run with them.

3. Irregular Attendance is Regular

This unsettles pastors. Normally, if a church person is away for a month, it’s a ‘sign’ of something. Not with unchurched people. In the same way that if you don’t make it to the gym in a week you don’t panic, unchurched people will come when they feel like it. Remember: this is the most they’ve attended church ever.

I wrote this post on how to get irregular attenders to attend more often, but just know this comes with the territory.

In the same way that if you don't make it to the gym in a week you don't panic, unchurched people will come when they feel like it. Remember: this is the most they've attended church ever. Click To Tweet

4. Your Tidy Categories Are Falling Apart

As you engage more and more unchurched people, you’ll realize that your neat and tidy theological and sociological categories for people will erode and collapse and you realize we’re just actually all people in need of a Saviour.

LGBTQ will stop being a term and start becoming people. Rich and poor will become names and faces. That doesn’t mean your theology changes, but it probably means your compassion does. And it likely means that your easy answers instead become involved conversations.

Reaching the unchurched doesn't mean your theology changes, but it probably means your compassion does. And it likely means that your easy answers instead become involved conversations. Click To Tweet

5. You’re Getting Surprisingly Candid Questions

As you surround yourself with unchurched people, you will see more of the pain and messiness of life. Long time church people often experience the same pain and life issues; it’s just unchurched people feel freer to talk about them.

So get ready. Have a list of counselors nearby. And get ready to engage more real life issues from the platform. When you speak into real life, people listen.

6. Everyone’s Tolerance For Hypocrisy is Plummeting

People with little to no church background hate hypocrisy. And they will call it out. If you don’t deal with it, they will leave.

Churched people have learned to live with hypocrisy for years. Losing that tolerance is awesome for everyone.

Churched people have learned to live with hypocrisy for years. Losing that tolerance is awesome for everyone. Click To Tweet

7. You See Real Life-Change

This is the best part, of course. But people are in radically different places than they were even a year or two ago. Unchurched people have really only one motive for being at church: they want to investigate Jesus. And when they do, its changes many—deeply.

Sure, not everyone decides to follow Christ. But then there are many people who have attended church their whole life who have managed to resist transformation for decades. When it comes to unchurched people, measure change over several years and you’ll be amazed at the progress.

Unchurched people have really only one motive for being at church: they want to investigate Jesus. Click To Tweet

Want More?

A lot of churches attract new people, but never seem to grow as fast as they should be growing.

So let me ask you if this sounds familiar: you see new faces at your church, but the attendance numbers come in the same, week after week. Maybe it’s 75, or 150, or 250, but no matter how much you try you cannot break past that number.

Well, you’re not alone. I’ve worked with hundreds of pastors over the last 20 years to better understand the plateaus of church growth—and how to break past them.

It’s not about just ‘working harder’. And it’s not a gimmicky outreach strategy that gets people in the door but can’t keep them there. Rather, it’s a series of a few tried-and-true changes that will help get you from where you are to where God has called you to be.

That’s why I put together the Church Growth Masterclass. It’s everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

I can’t make a church grow. You can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that. But I believe you can position your church to grow. You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people. That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.

In the Church Growth Masterclass I’ll show you:

  • The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
  • Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
  • How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
  • The five keys to your church better impacting millennials.
  • What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change

You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.

What Have You Seen?

So these are 7 signs that show you’re actually connecting with unchurched people.

What have you seen when it comes to making inroads with unchurched people? Leave a comment!

7 Signs Your Church is Making Inroads With Unchurched People


  1. Ralph Molyneux on October 9, 2018 at 3:28 pm

    We can so relate to this article on every level. We totally changed the way we did church years ago and attract the churched and unchurched alike. We have done surveys several times a year and found that close to 1/3 of our church had not been in church ever or not been in a church for five years or longer. We get comments like “I loved the speech” Great music ! from unchurched Then we also get “great sermon” or “powerful word” and “anointed worship” its very easy to tell who’s churched and unchurched. Very churched people rarely invite mostly because they don’t have friends who are unchurched. The unchurched invite their friends when there has been an impact on their life. They fill rows and then church changes, boy is it fun. Thanks so much for this article !

  2. Ray Wickham on October 7, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    We are reaching true unchurched. When you tell them to come as they are, they do… and you better be ready for it. If you have a “punch” list of what people should believe or live like during this phase of their spiritual walk, they won’t come back. The true unchurched want to know why this is important and they will NOT tolerate hypocrisy. Better to be genuine that polished when it come to services. And give them opportunities to serve other and the community!

  3. Dave on October 7, 2018 at 6:24 am

    Great insights, always. The first sign in our church driveway is welcome to our smoke-free campus. I never really thought about what it says to unchurched people. In fact I am not really sure our church wants to reach those who are unlike us.
    I pray that we will change in reach unchurched people in need of a Savior, Jesus!
    Thank you.

  4. Dave Schapansky on October 6, 2018 at 2:10 pm

    I love that our smoking areas outside have been filling with people, before and after services. And during. People need smoke breaks during church- what??
    And they bring different questions and requests.
    Church life is messier than it ever.

    Thank you Carey for helping me get over myself. Keep it up.

  5. Jo Ann Staebler on October 6, 2018 at 9:27 am

    We had a ‘bring-a-friend’ Sunday followed (at my insistence) by a fellowship lunch. Our worship attendance doubled–to 30! Most of the visitors were friends, neighbors, and co-workers dragged in for the occasion, and most of them didn’t stay for lunch. They won’t be back. The following Sunday, attendance was seven–our regulars were exhausted.

  6. bob nonnenmocher on October 6, 2018 at 7:58 am

    Wow just finished reading one of your books, Didnt see it coming. This book should be a reading requirement for everyone over 50 .

  7. Eric on October 6, 2018 at 7:47 am

    Great post! On my mobile the “Got A Question?” bar on the right is always in the way when I read your articles. Can it be moved/made smaller/removed?

  8. greg walker on May 23, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    2nd request for the aforementioned guest card! ?

    Love this list. Can’t wait to have these problems!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 25, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      Can’t upload it here. Sorry. If you email my assistant, she will get it to you. spiercy at connexuschurch dot com.

  9. pastord on March 19, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Carey, This is a great article, I’m a pastor in North Carolina who is working with a team to relaunch a church. I love number # 1 & # 5. I find it very encouraging to know that we are reaching the unchurched in this relaunch. 90% of our team is unchurched. keep writing, I love reading your articles. Thanks for the having heart for leaders!!! Dwaine

  10. jeffcook on August 3, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    #4 .

  11. Trevor Stultz on June 19, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I’ve been struggling with this idea myself. As I read, and re-read the New testament, I see the Body of Christ focused so much on Love, community, prayer, and evangelism (reaching the unchurched). What I see today in the modern “church” is vastly different. Seems like we forget the whole point was to spread the gospel and instead focus on “self” too much. If things get out of “normal” then we have to bring order to it (Ahem Law)…

    I’m just not sure we’re doing it right in the Christian church… Been a struggle I’m having lately.

    Thanks for sharing! Another Great post here! Very thought provoking!

  12. Bernie on March 16, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Great piece Carey. We are also doing meal shares and serving under-resourced in various ways and seeing them come to church. Creates a tension for us. Serving the poor and homeless is popular until they come and sit next to you in church.

  13. gradkiss on February 27, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Everyone in the uS has a coin reigning over their heads and must follow a changing set of ethical laws based on corporate and business law. Many people of many professions advantage this situation due to the divisions created at birth, in everyone’s appraisal as the rich or the poor and find the environment a financial bonanza.Everyone needs protection from each other.Newborn children are prophesied economic doom from the rungs on an economic ladder they are forced to maintain their entire lives.The courts are staffed by judges that judge economic famine…allowing only the rich to appear as the righteous. while law enforcement agencies, the IRS, etc. keep a good record of everyone’s eulogy.
    I hope this etiological explanation helps everyone see who is really qualified as the unchurched.

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  15. Chaplin Daniel Shults on January 7, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    These statements r so true, it’s always up in the air what a new convert or unchurched person will say or do. How we react and answer these hungry people determines who we r. Listening to yourself is an amazing revelation. Thank u for these seven steps it’s the way to be.
    Chaplin Shults

  16. Mike Berry on December 21, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    This is good. I’m sharing with the rest of our leadership team. Thanks for sharing!

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  20. Christoph Koebel on November 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    well, the basic assumption in this article is real ministry happens Sunday morning at 11am. Is that really the case?

  21. Pradeep Ninan on November 22, 2013 at 2:49 am

    I wouldn’t use the first three points in isolation! I’m sure these could be true both in a church which is effectively reaching the un-churched, and also in churches that have become totally ineffective!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 23, 2013 at 9:04 am

      Good point! You’re right. All 7 show you something. 🙂

    • Christoph Koebel on January 23, 2014 at 11:14 pm

      corporate singing happens in our hockey arenas. But then you must get outside the church building to experience that….or at the Heurigen in Vienna!

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  25. Karl Vaters on November 18, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    These are great! We have to think counter-intuitively if our churches are going to reach the unchurched. One item I might add to the list? “When the congregation responds more readily to a line from a song on the radio than a quote from (insert any church leader’s name here).”

  26. JasonChenoweth on November 18, 2013 at 5:33 pm


    I was glad to see #7 on there. The first six have been true of our church when we’ve been reaching out effectively, but also can be true when we are really blowing it and our regular attenders are frustrated. It’s easy to confuse one for the other. It’s the life change issue that brings hope. Thanks again for giving me something to think about today.

  27. Adam Parker on November 18, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Carey, well written!

    I think this was a few of the things I had to get used to over the last few years, and although it’s definitely more complicated and very messy, it’s worth it!

  28. Piggyspen on November 18, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Our goal has become “go out” to the unchurched and not expect them to become “one of us.” We are striving to be missional and gather to worship and then scatter to go out among them!

  29. Joe Robideaux on November 18, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Thanks Carey! The attendance thing, irregular is regular, has absolutely been something I’ve had to become comfortable with. Like you mention, at first, I was freaked out that some would come and pretty obviously have a great experience and then I wouldn’t see them for 3 weeks. But, looking at it through their lens of “This is the most I’ve ever gone to church in my life.” is a great perspective.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      I give myself points every time I show up at something I only still half care about. I think the unchurched do that too. 🙂

      • Joe Robideaux on November 18, 2013 at 3:33 pm

        lol, great way to say it

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