8 Signs Your Church Is Actually Reaching Unchurched People


So are you really reaching unchurched people at your church? How would you know…for real?

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

Hoping to reach unchurched people is one thing. Reaching the unchurched is quite another.

When unchurched people actually start connecting with your church, things change deeply.

So how can you tell you’re really making inroads with the unchurched?

When you see these 8 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. Reaching the unchurched is quite another. Click To Tweet

1. Your Data Tells You It’s Happening

At the most obvious level, you should find out from the guests themselves whether they have a church background.

Too many church leaders never bother to ask people about their church background. As a result, too many leaders guess they’re reaching the unchurched, or think they’re reaching their community, or they hope they’re reaching their community.

But thinking, hoping or guessing isn’t the same as doing.

But the best thing you can do is specifically ask people about their background. Then you know. So start by surveying new guests and ask them about their attendance patterns.

How do you do that discreetly and appropriately? Where I serve, we invite new people to fill out a connection card (name, address, next steps etc.). Amidst the information we collect on the connection card, we ask them how often they attend church by selecting one of these four options:

I don’t attend church.

Once or twice a year.

Once a month.

Almost every week.

If they check one of the first two options, we consider them unchurched. If the check either of the last two options, we consider them churched.

That gives us baseline data we can use from year to year and helps us gauge how effective we are in accomplishing our mission, which is to create churches unchurched people love.

Our data tells us that almost 50% of our new guests self-identify as being unchurched. (By the way, that number is probably a little artificially low simply because a churched person is far more likely to fill out a welcome card than an unchurched person.) (Here’s more on how we assimilate new guests.)

But of course, there’s a greater shift that just numbers can’t tell you. You can really tell that you’re reaching unchurched people when the dynamic in your church starts to change.

Your church will simply not be the same anymore. Which leads us to seven other things you’ll notice.

Thinking, hoping or guessing you're reaching unchurched people isn't the same as knowing whether you do or don't. Click To Tweet

2. 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.

Even though we’re moving into an era where more expressive worship is back (and attractional church as we’ve known it has likely peaked), unchurched people won’t immediately gravitate toward singing out loud during the service.

Churched people visit our church all the time and remark that not everyone sings (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. Think of it this way: Christians get to sing. Unchurched people appreciate the band, the atmosphere, and the way Christians engage with their faith.

And through it all, 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

3. Long-Time Church People Get Unsettled

When unchurched people show up, 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 a group with them mid-week.

This is a good sign. Some of those churched people will leave, but you will also have a group of people that have waited for this day all their lives.

They will have unchurched friends who are coming and they’ll be thrilled that the church is (finally) accomplishing its mission. Run with them.

Think about it: If everyone in your church looks like you, acts like you, votes like you, believes like you and thinks like you, you’re probably not the Church anyway.

If everyone in your church looks like you, acts like you, votes like you, believes like you and thinks like you, you're probably not the church. Click To Tweet

4. Irregular Attendance Is Regular

This unsettles pastors. Normally, if a church person is away for a month, it’s a ‘sign’ of something.

Often that’s not the case 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 can. Remember: this is the most they’ve attended church ever.

I wrote this post on how to increase engagement, but just know this comes with the territory.

Sure, you want to encourage them to get connected and to prioritize the time they invest in their faith, but regular attendance isn’t automatic.

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 ever attended church. Click To Tweet

5. 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 all just people in need of a Savior.

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

6. 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 as unchurched people; 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.

Long time church people often experience the same pain and life issues as unchurched people; it's just unchurched people feel freer to talk about them. Click To Tweet

7. 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

8. 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, it 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

What Have You Seen?

So these are 8 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!

8 Signs Your Church Is Actually Reaching Unchurched People


  1. HoosierConservative on February 19, 2019 at 11:13 am

    It’s amazing how intolerance toward hypocrisy is taken up a cause to impress the unchurched. The PKs and longtime believers have to deal with it (no one is perfect, grace abounds) and called quitters when they leave because of it… but oh noes, an unchurched millennial wants us to stop being hypocrites, not we gotta do something! Why not just feed those uchurched people the same rhetoric that’s fed to PKs? Wouldn’t that actually be authenthic???

  2. Martha Martin on February 13, 2019 at 10:29 am

    We do things very differently at our church in Las Vegas. We have to if we want to reach people who wouldn’t necessarily step into a church on a Sunday. Each of these 8 points you make speak of our church!! Our pastor actually wrote a book to help people understand why we do church the way we do it. It’s called Build A Bigger Table by Jeremy Martin. It falls very in line with this post.

    • James on June 6, 2021 at 12:20 pm

      Ordering the book. Thanks for the info

  3. Mike on February 12, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Hi Ben!

    Thanks for taking the time to reply. It’s definitely not wasted. In fact maybe you can help me unpack some of what I’m feeling regarding the church institution.

    Coincidentally just this weekend my wife raised the same perceived inconsistency in my critique of lectures at church versus college lectures or TED talks. What I think I’m sensing is an inconsistency between the “form” of the church gathering and the gospel of Jesus.

    In a TED talk or college lecture the audience is coming to hear a talk on a specific subject by an expert in the field. It’s entirely natural and quite appropriate for the audience to assume the silent learner role and the expert to assume the expository role of teacher. There is little expectation to engage with the subject.

    In my understanding of the gospel Jesus came to restore the broken relationship between God and humanity. To literally demonstrate “God with us” and revive what was lost in Eden. My concern with the sermon format and the entirety of speaking done by a small group of clerics is it seems to undo that. It seems to create a barrier between God and humanity. It takes the image of Christ the good shepherd and elevates him (quite literally) over the flock. It turns God into an authoritative lecturer standing over and above rather than a loving father that wants to be involved in the individual lives of people.

    I’m not sure how the culture is in Germany but in America the goals of society are “bigger, faster, better and cheaper”. The church is no exception. There is an ever-present pressure to go faster and do more. We schedule our lives down to the minute without ever taking a breathe. And churches seem to encourage this with the fixed schedule of service times and 20-40 minute talks given by the most-skilled orators. There is no room for messiness.

    In short the church seems to encourage busyness, efficiency and production over slowing down and taking time to get to know our own hearts and the hearts of others.

    I guess there are a few questions I have:
    – Do people have intrinsic worth to God simply in their being? Or are they valued by their doing?
    – Does the church value people enough to slow down and listen?
    – Are church goers willing to demonstrate the courage of being transparent and open with their hearts?

    Thanks again for the reply, Ben. 🙂

    Gesegnet sein!

  4. Mike on February 12, 2019 at 12:28 am

    Hey Carey! It’s Mike from California (you know, the angry one from a few years ago) 🙂

    Great post with things to chew on. I have a question for you. In your opinion does the sermon service still hold up with the unchurched?

    I’ve only been to two or three church gatherings in the past several years, so I suppose that makes me unchurched. But I’ve also intentionally walked away to deconstruct and understand what I believe, which may make me a bit unusual from other unchurched folks.

    One thing I and some of my agnostic friends have a hard time with is the closed pulpit sermon. We like to dialogue with each other and ask questions. Hearing a single voice lecture isn’t very appealing. My friends actually think it’s a way for the church to shy away from hard questions.

    What have you noticed? Do other unchurched folks feel the same way? Are there churches that are moving from monologue to dialogue?

    Peace, love and lasagna.

    • Ben on February 12, 2019 at 5:22 am

      Hi there Mike,

      I find your question quite interesting and think your question is actually two questions in one:
      1) Is a ‘closed pulpit sermon’ appealing? and
      2) Are there any opportunities of a dialogue?

      ad 1) I had to look up “pulpit” as English isn’t my native tongue to get a grasp of what you might mean with “Hearing a single voice lecture isn’t very appealing [within a closed pulpit sermon]. ”
      Whether a closed pulpit sermon is appealing or not depends mostly on the expectations and attitude you take with you into the sermon. I am very certain that this question doesn’t only apply to sermons but also to TED talks or lectures (not seminars) let’s say at University or many other events where someone has a – more or lengthy – say (for whatever reason). Are they appealing to you?

      I am a regular attendee of a Christian church in Germany (I guess this makes me a churched person) but I am also a teacher and a University student. I stopped considering church (also University, or other educational institutions or events) to be only entertaining and serving me, for a few reasons not because I have to but because
      – I don’t want to be a negative person ranting about certain things that don’t quite meet my subjective taste. For me it’s a matter of honouring the work and effort that others have put into providing a talk or lecture. The same applies to lectures at Uni or other events. If I am asked I am happy to provide constructive feedback.
      – I don’t want to be someone others take as an excuse to abandon/reject what has been said or presented. I experienced that my statements and also my non-verbal behaviour has an impact on people that are unsure or would otherwise have thought positively of the lecture / sermon / speech (whatever it is).
      – I want to take with me the good things and test whether there’s something I should consider for myself. An ancient writer put it like this “But test all things carefully [so you can recognise what is good]. Hold firmly to that which is good. ” I find this a great mindest which also benefits myself and adds to my capability of being reflective. I consider this attitude to be a win win.

      ad 2) I am sure most churches offer opportunities for a dialogue and I believe they definitely should. I’d actually be quite staggered if they didn’t. Maybe the church has a “Welcome lounge” or similar where you can go and talk to staff, or you can reach the church by email or talk to the pastor at a different time etc.
      I hope you understand that a sermon per se can’t be a dialogue at that very moment. This is just a matter of the form, like a book or a newspaper can’t be dialogical at the time of reading or a TED talker can’t consider anyone’s opinion at the moment of his delivery. I think it’s a matter of genre that you are questioning here like “Why can’t church talks not be Q&As instead of sermons?” but that would be a different matter and I think you’ll have to bear with it. It won’t be a sermon if it was a Q&A like a book wouldn’t be book but some sort of a discussion forum.

      I hope my thoughts helped and I hope my taking time in order to write this wasn’t useless after all.


      • Mike on February 12, 2019 at 4:35 pm

        Hi Ben. I mistakenly clicked the wrong reply link. 🙁

        My response is above in the main thread – and hopefully not terribly confrontational.

        • Ben on February 12, 2019 at 5:24 pm

          Hi there Mike, it is not at all confrontial. I am formulating a response but haven‘t quite finished it. I actually like questions like yours. My wife and I can discuss about things like that freely and I love it.

          Now, as I am writing anyways here‘s my unfinished reply to your questions and I am finishing as I I am filling it in here:

          I really like the questions you are asking. They might be uncomfortable for many people but I think they may eventually become a personal faith.

          You spotted something that has indeed become an institution: the form of today’s church. You may argue that today’s church has few to do with the first church you find in the New Testament i.e. Acts chapters 1,2ff .
          Church indeed has become institutionalised over time and some of today’s liturgy isn’t exactly found in the deliverances of these times then. But then there isn’t much of a prescription of how to do the perfect sunday service.
          In Acts we read about Peter and Paul and other disciples preaching to a crowd (maybe this is sermon like?) and so did Jesus but also do we read about the first Christians gathering in homes for prayer and reading/discussing in/about the scripture and for celebrating communion together but we don’t read about details of the perfect service which leaves room for interpretation. From David found in the Old Testament we read about instruments to be used to celebrate God (often which kind of instruments or the tone a certain psalm is supposed to be played in).
          We also read about the attitude of the first church (restraining from collecting materialistic stuff i.e. money and land/property, reaching out to the poor, caring for parentless children etc.). The booking Acts is full of that.

          I guess a lot of modern Christians indeed rely too much on the Church in terms of they don‘t form their own opinion but only rely on what‘s been said from the pulpit and leave theology to the professionals. This can become dangerous on one side and it‘s often tempting to not double check or test against what is written in the scripture. That’s why I am trying to test everything carefully as proposed by Paul. On the other hand, pastors are some sort of experts in Theology.

          Anyways in my understanding of God, every person is loved based on their being the same way I love my four children no matter what they do but certainly to another extend than I can ever do. My 10 week old daughter may shit her pants and I still love her to pieces – even exact in the same moment I smell the content she produced – while I find it disgusting.

          Being transparent as a church goer is another matter and I believe this depends on the person. Here in Germany we haven‘t got many mega churches like there seem to be in the States. After all Christians are only humans. Christian humans aren‘t necessarily better people but they’re better of. As stupid as this sounds but churches of different sizes have different problems: whereas smaller churches struggle with „becoming relevant for society“ by throwing events and have appealing worship or other stuff, bigger churches may struggle with intimacy among relationships (no one knows anyone really and everyone could be intransparent). Having said that, I am attending a bigger church and Sunday services are more like a public act of worshipping together. I very much enjoy sunday mornings because of that. This of course concludes in quite a professional standard of worship music, some sort of stage „production“ as it may be called etc. but spiritual growth takes place in our families, our devotional time and in small groups where you can keep yourselves accountable and be transparent and open with their hearts. Being a Christian is a team game after all, as one of our pastors may say. 😂😂


          • Mike on February 13, 2019 at 1:12 am

            Thanks Ben! I wish I lived nearby. We could do coffee. 🙂

  5. Don on February 11, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    All excellent points. Another gauge I like to use is how little Christianese I hear in the lobby between services. I usually hear little to none, and I love it. Thanks for another excellent article – great reminders! Especially #8. 🙂

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