Are You Actually Attracting Unchurched People?

Most church leaders says they want to reach unchurched people. So did we when  we started Connexus three years ago.

Saying it is one thing.  Living it is another. From the start, we adopted an “invest and invite” strategy.  We encouraged followers of Christ need to build authentic friendships with people in their community, family and workplace.  We see our job as creating the kind of environment they can invite their friends into.  We tell the people who attend Connexus all the time that we designed the church with their friends in mind and to please bring their unchurched friends to church.

But we realized when we launched we created a dual system.  While telling people to invite their friends we also had a ‘safety net” – we advertised, inviting people with no relational connection to come to our church as well (that’s what traditional advertising is – selling a product to people with whom you have no relational connection).

In 2009, we stopped the double talk.  We cut all forms of external advertising:

  • We canceled a very well listened to radio show featuring our messages.
  • We stopped all flyer distribution to homes in neighbourhoods
  • We decided to spend nothing on any form of external advertising.

We made it almost impossible for our church to grow unless the people who attended Connexus invited their friends.

But how do you measure that?  The church could still be growing but it might all be transfer growth.

So early in 2010, we completely redesigned our welcome card.  We designed it to measure whether people had attended church before coming to Connexus, asking them if they never attended church, rarely attended church (1 or 2 times a year), attended monthly or weekly.  We also asked them how they got to Connexus, giving three options: invited by a friend, invited by a family member, and ‘other’.  (We didn’t know what other would be, but we put it in anyway).

People have to go to the Welcome Desk in our foyer to fill out a card, and we in turn give them a gift basket with CDs, orientation material and (yum) chocolate in it.

We have had 285 families fill out a card to the end of October.  Here’s what we learned:

  • 85% of the people at our Barrie campus were invited by friend or family
  • 70% of the people at our Orillia campus were invited by friend or family. (Orillia is a smaller city, so we wonder if word of mouth might be the 30%)
  • 68% of our first time guests were not regular church goers (didn’t attend or attended less than once or twice a month)
  • 26% of people who were not weekly church attenders have become weekly attenders this year

We’re still learning tons about how to figure this out, and we can probably get a lot better at this, but here are some quick thoughts on why the trends are encouraging:

  • Cut the safety nets – make it hard for your church to grow unless people invite your friends.
  • Give your regular attenders space to build a life.  We have almost no mid-week programming.  We like families to build into each other and into their neighbours, not be at church six nights a week.
  • Program to your target.  That means potentially offending Christians.  We play songs some churches wouldn’t play.  We even tatooed people once on stage.  Christians left.  That wasn’t the goal, but it can happen.  While a few Christians have left,  unchurched people came.
  • Commit yourself to seeing life-change.  If you don’t see people being baptized and moving into a growing relationship with Christ, you’re missing the point.  It’s not attracting a crowd that’s the mission – it’s leading people into actual life change.

If you want to see a cross section of some Connexus stories, check out the comments on the Connexus blog from November – December 2010.

Otherwise…what do you think?  What have you seen as effective in helping a church reach its mission?  What’s the potential downside you see?


  1. Dan Reeves on December 13, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    Thanks a lot Carey!

  2. Dan Reeves on December 9, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    We’re launch a multi-site campus in January and are working on our guest services material right now. Is there any way to see a sample of what you guys are doing to get some ideas as we’re putting ours together. We’re really asking the same questions right now you guys have been wrestling with, and I would be eager to see how that looks in your info for guests.


    • Carey on December 10, 2010 at 1:42 pm

      Hey Dan….some of our staff is out of the office sick right now. Hope to get the PDF uploaded Monday for you to see. I need to get it from them. Thanks for asking and best wishes with your launch.

  3. Dan Leffelaar on December 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks for this blog, it was timely because for the past few weeks I have been racking my brain trying to figure out how I can begin to think and create this sort of environment. I assume that this is not a reincarnation of a “seeker sensitive” church, that seems to be a dirty term nowadays. Is what you have done with Connexus different? in what ways is it different from a “seeker” church?

    Thanks Carey!


    • Carey on December 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm

      Dan…great to hear from you. We are a North Point strategic partner. Labels don’t always help, but often we get labeled as an “attractional” ministry model. I personally think there is a distinct missional component to what we do because we expect our attenders to be building into their friends and family. Our attenders are also the bridge to social justice causes in the community. So we “attract” in terms of trying to build irresistible adult, student and children’s ministry environments people want to come back to. But we encourage everyone who attends (kids on up) to become part of a community (small) group. And our attenders serve and invest in meaningful relationships outside the church. Not sure what that makes us, but that’s it in a nutshell.

  4. Nick Blevins on December 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    11% is great. Our growth has slowed the past 2 years and we’ve been doing everything we can (that’s in our control) to boost that. Our first 4 years were 8%, 15%, 5.5%, and now on track for 2%. It will probably be another 6-12 months before we really know if all the things we are doing or are about to do are working.

    It would be interesting if your growth this year outpaced the years when you did advertise. A lot of other factors could skew that though.


    • Carey on December 8, 2010 at 7:29 pm

      Great questions Nick. I know in our first year we actually lost attendance..dipping below our launch numbers. We rebounded with I think 9% growth in 09 and 11% so far in 2010. I anticipate the final number being higher than that for the year. So our trend would be that our strategy and our growth are lining up with each other, at least in the first 18 months.

  5. Scott Cochrane on December 8, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Carey, you’ve called out the ‘elephant in the room’ of most outward-focused churches in Canada, and you’ve done so with a powerful strategy. This is something more church leaders in Canada should read and apply.

  6. Nick Blevins on December 7, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    Thanks for posting info about this Carey. Nice blog re-design by the way, I’m a huge fan of standard theme too 🙂

    For totally different reasons (saving money), we stopped mailers a couple years ago too. Oddly enough, we haven’t had as much growth as when we had them. But, I don’t think the two are that related though. We did a church-wide survey about 18 months ago and only 3.5% came because of a flier. 50% came because they were invited, but that number jumped to 71% when looking at people that had been there a year or less. A big reason for that difference is our huge launch team skews the results, seeing that they were all “churched” beforehand and checked the option about hearing about our church from another church.

    How has your growth after stopping advertising compared to before?
    Did you always have visitors go to the welcome desk to fill out cards or did they ever fill them out in their seats? What has produced more cards?
    I’m guessing the reasoning is to be able to meet them and give them the gift basket?

    Sorry for all the questions!

    • Carey on December 8, 2010 at 12:08 am

      Nick…great to hear from you! Money was a bit of a factor too for us…but it ushered in great debate for us…and hence a change in direction.

      Our growth is healthy…decent. I think it’s 11% so far this year…and there’s some good momentum. We don’t provide seat back cards…people have to go to the Welcome Desk. It’s in part relational…in part to create a connection for those who want it in the foyer and allow anonymity in the theater. Our host team does indeed love to meet people.

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