Carey Nieuwhof: “Unchurched people change the dynamic in your church. Your church will simply not be the same.”
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?
First, 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. By that we’ve learned that 60% 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.
Preparing 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:
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.
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.
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. Gays and lesbians will become 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.
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. We’re preaching through that issue at Connexus in this series.
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.