So as a church leader you have a desire to reach new people with the good news of Jesus.
But how do you know your church is really finally (truly) reaching the unchurched?
First, you can (and should) use data to find out whether you are attracting transfer growth or truly unchurched people. Your welcome card can capture that data. For example, over half the people who come to our church for the first time check the boxes on our welcome card that indicate that they don’t attend church or come once or twice a year. We consider that to be ‘unchurched.’
But it’s not just the fact that people coming tell you they don’t attend church. You can also tell you’re making inroads because of how unchurched people change the dynamic in your church.
Your church will simply not be the same anymore. And that’s where it gets hard for many congregations and leaders.
Preparing to reach unchurched people is one thing (here are 9 signs your church is ready to reach unchurched people). But when unchurched people actually start connecting with your church, things change deeply.
When you see these seven signs pop up in your church, you will know that you are finally (really) reaching 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.
While we’re trying to raise the passion level in our church services, it’s simply always going to be a tension between those who love to sing (committed Christians), those who are learning to sing and those who simply endure that part of the service (not matter how awesome the worship team is).
Churched people visit our church all the time and remark on how not everyone is singing. As much as we’re trying to engage people in worship, I’ve just decided it’s just a tension we need to live in.
Think about it: the goal is not to get unchurched people to sing … it’s to lead them into a growing relationship with Jesus.
To manage the tension, we limit the music to three or four songs. Christians get to sing. Unchurched people appreciate the band. And people’s lives get changed.
2. Longtime church people are unsettled.
Not all long-time church people will be upset that your church is reaching unchurched people, but some will be.
Why will they resist the growth?
Well, because 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.
When people who don’t look like you or behave like you are sitting next to you in church, you’re on mission.
3. Irregular attendance is regular.
Paradoxically, one of the signs your church is reaching the unchurched is that irregular attendance is now regular.
This unsettles pastors and long time church attenders. Normally, if a church person is away for a month, it’s a ‘sign’ of something.
Not with unchurched people. Unchurched people often have no precedent in their lives for church attendance. Remember: this is the most they’ve attended church ever.
It’s kind of like you joining a gym. If you’ve never worked out, heading to the gym twice a week is a huge step and major commitment. The body-building, iron-pumping dude bench pressing 275 may look at your soft middle and think you’re slacking, but for you it’s massive progress.
Smart congregations understand this dynamic.
So do you want to leave people casually attending? Of course not.
As I’ve shared many times in this space, if you really want to tackle irregular attendance habits, focus on engaging people in their faith. (Here’s why and how.)
In the post-Christian world, engagement fuels attendance. Attendance no longer fuels engagement.
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 actually all just people in need of a Savior.
As people with different socio-economic backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, educational backgrounds, sexual ethics and moral standards arrive at your church, it will push a lot of your people (who pretty much all look and act the same) way out of their comfort zones. That’s a great thing.
That doesn’t mean your theology changes, but it probably means your compassion should.
And it likely means that your easy answers instead become involved conversations.
If you can’t get used to diversity on earth, you’re going to hate heaven.
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. That game is up.
And that’s actually good news for all of us. Remember, God doesn’t use perfect people. He uses broken people.
That’s how you got here. That’s how everyone gets here.
It’s about time we got honest about it at the congregational level.
7. You See Real Life-Change.
This is the best part, of course. When life-change is happening, people end up in radically different places than they were even a year or two ago.
That’s not surprising. Unchurched people have really only one motive left 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.
When it comes to unchurched people, measure change over several years and you’ll be amazed at the progress.
What’s the best test for spiritual maturity? I share some thoughts on that here.
Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church in Toronto, Canada. He’s the author of several best-selling books, including his forthcoming book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects But Everyone Experiences (September 2018). This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com.