First Impressions of the Churched vs. the Unchurched

From the very beginning of Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck)’s existence, starting as a church plant in the fall of 1992, we have sent every first-time guest we have record of a questionnaire that asks four things:

1. What did you notice first?

2. What did you like best?

3. How could your experience have been improved?

4. How did you hear about Meck?

The answers have proven invaluable. For example, we know from nearly three decades of responses that the overwhelming answer to No. 4 is “invited by a friend.” As well it should be, and may that answer continue to trend.

The answers to No. 1 are equally uniform, usually along the lines of “parking assistants,” “easy to follow signs,” “how large it was/the size of the crowd” and “how friendly everyone was.”

Where evaluation is needed is between that of an unchurched person who has been invited by a friend, and a very churched person looking for a new church home who found us randomly.

It’s almost comical.

For example, in answering “What did you notice first?” a churched person will say, “Didn’t see anything for first-time guest parking.” An unchurched person will say, “How very different the experience was.”

In terms of “What did you like best?” a churched person might say, “Comfortable seating” or “Nothing stood out,” whereas an unchurched person might say, “The message directly related to real life experiences.”

In regard to “How could your experience have been improved?” a churched person might say: “I was disappointed that the Bible and specifically Jesus were not mentioned in the sermon at all. I believe one of the church’s responsibilities is discipleship. While (topic of the day) is important, that’s not what I want for a sermon. I want Bible teaching.” The unchurched person? “Nothing comes to mind. It was great.”

I’ve taken the above evaluations from a specific, recent weekend. And I was reminded— again—of not only the vastly different expectations of the churched and the unchurched, but also their “filters.”

Here’s what I mean by filters. I went back to the weekend we received these evaluations and reviewed the manuscript to my talk. I absolutely (as I always do) used the Bible—a lot! And I absolutely said the name of Jesus—a lot! So why might the evaluator have claimed they didn’t hear the Scripture or the name of Jesus? Perhaps I didn’t present them in the package or particular format this person was looking for, so they missed it. Yet both were front and center.

This is why you need to evaluate feedback carefully, particularly in light of whom you are trying to reach through your front door. I don’t know about you, but we are not after transfer growth. We are not trying to woo the happily churched down the street. We are not after the already convinced.

We are after the people who do not give a rip about Jesus, much less have darkened the doorstep of a church in years. We’re after the person who was invited by a friend, who checks us out online and, after a few weeks, dares to attend.

They aren’t looking for guest parking.

They aren’t evaluating our use of Scripture or counting the times we name Jesus (though both are present).

They aren’t thinking about their needs or wants at all.

They are just … there. They’re wondering whether there is a God and, if there is, whether he cares about them and could possibly overlook or even forgive the train wreck they’ve made of their lives.

So I’ll go on record.

I care about their feedback more than anybody else’s. And it’s a lot more … accurate.

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This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.

James Emery White
James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, ‘Hybrid Church:Rethinking the Church for a Post-Christian Digital Age,’ is now available on Amazon or from your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast.