Characteristics of the ‘Unchurched’

I just read an article called “15 Characteristics of Today’s Unchurched Person” at a Web site about strategies for church growth. The definition of ‘unchurched’ appears to be’ apart from God and Jesus Christ’ because at the beginning of the article are these statement:

“One of my deepest longings is that every person would come to know the love and salvation that Jesus extends to them.

“Our vision at . . . . . . . . . . .where I serve as lead pastor, is to be a church that unchurched people love to attend – a vision we share with all North Point strategic partner churches.” 

The author tells us that ‘uchurcned’ people have changed during the 18 years of his ministry and then provides us with his list of 15 characteristics:

1. They don’t all have big ‘problems.’ If you’re waiting for unchurched people to show up because their life is falling apart, you might wait a long time. Sure, there are always people in crisis who seek God out. But many are quite content with their lives without God. And some are quite happy and successful. If you only know how to speak into discontent and crisis, you will miss most of your neighbours.

2. They feel less guilty than you think. They don’t feel any more guilty about not being in church on Sunday than you feel guilty about not being in synagogue on Saturdays. How many Saturdays do you feel badly about missing synagogue? That’s how many Sundays they feel badly about missing church.

3. Occasional is regular. When they start coming, they don’t always attend every week. Giving them easy, obvious and strategic steps to get connected is important. Disconnected people generally don’t stick. (I wrote more about the declining frequency of church attendance here.)

4. Most are spiritual. Most unchurched people believe in some kind of God. They’re surprised and offended if you think of them as atheists. As they should be.

5. They are not sure what “Christian” means. So you need to make that clear. You really can’t make any assumptions about what people understand about the Christian faith. Moving forward, clarity is paramount.

6. You can’t call them back to something they never knew. Old school ‘revival’ meant there was something to revive. Now that we are on the 2nd to 5th generation of unchurched people, revival is less helpful to say the least. You can’t call them back to something they never knew.

7. Many have tried church, even a little, but left. We have a good chunk of people who have never ever been to church (60% of our growth is from people who self-identify as not regularly attending church), but a surprising number of people have tried church at some point – as a kid or young adult. Because it wasn’t a good experience, they left. Remember that.

8. Something is generous. Because even giving 10% of your income to anything is radically countercultural, the only paradigm of giving they have is a few dozen or hundred dollars to select charities. I hope every Christian learns to live a life of sacrifice and generosity, but telling them they are ungenerous is a poor way to start the conversation. They are probably already more generous than their friends.

9. They want you to be Christian. They want you to follow Jesus, authentically. Think about it, if you were going to convert to Buddhism, you would want to be an authentic Buddhist, not some watered down version. Andy Stanley is 100% right when he says you don’t alter the content of your services for unchurched people, but you should change the experience.

10. They’re intelligent, so speak to that. Don’t speak down to them. Just make it easy to get on the same page as people who have attended church for years by saying “this passage is near the middle of the bible.” You can be inclusive without being condescending.

11. They hate hypocrisy. Enough said.

12. They love transparency. When you share your weaknesses, everyone (including Christians) resonates.

13. They invite their friends if they like what they’re discovering. They will be your best inviters if they love what you’re doing.

14. Their spiritual growth trajectory varies dramatically. One size does not fit all. You need a flexible on ramp that allows people to hang in the shadows for a while as they make up their mind, and one that allows multiple jumping in points throughout the year.

15. Some want to be anonymous and some don’t. So make your church friendly to both. Also see the previous point. This is huge.

While all of the above are accurate descriptions of those around us who remain lost and apart from God and Christ, I don’t see a single ‘characteristic’ of unbelievers that is taught in the New Testament. Don’t get me wrong, I am not judging the author of the article; I am only making an observation. I submit to you that there are at least four ‘characteristics’ about the unchurched/unconverted/unsaved that are essential when we speak about evangelism, whether it’s in a one-on-one context between ordinary people in ordinary settings, or within the four walls of a church building and the pastor is speaking to the folks listening in the pews:

1. They are dead in trespasses and sins.

Ephesians 2:1: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.”


2. Their unbelieving minds are blinded by Satan.

2 Cor. 4:4: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.


3. They are lost.

Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

4. They slaves are of sin.

John 8:34: “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”

I can’t help but think of the infant church, birthed at Pentecost, and whether or not Peter’s vision for the new church was to create a place that ‘unchurched people love to attend’. There seems to be a disconnect between the church growth strategy of our author and the NT model. At the same time the ‘give them a place they will love to attend’ seems to be the prevailing model in today’s evangelical culture.

That leaves me with the question:  What’s up with that?

I have some thoughts, but insufficient time to address them at the moment. If you are reading this, I would love to know yours!


5 responses to “Characteristics of the ‘Unchurched’

  1. I think it all goes back to what R.C. Sproul calls the Pelagian captivity of the church. I’m meeting weekly (here where I work)with a former Catholic who has been genuinely saved for a couple of years now and this morning’s topic was Christ’s Lordship. We got into the discussion about sovereignty and I explained how our view of ‘fallen man’ affects how we evangelize. Although I don’t know what the “15 Characteristics” author’s view is, I’d guess it wasn’t total inability.


  2. Pingback: A Megashift in Church Growth Methodology | The Battle Cry

  3. AMERICAN GOTHIC CHURCH: Changing the Way People See the Church, a new book by Jeffery Warren Scott suggests that the unchurched are not likely to be reached unless believers change the mental image of Christians embedded in the minds of the unchurched. Churches which are encouraging, joyful, and compassionate are more likely to reach and retain the unchurched.


    • What should be our main concern, being known as a nice place, or faithfulness to the message of the gospel? Is our goal to get people through our doors, or lead them to repentance from sin and faith in Christ?


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