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Ten Surprises About the Unchurched
Understanding their hearts and minds.

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Over the past few years, I have been privileged to enter a world that I really did not know very well. It is the world of the unchurched. Now, like many Christians, I have interacted with the unchurched, worked with the unchurched, socialized with the unchurched, and witnessed to the unchurched.

But I have been a Christian for more than 30 years. I really did not understand the hearts and the mindsets of the unchurched until recently.

For the past three years, my research team and I have been involved in extensive and intensive interaction with the unchurched. We have come with our computers and pre-planned questions, but many times we would just sit back and listen for hours.

Our team has covered all 50 states and Canada listening to the unchurched. We have been among a diversity of ethnic groups and socioeconomic groups. We have been in wide-ranging demographic areas, and we have talked to as many females as males. We have listened to the unchurched with modest education, and we listened to the unchurched with doctoral degrees. We have indeed listened for thousands of hours.

A team of 17 men and women gave not only their time, but their hearts to this project. You will hear some fascinating information that we gleaned from our time with the unchurched.

Surprises and Then Some

In this two-part series, we will present 10 of the surprises our research uncovered about the unchurched. Now we understand that a surprise is only a surprise in the eyes of the beholders. But the information you are about to read defies the conventional wisdom about the unchurched. In many ways, it goes against the grain of some "truths" we have been told.

Our research project involved 308 men and women in the United States and Canada. Every person interviewed was deemed to be both unchurched and non-Christian. While we asked some pre-determined objective questions, we also let the unchurched person speak freely. Some of the best interviews we had went off our planned script. And it was in those contexts that we often discovered some surprises. The surprises below are not listed in any particular order.

Surprise No. 1

Most of the unchurched prefer to attend church on Sunday morning if they attend. Perhaps the unchurched responded this way because that is the time they have always heard church should be. But when we asked the formerly unchurched (new Christians attending church) the same question, they gave us the same response. A very distant preference was a weeknight service other than Friday night.

"If I attended church, it would be the only time I could go regularly," said Al V. of Tulsa. "I work five days a week, and I like to go home to my family at night. And we almost always have some activity that one of our kids is involved in on Saturdays. I just think Sunday is the best time. And Sunday morning is the best time, because we get the kids to bed at a decent hour on Sunday night."

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Topics:Culture, Demographics, Evangelism, Growth, Outreach, Seekers, Spiritual Friendship, Trends, Unchurched, Visitors & guests
Filters:Church staff, Elder, Evangelism, Missions, Outreach, Pastor, Worship leader
References:Matthew 28:19

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June 14, 2013  10:41pm

It’s good that you talked to 300 or so unchurched people, but it’s tiny in the face of estimates of over 70 million unchurched adults in America. Being so small, the sample misses some important issues including a core reason sending many people out of the churches, which is a distaste for the attempted influence of religious fundamentalism in American politics. It should be no surprise that people started leaving churches by the cartload during the same time that conservative fundamentalists have pursued their campaign to push themselves into the public arena, to demand that public resources be used to support their religious views, and to sneer at scientific learning. In my own experience, church involvement became less about the message of the gospel and more about groupthink, checking your brains at the door, and the latest hate mongering against progressive thought. Unless moderate voices in the churches begin to take back their churches and refocus their religious messages on God instead of on Fox News headlines, the unchurched numbers will continue to grow and they won’t be coming back no matter how nicely they’re invited.

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James Mahood

January 17, 2013  3:26pm

A list of the 7 points would have been better because this article just drones on and on. And where is the idea that many unchurched people believe in God but can't stand the churches and the church people available to them?

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Abigail Taylor

December 06, 2012  3:30pm

The article is a very interesting one. Reaching children and youth is very important as well;and besides, they are at the point of their lives, where they are open to listening to truth. This is a must read for concerned Christians. Thank you for this terrific article.

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