American churches are in a state of change. Churches are busily reinventing themselves to appeal to what has become known as "the unchurched." In earlier days we (like Jesus) divided humanity into "saved" and "lost" columns. Such terminology now is politically incorrect and hence discarded by mainstream religious leaders.
In the midst of the change crisis, churches are jostling each other trying to discover what it is that the "unchurched" are looking for. Lots of pontification has been going on without much hard evidence. Thom S. Rainer in his recently released book, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, has done some research with people who claimed no faith and then came to some faith. So he is not describing people who merely changed churches, but those who have moved from unbelief to belief.
I think we can learn from Dr. Rainer's research and his insights. So what do the "unchurched" say motivates them?
90% said "Preaching" was a factor in choosing a church. That's odd. We have been told repeatedly that few cared about the preaching Interestingly enough, the preacher did not have to be a dynamic or charismatic leader, but they did enjoy a good speaker.
90% said that a clean, "well maintained facility" was one of the important items they considered.
88% mentioned "Doctrines" as a factor in their choices. Again, this runs against the grain of the popular understanding that "people just want to feel good and do good things."
81% said that the "Name of the church" did not influence their decision. (Remember, we're talking about unchurched, not church shoppers, and the titles of the churches didn't influence their decision much).
49% stated that "Friendliness" of the members influenced them. Obviously, we ought to pay attention to this quality. An interesting point is that most churches thought they were friendly, but many of the unchurched said they weren't!
11% said "Worship Style/Music" was a factor. (Perhaps we have been oversold on how important this is.)
Well, this sounds like the old story of the men arguing about how many teeth a particular horse had. They argued for hours and only stopped when one of the men thought about opening the horse's mouth and counting the teeth. What a revolutionary idea that was. Some would prefer to imagine what they think the reasons are, and then design a strategy based on those mistaken ideas.
So let's open the horse's mouth and count the teeth before we start taking action.
--by Dan Cooper, Tabernacle, NJ, Church of Christ bulletin
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, NovDec07.