Originally posted August 2, 2011, at Cowtown Lutheran.Republished with permission of the author.
How do we stop simply moving the ever smaller pool of faithful church goers around from church to church, while watching more folks go out the doors, never to return?
Is anyone really reaching those people who aren’t churched?
The answer, well, that depends on whom you talk to. Willow Creek Church in Chicago has for years had as their slogan “Turning irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus.”
And they have been really successful in getting lots of people into their doors, but who are these people? Are they really “irreligious” or are they just bored/disenchanted with the churches they grew up in?
No one knows because, frankly, those aren’t stats you can accurately collect from the outside, and if someone does know, they aren’t gonna tell.
Who exactly are unchurched people?
Truth is, despite lots of books and articles and conferences, no one can actually prove they are truly reaching unchurched people. Mostly because we can’t really define who they are.
Some are “dechurched,” meaning that they grew up in a church, probably were baptized, were in a youth group etc., but at sometime they drifted away. So perhaps it has been three, five or 10 years since they went to church, but they aren’t truly “unchurched.”
They know the basics of the faith, they have just dropped away. These are the majority of the people the typical megachurches appeal to. People who know who Jesus is, are comfortable with him and just haven’t found the right package to plug into.
Yet for the past generation, there have been many “dechurched” people who have had kids who didn’t get connected to the church again.
Those people, those kids, might actually it into the category of unchurched. They haven’t grown up with the faith, the story isn’t as familiar and they won’t recognize worship of any kind. These things are new to them.
So how do we reach this group?
We certainly can’t reach them by having flashier versions of things they have left behind (and I don’t mean to make a pun on that series of books).
I know people who grew up in traditional (organ, piano, orchestra) music and contemporary (praise band, preacher in flip-flops and Hawaiian shirt) worship environments and have left both behind.
They aren’t looking for just a better version of this and people who didn’t grow up with any of it certainly aren’t.
What are the answers?
What will reach those who are truly disconnected from the church? Well, the answers are hard:
- We have to go to where they are. This is what new worshiping communities are trying to do.
- We have to engage them and listen to what they are interested in. Start with asking them what their needs and questions are. We can’t assume we have something they need if we don’t ask them what they need.
- They won’t understand our worship, scriptures, traditions. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them. In fact, being who we are is probably attractive, so long as we teach them who we are in a manner that isn’t condescending and our people actually know why we do things (not a safe assumption).
- Individuals are going to have to invite other individuals to come. It can’t be advertising, great websites or Facebook pages. Not even blogs will do it. Individual relationships will.
The good news is individual relationships spread and spread exponentially. One person talks to two, those two talk to two (four), those four talk to two (eight), those eight to two (16) and so on. It’s exponential growth, but it requires empowering individuals to talk to individuals and it’s hard work.
That’s how we can reach unchurched people. But first we have to find them.
Find a link to Erik Gronberg’s blog Cowtown Lutheran at Lutheran Blogs.