This is the second article in this series about understanding the unchurched. Sorry to have missed writing last week—if you keep up with me on Facebook, you know that I traveled Tennessee speaking for conferences.
At Faith Village where I preach full time, we’re doing our best to figure out how God can use us for His glory in our community. We want to become more of an “outwardly” focused church. I’ve been reading a book, The Unchurched Next Door, written by Thom Rainer several years back. For this book project, Rainer, along with his team, surveyed millions of Americans he labeled as “unchurched”. For clarity, “unchurched” by definition are those who don’t have a church home or don’t attend church regularly, not necessarily unbelievers. While some “unchurched” may be unbelievers, they certainly make up the minority.
In the book, Rainer separates survey results into five main groups—U5-U1. By my paraphrased terms, here’s the breakout:
- U5= Antagonistic toward Christianity, possibly agnostic in theological thinking.
- U4= Skeptical, but more inquisitive than critical
- U3=Christianity is probably true, but so what? (Ironically, largest group in America, 57 million people or 36% of those surveyed)
- U2= The “Seeker” stage—desiring spiritual understanding
- U1=Ready at any moment, just needing that “final push”.
What I want to discuss in today’s article are some interesting observations from Rainer about the “U5’s” and the “U2’s”.
Not many will speak with “U5’s” for fear of not only rejection, but ridicule. That’s understandable, as “U5’s” can be harsh in their responses to religion. However, Rainer makes an encouraging observation in his book—his exact wording is as follows, “…the U5 individual does not reject the Christian.” Rainer is arguing that “U5’s” reject horrendous church experiences of the past. For example, if they were made to feel like God would never forgive them, a biblical, graceful explanation of forgiveness would be the ideal place to begin a conversation. If they were made to feel like just a “body in a seat”, explaining to them why the church is a family, not an organization, might peek their interest. It’s important to remember that people aren’t always upset with us for being Christians, or even turned off by people who claim to follow Christ. What they often despise are poor church experiences. It’s our job to help heal those hurts. But to know what those bad experiences were, we must first have the courage to begin a conversation and listen.
Rainer also gives some fascinating details about “U2’s”, those we often call “seekers”. 62% of this group are female AND under the age of 36. Personally, I think that’s mind-boggling and critical to remember. Rainer also said that when surveyed, many “U2’s” (men and women) admitted that they were desiring someone to tell them how God was working in their life. In fact, daily testimonies would almost make the decision for them about following Christ. Isn’t that interesting? And encouraging? You don’t have to be a great theologian, or even seasoned teacher, to help move a “U2” into a true disciple. Just talk about your personal blessings from God! That’s what they’re looking for! I’m reminded of what Jesus told the healed man who was demon-possessed in Luke 8:39—“Go home and tell them how much God has done for you.” We can all do that, can’t we? If we can’t, we have much bigger problems than failing to be mission-minded. We aren’t spiritually minded. God has done something for ALL of us and there are many in your community, neighborhood, even work place waiting to hear about it. Will you tell them?
If we want to influence the unchurched, we must understand the unchurched. It’s not always what we think. There’s always more we can learn.