Support the Café

Search our Site

Is your church ready to reach unchurched people?

Is your church ready to reach unchurched people?

Carey Nieuwhof tells us about 9 Signs Your Church is Ready to Reach Unchurched People. How ready are you?

1. Your main services engage teenagers.

I’ve talked with many church leaders who want to reach unchurched people who can’t understand why unchurched people don’t like their church. They would be stumped until I asked them one last question: do the teens in your church love your services and want to invite their friends? As soon as I asked that question, the leader’s expression would inevitably change. He or she would look down at the floor and say ‘no’. Here’s what I believe: if teens find your main services (yes, the ones you run on Sunday mornings) boring, irrelevant, and disengaging, so will unchurched people. As a rule, if you can design services that engage teenagers, you’ve designed a church service that engages unchurched people.

2. People who attend your church actually know unchurched people.

Many Christians say they want to reach unchurched people, but they don’t actually know any unchurched people well enough to invite them. One of the reasons we run almost no church programs at Connexus where I serve (other than small groups and few other steps toward discipleship) is that we want our families to get to know unchurched people. We want them to play community sports, get involved at their kids school and have time for dinner parties and more. You can’t do that if you’re at church 6 nights a week. We don’t do many ministries because our people are our ministry.

Are you good with questions- not just quick answers? Are you honest about your struggles?

Read all 9 here


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Harriet Baber

Linda Ryan, you read me perfectly. Thank you. As for getting that message out to the world that was what I couldn’t figure out how to do and why I ultimately dropped out of church.Maybe you can do better–I hope you can.

(1) Liturgy. The whole pitch has been: we have to do something different. First: young people want Folk Masses–if we bring in the guitars, they will come. NOT. Last: people want the evangelical style with Christian Rock–if we emulate evangelical megachurches we will go mega. NOT. Always trying to second-guess the customers while at the same time NEVER LISTENING. It’s been going on for decades: in college, when I objected to the new prayerbook I was told that I wasn’t typical of Young People and dismissed. Later we were all told that even if we didn’t like…praise music, contemporary English, overhead projectors, the Peace–you name it…we were just being selfish jerks. We should sacrifice our own interests and promote the kind of services that would bring in other people–particularly Young People. So they did this stuff, we dropped out and no one else came.

I wouldn’t say I was an introvert. I just don’t like popular music or popular culture because I find it emotionally flat and boring. I find the evangelical style–the arm-waving, etc. dull, tedious and boring: it doesn’t interest or excite me. For me, the emotion, the intensity is in ‘classical’ music, fancy ceremonies and high art.

(2) Advertising. Years ago, before the internet, when I was on Vestry I suggested we take out a regular ad in newspaper church directory. They wouldn’t do it–not cost effective, wouldn’t work, we don’t have the money. My church spent less that 1% of it’s budget on advertising. On the diocesan evangelism commission, which spent pots to get a firm of church growth consultants who lectured to us, I suggested that for Christmas the diocese buy up a big space in the local paper to advertise church for Christmas with little boxes around the side giving the times and places of services in churches around the diocese. This is “economies of scale”: you get a bigger bang for the buck by pooling resources. Wouldn’t do it. And only 3 or 4 churches in the diocese advertised at all. And yet Christmas, and Easter, are a time when people are receptive. This spring, I suggested that the Episcopal Church get a booth at the local Earth Day celebration in Balboa park–which features the local humanists and Hari Krishnas in booths, and fundamentalists with Bible verse signs displaying pictures of dismembered fetuses. I was politely brushed off.

I could go on. And on and on and on because I have tried and tried and tried. One standard response was that evangelism was a person-to-person enterprise–not accomplished through impersonal (expensive) advertising. Well nice if you live in a world were churchgoing is the norm and you’re just looking for a church to go to, where there’s a coffee-klatch circuit at which you meet churchgoers, who can recommend churches in the way they recommend beauty parlors. This is not the world that I or most unchurched people live in.

Rev. Kurt

I have enjoyed the discussion. I think it is a perennial discussion.

The quote is not DBB but Evelyn Underhill – “God is the interesting thing about religion and people are hungry for God.”

Read her whole letter to Archbishop Lang. It is relevant to what many have said here.

“The Church wants not more consecrated philanthropists, but a disciplined priesthood of theocentric souls who shall be tools and channels of the Spirit of God.”

Kurt Huber [added by editor]


Let’s get really radical. What is denominationalism for? Denominational differences no longer track either theological differences or ethnic/historical ones. So why not recognize denominationalism as offering different styles of religiosity to appeal to different tastes? On this account, one doesn’t belong go a church–one goes to a church in the way one goes to a restaurant. And is that analogy so bad considering what the central service of the church is? And you go to a church, either on a regular basis or for variety, because you want a shot of cult in the distinctive denominational style.

I don’t often agree with Dr. Baber but this time I find myself nodding in agreement. Some people find their path to God through praise bands, some through Bach chorales. Some want a tidal wave of emotionalism and some want quiet reflection. It’s not just a manner of style, it’s a a matter of what connects a person to God based on their experience, preferences and the like. I couldn’t be a member of a megachurch or even a small-sized “evangelical” church. I’m not an extrovert who likes loud music, lots of arm-waving and emotional sermons focused on sin, sin, sin and more sin (accompanied by a long “invitation” to accept Jesus and all will be wonderful). I’m an introvert who likes classical music, sermons based on a variety of scripture (as opposed to a chosen few texts the preacher likes and preaches on frequently), a sense of mystery and a touch of formality. The Episcopal Church was a perfect fit.

Instead of trying to be all things to all people all the time, why aren’t we playing to our strengths? We have a beautiful liturgy. We hear a lot of scripture from different parts of the Bible in a single service. We have beautiful places to in which to worship (we seem to be a culture getting away from beauty except for supermodels, movie stars, occasional minimalist architecture and convoluted graphic novels). We hear and participate in music we don’t hear bouncing off buildings from souped-up super-subwoofers or that isolates us from others through earbuds. There are other things – like being a church where thinking is welcomed rather than discouraged. We are adaptable; we often have several different types of service on a single Sunday to appeal to those who want the very traditional and those who find a more modern approach. And there are a lot more I things I could think of, things that brought me into the church — including an invitation from a friend.

Maybe the Episcopal Church isn’t for everyone — but maybe it’s for more people than we credit simply because we ARE more traditional, more formal. We speak to things that the rest of the world ignores. And one doesn’t have to be a member of the 400 or have a PhD or be CEO of a major corporation to be a part of that.

Thank you, Dr. Baber. I did read your message and it made me think. Now how do we get that message out to the world?

Linda Ryan

David Stump

“David Stump at USF?”

No, but it’s a surprisingly common name.

Harriet Baber

David Stump at USF?

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café