A church elder once asked me, “Why is it so difficult to reach people in this community when we have so much in common?” As churches increasingly try to engage people who have rarely participated in churches, it’s a question worthy of consideration.
Seekers and Marketing
Historically churches in the United States wait for people to find the church. Sure, churches place newspaper ads and build static websites, but that’s about it.
The “Seeker Movement” of the 1990s and early 2000s was really church marketing. Churches were willing to make changes to help visitors “stick” in the congregation. They even seemed to attract a few new converts with these techniques.
I think this success in gaining “seekers” fooled churches into thinking they could effectively reach the “Never Churched.” Here’s the problem: Marketing is for people who are looking for a product. Marketing is not designed to convert consumers into a wanting a product.
The “seekers” were not people seeking a new spirituality or religion. Seekers were Christians looking for a congregation that fit their needs better than other churches.
Battling the Seemingly Obvious
I’m going to risk a seemingly obvious statement. Most of the people in your community are not looking for a church home. If this is so obvious, why are churches still trying to reach people as if they were seeking a church?
I know, I know. Your church is warm and friendly. Your church has awesome or awe-inspiring worship. Your church has excellent preaching. Given the quality of congregational life, the church should reach all sorts of people from the community.
This isn’t about your church. It’s about the “Never Churched.” And they don’t care about church. They care about their lives. And their lives rarely intersect with church. It’s not that they have a problem with church. They know nothing about church.
Churches in the United States rely on worship services as the entry point for new members. If you have no real background in church, why attend a divine service? If you don’t believe in God, why go worship the Lord? It makes no sense.
The Deeper Differences
We understand why American churches struggle to reach first generation immigrants who don’t speak English. But we grapple with why the same churches struggle to reach fourth generation Americans of European descent with similar socio-economic status as members.
I think the reason is most Americans have a secular or Humanist worldview. The individual defines his or her reality. While society places curbs on behaviors, the individual has the final say in what is right and wrong.
Our churches present a biblical worldview. God through Scripture establishes reality. People are ultimately dependent on God, not on themselves or society. God through the Bible defines right and wrong.
Christians and Humanists find it very difficult to comprehend the gulf between the two world views.
A Worthy Challenge
Given the challenges, I can see why church leaders resist reaching the “Never Churched.” However, I am not advocating abandoning the effort.
Above all, God sends His people to make disciples of Jesus among all people groups. Since God brings people to believe in and follow Jesus, no secular worldview is insurmountable.
It’s also worthwhile to acknowledge churches in America have never committed their resources to reaching people with little or no experience in churches. So, we don’t really know what would happen if churches focused more on engaging the community than on their own members.
My next post on this topic will deal with how churches can intentionally reach out to the “Never Churched.” Until then, leave your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email.
Why Churches Seek the “Never Churched”
Preparing to Embrace the “Never Churched”
Five Shifts for Reaching the “Never Churched”
3 thoughts on “The “Never Churched” Challenge for Churches”
Hi, Kevin. Interesting read. There is a small Christian church here in New River, AZ (Crossroads Christian Fellowship) that is doing just that – reaching out to the rural Desert community here. They offer their facilities for many community meetings re: water issues and incorporation debate, as well as hosting weekly car shows and free breakfast in their parking lot; bimonthly craft night; free bluegrass concerts; loaning their praise band for community BBQ events; free tutoring for school kids every week; hosted Thanksgiving dinner for the community, etc. Although we have a home church we’re very happy with (Cross of Christ in Anthem), I think it’s worth observing and noticing how this little New River church is really making strides in the community by meeting people where there are. Everyone in New River has heard of them and many are participating in their outreaches.
Kevin, Thank you for your thoughts and insights. It seems we are so good at connection and struggle so hard at living in relationship. We think that what we do is attractive, instead of who we are. Even our churches that have schools struggle to connect with the families (many of whom are Never Churched) who are sending their children for quality, caring education. As others have stated in various forms – this isn’t a question of how we get the community into our church, but how we get the church out into the community. I will be interested to read how others are making this attempt work.
Love the article! Can’t wait for part 2!