Five Shifts for Reaching the “Never Churched”

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This post is a reality check for churches desiring to reach people with little or no background in churches. Prepare to significantly shift how your church goes about outreach.

Shift away from assuming your members think in very similar ways to the “Never Churched.” 

For Christians, God is at the center of life. This forms and shapes our values and beliefs. It is much more likely that the “Never Churched” see human beings as the center of the universe. As such, their worldview is very different than churched people. It takes a good deal of time for people who were never churched to form a Christian worldview. 

Shift from defining success by attendance to defining success by relationships.

When a church partners with a local elementary school, I’m not interested in how many backpacks or Christmas presents the church gave students. I want to know who from the church is praying with the principal. I want to know whether church members know the teachers’ names. I want to see signs of relationships.

Relationships are the conduit for sharing Jesus. Relationships are the starting point for discipleship. Relationships are the bridges God builds for people to enter congregations. Relationships are essential for reaching the “Never Churched.”

Shift from focusing on the short term to the long-term.

“Alpha” is an evangelistic course providing basic instruction in the Christian faith for unchurched people. The director of Alpha for southern England once told me that his churches usually offered Alpha six times before anyone from outside the church attended.

Let that sink it. How many American churches will continue a ministry if no one shows the first time it’s offered? Reaching the “Never Churched” is a long term commitment. Think years, not months.

Shift from formal to informal discipleship.

In the West discipleship is a formal experience. A pastor preaches a sermon. An elder teaches adult instruction. A youth leader facilitates discussions for teenagers. The problem is people with little background with churches have no desire to attend those activities.

Discipleship starts in much more informal contexts. It’s about forming authentic relationships with the “Never Churched.” Relationships where we earn the permission to talk about our hope in Christ or struggles with God. This usually requires equipping God’s people to converse about the faith. In time, the relationships lead to the “Never Churched” wanting formal discipleship.

Shift from seeing worship services as an entry point to seeing services as a final destination.

American churches historically view worship services as the primary entry point to the congregation. However, worship services are not entry points for the “Never Churched.” They see no reason to attend services. So, churches need pathways leading to divine services.

Here’s a potential pathway. An unchurched couple is invited to play on the church’s co-ed softball team. When the season ends, the couple is invited by teammates to join a small group. After a couple years in the small group, the couple accepts an invitation to attend formal adult instruction. Near the end of the adult instruction course the couple starts attending worship services.

The final post in this series will expand on the issue of worship and the “Never Churched.” If you have further experience in reaching the “unchurched,” leave your insights in the comments or on the social media.

If you appreciated this post, check out others in the series:

Why Churches Seek the “Never Churched”

The “Never Churched” Challenge for Churches

Preparing to Embrace the “Never Churched”

One thought on “Five Shifts for Reaching the “Never Churched”

  1. President Wilson, I have been following this series as it has come out in email. Thank you for the insight and perspective. The struggle for Pastors to help the local congregation balance Mission and maintenance is difficult and many times puts members at odds with each other as well as at odds with the Pastor. I look forward to your conclusion on the ramifications for worship.


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