15 Characteristics of Today’s Unchurched Person

If you’re like many Christians, you have an authentic desire to share your faith with people who don’t yet follow Jesus. I know I do.

One of my deepest longings is that every person would come to know the love and salvation that Jesus extends to them.

But unchurched people are changing.

Even since I started ministry 18 years ago, there’s been a big shift in how unchurched people think. Particularly here in Canada, we are a bit of a hybrid between the US and Europe. Canadians are less ‘religious’ than Americans, but less secular than Europeans.

Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman have outlined helpful characteristics of unchurched people in UnChristian and David tackled it again in You Lost Me. I won’t repeat those characteristics here. (Both books are fantastic reads.)

Post-modernism has a deeper toe-hold here than in almost anywhere in American except perhaps the Northwest and New England, where it might be about the same.

Here are characteristics of unchurched people that I’m seeing today.

1. They don’t all have big ‘problems.’ If you’re waiting for unchurched people to show up because their life is falling apart, you might wait a long time. Sure, there are always people in crisis who seek God out. But many are quite content with their lives without God. And some are quite happy and successful. If you only know how to speak into discontent and crisis, you will miss most of your neighbours.

2. They feel less guilty than you think. They don’t feel any more guilty about not being in church on Sunday than you feel guilty about not being in synagogue on Saturdays. How many Saturdays do you feel badly about missing synagogue? That’s how many Sundays they feel badly about missing church.

3. Occasional is regular. When they start coming, they don’t always attend every week. Giving them easy, obvious and strategic steps to get connected is important. Disconnected people generally don’t stick. (I wrote more about the declining frequency of church attendance here.)

4. Most are spiritual. Most unchurched people believe in some kind of God. They’re surprised and offended if you think of them as atheists. As they should be.

5. They are not sure what “Christian” means. So you need to make that clear. You really can’t make any assumptions about what people understand about the Christian faith. Moving forward, clarity is paramount.

6. You can’t call them back to something they never knew. Old school ‘revival’ meant there was something to revive. Now that we are on the 2nd to 5th generation of unchurched people, revival is less helpful to say the least. You can’t call them back to something they never knew.

7. Many have tried church, even a little, but left. We have a good chunk of people who have never ever been to church (60% of our growth is from people who self-identify as not regularly attending church), but a surprising number of people have tried church at some point – as a kid or young adult. Because it wasn’t a good experience, they left. Remember that.

8. Something is generous. Because even giving 10% of your income to anything is radically countercultural, the only paradigm of giving they have is a few dozen or hundred dollars to select charities. I hope every Christian learns to live a life of sacrifice and generosity, but telling them they are ungenerous is a poor way to start the conversation. They are probably already more generous than their friends.

9. They want you to be Christian. They want you to follow Jesus, authentically. Think about it, if you were going to convert to Buddhism, you would want to be an authentic Buddhist, not some watered down version. Andy Stanley is 100% right when he says you don’t alter the content of your services for unchurched people, but you should change the experience.

10. They’re intelligent, so speak to that. Don’t speak down to them. Just make it easy to get on the same page as people who have attended church for years by saying “this passage is near the middle of the bible.” You can be inclusive without being condescending.

11. They hate hypocrisy. Enough said.

12. They love transparency. When you share your weaknesses, everyone (including Christians) resonates.

13. They invite their friends if they like what they’re discovering. They will be your best inviters if they love what you’re doing.

14. Their spiritual growth trajectory varies dramatically. One size does not fit all. You need a flexible on ramp that allows people to hang in the shadows for a while as they make up their mind, and one that allows multiple jumping in points throughout the year.

15. Some want to be anonymous and some don’t. So make your church friendly to both. Also see the previous point. This is huge.

7 Signs Your Church is Making Inroads With Unchurched People

Just because a church is growing doesn’t mean it’s filling up with unchurched people.

How do you know you’re really making inroads with the unchurched?

Preparing to reach unchurched people is one thing (here are 9 signs your church is ready to reach unchurched people). But when unchurched people actually start connecting with your church, things change deeply.

When you see these 7 signs pop up in your church, you will know that you are really making inroads with the unchurched:

1. People Aren’t Singing Much During the Service

If you think about it, this shouldn’t surprise you. Christians are about the only people left in our culture who sing corporately on a weekly basis. Unchurched people may like your music, but they won’t necessarily sing it. Be okay with that. We’ve learned to be. Churched people visit our church all the time and remark on how few people sing (even though we have an exceptional band). I’ve just decided I don’t care. The goal is not to get unchurched people to sing…it’s to lead them into a growing relationship with Jesus. We limit the music to a few songs. Christians get to sing. Unchurched people appreciate the band. And people’s lives get changed.

2. Long Time Church People Are Unsettled

Not all long time church people will be upset, but some will be. They’ll be concerned that people who don’t look like them, behave like them or share their moral value system are now sitting beside them on Sundays or in group with them mid-week. This is a good sign. Some of those churched people will leave, but you will also have a group that have waited for this day all their lives. They have unchurched friends who are coming and they’ll be thrilled that the church is (finally) accomplishing its mission. Run with them.

3. Irregular Attendance is Regular

This unsettles pastors. Normally, if a church person is away for a month, it’s a ‘sign’ of something. Not with unchurched people. In the same way that if you don’t make it to the gym in a week you don’t panic, unchurched people will come when they feel like it. Remember: this is the most they’ve attended church ever. I wrote this post on how to get irregular attenders to attend more often, but just know this comes with the territory.

4. Your Tidy Categories Are Falling Apart

As you engage more and more unchurched people, you’ll realize that your neat and tidy theological and sociological categories for people will erode and collapse and you realize we’re just actually all people in need of a Saviour. Gays and lesbians will become people. Rich and poor will become names and faces. That doesn’t mean your theology changes, but it probably means your compassion does. And it likely means that your easy answers instead become involved conversations.

5. You’re Getting Surprisingly Candid Questions

As you surround yourself with unchurched people, you will see more of the pain and messiness of life. Long time church people often experience the same pain and life issues; it’s just unchurched people feel freer to talk about them. So get ready. Have a list of counselors nearby. And get ready to engage more real life issues from the platform. When you speak into real life, people listen.

6. Everyone’s Tolerance For Hypocrisy is Plummeting

People with little to no church background hate hypocrisy. And they will call it out. If you don’t deal with it, they will leave. Churched people have learned to live with hypocrisy for years. Losing that tolerance is awesome for everyone.

7. You See Real Life-Change

This is the best part, of course. But people are in radically different places than they were even a year or two ago. Unchurched people have really only one motive for being at church: they want to investigate Jesus. And when they do, its changes many—deeply. Sure, not everyone decides to follow Christ. But then there are many people who have attended church their whole life who have managed to resist transformation for decades. When it comes to unchurched people, measure change over several years and you’ll be amazed at the progress.

So these are 7 signs that show you’re actually connecting with unchurched people.

7 Ways to Rethink Your Christmas Services to Engage Unchurched People

Another great article from Carey Nieuwhof. You can follow him at

If you’re like many church leaders, you’re probably looking for every opportunity to connect with people who don’t normally go to church and who aren’t yet in a relationship with Christ.

People who never go to church will go to church at Christmas.

Connect well with them, and you will see some back in January. Offer up a predictable or uninspiring service, and they will all be gone again until next year (or never come back), unchanged, uninspired and still, unreached.

So here area few things we’ve done to try to connect with unchurched people that have helped.

Of course, there are many other ways to connect with unchurched people by serving in your community, serving the poor, getting out into the neighbourhood and more. But for the purposes of this post, I want to focus on what happens when they come to your church.

7 Ways to Rethink Your Christmas Services

Here are 7 ways we have rethought our services at Connexus to better connect with unchurched people.

1. Use What’s Familiar in a Fresh Way

Christmas is the only season where the shopping malls and radio stations play church music, period. We’ve made the mistake of being too unfamiliar at Christmas in the past – where in the name of being innovative, we ditched most of the traditional Christmas music. It didn’t work. People expect the familiar at Christmas. So our December worship set is almost all classic Christmas Carols, and Christmas Eve is almost 100% classic Christmas carols.

What our music team has mastered in the last few years, though, is presenting those carols in a fresh way. They’ve figured out how to do them in a fresh, almost rock show style that sounds familiar but amazing at the same time. Artists like Chris Tomlin, Phil Wickham, the North Point worship team and so many others have done Christmas songs in a fresh way that make old classics sound completely familiar and completely fresh. Insiders and outsiders at our church love it.

If you’ve got enough familiar in the service, you can also make space for one or two songs that might not be as familiar but make the point you’re trying to make.

2. Have Fun!

People love being surprised. A few years ago, our band and guest services team combined for a totally fun rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas. The band rewrote the lyrics, and as they sang each stanza, the guest services team ran down the aisle giving away whatever the band was singing about – from mock gifts to a few legit free gift cards. It was fun and engaging.

A few years ago the band opened with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”, pretending to have forgotten it was Christmas. The host interrupted them, told them to get their act together, at which point they played the rest of the song but switched to “made up” Christmas lyrics to finish it. I couldn’t believe the smiles across every demographic in the room.

Fun engages people. And when you’ve got them engaged, they’re listening.

3. Make the message pointed (and creative)

In the message, start with common ground. My friends at Preaching Rocket have done an unbelievable job of helping communicators understand how critical this principle is in beginning a message. But it’s never more critical than when the room is packed with outsiders.

I usually speak about 40 minutes on a Sunday. On Christmas, I cut it to 15 minutes.

We pre-shoot the message on video. This year, the message was about time.

I told a story about missing a connecting flight and not being able to see my family when I was hoping to. I then talked about how we all watch time pass us by, and used enough examples to connect everyone in the room with a moment in their life where they ran out of time.

To add intrigue, we shot the message in a 100 year old clock tower, and we themed the entire service around time—that the God who created space and time stepped into time at Christmas for us. I talked about how sometimes we think it’s too late for us to get things right with God, or that at other times we think we have all the time in the world, when we don’t. The bottom line was simple: Time waits for no one, except, at Christmas, time waited for you. I then invited people who wanted to make a decision to follow Jesus to do so.

It was short. It was creative. And I pray it connected.

Even if you can’t or don’t shoot the message via video, just focus on connecting with the people who are in the room. You don’t need cameras to be engaging. You just need to be engaging.

4. Engage people emotionally

People might not remember what you said, but they remember how you made them feel.

We always try to find an opener that either uses some kind of emotion to engage people. Since this year’s theme was time, we created a countdown reel consisting of footage from the 100 year old clock tower.

The countdown ended with a bell ringing (loudly), and our band took over from there. The clang of the bell was followed by a xylophone sounding a few notes, then a snare that slowly built into a version of Little Drummer Boy. The entire stage was set with Edison bulbs and percussion instruments, and by the end of Little Drummer Boy, 8 musicians were drumming everything from tympani to snare to bass drum.

When it was over, people cheered wildly (at least they did at our opening service December 23rd…we have four more running today…Christmas Eve!).

The point…every single person was paying attention, including the guys in the room who didn’t want to be there.

5. Take care of their family

When parents are worried about their kids, they won’t pay attention. So we offer child care for the youngest.

For all the older kids in the service (ages 4-10), we offer an activity pack – crayons, games, and even sometimes some food.

When people know you care about their family, they know you care about them.

6. Tee Up the New Year

Every year, without hopefully sounding like a commercial, we invite people back for January.

They get a card explaining the new series and dates, times and locations. We don’t usually have services the Sunday after Christmas, so we let them know that too. But we tell everyone they’re invited for the first Sunday in January.

7. Pray

Really pray for people coming at Christmas (and all year long).

God loves them more deeply than any of us ever will. Pray that they would move into a growing relationship with Jesus.

And pray that we would meet them in a way that honours and brings glory to God.

So those are seven things we’ve done to connect with outsiders. What have you done?

You don’t need to take on the world by yourself

By Ted Cunningham

Recently I heard a pastor say, “I want to make a huge impact on the kingdom with the time I have left.” This pastor’s enthusiasm to reach his community and the world is contagious. It inspires me. And yet after a few days of meditating on his sermon, I started to wonder: “What exactly qualifies as huge impact?”

Sometimes our preaching takes on a tone of “do more, get bigger, reach more, expand and build.” While growing the church and kingdom is part of our church mission, I don’t think we should take on the Great Commission like a bunch of Lone Rangers.

Jesus gave the Great Commission to a group, not an individual. I take personal responsibility for sharing the Gospel with family, friends and strangers, but the weight of the world is not on my shoulders. It takes the entire church to make disciples, not just me:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20.

How do we take on such a monumental assignment? How do we make disciples, expand the kingdom and grow our ministries as a team? Here are four thoughts on reaching people without burning out.

Serve one person today. Pastor Andy Stanley taught us years ago to “Do for one what you can’t do for all.” I love hearing leaders around our church say this to each other. This one thought completely changed the way we do missions, benevolence, evangelism, and a whole host of ministries around our community. It also freed me up personally. I love striking up conversations with strangers, but now I don’t feel the pressure to engage every stranger I meet. My goal is to talk to somebody new every day and engage them in deep conversation.

Remind the congregation often that every member is a minister. It’s a teaching I received from Pastor Rick Warren that I have quoted hundreds of times. Years ago, a member of our church called the office to say they saw a homeless man on a street corner in town. The member said, “I just think we should do something as a church.” We encouraged that member to be the church and minister to this man on the spot instead of waiting for a meeting or a benevolence offering. The Body of Christ has the freedom to be the church 24/7.

Celebrate how God is using the church down the street. Rather than competing with the churches in town, rejoice that you are not the only church or pastor reaching people. It takes all kinds to reach all kinds. Refuse to compare your ministries, budgets, and numbers with the church down the street. God uniquely placed you where you are and wants you to reach people with the personality, giftedness, and passion he gave you.

Allow God to determine your growth. Pastor Joel Thomas recently said, “I am responsible for obedience. God will take care of the outcome.” When we focus on being the church, rather than growing the church, God takes care of the numbers. In Acts 2 we read about God’s response to the activity of the first church:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47.

The Lord added to their numbers. He determines our size. Rest your weary head on the pillow tonight knowing that God has the size of your ministry taken care of.

We are only a few short weeks away from 2015. I can’t believe it. What if we try something new next year? Instead of waking up each morning and asking, “What do I need to do to get bigger and better?” What if we ask, “How can I serve better today?” For me, that means less time on social media and more time enjoying my family. I want to have deeper fellowship with friends during the week rather than catching up on their latest post.

Reach people. Love people. Spend time with people. Work hard. Enjoy the ministry opportunities God places before you today. Here at Focus on the Family, we are cheering for you and your church!

Copyright © 2014 by Ted Cunningham.

Ted Cunningham is the founding pastor of Woodland Hills Family Church. He married Amy in 1996 and now live in Branson, MO with their two children, Corynn and Carson. Ted is the author of Fun Loving You, Trophy Child and Young and In Love and coauthor of four books with Dr. Gary Smalley. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Dallas Theological Seminary.