Many of the unchurched are not antagonistic. They welcome a conversation about the gospel.
Many of the unchurched are not antagonistic. They welcome a conversation about the gospel. (Flickr )

They aren't antagonistic.

They welcome a conversation with believers.

They aren't staying out of church for the reasons you may think.

They are the unchurched. And because many church leaders and members have such misperceptions about them, churches often fail to reach them, or even attempt to reach them.

In one of the most comprehensive studies ever done on the unchurched, LifeWay Research, in partnership with the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism in Wheaton, surveyed 2,000 unchurched Americans. They defined "unchurched" as someone who has not attended a worship service in the last six months.

One-third of the respondents were non-white. Genders were almost equally represented (53 percent male), and almost half have a high school diploma or less.

I want to unpack this massive research more in the future. For now, let's look at five surprising insights about the unchurched:

1. Most unchurched do indeed have some church background.Contrary to some perceptions, the great majority of unchurched have a church background. Almost two-thirds of them (62 percent) went to church regularly as a child.

2. Most unchurched quit church because they got out of the habit of churchgoing. For certain, a number of them did leave churches for negative reasons, but that is not true of the majority.

3. One-third of the unchurched have plans to go to church in the future. Please read that statement carefully. One of three unchurched Americans is actually planning to return to church. Is your church actively inviting them?

4. The unchurched are very open to a gospel conversation. Nearly half (47 percent) would interact freely in such a conversation. Another third (31 percent) would listen actively without participating. Pause for a moment. Look at those numbers. Almost eight of 10 unchurched Americans would welcome a gospel conversation. Another 12 percent would discuss it with some discomfort, and only 11 percent would change the subject as soon as possible. We can't use the poor excuse that the unchurched really aren't interested in gospel conversations. In reality, church members are more likely not to be interested in initiating gospel conversations.

5. If you invite them, they will come. About a year ago, I received requests to provide a framework for churches to invite people to church. We called it "Invite Your One." We are now getting responses from churches that have initiated this ministry, and we are blown away at what God is doing. Among the unchurched, 55 percent said they would attend church if invited by a family member. And 51 percent said they would attend church if invited by a friend or neighbor. These numbers are staggering. The opportunities are incredible.

I have been involved in church research and practice for four decades, a testament to both my passion and elderly status. These data confirm my anecdotal observations that there has never been a more opportune time to connect with the lost and unchurched.

It's truly an incredible opportunity.

But I wonder how many churches will seize this God-given moment.

Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.

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