15 Things You Need to Know about Unchurched People Today

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We must reach the unchurched with the Gospel of Christ. But who are they, and what are they all about?

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.

Our vision at Connexus, where I serve as lead pastor, is to be a church that unchurched people love to attend — a vision we share with all North Point strategic partner churches.

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 U.S. 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 America, 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 Saturday. 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.)

Carey Nieuwhof Carey Nieuwhof is Lead Pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto, Canada, blogs at www.careynieuwhof.com and is host of The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast available for free on iTunes.

More from Carey Nieuwhof or visit Carey at http://careynieuwhof.com

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  • Charis Obeng

    Interesting. My husband and I pastor in a church in Africa, and for the most part, these characteristics are true of the unchurched in the cities.

    • Dieudonne UWIMANA

      Hey Charis! which country are in? I wish to know more about missionary in Africa it is my engagement and commitment from our Master.

    • Sharon

      Hi Charis: I just got back from speaking at a women’s retreat in Kakamega Kenya. Where are you located? I am originally from south Africa.

  • http://www.facebook.com/islam.ninandres Islam Ninandres

    All the above mentioned are right.

    The spiritual maintain a constant devotional life. as the Mose tried to work alone. but then obtained help to do the work of God.select capable men and women look for integrity and responsibility in them.

  • Richard UK

    Thank you

    1. ‘Atheist’. I can see many have a belief in some sort of ‘God’ but really they are still deists not theists – their god is a Force not a Person. Nevertheless ‘atheist’ may well have connotations that they object to.

    2. I agree they don’t feel guilty, so if you make them feel a guilt they did not have before, they will identify it with the manipulation undertaken by many charities to get their cash. So how do YOU approach them?

    • ounbbl

      As the Bible says, there are many gods. Everyone of mortal humans believe in a god, no exception, whether a new born or 90-yr-old Alzheimer patient. It is which god they believe in that sets them apart from others. All the atheists (including such brilliant genius – mathematician and physicist – Stephen Hawking) and all the agnostics (who claim they don’t know – which really means they don’t care) believe in one supreme god – called ‘Self’.

  • Joe Rhoads

    I have so many issues with this article.
    #1: If you are gearing your church service to make lost people comfortable, then you are doing it wrong. If you are expecting lost people to come to church, whether they got problems or not, your mentality is wrong. Get out of the church. Seek the lost. Don’t expect them to wander in.
    #2: What does “don’t alter the content…but change the experience” mean?
    #3: Lost people hate hyprocisy? Of course they do, but they don’t see it in themselves.
    #4 Lost people love transparency? Of course they do, but only in others.
    Let’s stop doing church for the lost. The church service is for the believer. The purpose of the church service is for the church of God to worship God. Lost people, no matter how spiritual they are, no matter how transparent they me, no matter how much they hate hypocrisy, no matter how smart they are, no matter what…cannot worship God even in the least bit. The lost are spiritually dead, and therefore cannot be a person who worships in spirit and truth.

    • ounbbl

      A note here. Lost people love to say they hate hypocrisy, but in reality they love it since they – in most cases – are hypocrites.

      • nob glori

        Your standard Oun looks like a Korean flag.
        Are you?
        Well, am impressed with Koreans. They are prayerful people.
        As a nation, they are blessed.

    • nob glori

      Joe, you raised points something to ponder, eh?

    • scootr1295

      Brother Joe,
      SPOT ON! Having been on staff of a “seeker sensitive” church, and then having to depart from it, I’ve had a radical paradigm shift–back to the truth. 1 Thess 1:9-10–faith in God, repentance from sin, serving the true and living God and waiting for Christ’s return-that is the biblical paradigm of salvation.

      For several years, I was part of a staff that “does church for the lost,” and when hundreds would show up, we concluded that what we were doing was OK, because how could hundreds of people NOT be God’s blessing. But since no one seeks after the Lord (Rom 3), and the church is the ekklesia (called out ones), then we as the body of Christ are to come together to get trained by the pastor who’s divine ministry task is to equip the SAINTS for the work of ministry. Evangelism is to happen outside the doors of the church, Sunday night through Saturday night–thanks brother for making it clear!

  • ralph

    Why not just preach the Word in season and out of season and genuinely love all people {saved and lost} where they are in life and leave the rest to God. SIMPLE CHURCH.
    We should preach the truth, live with interity and humility, and love all people regardless of who they are. If we do these things then God will do His part.

    • Sharon

      Ralph, I agree. It gets way too complicated to try and figure out how to reach people who don’t want to be reached. I am always afraid that I will compromise the gospel just to gain an attendee? Then I will be the one lost.

    • ounbbl

      Lofty idea. BTW, what does it mean when we say ‘we love ~’? Don’t evil people say the same thing – no need to look beyond the Maison Blanche?

      • Ike

        I believe it means we make Godly decisions and carry out actions that glorify God come what may. Jesus did, Moses did, Abraham did, William Wilberforce did, Ruth did, Esther did, Dr Livingstone did, Mary Slessor did, Mother Teresa did… I think you get the picture

      • MarciH

        Ahhh… but there’s a difference between SAYING “we love,” and actually DOING “we love.” Believe me, people know the difference, whether churched or unchurched, That’s why we’re told so many times in the Bible that people will know we’re disciples by the love we have toward each other. How many christians (or churches) are described as loving?

    • Lewis


  • Sharon

    I truly find it disconcerting. We have noticed the change in people over the past 30 years of being in full time ministry. Very difficult to grasp, but Scripture does say that in the end times there will be a falling away. So if we can’t be of any use to these seekers, then they will be lost. sad.

  • wordbased

    The gospel MUST be translated between people even if they speak the same language.

    • ounbbl

      translation is a human work par excellence ;-<

  • http://www.facebook.com/esufa Esuf Ali

    I would love to speak to someone personally Remember Ispeak toJesus [Yashua] every moment ot the day you can get me at 765 938 5180 IWILL talk to Yashua about you Shalom

    • ounbbl

      How about keeping a number private ;-)

  • ounbbl

    Not just unchurched ones but also most churched ones from pulpits to pews do NOT know what a christian is and what it means to be a christian ;-<

    The Boy of Christ is supposed to be 'Church', but the Church is not the body of Christ. It is obvious conclusion when people hear that 'we are the Church', and get confused when they hear every church saying the same words, from the largest (Roman Catholic) and down to the smallest cults.

    May God have mercy on me.

  • Margaret Nahmias

    Intresting but I think people here in the U.S. are more hostile towards Christianity.

  • nob glori

    Interesting piece re church lifestyle of North Americans and Europeans.
    The expatriate Filipinos on the otherhand fills up empty church buildings in Canada and U.S.A.
    Even the contract workers in the Middle East, although they are barred to carry Bibles holds “underground” church services, and even baptism in the land that bans Christian gatherings.

  • Joe Rhoads

    It’s interesting. I remember back in the 80’s the complaint made by the younger generation is that the older generation were stuck in a 50’s mentality regarding reaching the lost: invite them to church, instead of going outside the walls of the church to reach them. And for a while, the model seemed to have changed. But now, with articles like this, it seems we are going back to the old model.

  • Ibeawuchi Aja

    The whole truth is that IF coming to the Church is for God to prosper them, they do not need your God because they were already RICH without God. But if coming to the Church is about where someone is going to spend his or her eternity, then let`s explain the idea to them. In North America today, averagely people in the Churches cannot differentiate materialism from Christianity. And even Christianity has been lost into the cultural differences. Most of the un-churched people knew what Christ Jesus had required from His followers more than what the followers of Christ Jesus can present to the secular world. Likewise if someone preaches the Word of God,the so called the Church people will not come to your Church, but when one falsely preaches on how God is going to bless them everybody will be happy. Anyhow the bottom-line is having the Word.

  • Jonathan Hughes

    What do they learn at church? What is their mentality when they leave church to be with others? Is it to look narrowly seeing others as out there or as they say in the world? Think like that think like a religious pharisee. That is the what all to often happens. They get a feeling of separation. A feeling of superiority. There will think if the people out there are not under their name they won’t be saved. Devils know they are under God. Had devils allow God into them they would be no more. Churches inherently divide. The divider is in the church perverting scripture. Perverted scripture causes people to be unbeknown to them militaristic to others when they think they are not being militaristic at all even when they are sing onward Christian solders.

  • Jonathan Hughes

    The Buddhist needs to be edified with the good that is known by them gently taught the truth like a gentle Sheppard that leads his flock.

    Matthew 9:11:King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
    And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
    The Pharasees did not say they were without sin hence did not have truth in them being the ones who were sick needing a physician. 1 John 1:8:King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
    If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
    The sin that is in us does evil to what God made. The evil body not changed in a twinkling of an eye will see Gods glory out of his mouth like a flaming sword. No religious church to date has ever taught this. That flaming sword is hell to evil.
    2 Samuel 22 >>
    King James Bible 9There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.
    1611 King James Version of Revelation 19:15
    And out of his mouth goeth a sharpe sword, that with it hee should smite the nations: and he shal rule them with a rod of yron: and he treadeth the winepresse of the
    fiercenesse and wrath of Almighty God.
    The wicked that are unforgiving being maliciously unmerciful hateful liars trying to elevate themselves warring against another will see Gods glory as fierce wrath being like a rod of iron.

  • http://gladassociates.blogspot.com/ chet777

    When Jesus commanded us to “go,” he qualified that our destination is a world filled with people so we can preach and live out his good news. Our target and destination is a world where we meet and connect with people. To follow and obey him means we must be where people are, not where they aren’t. There is no following Jesus if we’re talking to an empty room or one that’s falling asleep. While we pray and plead with God to open doors and hearts, to be obedient and faithful to Jesus we have to be with and get in front of people.

  • Anna Bidewell

    In my own experience, I find church amazing for worship, a place to show God your love… as a single soul to Him. That is all, i don’t find love in the congregation, i don’t find love inside the walls — only for and from God. I have been disappointed several times, wondering from church to church… not finding love. What is love?? To me, it is when i close my eyes and imagine my God loving me or seeing the beauty in nature… I find passion from the lead pastors and worship singers, but none from the congregation… what if… the members of every congregation thought of themselves as disciples?? What if… they had the skills to believe that they are to follow Jesus, not just the rules in the Bible, but actually find the LOVE that Jesus gave us… and use it???

    That, my beautiful Christian friends is what ‘lost people’ are looking for, Christians and non Christians … love through family in the church. This all opens the doors to acceptance, being included, love for God, love for oneself, healing, love for others, and forgiveness of oneself and others. Without these things, the lost will stay lost and definitely out of the church’s. We are all hungry for love and family… when we become that, others will want a taste and God will, through us… touch everyone.

  • Deana Callins

    “Settle” all disputes among yourselves. Put an “End” to all things, feelings, and thoughts that lead to the disturbance of your peace. By knowing, The Covenant of his Grace: “For there is no respect of persons with God” (Romans 2:10)
    The Lord Loves ALL and will not take sides in unprofitable disputes. But, he will give you healing if your hurt, strength to forgive, forgiveness, love, and peace for the situation. when you focus on him and not the problem. Follow after peace with all men.

    1 Peter 1:17 And if ye call on the Father, who without “respect of persons” judge according to every man’s work:

    James 2:1 My brethren, have “not” the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory,”with” respect of persons.
    For his Kingdom is not Divided or else how shall it stand.
    Jesus didn’t ask us to Trust in others; He did say “LOVE” All as you Love yourself.

    We might as well learn how to “Love inspite of; as Jesus”. For as we have Eternal Life of those who Believe. We Shall Never Be separated from the Love of God; nor each other in Heaven. So Settle it in your minds that we are ONE IN CHRIST. God blesses us. We still should be thanking him for what he has already done. We are free from all Fear!!!

  • Jim

    realize, not all people want to go to church, nor want what you supposedly have…and, that’s o.k. realize people of other faiths are just as devout and believe just as strongly in their idea of God as you do in yours….doesn’t mean you are right and they are wrong….so, the whole idea of “witnessing” is a bit misguided….because you are essentially saying, I have the one true way, and everyone else is wrong…..remember there is only one absolute authoriy…and, that is God….not any of us….and, if others choose to follow a different path…it is not yours to judge that path.


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