Surprising Insights From the Unchurched

surprisingOn the recommendation of a friend I’ve just got round to reading this stimulating book by Thom Rainer. To my shame I have to say the book was published 12 years ago and I’ve never quite got round to reading it. But when the back cover says “It’s pastoral malpractice to ignore this book” (Lee Strobel), you’d better get reading. So I guess most of you will have read it, but for those who haven’t it really is worth a look. A couple of caveats. First, it’s 12 years old and like anything research based things change pretty quick. Second, it’s American and I’m not sure all of the conclusions work over here in the UK. Third, the sample of people interviewed was 353 which just feels a little small to be absolutely definitive. Nevertheless the insights are stimulating and worth pondering.

So here’s the headlines:
Of the formerly unchurched: 
– 90% said the pastor was a significant factor in choosing a church
– 91% said doctrine was a significant factor
– 97% said that the preaching was a significant factor
– 90% said that friendliness was a significant factor in choosing to return to a church
From the churches that are doing well at reaching the unchurched:
– average tenure of pastor 11.8 years (comparison churches 3.8 years)
– 87% of pastors leading such churches are seminary trained
– 71% of said pastors describe themselves as task-oriented
– These pastors spend 22 hours a week on sermon prep (comparison church pastors 4);
– 10 hours a week pastoral care (comparison 33);
– 5 hours a week on personal evangelism (comparison 0)
– and more time with family and less time opening, locking, setting up buildings (than comparison group)
In conclusion Rainer says that churches successful at reaching the unchurched are:
– theologically conservative
– give evangelism priority
– Teach the Bible well (especially the preaching)
– Have an effective small group strategy
– Are friendly
– Seek excellence
– Provide a new members class
– Never forget the power of prayer
I guess some of that really isn’t rocket science is it? Preach well, lead well, be friendly. But what is interesting to consider is the role the pastor plays. The mindset and focus of pastors leading churches that are successfully reaching the unchurched is significantly different from pastors of churches that aren’t. And it isn’t all about being Bill Hybels or Rick Warren. It’s about an intentionality to lead well, preach well, and keep outsiders front and centre in the church’s thinking, planning, and praying. Thoughts?

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