Thom Rainer’s “The Unchurched Next Door” is the result of a study of ~350 people across the US and Canada (tuned to match the race and gender distribution of those countries) who don’t go to church (defined as fewer than 5 times in the prior year). It’s from 2003, but the insights seem likely to still be relevant.
Rainer divides the study participants into 5 categories:
- U1: highly receptive to hearing and believing the Good News (11%)
- U2: receptive to the gospel and church (27%)
- U3: neutral, with no clear signs of being interested yet perhaps open to discussion (36%)
- U4: resistant to the gospel, but with no antagonistic attitude (21%)
- U5: highly antagonistic and even hostile to the gospel (5%)
That U3 category is interesting because “neutral” turns out to be not quite accurate. Some of them are really neutral, but a lot of them are spiritual (or “spiritual but not religious”).
What I learned
Hostility is rare
When I was a U5, I believed everyone who didn’t go to church (synagogue, etc.) was like me. They’d heard and rejected all this fairytale religious mumbo-jumbo. I’ve since learned there are a lot of spiritual but not religious people out there. What really surprised me was that Rainer found that only 5% (1 in 20) of people who don’t go to church are in the antagonistic category!
Most people will come if you invite them
82% of people they talked to said they were “open to” or “likely to” accept an invitation to church. Wow! Now, that probably doesn’t hold if you’re talking about a cold call, but for inviting someone you know? Go for it. Odds are, your friends will be up for at least trying out this Quaker meeting thing.
Walk in with your friend
Even people who are really interested in accepting that invitation might chicken out if they feel like they have to go it alone. Pick your friend up or meet nearby and walk in together. It’ll make the whole thing way less scary.
Yes, your witness matters
As Friends, we talk about our testimony a lot. Hypocrisy is a real turn-off. People want to hear and see conviction. Do you really sound like you believe what you’re saying? As George Fox would ask, does your life preach? If the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness, are those visible in your life and the life of your meeting? Is it clear how seriously you and your meeting take loving your neighbors as yourselves?
The kids are important
One thing that came up was that even parents who weren’t especially interested in their own spiritual development were interested in their kids’. That means when we treat meeting for worship as being “for grownups” and shuffle the kids off for childcare, we’re failing in more ways than one. Of course, kids need spiritual formation and are spiritual beings, so we’re not thinking of them as full-fledged people when we do that. But we’re also failing in the express purpose parents have for bringing their kids to meeting!
This is a book written by a Southern Baptist. It’s chock-full of Southern Baptist theology in a way Rainer’s other (more practically-oriented) books are not. There is a strong emphasis that anyone who does not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is going to a literal Hell when they die.
Like so many U3s, Martha had a confused understanding of the gospel that includes Jesus plus good works. “If you want to be a Christian,” she said confidently, “you must believe in Jesus; you must believe there is a God, and you have to read the Bible. You won’t know what God is thinking if you don’t read it. It will tell you what’s good in your own heart.”
She continued to add to her to-do list to get to heaven. “You also have to do the right things, follow the Lord’s work, live right, and do what the Lord wants you to do. Also, be a kind and considerate person.”
This was not the only time I found myself wanting to shout at him:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 7:21 NIV
Frankly, it was tempting to toss it out the window.
He places a lot of weight on what people believe about the afterlife. Thus, I think he’d put almost any liberal Friend who hasn’t been to meeting in a while in the U3 category! Conservative Friends, too, for that matter. (Sorry, Evangelical Friends, I don’t know how much y’all talk about the afterlife, but we’re pretty quiet about it.)
I also seriously wonder how many of the people interviewed are Christians who just don’t show up. Especially with the “by grace, not by works” thing many Protestant groups emphasize (see previous point), it seems like there could be a lot who think going to church is an unnecessary “work.”
There are a lot of people out there who not only would be open to an invitation to your church or meeting but are wondering why you haven’t invited them yet.
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