Understanding the Unchurched

If we want to reach those who choose not to be a part of the church, we need to know how they think. George Barna and David Kinnaman of the Barna Group provide us with a wealth of surprising trends from two decades of interviews and analysis in their new book Churchless: Understanding today’s Unchurched and How To Connect With Them.

The number of unchurched adults in the U.S. has grown almost one-third larger in the last decade and so a book that helps us know how to connect, invite, and engage is timely and life giving. Churchless is quick to point out that “young adults have the highest levels of church avoidance and that they expect to contribute not just consume (as evident by their ability to create, edit, connect, and share their opinions online). The authors suggest, “If you consider how most churches deliver content – appointing one person as the authority and encouraging everyone else to sit (consume) quietly while he or she speaks – it is easy to see how that delivery system can come into conflict with changing cultural expectations.”

Even if you don’t agree with the suggested methodologies in the book, it would be wise for every elder, pastor and ministry leader to pay attention to the “cries” of the unchurched and ask the hard questions for God has called us to reach them with the Good News of the Gospel. Those who found church least favorable included men, the Mosaics (ages eighteen to thirty), and those who never married to name just a few. They don’t see church as a meaningful place of community.

There are many insights and recommendations. The key to reaching them, the authors suggest, is to listen to them. We need to know what they are thinking and contextualize to make an impact. We need to be able to back up our claims in a world of skepticism and involve them in difference-making projects.

When we listen to them we also must change some of our assumptions. “To assume that churchless people are irreligious or have no spiritual dynamic is to misunderstand many of them.” I agree whole-heartedly. I have found in working with and entering the stories of young people that many of them are quite spiritual and crave an authentic spiritual experience and life. At the same time, they want to be heard and given an opportunity to ask the hard questions. And we don’t have to always have all the answers. The book addresses why the church is still important and how to navigate a post-Christian culture.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishing in exchange for my opinion. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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