Almost every church wants to reach their community for Jesus. A great thing to do then? Discover what the people in your community think about you. That perception of what you’re known for allows you to understand how much you need to change their minds. Or it may allow you to better serve them.
Over the years, as a church consultant, I’ve conducted listening groups for church clients. We normally talk to various demographic groups of church members, but we also request that the church organizes a group of neighbors who live nearby who choose to not attend any church.
Often, it’s a difficult group to assemble for a church, but it’s been fascinating to help understand the perception of a church. Here’s what I’ve learned about what the unchurched thinks about church:
1. Going to college often stops many from attending a church. Even if they’re regular church attenders when starting college, many stop going during their college years (according to them they “couldn’t find a local church like their home church” and parents aren’t there to encourage them to go).
2. Kids could bring them back. Twenty-somethings go to college; then after college, concentrate on job searching and dating. All while ignoring church. In their 30s they get married and have kids. Then, finally, they start having a desire to return to church to “raise kids like they were raised.”
3. Parents don’t always think about going to church with their kids. Therefore, kids’ programs are critical (Sunday School, Trail Life USA, Awana, VBS, etc.). Not just on Sunday.
4. The unchurched will visit if there’s a reason. Create one! Make it community-friendly and beneficial to THEM. Think what they’re trying to accomplish or fix and offer them solutions.
5. Attending is different from visiting. Many say they don’t attend a church but actually “visit” occasionally. Stop asking them to “attend” (feels long-term) and ask them to visit instead.
6. Most know they “should” go (often because their parents wish they did) but still choose not to. Many were raised in the church but have simply lost the “habit of going.” They just need a reason!
7. They’re aware of churches in the area but don’t know much about yours. Don’t assume anyone knows what you’re offering. They don’t (unless you tell them)! Ensure your website content is good!
8. Sunday may not be the best day for them. Sunday is perceived as a “family day” and time to sleep in. Add kids’ sports programming and Sunday’s an even more difficult day to ask them to give up.
9. Church is often perceived as “white-hair.” Most communities’ average age is mid-30s (who have kids). They want to see themselves in communication materials (and not just older people). Make sure you’re showing younger families on your website and have a suite of ministries available for them.
Think your community is different? Why not ask them! Remember, each time a church member or leader talks to a community member, you have the potential to discover what the unchurched thinks about church.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Mark MacDonald. MacDonald is a communication pastor, speaker, consultant, bestselling author, church branding strategist for BeKnownforSomething.com and Executive Director of Center for Church Communication. His book “Be Known for Something” is available at BeKnownBook.com.