The Unchurched

(system) #1

First, I hate the word unchurched. Just as I hate hearing a book called a “good read.” Or “impact” used as a verb. Or the word literally tossed in to strengthen an assertion. Or starting sentences with “thus.” Or this, the winner of the most annoying word award: “anyways.” As in “So anyways, that was a marvelous read that will literally impact the world.”

I’m probably just too easily annoyed. But who thought up such a horrid thing to call people who don’t go to church?

Having relieved myself of that bit of spleen, let’s acknowledge that it would be wonderful if in our evangelism we were reaching folks who hadn’t any religion until they chose ours. I’m happy for anyone to join my church, of course, but since I believe that knowing Jesus is the main thing, I’m not quite as worried about those Baptist folks as I am about the millions of people who have no faith at all.

Here in the North American Division, they’ve not been our target audience. Most of our accessions are already church-going people. They’re a lot easier to nab than the rank heathens. They know the basics, so if we can flip them on three or four points (the Sabbath, pork, beer, and cigarettes) we can baptize them on the spot.


Not so easy with the unchurched.

Phoenix-based Ellison Research just completed a study that gives a nuanced picture of the unchurched. I guess I’d assumed that the unchurched just don’t go to church. Ever. Ellison found that’s true for 60 percent of them. But that leaves 40 percent who attend occasionally, at Christmas or Easter, or when a church member invites his neighbors to hear his children play in the bell choir.

Ron Sellers, Ellison’s president, says, “We estimate that up to 43 million adults who do not regularly attend worship services will visit a church or place of worship at some point during the year, to say nothing of children and teens who visit with their family or on their own. Are those congregations and clergy members ready for them?”

That’s astonishing: Forty-three million people who have no regular church affiliation appearing at a church near you once, twice, thrice in a year.

I’m trying to figure out what it will take to make us ready for them.

See, I know a few of these unchurched characters, and candidly, I’m not sure what we’ve got on hand right now that would keep their interest. I try to picture those with whom I’m personally acquainted sitting in my church pews, and it makes me a little uneasy. At least the ex-Baptist knows how to act in a church. Many of us would get a little freaked out by people who had no understanding of church culture—what to wear, how to behave, what to say, what not to say. Who did upsetting things like doubting out loud, or asking edgy questions, or exploring heterodox ideas, and expecting us to listen to them.

That kind of thing twists our tails.

So it will be a much harder transition for the unchurched than we assume when we convene our conferences on reaching postmoderns (another annoying and nearly meaningless term—but I’ll leave that for another time). They’ll require an extra step: besides getting them to believe what we believe, there’s the matter of dressing them right, of teaching them to shut up about things that bother us, and to like the things we like (for example, sitting for hours listening to amateur music and oratory; Sabbath School classes without actual intellectual exploration but rich in endless reassurances that we’re still right about everything; and Fri-Chik.)

As a lifelong Adventist, I’m in the same place as many of you: too square, too comfortable with life inside to be good at talking to complete outsiders. It will take an unusual pastor, a clerical übermensch who knows the churched and the unchurched and can translate between them.

And we’ll probably be a little suspicious of any pastor that comfortable with the world.

Loren Seibold is senior pastor of the Worthington, Ohio, Seventh-day Adventist Church. He also edits a newsletter for North American Division pastors called Best Practices for Adventist Ministry.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Yoyo7th) #2

Gospel spin for the unchurched:

The gospel is God’s rescue from sin, character restoration, and relationship reconciliation program for humans who suffer desperation caused by guilt, depravity and fear of their inevitable death. His pardoning and powerful rehabilitating grace redeems the diligent participant from condemnation of sin and decriminalizes them so they are fit to be resurrected from death, pass God’s parole hearing, and to enter into eternal life with sinless beings.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #3

the Gospel is not a spin. it is the Good News to all rational beings on planet earth. Tom Z

(Todd) #4

Go to YouTube and have a look at Nadia Bolz-Weber, then read her book. You’ll learn something about reaching out to the unchurched.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #5

Loren is one of the most candid and forthcoming of Adventist pastors writing essays for spectrum. What he doesn’t spell out is that the Cultic flavor of Adventism with its emphasis on the Spirit of Prophecy and Eschatology are red flags to the unchurched. The educational and medical arms of the church are much more compelling. Matthew 25 rather than Rev 14 should be the rallying point of Evangelism. For sure Matt 25 demonstrates the consequence of hearing the Gospel.
The Church should be a house beside the road. Tom Z

(Thomas J Zwemer) #6

being churched can have grave consequences. It means pledging loyalty to a set of dogma ahead of allegence to Christ. Imagine adding 28 propositions to the baptismal vow? Yes I am churched. I am a member of Reid Memorial Presbiterian Church. in private I told the Pastor, I don’t believe in TULIP, he responded, neither do I. then he said that we would be accepted upon profession of faith, but he would ask three questions. 1. to you believe you are a sinner? 2. do you believed that you are saved by the Redeeming Blood of Jesus? 3. Will you be obedient to the elders of the Church? I replied yes to the first two and no to the third. I will give serious thought and prayer to the third, but not carte blange. so at the installation he has the pastoral intern ask the questions and only two were asked. The congregation voted into membership. So I am churched but I serve a living Master and rejoice the He is my High Priest. Tom Z

(Todd) #7

For most of my life, if asked about my religion, I replied “unchurched”, even though I attended Catholic Mass every Sunday with my family for over a decade. But for me, “unchurched” was code for agnostic/atheist, but not aggressively so. Unlike “agnostic” or “atheist”, the word “unchurched” didn’t touch on my beliefs or absence thereof, but only on my lack of affiliation with any religious entity. If and when people ask about your religion, that’s what they want to know anyway.

If Matthew is to be believed, Jesus established a church. Perhaps that is prima facie evidence that he expected his followers to be churched, to be in community with each other.

(k_Lutz) #8

On the surface, I do concur with such animosity, perhaps that on a ‘politically correct’ level.

But I find it is a semantic problem in the indiscriminate use of the word ‘church’.
When Jesus coined the phrase ekklesia tou Theou in Matthew 16 it had no connotations of organisational hierarchy as those redeemed from the world by the the call and grace of God confirmed their allegiance to Him in denying any and all intermediaries as pertaining to their spiritual position - the priestly situation was declared null and void.

Even though Paul identifies the ekklesia tou Theou in various places, it wasn’t until near the turn of the 1st century that the Jews finally rid their synagogues of this Christian menace, relegating the assembling of the saints to their homes, upper rooms, etc. At the same time came the subjugation of the laity as the exoneration of certain ones - bishops and elders, etc. - as clergy. This unholy paradigm became reinforced as certain of those lords established their position by soliciting funds to erect edifices for their executive pronouncements of orthodoxy. The more successfully they watered down the gospel to the needs of itching ears the greater their coffers grew, the more elaborate became their throne-rooms. And to distract from their vain-glory these assembly halls were denominated ‘church’. It seems to me that at this early date many who swore singular allegiance to God would boldly declare being UNCHURCHED in that fashion as many of us now do.

However, the ekklesia tou Theou is yet accessible to they that …

Trust God.

(Cfowler) #9

This speaks volumes about Adventism. If a life-long Christian and pastor isn’t comfortable sharing the Gospel with all people, not just his own small group, then something is terribly wrong with this belief system.

I realized many years ago that Adventism isn’t about the Gospel, but about the unique doctrines of the Adventist Church. There’s not much Gospel there for the most part, but when it is presented, it is always The Gospel plus… plus Sabbath, diet, SOP/EGW, remnant, us vs. them, everyone but us is deceived, which, by the way, are you sure about that? Everyone else is deceived?

Oh, and let’s not forget “dark counties”. That is the most prideful, arrogant terminology I’ve ever heard! I doubt (and hope) that this term isn’t used much anymore. But it is another indication of the mind-set of the SDA church.

(George Tichy) #10

He may be considered “unchurched” in our Church, but Pastor Rick Warren is a great guy and a successful evangelist. Here is a picture taken today in Corona (CA) when he met a “celebrity”… :slight_smile: