We’ve all heard the statistics about the growth of the religiously unaffiliated in America—the sociologists call them the “nones”—those who don’t belong to any church or denomination. We’ve seen the effects of a secular worldview displacing America’s Judeo-Christian consensus, with the decline of religious liberty, respect for life, and marriage. On top of all this, some of the churches best known for doing evangelism are declining, with fewer and fewer of their members sharing the good news of Jesus. In our guts we can feel the cultural ground moving beneath our feet, and it’s unnerving.
It’s no wonder that evangelizing our unchurched neighbors can seem like a daunting task. More and more of them are downright hostile to the things of faith, right? Wrong!
That’s not my opinion—it’s straight from a new online survey of 2,000 unchurched Americans from LifeWay Research and the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. The survey reports that nearly four in five of those who haven’t been to church in the last six months—except for weddings and funerals—say they don’t mind talking about faith if it’s really important to a friend. Not only that, but 47 percent say they will discuss religion freely if the subject comes up. Nearly another third say they’ll listen without responding. Remember, we’re only talking here about people who don’t go to church!
Unfortunately, even tragically, only a third say someone has actually bothered to explain why they should be a Christian. “Unchurched folks are not being overwhelmed by Christians talking about their faith,” says Scott McConnell, who’s the executive director of Lifeway Research. “If faith is important to you, then your friends will be interested in hearing about it.”
What else did the survey find? While only 35 percent say they would attend a worship service at a friend’s invitation, that’s still a big number. Also, 62 percent say they would attend a church meeting about neighborhood safety, 51 percent would participate in a community service event, 46 percent would take part in a sports or exercise program, 45 percent would go to a concert, 45 percent would show up for a neighborhood get-together, 25 percent would go to a recovery group, and 24 percent would go to a seminar on a spiritual topic … at a church. While we’d like for these interest numbers to be much higher, that’s still a lot to work with.
But we have to face the fact that most people are not sitting around waiting for our four-point gospel outlines. We’re going to have to be both creative and patient. According to the survey, a full 43 percent say they never wonder if they’ll get to heaven after they die; one in five can’t remember the last time they thought about it. On the plus side, however, 70 percent agree “there is an ultimate purpose and plan for every person’s life,” and 57 percent say that finding “their deeper purpose” is “a major priority.”
Friends, we’ve said this before, but if we really want our unchurched neighbors to receive Christ by faith—or even go to church with us—we’re going to have to get personal. Only about 20 percent say they would accept an invitation to attend a service from a church member at their door, a TV commercial, a postcard, or an ad on Facebook. But by contrast, 51 percent said that a personal invitation from a friend or family member might get them to go.
Let us not forget the centrality of the Gospel in the life of the church, and in the life of your unchurched neighbors, whether they know it or not. As David Shibley says in his great new book on evangelism, Entrusted, “The screaming need in our day is to again make Jesus Christ and His gospel paramount.”
Amen to that!
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2016 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.