One of the most relevant and stimulating breakout sessions that I attended at the 2014 Orange Conference was Carey Nieuwhof's discussion on "Starting a Church for Unchurched Families."
I am not a church planter, nor do I want to become one. I doubt that I will ever start a church for unchurched people. I signed up for this session because I respect Nieuwhof and desired to hear him speak in general, regardless of the topic. I was not sure if he would be addressing church planting or culture shifting, but Nieuwhof is an expert on the topic of post-Christianity and post-modernity. I knew that he would deal with this issue well, no matter what lens through which he discussed it. In fact, I highly commend his blog to you: careynieuwhof.com, a great resource on leadership and pastorship in a post-modern, post-Christian context.
It turned out that this session was pertinent for anyone who desires to create a culture within their community that welcomes unchurched families, not just for planters. That's my heart, and I hope it is yours, as well.
I took copious notes from his session on the processes and culture of building a church for unchurch families, so below, take a read of Nieuwhof's, "Starting a Church for Unchurch Families." This post is written in an outline format for quick skimming and engagement. Comment at the bottom, and let me know what you think about the question at the end:
5 Insights into the Reality of Postmodern, Post-christianity in America:
1. In the role of family, everything is changing. The family has learned to live very comfortably without God.
2. It’s almost impossible to reach people that you don’t like or don’t understand. In order to fight this, one must suspend judgment, and meet people where they are.
3. Unchurched people listen most to the people they LIKE the most. Totally intuitive, but important to keep in mind - given that most unchurched people could care less about what Christians believe and why.
4. Most churches for unchurched people begin with churched people. The problem is they stay that way. The challenge becomes to convert churched people to invest in the church and get them into a mission mindset. We must be about the world and for unchurched people to know Jesus.
5. Place churched people who love, accept, and know unchurched people into your key positions. In doing so, you will ultimately think about your decisions and systems differently when you consider first your unchurched friends. If all you have are insiders in key positions, then you will only create a church for inside people.
12 Characteristics of Today’s Unchurched Families:
1. They don’t always come back when they have kids. Kinnaman wrote a report that indicated:
a. 50% of parents say that having children did not affect their connection to church. Even many church families said that having children did not change their level of church going. In fact, it becomes harder. When new parents think of a local partner, they typically do not consider the local church because we are considered judgmental. Even still, 85% of parents feel responsible for their child’s moral upbringing.
b. 5% of unchurched parents say that having children helped them become active in the church for the first time.
2. Unchurched people feel no less guilty about missing church on a Sunday than you do about missing synagogue on a Saturday. Worse than being mad at Christians, unchurched folks feel indifferent.
3. When unchurched families do attend church, they attend less often.
a. Small groups can provide a motivation for people to come more regularly. Relationships motivate. Guilt does not.
b. No organization should be able to “out-community” the church. We cannot out entertain, but we can develop relationships that foster healthy growth and faith.
c. Disconnected families generally don’t stick. Families who do not connect within 2 months, typically end up leaving the church.
d. Unchurched families almost always become your best inviters if they like your ministry.
4. Most are spiritual. Unchurched people will disagree with you categorize them as agnostic or atheist. When you respect their past journey, it better enables them to begin a new journey. See Acts 10 and 17. When we honor peoples' past, they are more likely to take the next step with jesus instead of walking away.
5. They’re intelligent, just not biblically literate. Be inclusive without being condescending. Help unchurched folks use their intelligence to access Scripture.
6. They want you to act like a Christian. When they start to realize that your struggles are also their issues, then you create an instant connection point. Your problems are people issues, not necessarily Christian issues. Don’t alter the content of your worship service, but alter the approach and experience. Make it an irresistible experience. Unchurched people have seen church, and they don’t want to go, so we want to give them a new script. Culture is neutral, not value good or bad. They need to see Christ at work in us and others.
7. They expect transparency, so we should speak out of our weakness.
a. People admire our strengths, but they resonate from our weakness. When you speak out of your brokenness, it is true, plentiful, and makes a connection point with grace.
8. Unchurched people struggle with every social issue that you hope to avoid. And frankly so does everyone else, but no one wants to talk about it. We cannot hold non-Christian people accountable for Christian values. Jesus called the church out on their issues, and then loved everyone not part of the church. Thus, have lots of conversations. Policy is divisive. Relationships create bridges. Allow ministry to precede theology.
9. Kids matter to unchurched people, maybe even more than they should.
a. Safe is more important than right. IS IT SAFE?
b. What you spend on families communicates value to unchurched families. Invest in the best people possible for your family ministry. Ministry reflects the balance sheet.
c. The quality of the team determines their experience with you.
10. Unchurched families are looking for partners, but they never thought that the church could help. Parents spend their first three years cementing partners. Let them know that we can be the best partner they could ever have. Strategy is more important than content when partnering with parents. We have a quarter century with families; we must get a solid strategy.
11. They need help with the home side of the Orange strategy.
a. Unchurched parents are not sure what Christian means. Many do not know where to start, how to begin reading the bible, or even converse together about family issues, so how do we help families do something as foundational as talk together.
b. Unchurched families do not have a precedent for what a Christian home looks like, so we need to make this clear! Define the terms and work through it in baby steps without assumptions.
12. Unchurched families do not follow a predictable spiritual growth curve. Maturity takes time, and we want to expect people to act their own age both physically and spiritually.
1. Design a flexible on ramp
2. Think steps, not programs.
3. Maturity takes time.
4. Relationships matter most. It’s harder to walk away from a person than an event.
Try to create something of exceptional value because people always have time for quality. Spend less time developing and encourage both unchurched and churched families alike to invest more time together as a family. Be in the community and build bridges to unchurched friends.
UESTION: What is your strategy to build bridges to unchurched people? What would you add or take away to Nieuwhof's list?