Over the years we have been able to predict with some accuracy who is likely to show up in our lobby on any given Sunday. We always talk about Timonium Tim, the name we’ve given to the quintessentially unchurched guy and his family in our community. We plan every aspect of our weekend experience around the unchurched as we strive “to become a church for the unchurched.” Our mission is to make Tim a disciple.
Besides Tim, there is another species of church-goers who might also show up: church-shoppers. It is critically important to be able to recognize the difference between the unchurched and church-shoppers. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in a consumer culture, in which your church will not be healthy and cannot grow.
Here are three signs to look for:
#1. The unchurched want to be fed and they grow slowly; church-shoppers want to be pampered and pleased and they judge quickly.
Every visitor has a set of questions when they step into your church. These usually include things like: Is the message relevant? Are people friendly? Is the music good?
Did my kids enjoy it?
The difference to note is, church-shoppers ask questions in order to evaluate; the unchurched ask questions in order to learn and grow.
Church shoppers are a bit like most Yelp reviewers- the people who take time to write a lengthy review of a restaurant usually either love it or hate it. There’s not much middle ground. When it comes to your church, after one visit, church shoppers will either sing its praises or foretell its doom. And what they love today, they might hate tomorrow.
As you provide an excellent first time experience for the unchurched, they will begin to get it, to value it, and to grow in it.
#2. The Unchurched expect to be challenged; expect church-shoppers to challenge you.
Without using the word, the unchurched know they are “unchurched.” Perhaps they are even a little embarrassed that they haven’t been to a church in a while, and they know they have some work to do on their lives. Showing up at your church is a small act of courage that we should honor. But, the unchurched expect to be challenged or moved in some way, and if they recognize life value in attending your church, then over time they are willing to change their lifestyle.
Church shoppers want you to change to fit their lifestyle; they just haven’t yet found a congregation willing to do that. And when you don’t, expect to be challenged. Let it go, and let them go.
#3. The unchurched are willing to (eventually) serve the church’s ministry. Church-shoppers never will, they expect the church to serve them.
No matter how hard you try, confirmed church shoppers will never get up out of the pew and serve. They just don’t get it.
On the other hand, consistently preached from the pulpit, attractively modeled by other parishioners, made entirely easy and accessible to get into by parish staff, unchurched people will eventually join a ministry and serve, and their service will dramatically impact their experience of Church.
This spring season we will see this played out again here at Nativity as we make a major ministry push. Starting this weekend, we’re challenging everyone who isn’t serving to join us for a single information session and learn more about it. I predict hundreds will. And most of them will be recently unchurched. Long attending church-shoppers will sit this one out once again.
For another take on this topic, check out CareyNieuwhof.com