Engaging CultureStrategy & Marketing

How to Get Non-Believers Into Your Church

Lifeway Research recently polled thousands of nonbelievers about what it would take to get them inside a church. When I thought about it, the results made perfect sense, but most church leaders never consider these possibilities. Focused on Americans who do not attend church, here’s what they said would draw them into one:

62% – a meeting about neighborhood safety
51% – a community service event
46% – a sports or exercise program
45% – a concert
45% – a neighborhood get together
35% – a worship service

Notice that only 35% of nonbelievers responded with a worship service.  Pastor Tony Miller at The Gate Church in Oklahoma City was already thinking this way. Because of his personal passion for unity, and as a result of the recent racial issues in cities across the country, Tony held a Forum for Transformative Cultural Reform at his church. He invited local politicians, the police chief, the superintendent of schools, an Imam from a local mosque, a Jewish rabbi, the president of the local NAACP, the executive director of Black Lives Matter, the vice present in charge of diversity at the university, a local court judge and others.

The event drew more than 700 people – many had never visited a church before. It was a remarkable event that positioned The Gate Church in the center of the effort to bring unity in the city. Afterwards, he received an email that said:
“Thank you for hosting last night’s forum. It was an incredible start to the healing and transformation of our city.”
Another attendee remarked about pastor Tony:
“I’m going to have to bring my wife over hear to hear this man. I really like him. He’s got an incredible perspective and heart. He’s one of the few people I deal with that ‘gets it.'” 
Another said: “I’m coming back one Sunday.”
Tony reported to me that the state Senator wanted to follow up with him, and he had already scheduled a lunch meeting with the local Imam.

The event accomplished multiple results:
– It helped move forward the conversation about racial unity in the city.
– It brought people together who might never have met otherwise.
– It exposed more than 700 local citizens to an important mission of the church.
– It created a comfortable “first” experience for hundreds of people who have never walked in the door of a church.

Perhaps an important way to grow your church is to become a platform in the community for issues that matter to those who would never otherwise visit. It’s not about compromising your doctrine, it’s about the Church being at the heart of transforming your community.

I’d love to find the results of similar events at churches across the country.  Any reports?

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  1. My church, Vineyard Columbus, just completed a sermon series called Different Together. It culminated in a joint sermon from two of our pastors about race, and a call for our congregation to participate in 1000 shared meals with members of a different race. In October we are hosting a community meeting on race and reconciliation.

    We also have a communicate center attached to our building where we offer classes like computer training, a medical clinic, and English as a second language to the largely Muslim immigrant population in our community. We have 80,000 visits to the community center every month.

    The community center and medical clinic might be a little challenging for a small church, but I think the rest of these are pretty attainable. A sermon series and meeting that address a community concern, ESL, and computer classes just take some planning and guts.

    1. Great report Josh. I agree with you, even a small church can do many of these things. Anything to reach out into the non-believing community is better than nothing. Thanks for the update!

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