As we enter this Advent season, I feel it important to point out that churches have an enormous opportunity to reach out to the unchurched during this time. Findings by George Barna and his Barna Group, a Christian research organization, released two years ago (Unchurched), reveal shocking data about unchurched adults. Barna defines unchurched as “…adults (18 or older) who has not attended a Christian church service within the past six months, not including a holiday service (such as Easter or Christmas) or a special event at a church (such as a wedding or funeral).”
Barna claims the unchurched swelled from 39 million in 1991 to 75 million in 2004, a disturbing 92% increase. Adding the under 18 to this number swells the total to over 100 million. Even more unsettling is that 62% of the unchurched claim to be Christian.
The unchurched hold beliefs that surprise and shock this blogger. Among these beliefs Barna uncovered the following:
• “64% of the unchurched say that Satan is not a living being but is a symbol of evil. (2006)
• 63% of unchurched adults state that a good person can earn his or her way into Heaven. (2006)
• Slightly less than half (48%) of the unchurched define God as the perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe who continues to rule His creation today. (2006)
• 51% of the unchurched assert that when Jesus Christ lived on earth, He committed sins. (2006)
• 27% of the unchurched firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches. (2006”
To put the unchurched in perspective, Barna notes if the unchurched in the U.S. were a nation it would be the 12th most populated nation on earth. There are many reasons for this but in a Barna Update released last year, he feels some are contained in a recent book released by “Tyndale House Publishers, entitled Jim and Casper Go to Church. That book describes the experience of a former pastor and an avowed atheist who together visited a dozen significant churches across the nation. Jim Henderson, who has been a pastor of small and large churches, interviewed the atheist (Matt Casper) during and after each church service they attended to gain insights into what it’s like for an outsider to attend such churches. Among the congregations visited were well-known ministries such as Willow Creek (pastored by Bill Hybels), Saddleback (led by Rick Warren), Lakewood (featuring Joel Osteen), and The Potter’s House (home of T.D. Jakes).”
“Many of the insights drawn from the experiences of “Jim and Casper” parallel the findings of Barna Group studies among the unchurched. Some of the critical discoveries were the relative indifference of most churched Christians to unchurched people; the overt emphasis upon a personal rather than communal faith journey; the tendency of congregations to perform rituals and exercise talents rather than invite and experience the presence of God; the absence of a compelling call to action given to those who attend; and the failure to listen to dissident voices and spiritual guidance to dig deeper in one’s faith.”
As a church visitor in the Anchorage area, I personally witness all of the above (italics emphasis). Although not in every church, I experience it on a regular basis. There is no better time than Christmas to emphasize the love of God, the birth of Jesus, and His ministry of caring for the unchurched and downtrodden. We’ve just experienced Black Friday with many desperately trying to prepare for celebrating Christmas by spending our eyeballs out for each other. This might be a great time to reconnect with the real reason for Christmas and to harmonize this with the teachings of scripture, making this a great time for churches to realize their true mission.