Shattering Myths about the Unchurched -- By: Thom S. Rainer

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 05:1 (Spring 2001)
Article: Shattering Myths about the Unchurched
Author: Thom S. Rainer

Shattering Myths about the Unchurched

Thom S. Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is the founding Dean of The Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theology Seminary. A prolific author, Dr. Rainer has lectured, preached, and led conferences on church growth across the United States. This article is adapted from his book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched (Zondervan, 2001).


As the unofficial new millennium dawned in January of 2000, a group of men and women from The Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary began an exciting research project on the unchurched in America. Over 350 interviews took place with new adult Christians and church members. Most of these men and women had been Christians for less than a year. The research team then interviewed about the same number of longer-term Christians, the control or comparison group for this project.

These 700 interviews took hundreds of hours to conduct. Why were we interested in the views of these new Christians and new church members? Why did we spend over a year researching this group that we called “the formerly unchurched?” Frankly, we desired to hear a new perspective on unchurched people. Most, if not all, previous studies have been conducted on the unchurched. These studies seek to learn from non-Christians what the church needs to do to reach them. Strategies are then developed around these perceived needs.

Our study, however, asked different questions of a different group of people. Instead of asking the unchurched how the church can reach them, we asked these “formerly unchurched” what instruments God used to bring them to Christ and into the church. And the answers we received were significantly different from the responses noted in other research projects on the unchurched.

Perhaps one wonders why we need research on the unchurched. The answer is simple: because we need to reach these people with the gospel and message of Jesus Christ. Yet in my role as a church consultant, I find a lot of confusion about the lost and unchurched population because many Christians do not realize how unevangelized and unchurched America has become.

Our Changing Country

Only forty-one percent of Americans attend church services on a typical weekend.1 Each new generation becomes increasingly unchurched. Slightly over one-half (51%) of the builder generation (born before 1946) attends church on a typical weekend. But only forty-one percent of the boomers (born 1946 to 1964) and thirty-four percent of the busters (born 1965 to 1976) attend church on a given w...

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