Guest post by Carey Nieuhof – Are You Actually Attracting Unchurched People?

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Today’s guest post comes from Carey Nieuhof, lead pastor at Connexus Church, with campuses in Barrie and Orillia, Ontario. Carey is one of Canada’s sharpest Kingdom leaders, and in today’s post he poses a question that I believe every church leader in Canada needs to wrestle with; ‘Are we REALLY attracting unchurched people to our faith communities?’ But Carey takes it one step further, by outlining the steps that they took at Connexus to come to terms with this vital question.

Read, and be challenged.

Click here to visit Carey’s blog

Most church leaders says they want to reach unchurched people. So did we when  we started Connexus three years ago.

Saying it is one thing.  Living it is another. From the start, we adopted an “invest and invite” strategy.  We encouraged followers of Christ need to build authentic friendships with people in their community, family and workplace.  We see our job as creating the kind of environment they can invite their friends into.  We tell the people who attend Connexus all the time that we designed the church with their friends in mind and to please bring their unchurched friends to church.

But we realized when we launched we created a dual system.  While telling people to invite their friends we also had a ‘safety net” – we advertised, inviting people with no relational connection to come to our church as well (that’s what traditional advertising is – selling a product to people with whom you have no relational connection).

In 2009, we stopped the double talk.  We cut all forms of external advertising:

  • We canceled a very well listened to radio show featuring our messages.
  • We stopped all flyer distribution to homes in neighbourhoods
  • We decided to spend nothing on any form of external advertising.

We made it almost impossible for our church to grow unless the people who attended Connexus invited their friends.

But how do you measure that?  The church could still be growing but it might all be transfer growth.

So early in 2010, we completely redesigned our welcome card.  We designed it to measure whether people had attended church before coming to Connexus, asking them if they never attended church, rarely attended church (1 or 2 times a year), attended monthly or weekly.  We also asked them how they got to Connexus, giving three options: invited by a friend, invited by a family member, and ‘other’.  (We didn’t know what other would be, but we put it in anyway).

People have to go to the Welcome Desk in our foyer to fill out a card, and we in turn give them a gift basket with CDs, orientation material and (yum) chocolate in it.

We have had 285 families fill out a card to the end of October.  Here’s what we learned:

  • 85% of the people at our Barrie campus were invited by friend or family
  • 70% of the people at our Orillia campus were invited by friend or family. (Orillia is a smaller city, so we wonder if word of mouth might be the 30%)
  • 68% of our first time guests were not regular church goers (didn’t attend or attended less than once or twice a month)
  • 26% of people who were not weekly church attenders have become weekly attenders this year

We’re still learning tons about how to figure this out, and we can probably get a lot better at this, but here are some quick thoughts on why the trends are encouraging:

  • Cut the safety nets – make it hard for your church to grow unless people invite your friends.
  • Give your regular attenders space to build a life.  We have almost no mid-week programming.  We like families to build into each other and into their neighbours, not be at church six nights a week.
  • Program to your target.  That means potentially offending Christians.  We play songs some churches wouldn’t play.  We even tatooed people once on stage.  Christians left.  That wasn’t the goal, but it can happen.  While a few Christians have left,  unchurched people came.
  • Commit yourself to seeing life-change.  If you don’t see people being baptized and moving into a growing relationship with Christ, you’re missing the point.  It’s not attracting a crowd that’s the mission – it’s leading people into actual life change.

If you want to see a cross section of some Connexus stories, check out the comments on the Connexus blog from November – December 2010.

Otherwise…what do you think?  What have you seen as effective in helping a church reach its mission?  What’s the potential downside you see?

the author

Scott Cochrane

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