Gospel receptivity among unchurched surprisingly high, new book says

Communications Staff — October 7, 2003

Eighty-two percent of unchurched people in North America (more than 130 million) are at least “somewhat likely” to attend church it they are invited, according to a new book by a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor.

In “The Unchurched Next Door” (Zondervan), Thom Rainer draws upon two years of extensive research in all 50 U.S. states and Canada to profile five different “faith stages” among non-Christians and to suggest strategies for reaching people at each stage.

“… [R]eaching lost and unchurched people is not always best accomplished with some cookie-cutter strategy,” writes Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern.

“The unchurched are different in how they respond to the Gospel. We want you to be aware of these differences so that you can reach out to the unchurched in the most effective ways.”

This book is particularly relevant for Christians today because many believers do not realize that their unchurched friends and neighbors may be just one conversation away from committing their lives to Jesus Christ, Rainer said in an interview.

“This is written for lay people to help them realize that most unchurched people are not some type of fire-breathing monsters with whom we can have no relationship. They’re more like our next door neighbors,” he said.

“After researching over 300 unchurched people across America, including Canada as North America, we have found that they’re much more receptive to the Gospel, much more friendly to the church, much more positive toward ministers and Christians than conventional wisdom would have us to believe.”

“The Unchurched Next Door” classifies non-Christians according to a scale of receptivity toward the Gospel, labeled the “Rainer Scale of Faith Stages.” The Rainer Scale ranges from a U1, someone highly receptive to hearing and believing the Gospel, to a U5, someone highly antagonistic and even hostile to the Gospel.

Surprisingly, only five percent of all unchurched people fall into the U5 category—a finding that should drive Christians to tell their non-Christian friends about Jesus Christ, according to Rainer.

“I plead with you to ask yourself if lost people really matter to you,” he writes. “I urge you to look at your life’s priorities and be brutally honest. Do your priorities really reflect a concern for lost people?

“If this book becomes but another nice research project, I will have failed. If it remains on your bookshelf and you have little change in your heart, I will have failed.”

In addition to profiles of unchurched people, Rainer offers insights into how Christians can most effectively reach the unchurched people around them. Among these insights, Rainer counsels believers to speak with the unchurched about the Bible, build relationships with them and not assume that resistance is permanent.

Perhaps most importantly though, Christians must remember the vital role of personal evangelism, Rainer writes.

“Here is a fascinating lesson from the formerly unchurched: One of the most effective ways to communicate the Gospel to lost people is to tell them about Jesus. If my comments seem a bit sarcastic, it is because the formerly unchurched often helped us to see the obvious. … The formerly unchurched in our study left little doubt as to the importance of direct personal evangelism in reaching the unchurched,” he writes.

The goal of “The Unchurched Next Door,” said Rainer, is to “discern as much information as possible about the world of the unchurched with a prayer that you, the Christian, will be better equipped to reach your friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members and acquaintances with the gospel of Christ.”

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