Do church growth tactics attract the unchurched?

The best argument for adopting the techniques of the Church Growth movement–contemporary worship, non-traditional styles, and culturally-relevant practices–is to reach the lost, the unbelievers, the unchurched.  Such “missional” concerns often trump all other considerations.  It’s hard to argue against the importance of evangelism and the Great Commission.

But the question remains, do the Church Growth techniques that have given us so many megachurches, in fact, attract non-Christians and others who do not normally go to church?

I stumbled across a study of those who attend megachurches–one that is actually pro-megachurch in many ways–that found that only 2% do not describe themselves as “committed followers of Jesus Christ,” and only 6% do not come from other congregations.

The study is entitled NOT WHO YOU THINK THEY ARE: A Profile of the People Who Attend America’s Megachurches, by Scott Thumma and Warren Bird, a project of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research (2009).  Among the many interesting findings, some of which bolster the cause of the very large churches, is this:

One might logically conclude that a large percentage of the new people are also new Christians. Certainly that is what many megachurch pastors proclaim. However, nearly everyone, including visitors, described himself or herself as a “committed follower of Jesus Christ.” We think many respondents interpreted this to mean, “do you consider yourself saved” given that barely 2% (roughly 500 people among the entire 24,900 survey respondents) said they were not a committed follower of Christ. Interestingly, of those respondents who were at these churches ten years or more, a handful (36 people or 0.1%) still described themselves as not being committed Christ-followers.

Additionally only 6% of attenders said that they had never attended services prior to coming to their current megachurch.

via 2009 Profile of the People Who Attend America’s Megachurches.

Maybe that’s more unbelievers and non-church members that come to a traditional service.  I don’t know.  I suppose 2% in a congregation of 3000 would come to 60 people.  (Though the question wasn’t really are you not a Christian, but are you a “committed” follower, which would seem to include people struggling with their faith.)   I have always thought that these churches project a kind of piety that would be very alien to most non-Christians and that, in fact, would more likely put them off.  At any rate, it would seem that  church growth techniques appeal mainly to Christians from smaller congregations who want something new.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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