Things Believers Do that Make the Unchurched Bristle

Here’s some good news: the vast majority of the unchurched are receptive to an invitation to church. The problem is that few active churchgoers reach out to their neighbors and friends. The mission field across North America is ripe for harvest, but many of the workers lag in apathy.

 Some workers are lazy, and their apathy is correctly labeled hypocrisy. Worse than apathy, however, is hostility. Christians that breed enmity are worse irritants. In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul uses severe words for the religious people that bite, devour, and destroy: it’s better to be castrated.

 I do not want to be excessively harsh, but it’s constructive to consider the potential negative impact—it’s worse than having no impact. Hypercritical legalism is a clear example of how to turn people off, but there are other, less blatant turn-offs as well. In our research, we’ve heard from the unchurched on things believers do that makes them bristle the most. Here are a few of the most abrasive turn-offs.

 Confuse me. Talk about all the dirt at your church. Drudge up meaningless conflicts. Air dirty laundry in public forums and in the media. File frivolous lawsuits against other believers. Gossip about other churchgoers. Treat other Christians badly. In short, confuse the unchurched with blatant disregard for the Golden Rule.

 Mislead me. Unevangelistic pastors lead churches to reach out less. Unfriendly church leaders set the tone for an unfriendly church culture. Leaders should model the correct behavior. When they don’t, it is a huge turn off for people on the outside.

 Sell me. Encourage people to show up for a bunch of unconnected church activities. Don’t have an underlying mission for church functions. Neglect to connect how the church does ministry with the purpose of the body. Worse yet, lead a person to believe that your church is something it’s not. Selling a façade only disappoints when people get inside. Pretty packaging fools no one.

 Patronize me. A majority of seekers desire biblical depth. They do not want to be mollycoddled with trite spiritual answers to life’s tough questions. Don’t fear telling the truth but do so without an air of superiority. Spiritual arrogance is a huge turn off for the unchurched.

 Avoid me. Treat others like lepers. Don’t invite them to your house. Don’t befriend anyone outside the church walls. Almost eighty percent of adults would enjoy an honest conversation with a friend about religious or spiritual beliefs, even if they did not exactly see eye-to-eye with the friend. Unfortunately, these conversations occur far too infrequently.

 Bore me. The unchurched see no reason to consider a church if the congregation does not take their primary mission of the gospel seriously. We serve a Risen Savior! We know the Answer to life’s most important question! A ho-hum attitude and a lack of celebratory worship makes for a boring church.

 I do not like dwelling on the negative. The list of church turn-offs is long. And it’s much easier to point out all the things wrong in the church than actually make positive steps towards impacting a community for Christ. So take a moment and do a quick inventory of potential turn-offs in your ministry, then focus on the positive ways to be salt and light in your mission field.

Posted on February 2, 2021

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7 Comments

  • This is great staff.

  • John Worswick says on

    You know what Sam, it’s my opinion that there is more value in focusing on the truth ( some of it you mentioned in your essay ) than focusing on the negative. If I may be so bold as to suggest, maybe the list that should be focused on should be more of a positive one that contains God’s truth found in his word and that it might be more impactful that way? I also feel that we are not ever going to get away from negativity anywhere we congregate, whether its at church, the golf course ( depending on how we’re playing obviously ) or the grocery store, because we are all fallen folks and can’t seem to help ourselves but, Jesus is coming back and that keeps us hopeful for a better future, and isn’t that really part of the message?

    Just a thought.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      You make a good point, John. In fact, I’ve got a book coming out in early 2022 that focuses on optimism in the church.

  • The local churches are in sad shape for many reasons including but not limited to capitulating to the Johnson Amendment which is something I’m not sure you have addressed.
    Probably 95% of local churches are 501c3 organizations in bed with the State. One of the exceptions is Chuck Baldwin’s ministry. He understands Romans 13 unlike so many pastors who think they have to obey the State even when the State violates biblical and historical U. S. Constitutional rulings.
    These local churches have given up their ecclesiastical jurisdiction. They’ve compromised the faith. They are no longer free to preach the whole counsel of God without violating their contract with the State.
    Lyndon B. Johnson was no friend of the church or Christianity so in 1954 he helped legislate a bill that would compromise
    the local church’s ability to influence the political arena and succeeded by his seducing arguments.
    You might want to look into this before you proceed with your program to help local churches.
    An excellent website called HushMoney.org use to address this matter and all the confusion surrounding 501c3 status etc
    but last time I checked this site was taken down. Perhaps the owner was threatened. Who knows but there is clearly a war
    against the church that has been going on for many years and I believe we are seeing the fulfillment of Satan’s loosing and
    the final apostasy.

  • Roberta Jones says on

    Great article! Personal opinion here . . . boring children is even worse than boring adults. I’m amazed that Jesus can even be made boring, but sometimes we manage.