What the Unchurched Don’t Like About Christians

Somebody is watching you.

I’m still amazed at the stories I hear from my three grown sons. They remind me of things I did and said when they were children. Some good. Some not so good.

Yes, I’m really amazed how closely they watched their dad.

Somebody else is watching us Christians. The unchurched. Non-Christians.

And you might be surprised how closely they are watching us.

Listening to the Formerly Unchurched

In a previous blog I wrote about research my team had conducted on the formerly unchurched. These were men and women who had been Christians less than a year. They were able to give us some keen insights about their lives as unchurched, non-Christians, especially since those days were in the recent past.

One of the more fascinating times in our interviews took place when we asked them what they didn’t like about Christians. We asked them to specify issues, attitudes, actions, and words that turned them away from the church and the gospel.

They gave us an ear full.

Five Negatives

Though the responses varied in their specific wording, we were able to group the negatives into five major categories. So what it is that the unchurched don’t like about Christians? Some of the responses hit too close to home for my comfort.

I don’t like Christians who treat other Christians poorly. The unchurched don’t expect us Christians to be perfect, but they can’t understand why we treat each other without dignity and respect. “I thought Christians were supposed to love one another,” Sandy from Pennsylvania told us. “But the more I observed Christians, the more I thought they really didn’t like each other.”

I don’t like “holier-than-thou” attitudes. The unchurched know that Christians will make mistakes, and they often have a forgiving attitude when we mess up. But they are repulsed when Christians act in superior ways to them “It would help,” said Bailey of Tampa, “if Christians showed just a little humility.”

I don’t like Christians who talk more than they listen. Many of the unchurched, at some point, have a perception that a Christian is a person who can offer a sympathetic and compassionate ear. Unfortunately, many of the unchurched thought Christians were too busy talking to listen to them.

I don’t like Christians who won’t get involved in my life. One of the many surprises of our study was discovering how much many unchurched persons would like to have a Christian as a friend. Yet very few Christians are willing to invest their lives in the messy world that evangelism requires.

I don’t like Christians who don’t go to church. The unchurched saw the disconnect between belief and practice in the lives of Christians who did not or who rarely attended church. “You would think that Christians would want to have the time together to worship and study,” noted Frances. “But I am amazed how many Christians just are not committed to any church.”

The Takeaway

The unchurched really are not too bothered by some hypocrisy with us Christians. They are well aware that any human will stumble at times. But these lost men and women want to know that Christians will treat each other well. They want to see humility in our lives. They want to know that we will take the time to listen, and even take more time to really be involved in their lives. And they want to know that we love our churches.

The unchurched really want to see a Christian live incarnationally. Most of them will gladly listen to us if we show love toward them and toward other Christians. Most of them desire to see a Christian live his or her faith as well as speak about it.

I have learned much from the world of the unchurched.

And I know I have still have much yet to learn.

Posted on July 9, 2009

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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