Recently Matthew Pinson wrote a blog post entitled, “Some Thoughts on What Unchurched People Want In A Church”. The blog post challenges readers to engage the issue of church health from a Biblical and ordinary means of grace perspective rather than a consumeristic or market-driven approach. Pinson urges readers to consider whether expectations for the unchurched have been met or not. He concludes the blog by stating,
“But if they [discouraged pastors] look at most of the latest studies, they will find that those things are what the unchurched in our increasingly secularized communities say they really want when they get serious about finding a church.”
Here I will provide my readers with four thoughts on Pinson’s blog.
- Members of the Millennial and Gen Z generation prefer the “authenticity of a boutique shop or locally owned restaurant over Wal-Mart and Red Robin.”
This insightful remark engages my mind. Pinson is right in his assessment. I was born in 1992, so I technically fall into the Millennial generation. I prefer the authenticity of local shops to large chains. My town has one locally-owned coffee shop. I go there more than I visit chain restaurants. If Pinson is correct in his assessment, and I think he is, small local churches have much to offer their neighborhoods and communities. Individuals from either the generational grouping prefer authenticity.
Fellow pastors and church leaders, we are wise to capitalize on Pinson’s wisdom. We can provide authentic, loving, engaging, evangelistic, and fellowshipping communities and as a result, reach many for Christ in our time. Do we believe that the harvest is plentiful though? (See Luke 10:2-3)
- Studies show that what matters to the unchurched is not the style of a church or the way in which a church appeals to its market base.
The studies Pinson describes in the sections following invite much reflection and discussion. I imagine pastors across the nation feel constant anxiety about stylistic or market-driven issues. Will neighbors enjoy the design of the foyer or welcome center? Will they hate our music or love it? Although he does not use the phrase here, Pinson is clearly referring to the sufficiency of an ordinary means of grace approach to ministry.
Pastors, we do not have to reinvent the wheel relating to community engagement and Gospel witness. The studies Pinson refers to indicate that people are actually searching for authenticity, love, and community. We can provide those things with little to no budget and that brings me hope!
- Reflections on the research motivate the pastor or church leader to rest in the sufficiency of God’s ordinary means of grace.
Some of the research Pinson quotes surprised me. The Barna research cited indicated that people are attracted to the theological beliefs or doctrine of the church, the quality of sermons preached, and the need for intergenerationality. I am leading my congregation through the Free Will Baptist Articles of Faith on Wednesday evening. Some people might think, “No one cares about doctrine, just preach Jesus!” If the research is correct those people are respectfully wrong. People do care about doctrine.
In fact, over the Christmas holiday, an individual attended one of our services with his mother. He commented on my post on denominational identity and stated, “When I travel, I like to Google churches and know what they believe.” Barna research is correct: doctrine is not merely a matter for theological ivory tower discussions. People want to know what we believe and why.
People truly care about the quality of sermons preached. Pinson cites Rainer’s research and notes that more than 90% of people said they were attracted to a church based on the pastor and his preaching. As a preacher of the word this insight both encourages me and challenges me. It encourages me because much of my work week is devoted to sermon preparation. The remainder of my week is devoted to pastoral care needs. The research challenges me not to become complacent in my own preaching and seek to grow as a proclaimer of God’s word. People are watching, fellow pastors. We can do better with God’s grace.
The last remark concerns the need for intergenerationality. While there is a great benefit in age-graded ministry, sometimes the church becomes generationally isolated. Some in my ministry context are discouraged because we do not currently have a vibrant “children’s ministry”. I love the fact that an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old sit in the adult service each week. By the way, they retain the sermons. One of them recently brought me a drawing that captured the main idea of the sermon. (That blessed me much more than all the “good job pastor” comments at the end of service!)
In Titus 2, Paul instructed Elder Titus to establish intergenerational ministries. The research clearly indicates that people still long for intergenerationality in local church contexts.
- The traditional practices and orthodox and wisdom-laden ways of believing are what the next generation needs.
I cannot agree with the findings of this study more. Generation Z particularly benefits from the traditional faith “once for all delivered to the saints”. That generation has not known a time without WiFi, smartphones, or social media. Young people are inundated with so much media they are overwhelmed, tired, and even depressed.
The local church can be a breath of fresh air to young people today. We don’t have to be like the world in every respect. In the county in which I pastor, there are numerous children raised in fatherless homes, single-parent homes, and often these children are neglected for various reasons. As adult Christians, we can love these children in appropriate ways and show them we care. Our faith is not a killjoy. It is rather the source of hope for all people because it transcends cultural norms.
I am thankful Matthew Pinson wrote this blog. I agree with his research. Pinson exhorts pastors to prioritize solid biblical teaching, zealous evangelism, and rich community. Jesus has not given up on his church and we shouldn’t either. May we continue to grow in love for one another, knowledge of the Messiah, and commitment to personal and corporate holiness! (Philippians 1:9-11)