I'm currently working on a new message topic--one that explores the impact of feminist thinking on women in the church. It's a weighty and sobering topic, especially for a former feminist like myself. While I've been doing this, I've been pondering why I have this impression that women are increasingly harder to reach with the gospel. A new book by Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door, unfortunately confirms some of my thinking. Here's an excerpt from a review by Dr. Albert Mohler:
The Unchurched Next Door represents a massive research project based in a national survey. From the onset, Rainer was determined to force Christians to look at the unchurched all around them. "Most of the unchurched are your neighbors, your coworkers whom you know well, and even your family members," he explains. "That is why we call them 'the unchurched next door.' They have much in common with us. Many of them have your moral values. Most are not antichurch or antireligion. They are very much like you--except that they are lost without Christ."
After interviewing thousands of unchurched Americans, the Rainer research team looked for patterns in the profiles. Based on the results, Rainer suggested five different levels of responsiveness to the gospel. "U1" identifies unchurched Americans who are highly receptive to hearing and believing the good news. They know something about Christianity, and have a positive attitude toward the church. "U2" individuals are receptive to the gospel and willing to hear a message from the church. Those categorized as "U3" are identified as neutral, "with no clear signs of being interested, yet perhaps open to discussion." The "U4" group demonstrates resistance to the gospel but no antagonism. The most unresponsive group in the population is identified as "U5" The most secular Americans are "highly antagonistic and even hostile to the gospel."
Given the contours of post-Christian America, many believers would assume that the U5 category would include a large number of our fellow citizens. That assumption is not sustained by the facts. Rainer's research indicates that the U5 category fits only about five percent of the American population. Most unchurched Americans are grouped in the central three categories. Those already friendly to the church, the U1s, comprise eleven percent of the population, serving as something of a bookend to the U5s.
The majority of the unchurched fit the middle categories, with 27% listed as U2, 36% as U3, and 21% as U4. As Rainer summarizes, "Most of the unchurched are not antichurch or anti-Christian." By and large, they have had little contact with Christianity, and are not highly motivated when it comes to issues of faith and belief.
In reviewing the research, Rainer and his team came to some surprising conclusions. First of all, most Americans have never been invited to church--never. Yet, 82% indicated that they would be at least "somewhat likely" to attend church if invited. As Rainer comments, "Only twenty-one percent of active church goers invite anyone to church in the course of a year. But only two percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church." He concludes: "Perhaps the evangelistic apathy so evident in so many of our churches can be explained by a simple laziness on the part of church members in inviting others to church."
One of the most devastating insights drawn from the research is the fact that most unchurched Americans feel themselves safe from the evangelistic reach of believing Christians. They do not sense that Christians are seeking actively to share the gospel with them, and many nonbelievers are actually wondering what makes Christians so reticent to talk about their faith. Furthermore, most of the unchurched indicate that their Christian friends have little actual influence on their lives.
The withdrawal of men from participation in many churches has led a good many researchers to believe that men are most highly resistant to the gospel. This is also born out by a great deal of experience in local churches. Nevertheless, Rainer's research indicates that most men are grouped in the middle categories, and show relatively low levels of interest in the gospel--either positive or negative. Indeed, this research indicates that unchurched Americans classified in U5--the most antagonistic category--are more likely to be women. As a matter of fact, women tended to predominate in both U1 and U5, perhaps indicating that women are more likely to place a high value on the issue of faith, and thus tend to be more passionately Christian or secular.
Unsurprisingly, Rainer also discovered that the U5s tend to be more highly educated, more wealthy, and more condescending toward the Bible than other Americans. This group is marked by an anti-supernatural bias combined with a secular lifestyle. One woman interviewed for the project said simply, "I have no need for the Bible. The Bible was written for very simple people. It was written to give moral and ethical guidance to uneducated people".
While it's sobering to read that more women than men are antagonistic to the gospel, it's more sobering in my opinion to read that so many unbelievers, men and women, have never been invited to church. It makes me evaluate how faithful I've been.
You can read more on Al Mohler's commentary.