Not Equipped To Reach The Lost

Brad began speaking to the man seated next to him on the airplane. Praying for an opportunity to move the conversation toward spiritual topics, he was amazed how quickly their talk turned first to matters of religion in general, and then to specific issues about the person of Christ. By the time the flight ended, Brad was able to give a CD with a Gospel message to his newfound friend, along with his business card so he could follow up soon.

That was easy, Brad thought. And then he wondered why he didn’t engage non-Christians more frequently.

Ready to Listen

Our research indicates that millions of lost and unchurched persons in the United States are just as receptive to the Gospel as Brad’s friend. Perhaps we’re oversimplifying the matter a bit, but we think we have at least part of the answer to the question of why so many American churches are unhealthy and declining: Christians are not sharing the Gospel often enough with eager and receptive non-Christians.

In our interviews with the unchurched, we found a surprising hunger for spiritual matters. Indeed, a large number of the unchurched were willing to talk specifically about Jesus. According to our research, approximately 160 million U.S. adults are unchurched; nearly four out of 10 of these unchurched people are receptive to the Gospel and to the local church.

Please read these words carefully: More than 60 million unchurched adults are eager for a Christian to share the Gospel with them. Why, then, are so many churches declining when the potential harvest is so great? The answer is painfully obvious: Leaders and laypersons are making little or no effort to reach the unchurched. And the “reachable” are located in all regions of the country and in all demographic settings.


Why Aren’t We Reaching Them?

When we asked active church leaders and laypersons why they did not engage the unchurched more frequently, many responded that they felt ill equipped to answer any objections the unchurched might have.

Churches already understand the great need to better equip church members in apologetics. Likewise, we see the need for our members to better understand Scripture, empowering them to respond with a biblical answer to potential objections. But our research shows that among the reachable four of 10 unchurched, most already believe in the basic tenets of Christianity.

Meet Georgia, an unchurched 50-something from Kentucky. During our recent interview, she was polite and non-argumentative, and she agreed with most of the tenets of the Christian faith. She prays regularly. She was clear on her beliefs about Jesus: “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” she told us. Georgia believes in a literal heaven and hell. But she has no personal relationship with Christ. She hasn’t repented of sin and placed her faith in the Savior. But she does, at least cognitively, believe in Him.

Georgia is not unlike many of the 60 million reachable unchurched adults in our nation. She is open and receptive to matters of spirituality. She welcomes conversations about Jesus. And she believes many of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. She really does not need any convincing.

So why are most of us doing so little to reach those like Georgia? Why do we say we believe Christ is the only way of salvation, but we’re reticent to tell others about Him? Why do the reachable unchurched rarely, if ever, hear from Christians?

These are the questions that must be answered. In the meantime, more than 60 million lost, yet receptive, people are just waiting for someone to tell them the Good News. Someone like you or me.   
by Thom Rainer and Sam Rainer III
LifeWay Christian Resources and Rainer Research and Church Forward
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources ( He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches. Sam S. Rainer III serves as a pastor at Sarasota Baptist Church. Sam is the co-author of the recently released book, Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts. He also serves as president of Rainer Research, a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He is a frequent conference speaker on church health issues. Sam enjoys hanging out with friends and family in the Florida sunshine.

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