According to Thom Rainer, your unchurched neighbors are not all alike. At least that is what the research from Rainer Group indicates.
In his book, The Unchurched Next Door, Rainer puts the unchurched in our lives into five distinct categories:
U1 – Highly receptive to the Gospel. In fact this group includes some who may well be Christians who, for one reason or another, are not presently part of any expression of the Visible Body of Christ. These folks are the very essence of the word Seekers.
U2 – Receptive to the Gospel and to the Church. They may even see the church as a value, and admit that they “ought to go to church”. However, they probably have not been to church, nor taken any initiative in finding a church, and finding a church is not on thier immediate agenda whatsoever.
U3 – Neutral about church and spiritual things. They show neither signs of interest nor opposition. They may be open to some conversations about spiritual things but they do not feel their lives are lacking without Jesus being in their lives or their lack of involvement in the life of a local church.
U4 – Resistant to the Gospel, but show no antagonistic attitudes about those who profess faith and/or who go to church.
U5 – Highly antagonistic about church and the Gospel.
At first thought one might assume this is a matter of common sense, if not common knowledge. What difference does it make to consider these categories?
Those were some of my initial musings.
But then I began to think about how I, and how others I know, relate to unchurched friends and neighbors. Am I conscious of where they are on their spiritual pilgrimmage, of do I functionally lump them all into the category of “THEM” as opposed to “US”? Do I wish they would come to church, or do I understand where they are coming from? Am I willing to converse with them at their interest level, or do I use a half-hearted one-size-fits-all approach when spiritual matters come up? Like most Christians I know, I have often been guilty of the all the wrong things.
While being careful not to judge people, I have found that applying Rainers insights has made interacting and relating with unchurched neighbors and friends has become more enjoyable. Probably for them too. I listen more attentively to what they are saying. I converse more freely. I say fewer dumb things that lead to alienation. In short, I think Rainers categories are not only on-target but practically helpful.
Interestingly, The Rainer Group study has shown that 75-80% of our unchurched neighbors and friends would be open to an invitation to go to church if invited by a Christian friend. This does not mean that all of them would be equally excited about the invitation. And this does not mean that if you ask four people to come to church this week that you will see three of them there on Sunday. It means that if genuinely and sensitvely invited most would at some time or another be willing to go with you to your church.
So now here is the probing question for you & me: When was the last time you invited an un-churched person to church?
We in the churches are agonizing over ways to reach the un-churched, yet research indicates a simple invitation may be the most “cutting edge” approach we can employ.