A few years back, Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in California, wrote They Like Jesus But Not the Church. A few conversations with people in the South Georgia that do not regularly attend church continue to reveal the truth of Kimball's premise.
Here are 6 things I have learned about unchurched people in South Georgia. (This is a subjective list based on conversations.)
1. Unchurched people in SoGa have had some experience with the church.
Most of the adults I have talked with about spiritual matters have had experience with the church. Because of this fact, I believe many of them are more dechurched than unchurched. Most of the experiences came early with grandparents and often with Vacation Bible School and Summer Camps. The factor that stands out to them is that there were some good times in these experiences.
"The lady who told the Bible stories was so funny!"
"We had a blast putting shaving cream on the leaders!"
"I remember eating these green cupcakes!"
"The man who drove the bus was very kind to me."
In those times, the unchruched picked up some basic impressions about church and Jesus and the Bible. Their overwhelming impression of God is that He is loving. This idea of God loving people vaguely has something to do with Jesus showing us he loves us because he died on the cross. That has been the general vein of theology I have heard in these conversations.
2. Unchurched people in SoGa believe church people are judgmental.
Now that those young former-VBS attenders have grown up, they now have seen that most of the people (or one very specific person) in church are judgmental, not very nice and downright mean. Since the unchurched believe they just accept people as they are, they have trouble wondering why church people can not do the same.
For the record, I have certainly met some mean people at church.
Honestly, most unchurched people have just as many judgmental attitudes as the next person. However, they have certainly experienced that attitude and it is why they do not want to be involved with church and church people.
3. Unchurched people in SoGa are afraid to come to church.
Every week, regularly church attenders go to the congregation of their choice and never give it another thought. That is not the case with the unchurched. Because of some of their concerns about church people, even if they have an overwhelming desire to have some deep questions answered, the fear of what might happen inside is a giant obstacle.
This should not be too hard for us to understand. I have had Christians tell me the reason they do not go to church on vacations is because they don't know anyone! That is the feeling most unchurched people get even if they want to attend.
4. Unchurched people in SoGa believe it is possible to be a Christian and not go to church.
I have talke with many unchurched people that are quite certain of their relationship with God. They speak of praying many prayers. They speak of having times of worship alone with God. This is all part of a bigger issue of "Churchless Christianity" that is found all over the country.
Some of this has been created by bad church experiences, I am sure. Some of this is because of fear. The point is, many unchurched people have been stabbed in the back, judged and talked about and those experiences have led them to believe that the church is so broken that it must not be a part of God's plan.
5. Unchurched people in SoGa know they are sinners.
"I drink way too much. I know it's not right."
"I know I should be reading the Bible and going to church."
"I need to stop cussing and talking so mean to my wife."
"I don't know if God can forgive me for what I have done. I've made such a mess of my life."
That's just a couple of the many confessions I have heard from unchurched people. Some have told me that they are just as good as the people who go to church--they've done business with the church people! Yet, they know when they do wrong. Many of them feel guilty about it. Many of them want to change. Many of them just don't know if they can.
6. Unchurched people in SoGA have deep questions about life and God.
"I just don't know if Jesus is God's Son. Is He really God?"
"How can God forgive me?"
"If God is loving, how could he..."
"...let my sister die?" "...let my daddy die?" "...let my momma die?"
"...allow me to be raped?"
"...not stopped the accident?"
I have met so many unchurched people in South Georgia that are not raving atheists. They don't hate God. It's just that they have go some big questions and they don't know the answers. They have some vague ideas and impressions about God and they can not get them squared up in their minds.
What have you discovered about the unchurched people you know in South Georgia. How have you engaged with them? How will you engage with them? How will you pray to God for them?