by David Kinnaman and George Barna Churchless, 10/9/14.
Barna research shows that the unchurched are becoming less responsive to churches’ efforts to connect with them. For example, conventional wisdom says the best way to get people to visit a church is to have friends invite them—and the conventional wisdom is right. The churchless we interviewed were most open to “a friend of yours inviting you to attend a local church,” with one-fifth expressing strong interest and nearly half willing to consider a church based on this factor. An invitation from a friend is the top-rated way churches can establish connections with the unchurched.
However, while the conventional wisdom remains true today, the road ahead shows challenging signs. Barna Group’s trend data raise questions about the long-term durability of this approach. Twenty years ago, two-thirds of churchless Americans (65%) were open to being invited to church by a friend. Today, that percentage has slipped to less than half (47%).
It’s not only the efficacy of personal invitations that is changing. Barna’s tracking data stretching back to the 1990s reveal a slow-growing calcification of unchurched people toward churches. For every outreach method surveyed, the unchurched are less open to it today than they were two decades ago. While churchless people continue to show moderate openness to high-touch, relational connections—pastoral home visits (27%, down from 34%), a phone call from a church (24%, down from 34%)—they are resistant to other forms of outreach. This is especially true for advertising, including TV, radio or newspaper (18%, down from 20%), direct mailings (16%, down from 24%) and billboard ads (14%, down from 21%).