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Won’t you be my neighbor?

SUMMARY: A study by George Barna of The Barna Group reveals many people counted as "unchurched" may receive spiritual guidance from television, radio or Internet ministries.

With 23 percent of Americans classified as "unattached to a church," the challenge becomes how to identify unchurched believers in your neighborhood and reach out to them. Who better to issue the invitation than a caring neighbor-someone they know and trust? 

Due to television and growing Internet ministries, the lines between the churched and the unchurched have blurred since 2004, when a study by The Barna Group identified 75 million Americans as "unchurched." 

In an updated report on church avoidance and attendance, the Ventura, Calif., marketing research and Christian leadership education group contends many Americans who would have been counted as unchurched in the past are merely unattached to a conventional church. Nearly 60 percent identify themselves as Christian. Some may use television, Internet or other religious media. 

These unattached tend to be "relatively isolated from the mainstream of society, noncommittal in institutional and personal relationships, and typically revel in their independence." (1)

Here are some steps toward getting more believers from your neighborhood into your pews:
Know your neighborhood.
Learn as much as you can about the socioeconomic makeup of your neighborhood, and design programs to fit the needs of those you may serve.

Use sports as a witnessing tool.
Competitive sports are a good way to bring the church to the masses.  Some churches field teams in volleyball, basketball and other sports and compete in leagues with other churches. 

Feed their needs.
Are your neighbors hungry? Grace United Methodist Church, Cincinnati, serves a no-strings-attached breakfast to neighborhood children on Sundays.  Because of the breakfast program, 90 percent of the children active in Grace Church's youth programs are within walking distance of the church.

If they take a step, you take a step.
If your congregation offers broadcast or Internet-streamed services, reach out to anyone who contacts your church after they watch or listen to a service. Send a church calendar or newsletter, highlighting upcoming events. Dr. Mouzon Biggs, Boston Avenue UMC, Tulsa, Okla., answers every letter from viewers and listeners of his Sunday service.  Anyone who sends an e-mail gets a response the same day. The church has maintained a membership of nearly 8,000 for the past 10 years.

Get them in the door.
Host a family movie night for the neighborhood. Put fliers in local libraries and stores, and advertise in the community news section of your local paper, online and in print. Then make sure moviegoers receive information on church activities and services.  

Write often.
Every event is a chance to add to the contact list. Collect e-mail and home addresses to forward newsletters and event calendars.

Knowing your neighborhood and the people in it is the first step toward extending a welcome to potential members so they, in turn, get to know you.



(1) Grow Your Church from the Outside In by George Barna


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