Diagnose: Is The Church Reaching Non-Believers?

Diagnose: Is The Church Reaching Non-Believers?
Chuck Lawless

This article’s question, “Is the church reaching non-believers?” requires the church to look at its local outreach.

Church-growth proponents typically speak of three different sources of church growth. The first, “transfer growth,” is simply churches transferring members—probably better known as “swapping sheep.” A church may get larger through transfer growth, but the kingdom of God is no richer. Definitions for the second source, “biological growth,” vary, but this is best understood as increased attendance numbers when church attendees and members have babies. Needless to say, churches with younger congregations tend to have more biological growth. This article focuses on the third source, “conversion growth,” which means reaching and keeping new believers.

Clearly, the early church was concerned about reaching non-believers. In fact, new believers were added to the church daily (Acts 2:47) as church members preached and lived their faith before others. How different that is from the 80-85 percent of North American churches that are plateaued or declining! On one occasion, a core of 120 believers led to the conversion of at least 3,000 people in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15, 2:41). That, too, is quite unlike today’s typical church.

If the church’s goal is to reach non-believers as the early church did, here are some ways to evaluate the church’s effectiveness:

1. Look at the church’s process for recording the number of conversions or baptisms related to their ministry. I am well aware that determining whether or not a person is truly “saved” is not easy. I am equally concerned that too many church members are likely not true believers. On the other hand, the church that never asks, “Is God using us to reach non-believers?” is probably a church that is not too concerned about this important issue. Keeping records of converts allows the church to (a) pray in a focused way for new converts; (b) intentionally strategize to disciple those who have been converted; and (c) pray for God to use them to reach even more non-believers.

2. Evaluate the church’s baptism/conversion ratio. Trying to determine “effective” growth is not easy. One attempt to do so is to evaluate the church’s baptism/conversion ratio, which is the ratio of resident members or worship attendees—whichever is higher—per baptisms/conversions. For example, a church that has 400 members, 200 in attendance, and reported 20 baptisms/conversions in a year would have a baptismal ratio of 20:1 (400 members/20 conversions). A church with 50 members, 150 in worship attendance, and 15 baptisms/conversions would have a ratio of 10:1 (150 attenders/15 conversions). Generally, a ratio of less than 20:1 is considered healthy. This formula is certainly not perfect, but offers one way to evaluate a church’s outreach health.

3. Examine the church’s record of guests attending small groups or worship services. An outreach-oriented church tends to have growing numbers of guests who visit the church—and return. Growing churches offer a warm (and not uncomfortable) welcome for guests in the small group or service, contact guests within 48 hours of their visit, and encourage laity to develop relationships with the guests. By some estimates, fast-growing churches retain about 35 percent of their first-time guests. Ask the church to provide its records of guests. How many attend each week? How many have attended over the previous year? How many return after the first visit? If the church has no record-keeping process in place, help them to develop that process.

4. Review the church’s process for training members to be evangelists. New believers are often the best evangelists because they are zealous for Christ and still know non-believers to reach. At the same time, all believers need training to strengthen and encourage their evangelistic witness. How do I respond to the non- believer who questions the authority of the Scriptures? Why do I believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father? What steps should I take to transition a general conversation into the gospel? What exactly is the gospel that I should present? All of these issues can be addressed in an effective evangelism training program. If the church has no such program, be prepared to make recommendations of good programs.

5. Determine if the church has a plan in place to keep the converts that they reach. If the church has no strategy in place to keep the new believers reached through their ministry, why should God bless them with conversion growth in the first place? Far too many new believers lose their excitement and wither in their spiritual growth because the church has no disciple-making strategy. This issue is so significant that it will be the focus of the next article, “Is the Church Keeping the New Believers Who Join?” I hope you’ll return to read the next segment in this series.

Read more articles from this series:

Chuck Lawless, Ph.D., is Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth and Dean of the Billy Graham School at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of four books, including his latest, “Membership Matters: Insights from Effective Churches on New Member Classes and Assimilation.”  Dr. Lawless also consults with churches on church health and growth and is an instructor with Church Central’s Church Consultant Training.

This article “Diagnose: Is the Church Reaching Non-Believers?” by Dr. Chuck Lawless, was excerpted from: www.churchcentral.com web site. January 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”