What the Unchurched See

What the Unchurched See
Thom S. Rainer

Put yourself in the shoes of the first-time visitor to our church. Exodus 23:9

Although there are many complex factors that affect the unchurched, certain issues of friendliness, cleanliness, and comfort directly impact their decision to attend and join a church. The following responses were generated from a survey of formerly unchurched people.


Friendliness of the people is a major attraction. Make sure a friendly greeting is genuine—the unchurched can detect manufactured friendliness, which is almost as bad as being unfriendly.
Friendliness of members to non-Christians tends to be correlated to a church’s evangelistic effectiveness. The pastor’s modeling of friendliness is critical. A relationship is also apparent between the friendliness of a church and the members’ willingness to accept change.

Nice Facilities and Adequate Space

Every six months, hire someone from outside the church to do a thorough examination of its grounds and buildings. Give the person a notebook with a page for every room, hallway, foyer, and area of the grounds. Ask them to proceed from area to area taking notes, and then report the findings. You may be surprised what they find. Though many visitors may return to your church, even if they had negative impressions, it is obvious that these issues are vitally important to them.

The Nursery/Preschool/Children’s Issue

The issue that generated the most intense comments was the cleanliness, neatness, and safety of nursery, preschool, and children’s areas. While parents with young children were among the most vociferous about quality care for children at church, they were not alone. Similar concerns are held by parents with older children, adult children, and no children. It seems that many unchurched people measure the quality of a church by the quality of childcare.

The unchurched expressed repeatedly how difficult it was for them to visit a church. And those who had young children were especially sensitive to their kids’ needs. They raised the issues of safety, easy accessibility to their children, the ability to be notified if needed, concern and attitude of adult workers, and cleanliness. Also cited by several of the formerly unchurched was how up-to-date the children’s area was. Old furniture, broken toys, worn carpet, and dated baby beds are sure signs of neglect.

Organization or Chaos

Several formerly unchurched said one of their first impressions was the organization of the church, particularly the organization and flow of the worship service. These former seekers remarked that such attention to detail was an indication that the church was serious about its mission. The worship service is where the most people gather at one time. If that isn’t planned well, many visitors believe the church members do most everything else poorly

Greeters and Welcome Centers

Greeter ministries in particular can be implemented with relative ease. In nearly one-third of the interviews, the unchurched shared positive first impressions when the church had a good greeter ministry and a welcome center. A helpful hand, a friendly smile, and good directions can make an eternal difference.

—THOM RAINER, adapted from “Impressed by First Impressions Part 3: What the Unchurched See”; 2004 Church Central. Used by permission.


1. Where would we rank ourselves in each of these categories? How often do we assess and evaluate them?
2. In which of these categories are we weakest? How can we promptly address that issue?
3. What other environmental factors might influence a guest’s immediate response to our church?

The above article, “What the Unchurched See?” is written by Thom S. Rainer. The article was excerpted from www.buildingchurchleaders.org March 2013.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.