By George Bullard
[Note: This is the third in a series of posts on the overly churched culture congregation. To see the full series go to Author Archives: George Bullard.]
For overly churched culture congregations to connect with non-churched culture people, they need an understanding of these people. This post attempts to define the categories of preChristian, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched. I do so knowing there is no consensus that these are even the right terms, words are important, perspectives are diverse, and on any given day anyone else could define these with different words from another perspective.
As a reader, you first thought might be, “Oh, I know those categories of people. You do not have to tell me!” Maybe you do. But the people of overly churched culture congregations evidently do not because they have a really tough time defining those people; much less connecting with them.
Overly churched culture people likely spend so much time around other churched culture people that outside of some extended family members who aren’t spiritually connected with a Christian congregation, they know few if any non-churched culture people; much less how to define, describe, and connect with them.
The definitions below are certainly open to great debate. You are welcome to comment and participate in that debate. You may even be repulsed by the typology they represent. Even if you feel like you are in the know, read on for the benefit of all your overly churched culture friends who may not get it—yet.
These are people not yet committed to a Christ-centered, faith-based relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and are therefore not yet defined as Christians. They are from various perspectives referred to as “seekers”, “lost”, “unsaved”, “nones”, and other terms. The implication of the term preChristian is that they may have the opportunity to consider a Christ-centered, faith-based relationship at some point.
A subset is non-Christians. These are people who are focused on another religion such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and many more. They are not necessarily seeking a relationship with any other faith other than the one they understand.
These are people committed to a Christ-centered, faith-based relationship with God through Jesus Christ, but are not actively connected with and participating in a church. They define themselves as Christians, but they are not active in pursuing spiritual formation in the context of a congregational expression. They might be called Christian “nones” in that they have no formal affiliation at this time.
The most common unchurched persons are those who are in a life transition such as a geographic move, a life stage transition, or a spiritual transition. Many intend to seek out a relationship with a congregational expression. It is just not happening now and it not at the moment a high priority. They may believe that having had a Christ-centered faith-based encounter in the past is enough.
These are people committed to a Christ-centered, faith-based relationship with God through Jesus Christ, are connected with a congregation, but are not regular in participation. They are not actively engaged in spiritual formation and missional engagement in the context of a congregational expression.
They often were more active at other stages of their life, but currently do not feel the need for active participation in a congregation. Yet, if they have a crisis they expect their congregation to respond to their need. They are members of a Christian faith community and they expect to be married, buried, baptized, and otherwise receive the rites of passage.
A subset of these persons is known as Chreasters or CEO’s. This subset is caricatured as people who attend Christian worship around Christmas, Easter, and one or two other times during the year.
These are people committed to a Christ-centered, faith-based relationship with God through Jesus Christ, were at one time actively connected with and participating in a congregation, but now feel alienated from this congregation and perhaps all congregations. They were specifically hurt or offended by one or more congregations, and even driven away. Or, they experienced a deep life crisis with which they are having ongoing spiritual and emotional difficulty and they are embarrassed to face God and God’s people through a church relationship.
They have not established a new relationship with a congregation and outwardly say they do not intend to as the Church is not relevant for them. Inwardly there may be a whole lot of other issues going on that cause them to seek various religious expressions in search of answers, and in the hope that God and God’s people can authentically speak into their lives.
What are you responses to these definitions? How would you change them to make them more helpful for your situation?
The next post will focus on a suggested next step for overly churched focused congregations. It will relate to rethinking your prayer focus.