The “Effective Evangelistic Churches” research project, conducted by the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism with the help of Lifeway Research, is the first major national study on churches that are reaching the unchurched since the late 1990s.
At that time, Thom Rainer conducted a study where he interviewed pastors and previously unchurched individuals and published his findings in a book titled Surprising Insights from the Formerly Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them (2001). The research conducted by Rainer is both significant and insightful; however, it was published 15 years ago and there have been no recent projects to identify churches that are effectively reaching the unchurched.
Our study makes a significant contribution to the conversation started by Rainer since it is taking place in the context of the rise of the “Nones” (those who claim no religious affiliation) and the statistics on the loss of emerging adults from churches.
In the first stage of this project, Lifeway Research conducted a national survey of 3,000 Protestant churches in which each church was asked about their church attendance, number of new commitments to Christ, number of commitments that were retained, as well as a number of other factors. Here are some of our initial findings:
- The average Protestant church had 7 new commitments in the last year
- 80% of new commitments were retained
- 10% of church attendees are not Christians
- 28% of new attendees did not previously attend a different church
- 89% of pastors agree that they intentionally build friendships with non-Christians to share Christ with them
- 30% of the churches most emphasize evangelism through serving people who are not Christians by meeting tangible needs
During the second stage of this project, a research team from the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism conducted qualitative interviews with 60 pastors from the most evangelistically effective churches.
Through these conversations, we were able to gain specific insights on how effective churches are approaching evangelism, as well as specific examples of transformation in their communities. We also interviewed 60 previously unchurched individuals from those same churches in order to hear firsthand accounts of how those churches were effective in reaching unchurched individuals in their communities.
The full findings of both the initial survey and the follow-up interviews will be released during the Amplify Conference, held at Wheaton College on June 28-30, 2016. Dr. Rick Richardson, co-author of the research project and professor at Wheaton, is planning to write a book on the findings in the coming year.
As a national study in evangelistic effectiveness among local churches, this study holds incredible potential to inform future research. Using this study as a national benchmark, Wheaton College Adjunct Professor Beth Seversen has administered the same initial survey within her denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, as part of her doctoral research. In this way, she has been able to get an indication on how a whole denomination fits into a national average when it comes to evangelistic effectiveness.
Stay tuned for the full findings to be released.