My seven most favorite quotes on research (honestly, how many good quotes on research can there be?):

  1. “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” (W. Edwards Deming)
  2. “Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.” (Wernher von Braun)
  3. “If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” (Albert Einstein)
  4. “As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
  5. “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” (Arthur Conan Doyle)
  6. “You’d be amazed how much research you can get done when you have no life whatsoever.” (Ernest Cline)
  7. “Research is seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.” (Albert Szent-Györgyi)

Our book today is You Found Me by Rick Richardson (Inter-Varsity Press, 2019). As books go, it’s fine. It’s not To Kill a Mockingbird or Don Quixote, but it’s better than many, many books on evangelism. But while it is not the best read in town, as research goes, it provides some really good insights. The subtitle of Richardson’s book is New Research on How the Unchurched, Nones, Millennials and Irreligious Are Surprisingly Open to Christian Faith. And so, today, let’s present some research.  Forget about paragraphs and narrative. Let’s go with bullet points. Here are some of the best points in the book (in my opinion).

First, two interesting quotes (read and then say, “Wow!”):

  • 59% of Protestant churches in the US are plateaued or declining. 31% are growing largely through transfer growth. Only 10% are growing largely through conversion growth. (p. 7)
  • As of March 2016, there were 143 million unchurched people in the US. To put that number in perspective, if the unchurched formed their own country, it would be the tenth-largest nation on earth. (p. 37)

Second, two slightly alarming quotes (read and then say, “Yikes!”):

  • According to a 2016 ‘Unchurched Report” only 25% of the unchurched were never churched. For 75% of the unchurched, we had them once, and we lost them. (p. 46)
  • The top reason why the unchurched have stopped attending church is not because they have lost interest (only 30%), but because of a loss of trust (35%). They may be open to God, but are not as open to Christians and churches. (pp. 46-47)

Third, two encouraging quotes (read and then say, “There’s good news tonight!”):

  • Unchurched response to “If a friend of mine really values their faith, I don’t mind them talking about it.” – 45% agreed somewhat and 34% agreed strongly. (only 18% disagreed). (p. 59)
  • Unchurched response to “How effective would invitations to church be through the following methods?” Invite from a family member (55% very effective); invite from friends (51% very effective) (p. 61)

Fourth, two insightful quotes for our church (read and then say, “We can do this!”):

  • Missional churches focus on the unique needs of their community and seek to meet them. (p. 161)
  • Churches where compassion and justice ministries were a priority were also some of the best at reaching new people and growing through new professions of faith in Christ. People are not interested in churches that show no desire to make a positive impact on their community.  (p. 169)

Fifth, two practical quotes about where we need to invest ourselves (read and then say, “We’ve got this!”):

  • In a recent report, the unchurched prioritized what visible Christian practices would make them more receptive: 32% said treating other people better; 31% said caring for people’s needs; 26% said if it made them happier because of their faith, 24% said standing against injustice; 22% said solving community problems; and 21% said multiple races worshipping together. (p. 185)
  • As a church, we are called to cultivate hospitality. From Richardson’s research, hospitality is the most important predictive factor of churches becoming conversion communities, i.e., churches that are profoundly hospitable to unchurched people and demonstrate love in ways that help the strangers and outsiders in their midst understand that they are beloved by God. (pp. 220-221)

Now, the book has lots more to say as it discusses several different research projects that look at both the unchurched and at the churches that are reaching them. As such, this is a helpful book. So, again, let me express my gratitude to Rick Richardson for putting all this research together in one book, You Found Me. Books like this definitely make us look long and hard at what we are doing and, at the same time, think wisely about what we should do in the future.

The problem with books like this is that we read them, and they never move us from information to action (once read, we say, “That was interesting.”). So, let me ask you four questions in an attempt to nudge you to consider some ways you can take ownership of some of these ideas. 

  1. Which of these bullet points did you find most helpful for you?
  2. Which bullet point did you find personally most encouraging?
  3. What is one thing you want to do as a result of these points?
  4. What is one thing we should do as a church as a result of these points?

And maybe I ought to end this post by encouraging you to do your own research and see what the people around you think about some of these matters. After all, Terry Pratchett said: “The best research you can do is talk to people.” So go ye into all the world and talk to people!