Many congregations are stuck in an overly churched culture

In the midst of a region of the world where the impact of a churched culture is fading, many congregations in North America are stuck in an overly churched culture perspective. As a result these congregations become insulated, isolated, and inoculated from people who are preChristians, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched.

These congregations did not mean for this to happen. It was not intentional. It just crept up on them over a number of years—even decades.

What is an Overly Churched Culture Congregation?

An overly churched culture congregation tends to happen when the active membership is composed of 30 percent or more people who are 60-40-20. These are people who have all three of the following characteristics. First, they are at least 60 years old. Second, they have been professing Christians for at least 40 years. Third, they have been attending their current congregation for at least 20 years.

As a result of being 60-40-20 people they are deeply grounded in how to do church from a perspective of the past to the present, but having trouble understanding how to do church in a rapidly changing future-oriented culture. Rather than adapting to the transitions and changes around them, they reinforced church as it has been.

Again, this is often not intentional. It just crept up on them. Many people in many congregations are sufficiently myopic that they cannot see how their world has changed from a churched culture to a non-churched culture. They honestly believe the way things have happened in the past should continue forward into the future. This perspective seems natural to them, and they do not realize it is out of touch with reality.

When the percentage of active people in a congregation who are 60-40-20 people reaches 50 percent, the congregation is definitely an overly churched culture congregation where myopia turns into blindness.

What is the Perspective of an Overly Churched Culture Congregation?

Because they are trapped in a churched culture, they assume certain things. First, they assume people from the non-churched culture will want to come to the churched culture congregation where high quality programs are offered that have a long tradition of excellence.

Second, they assume the way they entered and matured into a Christ-centered, faith-based relationship with the Triune God is the same way people from a non-churched culture would enter and mature into a Christian relationship. Third, they assume that in a religiously pluralistic North America that people from a non-churched culture would see Christianity as the only viable route to a deep relationship to God.

Fourth, they assume that people from a non-churched culture have some basic understandings about Christianity and the Bible. They are shocked to hear that when the friend of a preschooler died, and the parents are trying to explain why the friend will not be around to play anymore, they say it is because the friend has gone to be with Jesus. The preschooler says, “He has gone to Chuck E. Cheese’s?” The preschooler says that because he has never been to church and never heard the name of Jesus mentioned.

Fifth, they assume their friendly atmosphere, their nice facilities, they wonderful staff, their great music and solid preaching, their dedicated Sunday School teachers, and their sacrificial missions projects are exactly what non-churched culture persons are looking for. A corollary to this is a sixth thing which is that if their church has a good nursery and preschool, a superstar youth minister, and engages in direct evangelism they will attract people from the non-churched culture.

Seventh, they wonder, who in the world are these non-churched culture people and what is the meaning of terms like preChristian, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched? If the My Hope message about the cross from Billy Graham will not reach them, then how in the world do you expect us to reach them? Maybe they are just not our kind of people.

Eighth, they believe they do not have the resources, inclination, or desire to do the things the new contemporary congregation in town is doing and attracting hundreds or thousands of people. Maybe there is no hope for us anyway, and we do not need to worry about it.

Ninth, they do not have a vision for the future. Perhaps God is finished with them anyway. They see so many congregations in the same situation. Perhaps they are the faithful ones, and we cannot worry about those who are not interested in God and church. To make the changes necessary they will have to give up some of our beliefs and convictions, and that would be wrong.

Tenth, their perspective is that too many of the things these people from a non-churched culture are doing are sinful, and they are not sure they want to introduce their lifestyle into their church. Yes, a Christ-centered, faith-based relationship to the Triune God is for everyone. That does not necessarily mean our church is for everyone.

Any of these sound familiar? Are any of these present in your congregation? Stay tuned and we will talk more.

George Bullard

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About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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