066 | Jeff Henderson on Barna Research About People’s Perception of and Indifference Toward the Church

June 24, 2021

Carey Nieuwhof and Joe Jensen (Barna’s VP of Church Engagement) are joined by Jeff Henderson, president of The FOR Company and former lead pastor of Gwinnett Church. Together, they talk about the reputation and brand of the Church and how leaders can foster a positive presence in the community.

In a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, host Carey Nieuwhof is joined by Joe Jensen (Barna’s VP of Church Engagement) and Jeff Henderson (President of The For Company and former Lead Pastor of Gwinnett Church) to discuss what it looks like to lead a church that is for its local community.

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One in Three U.S. Adults Feel Indifferent About the American Church
Jensen leads into the conversation by offering data points from a recent Barna survey conducted prior to the launch of Barna and Gloo’s Cities initiative. When it comes to all U.S. adults, the majority (44%) perceives the Church as positive—25 percent, however have a negative view, with the remainder (31%) feeling indifferent.

Thinking along the lines of what the church is known for, almost three-quarters of U.S. adults (74%) say the Church is an institution that offers hope. Forty-four percent of this same group, though, also notes that the Church is known more for things it is against rather than things it is for. Roughly one in three U.S. adults says the Church is “judgmental” (37%), “irrelevant” (36%) and “hypocritical” (33%).

Henderson enters the conversation hopeful about the majority who views the Church in a positive light, especially following the events of 2020. He voices concern, though, about the percent who are indifferent to the Church. Leaning on his marketing expertise, he notes, “If you have a customer that’s indifferent to your brand, it’s a hard, hard conversation. … [your church] could have the best preaching, the best ministry, the best kids programs, the best digital offerings. But if [people] are indifferent, [they will believe,] ‘That’s not for me.’”

Pastors and Their Churches Have an Opportunity to Be “For” Their Community
In order to know how to best position their church to service the community it’s in, ministry leaders must invest time in getting to know community members—even those who don’t attend their church.

Henderson notes the importance of investing in the community outside of the church walls by sharing a story from his time as lead pastor for Gwinnett Church. “One of the things I was very intentional about was carving out time to get in my car and go meet people, particularly business leaders. [One person] I met [was] Carissa Norfleet, the owner of Simply Done Donuts, She didn’t go to our church, but I asked her about her business, and she told me about the ups and downs.”

Henderson shares how he asked Norfleet if she would be open to sharing her story with his leadership team, to which she agreed. Then he asked if they could share her story on Instagram to help spread the word about her business. Norfleet thought there might be a catch to the offer. When Henderson explained there was no strings attached, Norfleet asked, “Why are you doing this?”

“We’re for you,” Henderson said. “We believe that one of the best things that you can do for our community is to run a thriving business. We believe you’re going to hire great people. You’re going to train them. You’re going to give [some folks] their first job—some high school students’ very first job will be at Simply Done Donuts. But for that to happen, you got to sell more donuts. When that happens, it helps our community. We’re genuinely and authentically for our community and for Gwinnett.”

Another reason Henderson encourages this sort of outreach? “If you’re not careful in the Church world, people you do life with [might] all be Christians,” notes Henderson. “This allowed me to intentionally reach out to people [in the community] and help them in the little way that I could.”

A Large Budget Doesn’t Always Result in Effective Outreach Strategies
When it comes to promoting churches within local communities, Henderson offers advice from years of experience, reminding leaders that a large budget isn’t necessary for effective outreach strategies. He encourages out-of-the-box thinking rather than simply spending money on things other churches might be doing.

“When I [worked] at Chick-fil-a, compared to McDonald’s [company], we were really small,” notes Henderson. “We called our marketing ‘street fighter marketing.’ We would go out on the street, hand out coupons, do local events. Everything was local, local, local, local. That’s the approach I took as a church planter.”

“I needed to be scrappy, because I know this about money. Money’s important, but money does not usually lead to more creativity. It’s the limits. It’s the how are we going to out-think versus out-spend? That kind of creativity,” says Henderson. “… Too often we hide behind money as an excuse. ‘If I had the money, I would do this.’ You don’t necessarily need money to be more creative.”

Henderson wraps up the conversation talking about social media strategies and marketing dos and don’ts. “Don’t forget the social in social media. … Does social media have its issues? Yes. But I do believe it’s an opportunity for church leaders and staff to show the community that ‘we see you, we hear you, we believe in you and we are for you.’”

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About the Research
The data shown above is based on a representative sample of 2,007 interviews with U.S. adults, ages 18 or older. The interviews were conducted online from April 23 to May 5, 2021. The margin of error is +/- 2 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence interval.

Photo by Derrick McKinney on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna Research is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2021