Here’s some good news: the vast majority of the unchurched are receptive to an invitation to church. The problem is that few active churchgoers reach out to their neighbors and friends. The mission field across North America is ripe for harvest, but many of the workers lag in apathy.

Some workers are lazy, and their apathy is correctly labeled hypocrisy. Worse than apathy, however, is hostility. Christians that breed enmity are worse irritants. In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul uses severe words for the religious people that bite, devour, and destroy: it’s better to be castrated.

I do not want to be excessively harsh, but it’s constructive to consider the potential negative impact—it’s worse than having no impact. Hypercritical legalism is a clear example of how to turn people off, but there are other, less blatant turn-offs as well. In our research, we’ve heard from the unchurched on things believers do that makes them bristle the most. Here are a few of the most abrasive turn-offs.

Confuse me. Talk about all the dirt at your church. Drudge up meaningless conflicts. Air dirty laundry in public forums and in the media. File frivolous lawsuits against other believers. Gossip about other churchgoers. Treat other Christians badly. In short, confuse the unchurched with blatant disregard for the Golden Rule.

Mislead me. Unevangelistic pastors lead churches to reach out less. Unfriendly church leaders set the tone for an unfriendly church culture. Leaders should model the correct behavior. When they don’t, it is a huge turn off for people on the outside.

Sell me. Encourage people to show up for a bunch of unconnected church activities. Don’t have an underlying mission for church functions. Neglect to connect how the church does ministry with the purpose of the body. Worse yet, lead a person to believe that your church is something it’s not. Selling a façade only disappoints when people get inside. Pretty packaging fools no one.

Patronize me. A majority of seekers desire biblical depth. They do not want to be mollycoddled with trite spiritual answers to life’s tough questions. Don’t fear telling the truth but do so without an air of superiority. Spiritual arrogance is a huge turn off for the unchurched.

Avoid me. Treat others like lepers. Don’t invite them to your house. Don’t befriend anyone outside the church walls. Almost eighty percent of adults would enjoy an honest conversation with a friend about religious or spiritual beliefs, even if they did not exactly see eye-to-eye with the friend. Unfortunately, these conversations occur far too infrequently.

Bore me. The unchurched see no reason to consider a church if the congregation does not take their primary mission of the gospel seriously. We serve a Risen Savior! We know the Answer to life’s most important question! A ho-hum attitude and a lack of celebratory worship makes for a boring church.

I do not like dwelling on the negative. The list of church turn-offs is long. And it’s much easier to point out all the things wrong in the church than actually make positive steps towards impacting a community for Christ. So take a moment and do a quick inventory of potential turn-offs in your ministry, then focus on the positive ways to be salt and light in your mission field.


This article was written by Sam Rainer and originally published at on February 2. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at

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