If they’re unchurched why are we talking about how far they'll drive to church at all?
That’s a fair question, so let’s talk about those who are becoming believers or who are new believers. When people cross that mental barrier of resistance and decide to explore faith they’re eventually going to attend a church worship gathering.
So how far will they go?
I’ve worked with church planters for the past twelve years, so I have a lot of anecdotal evidence, but I also have some research evidence that gives us a strong clue of how far people will go.
When I was teaching at Cascade College in Portland, OR in 2002, one of my students mapped the directories of people attending nine Churches of Christ congregations in the Portland Metro area. This is what he found:
Remember, these were highly committed Christians and highly committed to their specific, home church. When it came to people who are becoming Christians, the distances shrink dramatically.
People becoming Christians will typically live within 2.5 miles from where they will attend a church.
Remember, people who are becoming Christians are trying out faith. They want to see if faith makes sense in their life, if it fits their lifestyle. They don’t have strong attachments to any particular faith brand. “Becoming believers” will typically go to a church that:
To the person becoming a believer, one church is about the same as another, thus the 2.5 mile radius reflects the distance new people tend to travel to church.
The distance can go out to 5 miles when there are nearby connection points, such as neighbors who attend that church or a small group that meets nearby. These near-neighbor connections provide a conduit to the more distant worship gathering.
Beyond the 5-mile zone there has to be a strong, specific reason for people to travel that distance to church: brand loyalty, a specific worship experience or preacher, a family special need being met, etc.
If your church wants to reach new people, here are some ideas for reaching those who live near where you meet.
Hope these ideas help you think and act more carefully to those people who live close to your meeting place.