The #1 Factor in Whether or Not Someone Becomes a Christian Is …

It’s not the size of your church, your theology or denominational preference.

The #1 factor that determines whether or not someone comes to faith in Jesus has nothing to do with the size of our church.

It has nothing to do with our denominational preference.

And it has less to do with our theology than I wish it did.

It’s this.

Do they like the Christians they know?

After all, no one wants to hang around people they don’t like. And becoming a follower of Jesus means hanging out with other followers of Jesus.

In his important book unChristian, David Kinnaman cites an overwhelming number of stats and stories about this phenomenon. The primary reason young people are no longer going to church like they used to has nothing to do with their commitment levels or their understanding of Jesus. It’s because the Christians they know are unlikable. Eighty-seven percent of young nonbelievers “said that the term judgmental accurately describes present-day Christianity.”

Sad, but not surprising. We don’t need studies to tell us what our eyes can plainly see.

We’ve all watched people start coming to church because they were invited by a Christian they like.

And we’ve all seen the opposite, too. People who leave the church, or never show up in the first place, because too many of the Christians they know—or know about—come across as mean, judgmental jerks.

No one wants to spend their time with mean, judgmental jerks.

I Wish It Wasn’t True

I’m not saying likability is more important than biblical truth. Of course not. Especially for mature believers. But likability is more important than biblical truth to immature believers. And to nonbelievers. That’s reality.

So let’s not fight reality. Let’s adapt to it. Not by downplaying biblical truth. But by turning up the likability.

I wish it wasn’t this way. I’d feel much better if people made their initial decisions for Jesus based on theology. But they don’t. Unchurched people aren’t waking up on Sunday morning thinking, “Gee, I wish I knew of a church near me that preaches a biblical message about sin, judgment and hell. And wants my money.”

But people do bump into us in the neighborhood. And on Facebook. And when we show up at City Hall once in a decade to complain about city zoning laws for our church. And they make decisions about church, faith and Jesus based on their interactions with people who go to church, have faith and say they know Jesus.

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Karl Vaters
Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.