That's the interesting conclusion of church marketing expert Chris Forbes:
When you think about the term “unchurched”, remember that the category unchurched is really just a shorthand way, from the perspective of the ministry leader/researcher, to think about the people “out there” in the community who don’t go to church. People in your community don’t consciously consider themselves as being a part of this grouping and therefore do not literally exist. “Unchurched” is a handy note taker’s heading for me to use to segment people I want to learn about. But it is not a true segment of the marketplace.
Think of it this way. I could set out to study “the people in my neighborhood”. I know who I am talking about when I am studying them, but “my neighborhood” is really a state of mind—my mind. As far as the individuals in my neighborhood are concerned, I am a part of “their” neighborhood. The perceptions are miles apart.
I noticed that while prayerwalking about Azalea Park with a few men from my church that although we consider ourselves to be engaging in evangelism, most people that we encounter don't consider themselves non-Christian. Most adhere to a basic Christian cosmology -- something that you can't assume with atheists or agnostics.
Although there's something very creepy about having the words 'church' and 'marketing' next to each other, Forbes is correct that the unchurched cannot simply be classified at the unchurched, but are individuals with different perspectives, interests, and responses to Christ.
Forbes also points out that many people are postmodern, but few self-identify that way:
Meanwhile, go to the local mall (or other public place) next time it is crowded with people and see if they will let you make an announcement, “Attention shoppers, will all the emergent and postmodern people please report to the information booth?”
Within minutes all you would have show up at the information booth would be a couple of hold-out Hippies and several over-cappuccino’ed, goatee-laden ordained guys carrying their Macintoshes.
Lesson: people are more inclined to accept their own labels than those which we place upon them. It is in their languages, not our shorthand forms of them, that we must address them.
Hat tip: David Wayne