Let's talk about things that drive growth.
Many of these things are not expensive and you don’t need a ton of money to implement most of these changes. But don’t let budget be an excuse for stagnation.
You will need focus and you might need support.
Seven Principles That Drive Church Growth
These principles are not formulas or steps, but we’ve seen churches that focus on these issues turn the tide in their church. Putting time, effort, and resources into these areas might yield positive results for you.
#1 – Leadership
We work with churches of all shapes and sizes, and by far, the biggest growth barrier they are encountering is leadership. It cuts across every program and ministry and touches every corner of the church. When the leaders get better, the church often grows.
It's like the tide that raises all the ships in the harbor.
No one will make you do this and people aren’t going to ask you to make time for it. But it’s one of the biggest opportunities you have to lead your church.
In The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield writes about the difference between a professional and an amateur. He brings up the example of a professional golfer who develops a problem with his swing. He says, “It would never occur to a professional golfer to try and figure it out on his own.”
A professional golfer, clearly at the top of his or her game, knows the value of coaching. Likewise, great leaders invite people to speak into their circumstances, decisions and opportunities.
Great leaders invite people into the development process and model the way for other leaders throughout the church.
I heard a mega-church pastor recently attribute church growth to the high number of engaged leaders.
“Every church has volunteers,” he said. “What makes us different is we have people that are engaged.”
Healthy and growing churches have a higher percentage of volunteers and leaders who thrive in their role. These aren’t people who show up on Sunday morning to do a task or reluctantly meet a need; they are people invested in the ministry outcome.
They don’t think like attenders; they think like staff.
Volunteer and leader engagement is often a leading indicator of growth. It’s on the front end.
You may not be able to get 25 people to show up this Sunday, but you can spend some time this week recruiting or developing one leader. That will have a long-term effect in your church.
When people are serving with an outward focus, growth often comes down the line.
If you want to see church growth happen in your church, create a plan to develop leaders.
Start with yourself.
To be clear, nobody is going to make you do this. And there might not even be people to hold you accountable.
But great leaders take responsibility for their own growth and development. They don’t wait around for Yoda to appear. They adopt a growth mindset and build their own growth plan.
The good news is that you can take responsibility for your own leadership development. You can adopt a growth mindset and create a plan and lead yourself.
This free PDF will give you a starting point.
It’s one page and you can fill it out today.
Train Your Team
When you’re done creating your own personal growth plan, expand to your inner circle.
Whether you lave a small staff, large staff, group of elders, deacon board, or key volunteers, there are people in your church who need you to lead them.
Use the Team Training curriculum that is a part of Church Fuel to train all of your leaders on 12 key skills.
There may come a time when you need to flesh out a leadership pipeline or develop a serious leadership development strategy. But don’t let something that sounds complicated keep you away from simply investing in the leaders you already have.
Being a good steward means starting with what God has already given you.
Embrace the topic of leadership as one of your biggest opportunities for growth, and when you help your people get better, you might also lead your church to become bigger.
#2 – An Inviting Culture
Every church and every organization has a culture that defines it’s behaviors.
In Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast on Keystone Habits, he says that these habits or systems are not always created on purpose, but rather evolve over time. can often become a bad habit.
The truth is that we act like our culture. Culture determines behavior. This is why the culture of your church is so vital. If you want a culture where new guests consistently show up at your church, then you need to invest in the habit of inviting.
One of the questions that Andy said they wrestled with at North Point was “What habits do we need to turn up or what habits do we need to implement to impact the culture?” They asked this question because Charles Duhigg says in his book The Power of Habit, you have to introduce a new keystone habit to change a culture.
He defines a keystone habit as something that triggers a series of related behaviors or habits.
These keystone habits could potentially change a behavior or reaffirm a current behavior.
Andy said they wanted to find a habit that could galvanize their values and what they did as a church that tied back to their mission and vision as a church.
For North Point, their mission is to create churches that unchurched people love to attend. So their keystone habit is inviting unchurched people.
Wouldn’t it be great if the people in your church just naturally invited their friends, neighbors, and co-workers?
Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to remind, bribe, or guilt-trip people to invite?
Wouldn’t it be great if your congregation embraced the fact that personal invitations are the #1 way to invite new people to come to church, and actually put action behind that belief?
That’s what a culture of inviting looks like.
Building the Habit of Inviting in Your Church
is nothing more powerful than when a person invites a friend to attend your church. When people invite others to your church, good things happen.
Word of mouth and personal inviting are way more powerful than the best crafted Facebook ad or mailer campaign. If you want to create a culture of inviting in your church, here are three things you can do.
1. Make It Easy
The best way to make it easy for people who attend your church to invite their unchurched friends to church is provide tools for inviting.
See, it’s not enough to ASK your people to invite; you have to equip them with tools.
Here’s a ridiculous example.
Let’s say you have a flat tire on the side of the road and wave me down to help you. Because I’m a nice person, I’m more than willing to stop and help.
So that’s what I do.
I pull over and get out of my car to help you change the tire.
You can cast all the vision you want for how your tire needs to be changed.
You can tell me a sad story about how you’re on your way to your last day at work to pick up your last paycheck so you can buy food for your family.
You can inspire me all day long to help you change your tire.
But without a tire iron and a spare, nothing is going to happen.
Casting vision, telling stories, or even a guilt trip won’t do anything if we don’t have the necessary tools to get the job done.
This how too many churches approach the subject of inviting others in their church.
They cast vision, tell stories, and lay on the guilt. But they never give their congregation the relevant tools. They ask, but they don’t equip.
Here are few examples of great tools:
- Make business card sized invite cards advertising your church or current series. Be sure to put your website, times, and directions of the card.
- Have a great website. Most people before visiting your church will check out your website first. Have an easy to navigate website with relevant information on it and make sure it looks good on mobile devices. Elevation Church in Charlotte does a great job providing information to potential attenders.
- Provide a few strategic times of the year when inviting is super simple. Do a few series a year where you push your people to invite their friends. This makes it easy to invite them to something specific.
- Write social media posts or create graphics for your people. Don’t just tell them to post; write the post for people. Put everything on a specific page on your website and then tell your people how to access the resources.
2. Teach People How
Teaching your attenders how to invite is often an overlooked piece of the puzzle. We church leaders assume that people know how to invite their friends to something. That may be true to an extent, but do they know how to effectively invite them?
Teaching them how to use the tools you give them and how they can effectively invite their coworkers, family and friends will pay huge dividends in the long run.
A few ways to teach the art of the invite is:
- Do a message or even sermon series on why it’s important to engage with unchurched people.
- Set up a class or vision night where all you focus on is the power and how-to of the invite. Newspring church has done a great job with this.
- Write blog or Facebook posts on “5 Ways To Invite Someone To Church Sunday”. Make it practical and easy.
The other way to teach this is teach people how to have inviting conversations. It might sound silly, but most people don’t know how to talk about church in a normal conversation. People are nervous about offending others. People consider faith a private matter. So you’ve got to step in and show them how to communicate about something that is increasingly NOT normal in our culture.
I heard Andy Stanley once teach his congregation to look for the three NOTS.
- Things are Not going well
- I was not prepared for
- I am not from here
He said, “Anytime you hear one of these statements in casual conversation, that should be your cue to extend an invitation.” He went on to give lots of examples.
Andy recently cast a fresh vision for inviting and introduced the phrase “Come Sit with Me.” In a Sunday morning message more geared to the Northpoint faithful, he walked everyone through exactly what to say and how to extend a personal invitation. He gave people language and vocabulary to make it normal.
Northpoint tries hard to “create a church that unchurched people would love to attend.” But that wont make a difference if people won’t invite. So Norhtpoint tries their best to make it normal and make it easy.
3. Celebrate It
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times; what gets celebrated, gets repeated. Mine your attenders for stories like the one I shared above about how they invited someone. Ask people when they attend, how they heard about your church. When a great story comes along, share it with your church. When someone invites someone and they show up, celebrate that both corporately and personally.
If you take the time to create a habit of inviting in your church, not only will your church grow numerically, but your church will grow in it’s faith as well as maturity.
# 3 – Cast a Clear Vision for the Future
The third driver of growth is casting a clear vision for the future.
Growing churches are really clear about purpose and mission, and those are two very different terms.
Your purpose is the deep reason you exist.
It comes from God and it’s eternal. It will never change. It has nothing to do with where your church is located or what kind of ministries you have. It’s true now and it will be true 25 years from now.
One of my favorite leadership books is Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why. He says every organization (and I’d definitely include churches) needs to clarify the WHY…the real reason they exist. He says it’s more important to get clear about the WHY than it is to clarify the WHAT.
Before you talk about ministries and programs and strategies, you’ve got to have a clear WHY. You’ve got to have a solid PURPOSE.
Now your church may say this in a creative way, but I would bet all the money in my pockets that your church’s purpose is pretty similar to the great commission or the great commandment.
When we started the church in Atlanta, we had a sense of purpose but we hadn’t taken the time to clarify it in a memorable sentence. We didn’t really talk about it on a regular basis, because the purpose was understood. But a mentor challenged me to put in the hard work so we did.
We clarified our purpose statement and began talking about it all the time. We said our purpose like this: “We’re here to lead people from where they are to where God wants them to be.”
Someone said this phrase in our welcome and announcement time every Sunday morning. I used it when writing thank you notes to our first-time givers. We put it our email signatures.
After a year or so, I would start to say it and our church people would say it back. That’s when I knew people were starting to understand it.
But here’s the thing about purpose…
It’s never really accomplished.
It’s always going to be there and you’re never going to be done with it.
It’s not like I was going to come to the church office one Monday and say, “Listen up everyone….we’ve led all the people from where they are to where God wants them to be…that’s done…what’s next?” You can’t check the box and move on to something else.
That’s why purpose isn’t always the best motivator of people. Because it’s so long-term that it’s tough for people to grasp. It’s too big, too bold, or too etherial.
Purpose is really important, but it’s really generic. That’s why growing churches communicate a second thing…mission.
Your mission is what you’re trying to do NOW.
Your mission isn’t about WHY…it’s about NOW. It’s about what’s next. It’s all about “here’s what our church is doing in this next season and here’s what it’s going to look like.”
Think about NASA.
Their purpose is to explore space. Since they are NASA they will say it smarter than that, but you get the bigger idea.
They are never going to have a meeting and say, “Hey team…we’ve explored all of space. We’re done!”
That mission to explore is never going to end.
That’s why NASA finds tremendous value in clarifying a mission.
Their current mission is to send a team of people to Mars.
That’s specific and understandable. It requires a timeline and a budget.
And they can push everything toward it. And when they accomplish it they can say “mission accomplished” and ask “What’s next?”
NASA’s mission is in service of their greater purpose.
And your church needs a current mission that will push you on toward your ultimate purpose.
Now some people use the word mission where I use purpose. And some people use the word vision instead of mission. And some people will tell you mission, vision, and purpose are three different things.
But we’re all about keeping it simple and practical for you, so even if you adopt different terms, you need to communicate two things.
- One never-changing, never-accomplished, deep sense of why (we call this purpose)
- And one time-sensitive, going to check it off the box, here’s what it looks like rally cry (we call that mission)
Casting vision is really just talking about the future, so you can use purpose AND mission to cast vision for the future. One is short-term. One is eternal.
Every ministry, program, staff member, and department in your church needs to be involved and onboard with your purpose and mission.
Too many churches create a short-term mission that only involves a small group of people then wonder why the whole church isn’t moving in the same direction. Your mission still needs to be big and bold and involve everyone.
We’ve seen hundreds of churches lead their church to growth through clarifying a vision for the future that actually gets people involved. This is so important.
That’s why every church that joins Church Fuel starts with a course called “Building Your Ministry Plan.”
We walk through purpose, mission and vision. We help you create and articulate a strategy. We help you get clear on values and distinctives. We work on aligning ministries and programs to all of this.
This single course results in all of the important stuff in your church written down on just two pages.
We call it your Two Page Plan.
#4 – Shift focus from inward to outward.
Many churches have become inwardly-focused. And inwardly-focused churches don’t grow. – Tony Morgan
Just like culture is one of the biggest growth barriers facing churches, shifting that culture from an inward focus to an outward focus can lead to growth.
Simply stated, your church needs to focus on who is NOT there, not just who is there.
Be on the lookout.
Friendliness here is not the measuring stick.
There are a ton of inward-focused churches who are very friendly. They are just friendly to each other.
New people who visit might have a different experience.
I compare this to a family reunion. If you’re a part of the family, it’s a very friendly event. But it's someone else’s family, and you just stumbled in, you probably feel like an outsider.
Everyone is very friendly, but you don’t feel welcome.
This culture shift is a difficult change for a lot of churches and it must be done tactfully, because the people who are there are volunteering and giving, literally paying the bills and funding all ministry. It might not be wise to just run them off.
But leading your church to adopt an outsider-first approach is a great step to healthy church growth. This looks different in all churches, but it could mean…
- Intentionally designing your church services with outsiders in mind.
- Offering programs and ministries to meet the actual needs of your current community, not just continue to offer legacy programs that worked 15 years ago.
- Changing your website to be the front door for new people rather than a place for members to download a calendar of events.
- Shifting resources from programs inside the church to supporting programs and organizations who serve your community.
- Running all your language, announcements and communications through a “new people” filter.
- Stopping programming that meets the needs of those already connected and starting programming designed to attract and get new people.
- Listening to the voice of new people rather than simply relying on the most comfortable voices who always speak up.
- Stopping your own attendance at a church event and repurposing that time to be involved with a community organization.
These shifts are hard and will likely require a ton of patience. And good leadership and communication throughout a process of change is absolutely necessary.
All churches drift inward without the intentional effort to keep an outward focus on those who are far from God. – Dan Reiland
This has the potential to change your church for the better, but be warned…you’ll likely create some waves along the way. That’s why it’s critical to be a part of a community who can give you great advice on all the tactical issues that will come to the surface. You don’t want to lead this type of change alone.
Creating an outward focused church culture takes disciplined communication and requires a spirit of prayer.
Pastor Joby Martin from The Church of Eleven22 in Jacksonville, Florida constantly talks about the idea of “one more,” reminding the congregation that evangelism is personal.
This rally cry is really meant to spark care and concern within the church for one person outside of the church. They periodically organize and publicize “one more” weekends when a clear Gospel invitation is given.
The initiative, made sticky with consistent terminology and strategy, is a way to create an inviting culture.
It’s “preparing the soil” type of work. Pastor Jeff Bogue from Grace Church in Akron, Ohio adopts a similar prayer strategy with a big initiative to challenge the church to “pray for our three.”
He teaches people to pray for three friends, neighbors and co-workers and that God would give them a “no-brainer” moment to extend an invitation or share their faith.
Both of these churches are leading their church to pray for an investment in members of the community. That’s work that can be done apart from challenges to invite.
#5- Clarify who you are trying to reach
Warning…this growth driver isn’t going to sound very spiritual, but it’s one of the most powerful on the list.
It’s a strange concept, because it sounds like something more suited for the business world than for the church.
But hang with me and just think about it.
I want to challenge you to develop a PERSONA, a description of the symbolic person in your community you are trying to reach.
The business community calls this the target customer. Your church doesn’t have customers, but the ideas is still sound.
It’s a strange concept in the church because Christianity, The Gospel, the Bible, Jesus…they are for EVERYONE. It feels weird to say your church is targeting a certain person. It feels mean because in clarifying who you are trying to reach, you’re hinting that you’re not trying to reach another group of people. And that feels un-Christian.
But if your church tries to reach everyone, it could be you end up reaching no one.
When you step back and think about this honestly, your church is likely positioned to reach a certain segment of the community. While everyone is welcome, you’re most likely to appeal to a specific part of the community. And there are people in your town that are likely to visit your church, and not any others.
I’m simply suggesting you recognize, clarify and align to this.
Spiritually speaking, your church is a church, but your church is not THE church. There are other churches in town. That’s part of the beauty of the Kingdom…it’s not all on your shoulders.
When you get real about who you’re trying to reach, you can align your programs, ministries, and communication to this.
You’ll be more effective.
Think about big companies like Wal-Mart. As big and ubiquitous as they are, they are not targeting everybody. Their messaging, store layout, and strategy are geared to reach a certain segment of the population. Target sells similar products, but they are going after a different segment. They have a different target customer.
Walmart or Target are open to everyone, but they know they are most likely to reach a certain type of customer and focus their resources in that direction.
It’s just good leadership.
This is a stewardship issue for your church.
Yes, anyone is welcome. Anyone can attend. But you can’t create programs and ministries for every need in your city…it would be a waste of resources to try. You choose to focus.
I just want you to be even more strategic.
A.G. Lafley, author of Playing to Win, says it this way: You can't win the whole world or please everybody. Trying to be all things to all people is a recipe for failure. You have to strategically narrow the field to the geographies, demographics, and channels where your company is most competitive, and can get the best possible results.
Tailor Your Messaging To Who You Are Trying to Reach
When you know exactly who you’re trying to reach you can make your messaging match.
I read a stat that said the average young adult today will take more than 25,000 selfies in their lifetime. That’s a lot of duck faces and Clarendon filters.
The selfie might be a sign of the times, but it’s an example of how people of all ages like to see themselves in photos. A picture of the Grand Canyon will never be as popular as a picture of you at the Grand Canyon.
Too many churches have the camera focused on them—talking about their services, their ministries, and their events. It’s a selfie approach to communication. Instead, flip the camera around and start talking about people.
This is a subtle concept and it can be tough to grasp, so here’s an example. We’ve all seen churches describe themselves as “a friendly church” to invite the community. But here’s the thing.
People aren’t looking for a friendly church. They are looking for friends.
See the difference? The “friendly church” descriptor is about you. And more and more, people don’t really connect with that description. What they are looking for is friends. That’s personal. That makes a difference in their life.
So when you talk about your church, as uncomfortable as it might be, make sure you’re talking about what it means to people’s real lives. Don’t describe the programs and ministries; describe how those programs and ministries benefit people.
People’s first communication means you don’t just describe the dates and speaker for youth camp…it means you tell parents this is the best chance for their rising high schooler to make Christian friends who will be a positive influence over the next few years.
People’s first communication means you don’t describe how Financial Peace University works, it means you talk about what will happen in people’s lives after they go through the program.
People’s first communication means you don’t just post pictures of your band or your sermon series, you post pictures of people having fun, praying, or singing. You put other people, not your church, front and center.
When you know who you are trying to reach, you can really get inside their heads, understand their psychographic, and design your communication with them in mind.
Again, this is just good stewardship.
#6 – Keystone Ministries as Growth Engines
Have you ever seen a plate spinner?
Before America’s Got Talent, this was a popular trick at variety shows and county fairs. A guy would start out spinning one plate on a stick. Then he would add another, and another, until there were dozens spinning at the same time.
As one would slow down and begin to wobble, he would run across the stage to give it another spin. Of course, another spinning plate would require his attention, until it all became too much to manage and everything came crashing down.
This is a strong and sad metaphor for how many churches operate.
Programs, ministries and people require your attention before something of greater concern demands your attention. And just as one thing is balanced, something else steps in to fill the void.
Ironically, many churches face this crisis of overload at the point when people are at their highest point of involvement. Like the plate spinner, things come crashing down just as people are at their busiest. When your staff and volunteers are working harder than ever, that’s when things crash.
Busyness is a burden for so many churches.
Maybe you already recognize you’re too busy. Or maybe you’re in denial, thinking your ministry plate spinning is going just fine.
But either way, if you’re too busy there are some big time consequences.
- Consequence #1: Your volunteers will be spread too thin. The nursery workers you need on Sunday might be serving on Sunday night. The high school students you have gathering for a second Bible study are your elementary volunteers. The men meeting for breakfast at 6am on Tuesday is your parking team at 8am on Sunday. It’s not that any of these things are bad things, but good things will keep your best people from serving at the more important things.
- Consequence #2: Your own sanity is at risk. A busy church calendar leads to a busy life. It quickly becomes too much to think about, too much to attend, and too little time for healthy relationships. If you’re too busy, running around from one program to another, you’re functioning in a way that’s not healthy for your mind, body or soul.
- Consequence #3: You settle for average. When you have a lot of ministries and programs, there’s the risk that all of them will be average and none of them will be excellent. Diverting resources from something that’s central to your strategy or deploying people in an area where they are not gifted is not good leadership. An opportunity is not an obligation.
- Consequence #4: Messages get mixed, which means people do NOTHING. If you have too much to talk about in this weekend’s announcements, that’s not a Sunday service problem. That’s a church problem. If your handout has ten ways to get connected and seven opportunities to learn more and three next steps, that’s not offering something for everything – that’s trying to be all things to all people. Which rarely works. If you try to communicate “five important things to know,” people hear ZERO things.
- Consequence #5: You can’t help but equate activity with effectiveness. If your church calendar is crowded with opportunities for people to do stuff, you can ironically communicate that the Christian life is about church-activity. People can get so busy DOING church that they have no time to BE the church.
If your church is struggling with busyness, the biggest temptation you face is to just do nothing. Pastors say things like “We’re just in a busy season right now” or talk about what they will do “when things calm down.”
But come on…there might be a short reprieve in the schedule, but the busy season is a myth. The busyness isn’t because of a season; it’s the result of intentional or unintentional decisions.
1 – Make a commitment to simplify.
When Steve Jobs famously returned to Apple in 1997, one of his first goals was to streamline the overcomplicated product lineup. He realized all of the products in the pipeline weren’t necessary and cut it by 70%.
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” Jobs said. So he cut the product line down to just four key things. In retrospect, it was a brilliant move, but at the time, it affected people’s products and people’s jobs.
The result was a company a quarter away from bankruptcy becoming a company with a $300 Million profit.
There are dozens of stories like this. New leaders step into new roles and create focus by subtracting, not adding. Whether it’s a major corporations, a small business, a non-profit, or a church, when new leaders step in, they usually trim first.
If a new leader would make the decision, why not lead the discussion NOW?
This is not the easy road, because everything you think about cutting was created on purpose and likely has a passionate following. What looks like a bad idea now was a great idea in the past, with a passionate person committed to lead.
Take a look at all of your programs and ministry and ask which ones are really driving growth. Evaluate them based on effectiveness against the stated purpose, not whether or not someone “likes” them or if people simply show up.
2 – Put your best resources on your biggest opportunities.
If you were to list all the programs, ministries and events in your church, and then had to circle the five non-negotiable that would radically alter your DNA if they went away, you’d end up with a list of what we call “Keystone Ministries.”
These ministries are the growth drivers in your church. They are the programs that attract new people. They are the ministries that help the most people grow in their faith. They are core, and if they went away, your church would be fundamentally different.
They are more important than the other ministries and programs.
It sounds weird, or even mean, to say that one ministry is more important than another, but it’s true.
Even now, you know there are programs and ministries in your church that don’t matter that much. If they went away, a few people might ask questions, but your fundamental ministry would not be changed. Your community would not notice.
So instead of spreading your focus equally among things that work and things that don’t work, zoom in on what does work.
Give those keystone ministries and unfair advantage.
- Stop announcing the random, one-off things that don’t really help you accomplish your mission, and get serious about telling stories about the core.
- Stop asking volunteers to serve in areas that are off-mission (just because they exist and need people to function), and put your best people on your biggest opportunities.
- Stop wasting money on ministries that used to work and deploy more financial resources on the keystone ministries.
Give the things that are more important an unfair amount of time, money, and people. Instead of scattering your focus, zoom in on the core.
3 – Shut down the non-core.
As you focus more resources, more people, and more communication on what matters most, you’ll have to pull that focus from somewhere.
You can’t manufacture more…you have to redeploy the resources you already have. There isn’t a list of amazing people waiting to serve or a secret bank account with extra funds…you’re going to have to get the people and money from existing things.
This is a stewardship moment, a chance to put your best resources on your biggest opportunities.
The temptation is to say, “This small thing over here…it’s not really costing anything…it’s not a big time commitment or a big expense…let’s just leave it alone.”
That’s certainly an option.
But those little things that don’t take much time or money really do add up. They are costing you more than you realize.
I’ve talked to pastors who insist sideways things aren’t the issue, but still devote hours every month to trouble-shooting and discussing. Those are hours that could be used on mission critical endeavors. And by allowing off-focus things to continue, you signal to your leaders and congregation that your mission and strategy is up for grabs.
Stopping programs and ministries that are not on-mission might seem like a dramatic solution to the busyness of your church, but it might be the only thing that makes a measurable difference.
It’s likely you’ll need someone to talk you through some of this. That’s where your Church Fuel coach (available to all members at no extra cost) can be a tremendous resource.
You need to talk to someone who isn’t emotionally connected to your church…someone who knows your strategy but not all of your people…someone who can give you Biblical and practical advice on how to proceed.
You can connect with any of our coaches as soon as you sign up for Church Fuel.
I was talking with a pastor friend here in Atlanta and I asked him what his church did better than all the others in the area. He answered quick: Serve the down and out. That’s what we do and that’s who we are.
People who come to our church who share this value find a home and a mission and a purpose. If you aren’t into those things, you’re probably not going to stick. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, but it means we’re not a good fit.
As we’ve coached hundreds of pastors, we’ve seen this to be true with growing churches. They don’t have it all together. They might not run like the well-oiled machine you think they are.
They don’t do everything great.
But they do one or two things really well. They don’t dabble…they focus. In some cases, they intentionally choose to do some things poorly, or even not at all, so they can put the focus on what they do best.
I hope this takes some of the weight off your shoulders. You personally don’t have to be great at everything. And your church doesn’t have to be great at everything.
There’s something in your church that deserves an UNFAIR amount of people and resources. See, fairness will get you into trouble. Dividing up the pie so every program and ministry gets the same amount of energy is a huge mistake.
It’s like trying to spread a little bit of peanut butter and trying to cover a slice of bread. You don’t have that much peanut butter in the first place and you try to make it go a long way. That program gets a little bit of money. This ministry gets a few volunteers. You’re spreading out resources trying to be fair and trying to keep everyone happy.
It doesn’t work.
When you look at the things God is likely to use to grow your church, that’s where you need to focus your resources. You need to put an unreasonable amount of energy into your kingdom concept.
Pouring money and people into things just because other churches are doing it isn’t the right way to grow your church. It’s the way to be stressed. And broke.
What ministry in your church needs an unreasonable amount of resources? Maybe you’re like my pastor friend and want to stake your claim on serving the community. Maybe you’re in a young family area and need to invest heavily into children’s ministry. When you figure out your kingdom concept, don’t try to fit it in…double down on it.
When you join Church Fuel and build your Two Page Plan, you’ll identify your top five keystone ministries.
You don’t have to treat all your ministries and programs the same. In fact, that’s bad leadership.
# 7 – Focus on engagement, not just attendance
“If you want your church to grow, stop trying to attract people and start trying to engage people.” – Carey Nieuwhof
Over the last few years, there’s been a significant downward trend in church attendance. People are attending church less often.
This decline in church attendance isn’t just because the rise of the nones (those who claim no religious affiliation. Even those who say faith is an important part of their life are attending less and less. People who are committed to your church are physically in the building less often than in previous decades.
Whether the value perception is lower or people are busier (or a combination of the two), pastors and church leaders must face this new reality.
There are things you can to do increase attendance, but perhaps a better path might be to not just focus on physical attendance but overall engagement.
Carey Nieuwhof, quoted above, says that while, in the past, attendance has been the first step to engagement, in the future it is engagement that will drive attendance.
The distinction here is important, and it’s similar to discipleship models that have worked throughout Christian history, going back to the time of Christ.
Jesus didn’t try to get everyone to attend, he focused on engaging the 12. He understood that a small group of committed followers would accomplish more than a large group of midly interested observers.
In your church, engagement might take a variety of forms.
- It could be volunteering.
- It could mean connecting in a small group.
- It could be stepping into leadership.
- It might bean giving on a regular basis.
No matter how you define “engaged” it’s important to highlight these next steps and make the obvious in your church. Attendance alone shouldn’t be the barometer for growth. Instead, take a look at how people are actually engaging.
Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta spent some time developing a model and looking at these numbers, specifically around three key actions they challenge people to take (give, serve, be in a group).
54% of people that did one of the three activities were attending 1 year later.
97% of people that did two of the three were involved a year later.
That’s a significant difference.
These numbers show that engagement can drive attendance, not just the other way around. Yes, your church should have a strategy to get new people to start attending. But growth is just as likely to occur as you create intentional pathways for people to get connected and stay engaged.
People are more satisfied with their church experience when they are contributing rather than simply consuming.
That’s why focusing on engagement, not just attendance, can be a driver of growth.