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Barna recently hosted a “State of the Church” event aimed at helping church leaders in specific cities understand what people think of the church in general.
One of the key questions they asked was the question of perception. In this instance, the data from these cities tracked closely with national averages.
Across the nation, a large percentage of unchurched people have negative views of the church, thinking that local churches are judgmental, hypocritical, irrelevant, disconnected from real issues in the community, and known more for what they are against.
The goal here isn’t to have culture agree with everything we do as churches. The very nature of ministry means there will be those who disagree with our beliefs and question our methods. But where incorrect perception can be a stumbling block, leaders seeking to be good stewards should work to overcome them.
I want to share a snapshot of Barna’s findings but also attach some recommended action steps to each fact.
My hope is that by shining a light on the data and highlighting one potential action step, you can move from information to application to transformation.
Whenever we talk about stats and trends, our goal is to help you take a step from “that’s interesting” to “that’s actionable.”
The stats are informative, and they should give you insights into your local ministry context. But more than that, they should inspire action.
You may have heard this before, and this perception is hard to fight. The fact is your church is lumped in with other churches to create a macro-perception that may not be fair.
Still, when the unchurched believe the church to be against them, they will struggle to see themselves as a participant.
One simple thing you can do is to use your platform to spotlight others. This may include other people, but you could also spotlight other organizations, non-profits, and businesses. Use your real estate to show that you’re for others, not just for yourself.
There are few that do this better than Gwinnett Church with their #ForGwinnett campaign. It began as a capital campaign but has expanded to a movement, spreading to churches and communities around the world. It’s messaging that sounds like this:
“For far too long, the church has been known for what it is against. We want to be known for what we are for. We are FOR Gwinnett.”
This approach extends to merchandise, sermon series content, and as mentioned above, extensive use of social media campaigns to spotlight local organizations.
When unchurched people think about church, they often don’t make a connection to their daily lives. People are struggling with issues and they don’t think the church addresses them. Church is for faith stuff, not work, school, money, mental health, and a host of other real-world issues. People in your community are asking questions they are not sure if your church is really answering them.
Hopefully, your sermon planning and delivery speak to the needs of the people. But you can do so much more. Churches should be experts at creating and sharing “non-Sunday content” that reaches people where they are.
If your church is trying to reach parents of elementary children, you don’t have to limit your content creation to Sunday morning kid’s environments or sermons. Why not create and distribute resources helpful to parents all throughout the week?
If your church is trying to help people battle consumerism or have a more healthy approach to money, why not create tools and content you can share throughout the week that have the chance to reach people at home or at work?
What if you published short videos answering questions like who is Jesus, why the Bible matters, or how to let go of anger?
What if you created resources to help parents connect with their kids or have fun together throughout the summer?
What if you talked about vocation, life’s purpose, burnout, or anxiety in short, sharable formats?
Don’t have to limit your influence to Sunday morning. When you enter conversations throughout the week with a content strategy designed to build trust, you’ll increase your perceived relevance.
A tool like FrontDoor could make this easier. Choose unbranded, helpful content from the Content Library, set it up on a landing page with a few clicks so you can give it away, and use automated follow-up tools to invite people to take a next step.
It’s like a content-marketing system for churches, a way to use helpful resources to build trust and nurture those who aren’t yet ready to plan a visit. Here’s a video of how it works.
At first, this feels similar to the relevance stat, but there’s some additional nuance worth unpacking.
As people are more and more connected to their communities, the more they will disconnect from organizations that don’t feel like they fit. Think about local restaurants, boutiques, and events that fit nicely with the ethos of a community. They are a part of what’s going on. When you’re part of a community, you also are connected to the needs. Those who aren’t dialed in could be perceived to be irrelevant and unaware.
What if you had a significant presence in the Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce or a local school council? What if every staff member or key leader got involved with a local organization? Demographic reports and impact studies are a great way to be introduced to needs, but there’s no substitute for up-close involvement in the community. Getting involved personally, not just organizationally is a way to truly understand the needs of a community.
If you’re looking for something you can do in the next 10 minutes to better understand the issues facing your community, dive into the Know Your Community Report from Gloo. This free resource will help you better understand the demographics and patterns of those living within a radius of your church. You’ll get insights into age, income, family, behavioral health, and more.
Last month, I was in Salt Lake City with my friend Chris creating a course to help churches do Facebook ads.
We got done a little early and I needed a haircut.
So I walked down to this fancy barbershop down the street from my hotel. When I arrived he told me they were a full-service barbershop and it would take about an hour and cost $65.
I’ve never spent that much money nor that much time on my hair, but I didn’t have anything else to do.
“Let’s go for it,” I told the hipster barber.
I sat down in the vintage leather barber’s chair and my new friend got to work.
For 10 minutes, he spritzed my hair with water and combed it every which way. “I’m trying to discover your natural part. You see, your wants to go in a certain direction.”
“Okay,” I said.
He trimmed and shaped, narrating every step of the way.
Then it was time for the wash.
“How often do you wash your hair,” he asked.
“Umm…every day,” I responded.
“Ohhh…that’s not good.” He went on to explain how hydrogen atoms and a chemical in my all-in-one Target shampoo should not co-exist.
After an uncomfortable conversation about conditioner, it was back to the chair for the finishing touches.
“Do you blow-dry your hair?” he asked.
At this point, I didn’t know the right answer.
Blow-drying didn’t seem good for the hydrogen, but he was holding a blow-dryer.
It turns out a little bit of mild heat helps lock in something or other and over time and trains wandering hairs to fall in line with where the others want to go naturally.
I had no idea.
The session ended with the application of a styling product, which I later learned via Amazon search, costs $60!
I’m not telling you this story to make fun of my fancy barber in any way. Quite the contrary. He knew a lot about hair and hydrogen.
He was an expert in his craft.
I’m sharing this story because the way he thinks about hair is the way our team thinks about church leadership.
We want to be experts, not so that we can feel smart, but so we can help you. We want to be on the front lines, bringing you best practices and fresh ideas so that you can reach your community for Jesus.
That’s why we create courses, design resources, and conduct LABS so you have everything you need for the ministry you’re called to do.
We now offer Live Classes to members.
As a Church Fuel member, you can take as many classes as you want from our faculty of expert instructors. This real-time learning is available to other leaders in your church too, since you can add people to your Church Fuel account at no extra cost.
In addition to those Live Classes, members also get all of our on-demand courses, an invite to monthly LABS, the searchable Resource Library, and Office Hours with any of our ministry coaches when you need one-on-one help.
There are many barriers that can prevent a church from growing.
From a shortage of leaders to a congregation that doesn’t invite others, church growth can stall for a number of reasons.
And sometimes, there are even people in the church who don’t want it to grow.
But there’s one more barrier that can keep a church from experiencing healthy growth and it comes from an unexpected place: the pastor.
Many pastors want to reach more people in the community and see their church’s weekly attendance numbers grow, but are unknowingly standing in their own way.
Here are 6 ways pastors can be the ones hurting their church’s growth.
But be encouraged—if you’re doing any of these “don’ts,” there’s grace for you and practical ways to turn it around today.
But when you take the time to develop leaders in your church, it pays off in more ways than one. With more leaders sharing ministry work, the church is able to recruit more volunteers and leverage each leader’s unique leadership style to reach new people.
It’s important to remain diligent and guard against changes that could hurt the church and aren’t biblical or on-mission. And as the lead pastor, it’s your responsibility to help filter the changes that are presented in your church.
That includes deciding which changes are good and which ones are bad. But too often, things that are new and different for churches end up in the “bad” category.
When trying something new is written off immediately, it can unnecessarily keep the church from growing. For example, even if digital ministry isn’t something you’ve considered in the past, fighting against it doesn’t protect the church—it only holds the church back while the people you’re trying to reach float off in that direction.
Not every idea is a good idea for your church. But take time to consider new methods, try new strategies, and embrace good changes. There might be a change right under your nose that would help the church grow but it’s being met with resistance.
Hold a meeting with key leaders and some of the sharpest minds on your volunteer teams and ask what they think needs to change to help the church reach new people.
Many pastors watch the same pattern unfold in their church year after year. They look out into the congregation and see the same faces each week. Those faces come to service, but they don’t do anything else. They don’t grow, they don’t serve, and they don’t invite anyone to come with them.
Eventually, without any intentional discipleship helping them grow spiritually and recognize the importance of being connected to the church, they drift away. And soon, there are fewer and fewer people in the seats on Sundays.
Pastors can prevent this by creating a discipleship model that nurtures the people they have and equips those people to invite the people they’re trying to reach.
People don’t often naturally think to invite others to church or they don’t know how to extend that invitation. Pastors and church leaders can provide resources—such as invite cards, social media posts, and templates for conversation starters—that mobilize their people to invite.
This is crucial. A startling (and encouraging) number of people would tell you that they came to church after being invited by someone. While there are many ways to get people through the door, there’s nothing quite like a personal invitation.
It’s easy to get used to the way things are. From the way the church has inside jokes and a sea of familiar faces, pastors and congregations get comfortable with each other. And that’s a good thing. The church is a family, after all.
But if you want the church to grow, it’s time to strike a balance. New guests might even appreciate seeing how the pastor seems to know everyone in the congregation on a personal level, but too much insider language only makes them feel excluded.
Instead of only speaking to the people you know from the pulpit, start to include references to new people. Explain things that might be unfamiliar to people who are unchurched or unbelievers. Extend a welcome, even if you’re not sure that there are any new people present. It sets the expectation that there should be new faces and makes sure that they’re recognized when there are guests.
Evaluate whether your church’s current culture might not be welcoming to unchurched people by considering the following questions.
It can show up differently for every pastor, but many church leaders share a common struggle that keeps their church from growing: people-pleasing.
Satisfying the personal preferences of everyone in the church is not only impossible, but it can also steal attention and resources from relevant areas that help the church move forward.
For example, there might be a ministry or event that is under-performing and off-mission in every way, but one church member wants to keep it because it’s been on the calendar for 20 years.
But in order for growth to happen, sometimes we have to shift resources in a different direction. And more important than satisfying everyone is reaching more people for Christ and keeping the church on mission.
As the pastor, your job title is also “Chief Clarity Officer.” This includes making sure volunteers and staff are in the right roles, providing clear direction, having a key role in shaping the church’s strategy and goals.
It might seem unrelated at first, but clarity in strategy is essential for church growth. A firm focus on the strategy and mission might disappoint some people, but it helps everyone in the end.
If you’ve recognized that some parts of your leadership might be keeping your church from growing, don’t dismay. You’re not alone in struggling to delegate, wanting to please everyone, and needing a solid plan to put in place.
You are called by God and equipped with the grace you need to live out that calling and pursue the mission of your church. And there are also resources available that provide the guidance you need to clarify key areas in your ministry and see your church grow in a healthy way.
As we’ve seen, pastors can hurt church growth, but they can also contribute to it greatly. Excellent leadership can break down barriers to growth and bring people in. With a few changes (and openness to change), you can drive your church in the direction of growth.
Building Your Ministry Plan is an insanely practical course to guide you and your team through the process of creating a two-page “business plan” for your ministry.
The course will guide you through what to put in each box of the Two-Page Plan®, show you examples from other churches, and help you use your plan in real-world ministry settings.
Instead of looking for invisible magic levers to pull to start growth, many experts advise organizations to look for the easier to identify obstacles and work to remove them.
These growth barriers aren’t just a thing for churches. They exist for businesses, non-profits, start-ups, and even relationships.
Breaking through these growth barriers, whether it’s related to attendance or structure, can be a challenge. First, you must identify them. Then, you must sift through conflicting advice on how to address them. And ultimately, you have to get people to the same page and ready to address them.
It’s no small task, partly because many church growth barriers are new.
Or at least different.
Today’s growth barriers are not external.
It’s easy to cite external forces like Covid or a changing culture as a primary roadblock to church growth. Much of the church leadership writing today deals with how to respond and react to Covid.
But many of the growth barriers facing churches today are internal rather than external. They were there before Covid, and if not addressed, they will be there after Covid. It's not outside forces, but internal factors that hold us back.
A 2016 Harvard Business Review article sums it up well:
“Most of these barriers resulted from complexity and bureaucracy that had accumulated as these leaders scaled up their businesses. The pattern holds true for some of the most studied cases of sudden business declines, like Nokia losing out to Apple or Sony getting outmaneuvered in video cameras by GoPro. The stall-outs point more to a loss of internal metabolism, speed, self-awareness, sense of urgency, and general bloat of staff rather than any outside factors they may have missed.”
Covid and other external forces out of our control have certainly influenced our churches. Ministry needs to adapt. But it’s our response to external pressure, not the pressure itself that often influences forward momentum.
Rather than blaming the shifting culture, leaders who adopt a growth mindset first look inside to the things within their circle of influence, focusing on how they are responding, adapting, and leading despite external challenges.
Today’s growth barriers are often not spiritual.
For churches, these growth barriers are usually not things like…
While of course, it’s not always true in every situation, it’s typically not a lack of spirituality holding a church back.
Of course, we need to pray and preach.
This is a given.
But there are system, structural, and strategic barriers that are not directly associated with faith that can hold us back.
As we work with hundreds of churches across every state and multiple countries, here are some of the bigger internal obstacles we are seeing churches face. Focus on removing these four growth barriers.
As you rebuild and rebound from Covid, the desire to focus on serving your community and reaching new people is understandable. This is central to the mission of every local church. But one of the biggest obstacles to sustained health in this area is the lost focus of members, attenders, volunteers, leaders, and donors.
In other words…the core.
Consider these words from a volunteer leader at a local church…
“My church pushed our reopening date back because leadership didn’t think enough people were signing up to volunteer. The number of people saying on the survey they want to come back vs. the number of people willing to actually help is a laaaarge gap.”
Every parent of young children understands how important self-care is to their ability to parent well. As much as children need love and attention, if mothers and fathers aren’t in a healthy place, their ability to be a healthy parent is greatly diminished.
Like the in-flight admonition to administer oxygen first to yourself before helping those around you, church staff might be well-served making sure the base is secure before trying to take new ground.
Intentional communication and engagement strategies might feel self-serving, but if you’re not self-serving early on in the rebound process, you may not be able to do the ministry you’re called to do.
One practical thing you could do is create a series of refocusing videos just for your core.
Andy Stanley recently did this for the congregation at Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta.
These videos weren’t for the community or the large congregation. Instead, they were aimed directly at the core. They focused on mission and strategy. They explained the plans behind the action. They asked for critical help where needed.
The videos were created to show “what we do, how we do it, why we do it, and where you fit in.”
You can watch it at northpoint.org/reset. Perhaps a series of informal videos on similar themes would help you re-engage your congregation.
If your core is not engaged, this is a huge internal barrier.
Brad Hill, one of the senior leadership team members at Gloo, says digital is both gathered and scattered and neither gathered and scattered.
This gets at the heart of hybrid ministry, which is where many growing churches are focusing efforts now.
Brad wonders if “where two or three are gathered” could extend to new definitions of “gathered.” He asks, “Could God still move through pixels?”
Consider this list of things you can do best in person:
And think about this list of things that work best online:
Now, think of things that can be better by intentionally blending analog and digital:
The barrier to break through is the mentality that digital is somehow not real ministry.
Nona Jones believes social media can be social ministry. We talked with Nona on season 3 of our podcast.
Jason Moore is helping Methodist churches create a both/and approach to worship, helping them create hybrid models.
And countless other churches are innovating in this area, intentionally blending the edges of digital and physical ministry, finding ways to extend physical gatherings into the week with digital best practices, AND helping live-streamed worship services dip into aspects of community.
If you fail to adapt, you’re not facing an external barrier brought on by Covid, you’re facing an internal barrier because of a stuck mindset.
This was a growth barrier for most churches before Covid.
And now, it’s bigger than ever.
If you have a top-down culture, where a select few groups of professional Christians do all the ministry, you’re going to bump up against growth barriers every time. When the pastor and staff have to do all the ministry, ministry is limited to a few people’s time.
Instead, develop leaders to lead ministry and release control at the appropriate pace.
If you want your church to have a greater ministry impact, focus on involving more people in ministry.
Your job as a pastor is to equip people to do the work of the ministry, not to do all the ministry yourself. This requires a steadfast commitment and an intentional plan to recruit and invite people to participate.
Please don’t miss the fact there are two parts: A steadfast commitment + an intentional plan.
Today, there is so much talk about pipelines and philosophy and not enough focus on plans.
There’s a desire to do leadership development, but no actual plan.
The simplest way to get started with this is to put leadership development on your calendar, whether it’s repurposing some time in existing team meetings, scheduling after-hours dinners with purposeful conversations, or using our free 7 conversations guide to spur one-on-ones.
It’s also what Leader Pulse will help you do.
Leader Pulse is the only solution that gives you all the content you need, for use right out of the box or easily customizable to meet your needs, to train all of the leaders in your church. But it’s more than a library full of training materials…it will bring you a calendar-based approach. You will have an actual toolbox to DO leadership development, not just design a hypothetical system.
The bottom line… Leader Pulse combines practical leadership development content that’s ready for you to use plus an easy to customize calendar planning tool.
If you want to be notified when Leader Pulse is available, sign up here.
Leadership development in church doesn’t need to be some ethereal hope, complicated with pipeline diagrams and the elusive pursuit of the perfect culture. You can start by developing the people you already have, no matter how small that number may seem.
In every church, there are people who hold the position of leadership, and then there are people who are truly leaders (who may not hold any position in your church). Release people who hold titles but aren’t advancing the mission and hand the job over to real leaders.
If you don’t have the perfect pipeline, start with the people who do have, whether they hold official titles or not, and put real meetings on your real calendar with these real people.
If you ask most conference speakers and church consultants what you should do if your church isn’t on the same page, most will talk to you about vision.
You need to cast a bigger vision for the future, they say.
You need to help everyone focus on the ultimate purpose, they advise.
And while this is true, I’ve found that while casting a vision for the future and talking about a bedrock purpose is important, you can make almost anything fit if you try hard enough.
If your purpose is to “change the world,” you can justify the use of almost any tactic or tool.
That’s why focusing on strategy is a better path toward alignment.
Strategy answers the HOW questions, and HOW is where you need to get people to agree. Not just the WHAT or even the WHY.
If all of your leaders want to get to the preferred destination using a different route, you’re not really aligned.
If everyone on your team wants to pursue the tactic of choice to pursue an end, you’re running the risk of running in circles.
Chances are, you don’t need to sign up for another service, buy another course, attend another conference, change your church database program, or launch a new website. Those are all tools and tactics, and while they have their place, without a strategy to hold them together, you’ll stay busy but not effective.
Instead of chasing tactics, step back and create a strategy.
If you want to get people on the same page, create an actual page.
Only then will you be able to choose and manage the right tactics toward the right end.
Learn more about planning and strategy in Building Your Ministry Plan, one of the most practical premium courses available to all Church Fuel members. You’ll also be introduced to The Two Page Plan® – our powerful and practical template that will help you align everyone on your team.
Mention the phrase “church growth” and you’ll hear a variety of opinions.
On one hand, you’ll find people who promise seven simple steps to explode growth now or organizations that will reveal the secret to growth for three easy payments of $97.
And on the other hand, there are writers who use words like abomination and say the church growth movement usurps the Holy Spirit.
These are two very different opinions from two very different camps.
The spiritualists and the pragmatists.
Spiritualists are quick to point out the words “church growth” do not appear in the Bible. They remind us that because the church belongs to Jesus, church growth is something only God can do. Jesus said, “I will build my church.”
The focus is on discipleship, prayer and following Jesus while leaving the results up to God. Spiritualists don’t want any part tactics taken from the business world or tactics that push God into the margins.
Pragmatists, on the other hand, love to talk about church growth plans and strategies. They remind us that while church growth is up to God, He uses people and systems and technology to accomplish His purposes.
The focus is on leadership, engaging culture and executing at a high level, while asking God to bless everything.
So what is the right approach?
Here’s what Jesus said in Mark 4:26-29:
“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Jesus used a farming analogy to explain how the kingdom of God grows.
Once the farmer plants the seed, it grows by itself. The farmer isn’t in control of that process, and doesn’t even fully understand it. The farmer is involved, but the farmer is not in control.
Growth happens naturally, but only after the farmer did the hard work of preparing the soil.
And that’s how church growth works.
It’s a combination of the blessings of God and the stewardship of man. God-given results somehow teamed with human endeavors. A combination of divine intervention and human leadership.
Paul makes a similar statement in 1 Corinthians 3:6. He says he planted churches, Apollos came along and watered the seed, but it was God who gave the increase.
Spiritualists focus on how God gives the increase. Pragmatists point out that Paul planted and Apollos watered.
Yes, church growth was all up to God. But two humans both played a part in the process.
So the pragmatists are right.
And so are the spiritualists.
Church growth is up to God because the church belongs to Him. But he chooses to use us in the process, giving us the opportunity to be great stewards.
Karl Vaters, author of The Grasshopper Myth and an author/advocate for small churches, says, “Church growth should always be a part of every pastor’s prayers, passion and strategy.”
Pastors should want their churches to reach more people. But that’s not the only kind of church growth in the Bible.
It’s simple to track numerical growth and the result is the church gets bigger. The Outreach 100 Fastest Growing Churches list is based exclusively on this type of growth.
The 10 Fastest Growing Churches (according to Outreach Magazine)
- Bayside Church in Roseville, California
- Rock City Church in Columbus, Ohio
- Northview Church in Indianapolis, Indiana
- Radiant Church in Tampa, Florida
- The House Forth Worth in Forth Worth, Texas
- Christ Church in Gilbert, Arizona
- Coastal Community Church in Parkland, Florida
- Action Church in Winter Park, Florida
- NewSound Church in Wellington, Florida
- Journey Church in Winter Park, Florida
This kind of growth was reported in the early church and recorded in the book of acts. Despite persecution, a lack of buildings, and little formal training, the early church grew as people shared the gospel with friends and neighbors. Luke tells us people were added to the church on a daily basis. That’s church growth.
The desire churches have to reach more people for Christ should come from God’s heart for the world and understanding Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost. Churches that want to grow in numbers should do out of a desire to live out the great commission.
People in church should grow to love the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and take intentional steps to obey his commands. That’s discipleship.
This kind of growth is also reported in the book of Acts, as you find new believers gathered in homes for community and prayer. As the church grew in size, it also grew spiritually. The early church wasn’t content to make converts, they wanted to make disciples.
Spiritual growth is much harder to measure, and there’s no Top 100 list. But when we talk about church growth, we must not limit our discussion to attendance and budgets. There’s something far deeper at work.
When individual churches grow numerically and spiritually, there is a great opportunity for Kingdom growth.
The Bible says the Church grew through multiplication. For example, the church at Antioch prayed, fasted and sent leaders out to start new churches (Acts 13:1-5). This intentional decision to get smaller resulted in the Church getting larger.
Ironically, it was the persecution of the early church that led some of the first Christians to spread throughout the world, taking their faith with them and building the Kingdom in the process.
Since the formation of the early church, Christians have been arguing over where we should put our focus.
Church growth advocates often use phrases like “reach the lost at any cost” and say things like “We will do anything short of sin to reach people.”
The focus is often getting people in the front door. And even though there’s Biblical precedence, this type of passion can be easily misplaced.
After all, unhealthy things can grow too.
In fact, some have argued unhealthy things grow even faster (weeds and tumors, for example). A lot of damage can be done to the Kingdom by adopting a “grow at all costs” philosophy.
Church health advocates argue that if you focus on the flock, growth will naturally occur. Well, there are a lot of inward focused churches who seem to have lost focus on the great commission. It seems like a focus on church health can lead people to live like the “frozen chosen,” unaware of the real needs around them.
Should we focus on church growth or church health?
I say we embrace the tension between the two.
Perhaps it should never be resolved.
Maybe the fact that we worry about it keeps us in balance.
Fully resolve the tension toward growth and you’ll end chasing tactics to just build a crowd.
Fully resolve it toward health and you’ll provide pastoral care to people until there’s nobody left.
Acts 2:42-47 describes church growth as the result of intentional evangelism and discipleship.
It seems that when the church loved God and loved their neighbor, the Gospel spread.
Jesus-centered teaching, a community built on love and investing in one another’s lives and living a life of faith was not only the result of church growth, but also the cause.
In 1 Corinthians 3:8, Paul writes, “The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.” This verse seems to indicate that pastors will be rewarded for their part in building the church.
Even though Jesus said, “I will build my church,” and even though Paul acknowledged, “God gives the increase,” it’s appropriate to view earthly leadership as a stewardship opportunity.
In Ephesians 4:12, Paul says that pastors and leaders are not to perform all the ministry in the church but should equip the believers to “do the work of the ministry.” Commenting on this verse, Eric Geiger writes, “In some sense, a pastor is to leave the ministry the moment the pastors enters the ministry.” This shift in thinking should result in a more distributed ministry and greater effectiveness.
To this end, God gives spiritual gifts to each Christian to use to build up the body of Christ. Building up should result in a healthier church, but also a church that’s growing in size and influence.
Church growth, then, doesn’t just depend on the pastors but also involves the people.
A Time to Be Intentionally Unbalanced
Since the tension between church growth and church health should never be resolved, it gives us the freedom to lean into both sides of the equation.
There are times to focus on church growth.
For example, churches who have lived on the discipleship side might need to willingly tip the scales toward evangelism, with campaigns, efforts, or even staff that might appear to favor an evangelistic model rather than the well-known discipleship model. In this case, intentionally being unbalanced for a season is a part of a larger strategy focused on healthy growth.
Maybe you need a greater focus on reaching people for this next ministry season.
In high growth churches where a discipleship process might not be fully formed, it might be wise to tip the scales toward health. This isn’t abandoning your core values or changing your mission to reach the community; it’s recognizing that seasons of growth include a time to form roots.
Maybe you need a greater focus on keeping people for this next ministry season.
You not need to sacrifice church growth for church health and vice versa, but it might be wise to choose goals that focus on one side of the equation for a season in order to bring you back into balance.
Most books, articles, and podcasts addressing growth barriers deal with visible and tactical issues.
You’ll read about changing worship style to attract a younger generation.
You’ll read about adding service times when you’re 80% full.
And while worship style, aging facility, service times, parking lot and website are important issues, these are probably not the reasons churches don’t grow.
These are visible issues, but there are more important things behind the scenes. When you understand the foundational issues, the tactical decisions will become more obvious.
What are those real church growth barriers?
The church is about Jesus and people – and helping people follow Jesus. As simple as that is, it’s amazing how easy it is to forget the people part of ministry.
Ultimately, what we do is meant to help people follow Jesus.
Pastors and church leaders are always looking to reach more people, going into all the world and make disciples.
And while evangelism, outreach, and inviting people to church should always be part of our strategy, from a leadership and stewardship perspective, it is wise to start with the people you already have.
There are already people connected to your church.
There are already leaders.
There are already volunteers.
Don’t let the quest for more cause you to be a good steward of what God has already given you. You may have 1, 5, or 10 talents, but God wants you to be responsible for what He’s provided.
You may not have enough leaders, but you have some leaders.
You may not have a big enough staff, but there is someone (even if it’s just you).
You may need more volunteers, but there are a handful of people who care deeply about the church.
Start with who you do have in your circles before we draw bigger circles.
Just like companies say people are their most important asset, churches must embrace this principle.
Your people are really important.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the people you already have and how to best lead them.
First, there are staff.
Whether you have a big staff, a small staff, or volunteers acting as staff, the people in paid positions are really important to the health and growth of your church.
Whenever I think about church staff (and needing more people to do the work of the ministry), I am reminded of a message from Bishop T.D. Jakes. In a way that only he can say it, he talks about how all Moses had was a staff. God used that staff to perform a miracle.
He says, “The staff in your hand is enough.”
He just says it way cooler than how you’re reading it in your head.
You might have a small staff, a young staff, or an older staff, but God can use a church staff to do amazing things in your community.
You might need more of them, but let’s commit to develop the people who are already there.
If someone is on staff, make sure they are trained, appreciated, and truly a part of the team. Developing your staff is one of your best opportunities to lead your church to growth.
The people in paid positions should be some of the most effective ministers in your church. But too many times, people in these roles coast by. We think because they are good Christians or good parents that automatically translates into being good employees.
The secret is not better people, it’s better development.
Before we delegate, we need to develop.
Before we entrust more responsibility, we need to develop.
Before we try to start something new, we need to develop.
In order for this to happen, leadership development conversations and meetings need to actually make it to our calendar. We can’t let the fact that leadership development doesn’t feel urgent turn into a lack of importance.
We have two resources that can help you put this into action.
First, here are some ways to make your next staff meeting more engaging, more productive, and even more enjoyable. It’s a free resource called 7 Staff Meeting Ideas.
Second, every pastor who joins Church Fuel gets instant access to our leadership development curriculum. This carefully-researched material will help you walk your staff through 12 key skills to help them lead themselves, lead others, and lead projects. You can teach this in a staff meeting, at a leadership retreat, or simply send the resources to your team.
As important as it is to have a called, committed, and caring staff to oversee the work of the ministry, you’re never going to be able to hire people to do all of the ministry in your church. That’s why you need lay leaders and volunteers.
When it comes to leaders and volunteers, I’m afraid we’ve made this too complicated.
There’s a time to create pipelines and programs, but you can also start where you are.
There are a few people in your church who are almost ready to lead…they just need you to invest in them. There are people in your church who are ready to volunteer…they just need you to personally ask and train them.
The Volunteer System we teach at Church Fuel is simple but powerful. It consists of three parts.
This volunteer system really works. And we’ll teach it to you once you join Church Fuel.
Staff, leaders, and volunteers…these three groups of people in your church can do more ministry than you can do alone.
With intentionality and good systems, you can break through the people barrier.
I think Life Church and North Point will thrive after Craig Groeschel and Andy Stanley are gone because both churches embrace team teaching, develop leaders and establish healthy systems. Many large churches lack all three. – Tony Morgan
A system is a documented process that leads to a clear outcome. Anytime you do something on a regular basis, you need a written process.
Before you write off systems and processes, recognize there are several examples in the Bible of God working through systems.
Exodus 18 describes how Jethro helped Moses create and implement a system for hearing people’s cases. His system allowed him to better serve the people he was called to lead. Luke 10 describes how 72 people were sent ahead of Jesus to help prepare the places he was going to visit. Acts 6 describes the choosing of the seven…the results of this system and process is the gospel went further because the widows were fed. A system solved the immediate problem and enabled ministry.
I don’t believe systems are unspiritual. Instead, they are part of God’s created order. Ultimately, systems help us. They are for our benefit, not God’s.
God can do whatever He wants, but human beings benefit fro good systems. And when you have good systems in your church, good things will happen.
A lot of the problems churches face are systems problems.
They are disguised as people problems, but in reality, they are systems problems. It’s a broken system or a bad structure or a process that’s missing key steps that is leading to breakdown.
And here’s the deal with systems problems…
You can’t solve them with more preaching. I’ve seen this happen so many times: Church finances aren’t going well and the church is getting behind in budget. The Finance Team or the Pastor decide to preach a message on generosity to right the ship. So an “emergency sermon” gets preached that temporarily solves the cash-flow issue.
But a few weeks later, it’s back to reality.
That’s because low giving in a church is a systems problem, and it’s not going to be solved with an amazing message.
You also can’t solve systems problems with more vision. Too many pastors think casting vision for the future is a silver bullet that solves all problems. “If people just understood what we’re tying to do, they would give more or volunteer or invite or whatever,” is what pastors think.
But casting more vision isn’t likely to change your culture or solve your issues. Because it’s likely a systems problem.
Structural issues require structural solutions. Systems problems can only be solved by creating effective systems.
Here are the seven systems every church needs in order to grow healthy.
You need to design and implement systems that will sustain growth in the future. In other words, you need to structure your church not for the size you are now, but for the size you want to be.
Work on each of these systems, plus get practical training and templates, in the Systems Course. It’s included for everyone who joins Church Fuel.
The third driver of church growth is culture. It’s often ethereal and hard to define, but culture is the overall environment of your church.
Just like you can’t grow tomatoes in the desert or corn in a rain forest, culture often dictates what you can and can’t do in a church.
Many churches struggle to attract new people because they don’t have a welcoming culture. It’s not one thing, it’s a combination of all the things that subtly communicate the church isn’t really set up for new people to fit in. If your church has a culture that values existing members far more than new people, you’re going to struggle to grow, no matter what kind of Facebook ad you run or sermon series you preach.
Some churches struggle to reach the next generation because they don’t have a culture that values the next generation. There’s no silver bullet solution, but rather a host of structural, system and leadership changes that need to be made before the next generation will thrive in the church.
Culture is not something you can download, purchase, or upgrade instantly. It takes a lot of intentional work, hard conversations, and great leadership.
But there are things you can do to shift the culture from what you have to what might be more desirable. Even though culture is more esoteric, here are five tangible things you can use to create culture
Ministry without strategy can be a waste of time. Your selection of ministries must be strategic, not random. Your ministries should be on purpose, not merely at the whim of anyone’s ideas. Ministry is your heart and passion. – Dan Reiland
Even though your church is much more than a business, this business-y kind of thing can help you grow.
There are parts of your church that would really benefit from good planning and strategy.
The problem is most ministry plans take a lot of work and produce few results.
An expensive consultant dazzles you with terminology and you’re drawn into a comprehensive process, peppered with promises of change. But in the end, a fancy report is shared briefly in a meeting then ends up in a computer folder somewhere.
Nothing really happens. Nothing really changes.
You might pull it out next year to see just how much you DIDN’T do.
It’s a double fail: Tons of work and minimal impact.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
And you don’t need an expensive consultant to guide you through the process. You can achieve fresh clarity the Church Fuel way, with a simple two-page worksheet and an insanely practical course that will show you exactly what to do.
The Two Page Plan is our insanely practical tool that will help you clarify what’s truly important in your church.
Don’t decide to start a new ministry, hire a staff member, raise money, hold a leadership retreat, or make a ministry decision without first forcing this kind of clarity and alignment.
Get it right and it will solve so many problems.
Here are the things we will help you clarify on your Two Page Plan.
We helped a church in Littleton, Colorado create a ministry strategy. Their pastor, Cody, emailed to say this:
We finalized our ministry plan after chipping away at it for the last few months. Our leadership meeting yesterday featured the right amount of contentious and harmonious conversation 🙂 Thank you once again for helping us get unstuck! We started this process with one group of leaders, and we actually changed out about a third of our leadership in January, and we were able to generate buy-in and receive meaningful ideas from the new group very quickly.
A thoughtful, written strategic plan can help your church experience healthy growth. Planning isn’t just a task to be done by an organized person who loves spreadsheets, it’s a powerful ministry tool that should be embraced by all church leaders.
Church planting, church revitalization, and church growth are inherently spiritual endeavors.
Strategy, culture, and leadership can make a huge difference and drive growth, but ultimately that growth is up to God. The church is not a business. The church is more than an organization.
You can do all the right things and not experience growth. And many churches experience growth despite problems with leadership.
Think about how these spiritual traits intersect with the organized ministry of a church.
Your church might be facing systems barriers, leadership challenges, and tactical obstacles, but you also are fighting a spiritual battle.
Don’t forget there are spiritual growth barriers.
Now that we’ve talked about the real barriers to growth in your church, lets turn our attention to 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. You will need focus and you might need support.
But don’t let budget be an excuse for stagnation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
There’s this little BBQ joint near me.
It’s a hole-in-the-wall place, frequented by locals and regulars who know a thing or two about low-and-slow BBQ.
The food is amazing.
The service is fast.
Even the sweet tea tastes better. And a big part of me absolutely, positively wants NOBODY else to know about it. Because if more and more people start going there, it will probably change.
They might change the menu to accommodate different tastes. Or I might have to park farther away or wait longer for a table. This place is great because it’s not crowded. And if other people discovered the greatness, I might stop going.
That’s exactly how some people view your church.
They like the preaching, the music, the people, and their favorite seat.
They like it the way it is, and if crowds of new people starting showing up, it would change.
See, while leaders love progress, most people like stability.
A large group of people in your church like their church the way it is right now. They don’t really want it to grow.
They are proud members of the ninety-nine, not vocally upset that you are going after the 1, but quietly saying, “What about me?” The ninety-nine resist change, hoping all that vision-casting and forward-thinking wears off soon.
The ninety-nine share their preferences and expect the church to cater to them. After all, they pay the bills; they fill the seats. That seat is squarely in the status quo, not opposed to reaching people with the Gospel, but not actively pursuing what will disrupt their lives.
So what do you do when you know your church needs to change but the people in the church resist that change? What do you do when you believe the church should grow but the people in the church resist growth?
Here are six thoughts to consider.
We all carefully construct the world around us to suit our preferences and desires. Both Millennials and Boomers like things the way they like them. Anytime something pushes up against our preferences and expectations, we push back.
Growth is hard, because change is hard. And the very thing you want to change FROM is the thing someone fought FOR in the past.
Choose to believe people resisting growth are not against people, against the Gospel, against the church, or against you.
They just like things the way they are.
Positivity in the face of resistance is hard, but a message of hope is best delivered with patience.
Leading your church to growth will require courageous conversations and courageous decisions.
You know that.
You already feel that.
But depending on your personality, you’ll default to one of two positions.
The prophet points to the future. The pastor looks to the people.
If your church is going to grow (and grow healthy), you need both of these voices of leadership. Your people need to hear the voice of the prophet, clearly articulating the WHY behind the mission and the vision of where your church is going.
But if your church is resisting change, they may need a pastor to help guide and shepherd them through transition. This kind of immense patience isn’t always easy for a visionary leader.
You need to continually cast vision and clarify the current mission, but do it with the heart of a pastor.
I’m not saying this should be the case or that it’s the best model for leadership, I’m just calling out what exists in reality.
Every church has power brokers.
It could be people in official leadership roles or it could be influential or long-time members.
But if you want to move your church in any given direction, there are people you need to get on your side. They need to believe in you, not just the cause. They need to know the details, have a say in the decision, and know their part in the process.
A lot of church growth initiatives fail because there was not enough private buy in before there was a public campaign.
The bigger the change you’re trying to make, the more people and the more time you need.
The Church has been around for more than 2,000 years and has gone through many cultural changes. But through all of that, the Great Commission and the Great Commandant have remained the north star.
In the midst of your vision casting, remind people what is NOT changing. Reassure people some things will stay the same forever.
No matter what kind of change is needed in your church, remind people the Gospel will never change.
Your tactics will come and go, but your purpose will stay the same.
Your programs may change with the times, but your mission takes precedence.
Reminding people what will never change will comfort those who are worried about “losing their church.”
Once a quarter, I participate in a strategy meeting for a local non-profit. It’s an all-day meeting focused on reviewing the mission, setting quarterly goals, and breaking those goals into measurable (and accountable) tasks.
The executive team of the nonprofit participate in the meeting. But they bring in an outside facilitator to run the agenda. To be fair, this facilitator touches base in between meetings and runs those meetings according to a system.
Even though there are people qualified to run the show, and the agenda is the same nearly every time, they have an outside facilitator each time.
It’s not free.
It’s actually a sizeable investment.
But as a participant in this meeting, I can honestly say it’s worth every penny. A highly engaged, but unemotionally invested outsider can bring perspective to an organization that you will never get otherwise.
Despite the expense, if you want to lead your church through a growth barrier, get some outside perspective.
It’s important to believe the best about people.
It’s vital you act with patience, like a loving shepherd who cares about people.
It’s important to get the right people on your side, including strategic advisors with an outside perspective.
With all that said, there will still come a time when you have to make a decision.
At some point, you have to stop talking and start doing.
It might be time to make a decision and live with the consequences.
If you want to dive more into this growth mindset, check out The Senior Pastor's Guide to Breaking Barriers.
Not everybody in your church wants it to grow.
But that’s not a barrier to stop you; it’s an obstacle to overcome. It’s an opportunity to stewardship the leadership God has given you.
Get some people around you to encourage you to keep going and to give you good advice along the way, but don’t give up.
MOVING FROM A DIGITAL PRESENCE TO A SOCIAL MINISTRY
Having a presence is super simple, you just have to be there. But we weren’t called to just be present. We are called to go, and make disciples. It’s active, requires movement. We were also called to go out into the world and to teach. So make sure you are going out into the digital landscape and intentionally teaching the people you are going out after.
Use Facebook groups to connect and engage with people. People are likely to be much more vulnerable in a Facebook group than they are on a page, so lean into where people are willing to connect.
Facebook groups offer a variety of ways to connect through publishing your own content, asking questions, and commenting on responses, polls, surveys, event sharing, resource promotion, etc…
At the end of the day, community is about centering other people.
Use your social media and digital content to people with other people, and not just yourself. Just like you can connect people through in-person conversations, you can connect them through online conversations as well.
Don’t just make statements, ask questions.
It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in what we have to say or share, and we often forget that people aren’t there to just hear what you have to say but also to be heard.
So be curious, ask how people are or what their thoughts are on a particular topic. Get the conversation going.
Once the conversation is going, respond to comments and questions that people leave. This communicates that you’re listening, and there is value in what they have to say.
Keep in mind that engaging with your church online is a culture shift. If people haven’t been engaging in the past, it takes time and intentionality to shift the habit.
Know that there is so much more to digital ministry than the billboard side of it.
There are over 3 billion people on these platforms, how can we serve them and meet their needs?
As long we have the mentality to serve them, we will be able to accomplish that goal.
So many are waiting to return “back to normal”, but we are already in the new normal. People have recognized that they need God 7 days a week, and are looking for resources to connect, engage, and learn about Jesus outside of the hour on Sunday.
We are experiencing a revolutionary change in the church, and if we lean into digital strategy we can absolutely rise to the occasion.
Outreach: As we’re communicating we have to communicate with our church members and we have to find people and bring them into the life of the church.
How is your Digital Strategy intentionally helping with Outreach?
Building community: Facebook (especially Facebook groups) is a great tactic for building community, but decide for yourself and your context where building community makes the most sense.
If you chose to build a community on Facebook, for example, you are building a community for another product and platform. However, a large part of your congregation is already present on Facebook.
Good strategy wrestles through the tension and has honest conversations. Tension is not a reason to ignore, push through it and have backup plans as you take next steps.
Advertising: A good strategy has to have a small amount of advertising. If your church is doing helpful things, if your church is a key part of your promotion, then advertising is just a tool or tactic to get the word out. If you have something worth getting the word out about, then don't feel guilty about using modern tools and tactics to do it
Connect with Nona
Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode HERE
“It’s all about creating a connection. It starts with you being willing to not talk about yourself all the time.” – Nona Jones
“We forget people aren’t there to hear your opinion, they’re there because they want you to care about [their] opinion too” – Nona Jones
“If you have something worth getting the word out about, then don't feel guilty about using modern tools and tactics to do it” – Michael Lukaszewski
“You need to create a culture of engagement.” – Meagan Ranson
“Strategy by definition should limit your choices. If your strategy doesn’t limit your choices, then you’re doing it wrong.” – Michael Lukaszewski
“Balsamic Glaze is not used enough.” – Michael Lukaszewski
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