The frustration is real.
You believe in the mission and the vision of the local church. You know the gospel has the power to transform people’s lives. You know Jesus is the ultimate hope.
But all of that passion can’t get people to cross the line. You can’t MAKE people step up and get involved.
The volunteers who do serve on a regular basis go back and forth between hyped up excitement and dangerous burnout. You think “I hope the Wilsons” don’t move anytime soon…they are involved in everything. We’d fall apart without them.”
Then you realize 80% of the budget comes from 20% of the people. When you look at the reports, its scares you a little bit. You wonder “What if one or two key people stop giving?”
Here are some of the things we’ve heard over the last few weeks.
* People are so busy with sports and hobbies these days and they just don’t have any time leftover. Families have something every night of the week and then are out of town on the weekends for these travel sports leagues.
* Culture has definitely shifted and people don’t value the church like they used to. It’s just not important to their daily lives. They aren’t ambivalent; it’s just an afterthought.
* We’ve done a pretty good job casting vision and sharing the needs, but no matter what we say, it seems like the same few people are carrying the entire load. We can’t get new people to step up and get involved.
The church isn’t growing the way it should because people aren’t engaging the way you want.
And that’s not a selfish thing.
What you want for them is far greater than what you want from them. Engagement isn’t just good for the church; it’s good for the people.
So what do you do when people aren’t engaging? Whether it’s groups, giving or serving, what can you to do get people to get off the bench and into the game?
Here are seven things to consider.
#1 – Clarify your ask.
Most churches attempt to do too many things, spreading people out over a myriad of ministries and creating more work than can reasonably be done.
In general, what are you asking people to do?
During an office hours session, a Church Fuel One member asked how to get more people connected. He said their service was pretty good and they were seeing a good number of guests come to check out the church. Their struggle was connecting people.
I asked, “how do you define what connected is?”
That opened the door to a great conversation. This particular church didn’t have a clear answer. There were a lot of possibilities but not a clear path. There were a lot of options, but not a great destination.
If you want more people to engage, you’ve got to define engagement. And that definition might be uncomfortably simplistic.
When I was pastoring a church in Atlanta, we identified three things we wanted people to do. Join a small group, serve somewhere, and intentionally give. Sure, there were other good things, but those were the three big ones. And we decided a connected person meant they were doing at least two of the three.
Specifically, what are you asking a person to do?
It’s important to define the outcome for the discipleship path in your church, but it’s equally important to clarify the goals for individual people in your church.
Not long ago, I was asked to help lead a men’s small group in my church. The ministry leader met me for breakfast, heard my story and then clarified the expectations. He described a successful group and gave me a notebook that clearly laid out my responsibilities.
He told me what I was supposed to do before the meetings and during the meeting. He told me how long the group lasted. Everything was right there on paper.
It was easy for me to say yes because I clearly understood what I was saying yes to.
The same will be true for you.
Clarify responsibilities and outcomes and you’ll have a much better opportunity to engage people.
#2 – Stop then start.
When you say the same thing over and over again, people get used to it and sometimes tune it out. The message gets too familiar and loses its power.
That’s why you don’t notice the same billboard on the Interstate each time you pass.
But when they change that sign, you notice. The change breaks the pattern and you pay attention.
Then it starts all over again.
If you’ve asked the same people the same thing in the same way time and time again, it might be time for a break.
Just hit pause.
Change the subject.
Then after a while, start back with a new perspective.
If you always say, “don’t forget to invite someone to church next week” at the end of the service, then people probably don’t pay attention. Stop saying it for a few weeks.
Then come back with an ENTIRE message about the need to invite.
When you stop something, you get to start it up again. And launches are usually a lot more fun than course corrections.
#3 – Stop announcing and start inviting.
Announcements at church don’t really work.
There’s the illusion that communication has taken place. And we may even feel good that we’ve “gotten the word out.” But blanket announcements to the congregation rarely hit home.
If you’re announcing a financial need or a volunteer opportunity, everyone in the church thinks, “Oh, there are a lot of people hearing this message. Surely someone will step up.”
It’s exactly what I think when I see my email address cc’d on a message to lots of people.
People are great at ignoring announcements.
But there’s something that works better: personal invitations.
I’m not talking about group emails or stage announcements. I’m talking about looking someone in the eye and personally asking them to get involved.
- “I’m leading a new couples group and I would like for you and Kellie to be in it. Will you think about it?”
- “I think God’s given you a gift of making people feel welcome. Really, I see that in you. You would be a perfect host team member at the 11am service. Will you think about that for me?”
- “You probably know we’re looking to hire a new staff member next year. That means an increase in the budget. I’m sure this is weird but I wanted to directly ask if you could help meet that need.”
Use your stage time to tell stories and cast vision, but invite people to take steps personally. There are lots people who are not serving because they have not been personally asked.
#4 – Involve people in decisions, not just outcomes.
Most people, particularly leaders or high-capacity people, don’t want to be handed a to-do list. They already have enough on their plate.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to help. It might mean they actually want to help at a deeper level.
A creative designer doesn’t want to change a font on a brochure. She wants to create something amazing for you. A high-capacity leader doesn’t want to do something a robot could do; they want to make decisions.
Creators want to create. Leaders want to decide.
In a few cases, you might actually be setting the engagement bar too low. Instead of just asking people to serve, ask leaders to build and lead a team. Instead of just asking people to give, ask them to invest. Instead of asking people to lead a group, involve them in the curriculum selection process.
If you want people to be a part of something, involve them in the front end. People are far more likely to be involved in something they help create.
#5 – Connect the request to a deeper purpose.
Most people today don’t just care about what a company sells. They care about how. And they care about why. They pay attention to a company’s culture and work environment. They care about the deeper purpose.
In short, they care about the cause.
That’s why purpose is one of the keys to engage people. You’ve got to make it about more than filling a position for an hour or funding a line item in the budget .
Potential volunteers need to see how what they do impacts the overall ministry and the big-picture mission of the church. They need to see tangible evidence of success and a clear line between their time and the needle being moved.
So when you communicate needs and ask people to get involved, make sure you have a strong answer to “Why?”
Purpose is more than buzzword; it’s the key to engagement.
#6 – Allow for flexibility.
A Bently University study found 77% of Millennials say a flexible work hours would make the workplace more productive. And it’s not just Millennials…most people crave flexibility.
You’ve got to take this into consideration when creating volunteer schedules and small group meetings. A volunteer role that requires participation every single week might not work for everyone. A weekly small group might not be the best option to engage most people.
Consider a rotation system. Use a tool like Planning Center so volunteers can tell you their availability in advance.
Give groups the freedom to choose their night of the week or take some weeks off. Share best practices and be clear about expectations, but don’t be afraid to treat people like adults.
Make sure people can engage in generosity on their terms. That might mean giving online or donating from their phone.
#7 – Thank those who are already engaged.
Finally, one of the biggest keys to engagement is to go out of your way and over the top to thank people who are already engaged. This goes a long way to creating a healthy culture where people will actually want to get involved.
People naturally gravitate to where they feel appreciation.
So say thanks to people who serve.
Say thanks to people that give.
Say thanks to people who lead small groups.
With hand written note cards. With inside information. With appreciation events. With small tokens and gifts.
Say thanks privately and brag on people publicly.
It’s nearly impossible to over-thank people.
Be a good steward with whoever is currently engaged and maybe God will send more people your way.
If you're looking for a simple note-card to help you thank people who give for the first time, serve somewhere, or invite their friends to church, check out this digital download. You'll get original, editable files so you can order from your favorite local or online printer.
So What's Next?
Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.
Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But what else can you do as a steward to reach more people?
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