Most churches want to reach unchurched people. They take the Great Commission seriously and want their church to make a positive difference for the Kingdom.
At the same time, we’re coming to grips with the fact that fewer and fewer people are attending church. Even regular members show up more infrequently than in years gone by.
The same group of people, attending less often, is not a recipe for growth. For a church to grow and thrive, it has to reach brand new people.
Even though many churches share in this desire, few actually do it.
Five steps to grow church attendance.
If your church is serious about reaching new guests, particularly those who are not attending any other church, here are five things to consider to reach more people in your community.
#1 – Set a goal.
Whenever we ask pastors how many new volunteers they need, how much money they need to raise for ministry, or how many guests they want to reach, the answer is usually the same.
And that’s a great sentiment.
But more is not a number. It’s a moving target that can never be reached.
If you want to reach new guests this year, start by prayerfully setting a specific goal.
Talk about the priority of reaching new people, the Great Commission, and the mission of your church, and then make it a goal to reach a specific number of new people.
The number 100 isn’t a magic one. In fact, the number 100 may not be for you. What’s important is that you set a specific, measurable, and attainable first-time guest goal.
What should it be?
That’s a matter for prayer and discussion among your leaders.
But Nelson Searcy says if you want your church to be in rapid growth mode, you should target 7 weekly guests for every 100 people in attendance.
Look at your current numbers, consider your situation, and set a goal.
#2 – Decide to do it.
The biggest thing holding many churches back isn’t a lack of space, an outdated facility, a poor website, or a faltering program.
It’s a mindset.
Some churches have a stuck mindset, falling back to the way things are because embracing change appears too difficult.
Some churches have an insider mindset, choosing to continue programs that benefit long-time members but ignoring the needs of changing communities.
Some churches want to reach people, but in reality, their mindset isn’t ready just yet.
If your church is going to reach unchurched people, it’s going to require the right mindset.
And this is hard.
You can’t lead your church to reach the unchurched with a vision meeting or a passionate sermon.
Your goals have to become your priorities, and these are two different things.
You can set any goal you want, but if the goal doesn’t become a priority, nothing is going to change.
A goal is great, but a priority is better.
#3 – Plan your follow-up in advance.
What happens when a guest visits?
Is it intentional or accidental?
And is it effective?
Head to a whiteboard or open up some flowchart process and design an experience. Your process might include some of the following steps.
- An immediate text message. A service like Text in Church would help.
- A phone call or voicemail. A church in Charlotte, NC uses SlyDial to leave a voicemail for a guest. The person’s phone never rings but a voicemail is waiting for them when they get to the parking lot.
- An automated email sequence. You could use your database program or a tool like MailChimp to send 3-5 emails spread over a month to new guests. The content of these emails can be tailored to new people and answer the most common questions.
- A hand-written thank-you note. In the digital age, this might feel antiquated, but it’s one of the most personal and often the most effective follow-up strategies.
Here is an example of a documented follow-up process (the original, editable file along with step-by-step coaching and sample email content is available instantly to Church Fuel members).
Even if you don’t have many guests, I recommend working hard on your follow-up process. The act of intentionally planning will help solidify your priorities and create a healthy expectation.
#4 – Design your service with guests in mind.
Gavin Adams, the Lead Pastor at Woodstock City Church, says we should not worry about being seeker-sensitive but we should strive to be seeker-comprehensible.
One specific place this principle matters is the church service itself.
The fact of the matter is that many church services are designed for people who understand how church services work. They assume people know what’s going on and have context for everything happening.
Now most people probably know the drill.
But new people will not.
That’s why it is important to design everything in your church service with guests in mind.
Pretend someone is at your church for the very first time. Pretend a 5th grader is attending “big church” for the very first time.
Explain every single thing every single time.
And when regulars say, “We get it…you don’t have to explain it anymore”… remind them the explanation is not for them, but for new people.
You probably don’t need to change anything you do and you may not need to adjust anything you are planning to preach. You just need to explain it.
Here are some examples.
- If you’re asking people to turn to a book of the Bible, give specific directions, and context. Don’t assume people know where Philippians is.
- If you’re observing the sacraments of Baptism or Communion, explain the meaning every single time. Don’t assume people know what it means or why it’s important.
- If you receive an offering, explain how to participate. It might sound silly, but this is one of the most important moments in your church service.
- If you’re making announcements, don’t toss around ministry names that won’t mean anything to a guest.
Carey Nieuwhof says one of the marks of a church service designed to reach the unchurched is the service already engages teenagers. He writes, “If teens find your main services (yes, the ones you run on Sunday mornings) boring, irrelevant, and disengaging, so will unchurched people.”
For more on this, read Nine Signs Your Church is Ready to Reached Unchurched People.
#5 – Equip your people to invite.
In a national survey conducted by author Thom Rainer and his staff, eight out of ten unchurched men and women said they would come to church—if only someone would invite them.
You probably know that personal invitations are the most effective way to reach new people. But how do you get your church to actually follow through with this?
Churches often do a great job encouraging their people to invite their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. But encouragement and equipping are two different things.
People don’t just need encouragement to invite, they need the tools. You need to do more than ask them to bring people to church, you need to give them resources that make it easy to follow through.
Some ways you can do this are:
- Print invite cards and place them at the doors.
- Write a Facebook post and send it to people with specific directions on when to post.
- Create sharable graphics for people to use on social media.
- Preach regularly on evangelism, inviting, and outreach, highlighting these specific tools in your messages.
Want to read more on this? Here are 19 ways to equip your church to invite.