The church pastor was flummoxed. He had no idea why his church wasn’t growing. He was doing lots of stuff right, but he just couldn’t get any traction. So he called me. After a lengthy conversation, I helped him identify five things he was spending a lot of his time on that weren’t growing his church.

Here’s the list he was guilty of… how many of these things are you killing your church growth opportunities on?

1. Creating a Guest-Friendly Bulletin

Bulletins don’t grow churches, no matter how guest friendly they are. Every week pastors of small (and even some in mid-sized churches) spend hours creating bulletins with the Lord’s Prayer, the Doxology, and all the particulars in it. Many include sermon notes and announcements written like little ads. There’s no question, they’re beautiful. But no matter how nice a bulletin is, it’s not going to grow your church.

Put an end to this nonsense by creating a basic bulletin that won’t change every week (Bulletin Boilerplate). Then get someone (not the pastor!) to keep the online church calendar up to date (if you use Google Calendars, that’s an easy task). Finally, print a master copy of the bulletin and have it copied every week by a volunteer. During worship, announce the hymns, the scripture reading, and the sermon title, and you’ll never have to deal with creating a bulletin again (except for Christmas Eve). Of course, you should hand the whole thing off to someone else – pastors have NO business in the bulletin-creation business, but that’s a story for another time.

2. Creating an Awesome PowerPoint Presentation

A great PowerPoint (or MediaShout, etc.) won’t grow your church either. I don’t care how many videos or images or special effects you add. In twenty-plus years of ministry and ten years of consulting, I’ve never one single time heard a returning guest say, “I loved the PowerPoint SO much, I just had to come back!” And yes, I know Seth Godin has some very pointed and valid things to say about PowerPoint presentations, but he’s not trying the grow a church. You are. (When you have a tech team, they can create screen presentations that wow people and would make Godin proud, but until then, let’s get the pastor doing things that grow churches). 

Another thing: If you’re doing screen technology then there’s no good reason to bother with a bulletin anyway. None. Zip. Nada. It’s an incredible waste of resources… and you could probably get by with a cheap-o copier (or none at all) if you quit printing one. Never mind the amount of time you or some secretary is spending. But I digress…

Almost the same rules apply for creating weekly screen presentations as for creating a boilerplate bulletin. Except this time, you have to add the hymns (unless you’re using a hymnal – then of course you still don’t need to… but then why bother with screen presentations at all?). To facilitate hymn insertion, follow these simple rules:

  • First, create a 20-song playlist. These are the 20 songs you’ll rotate through until your church has broken a hundred and you can hand off all this kind of work to someone else. (You can add Christmas and Easter songs later – they don’t count against the 20 song list). Make sure the songs are your congregation’s most favorite – that way the only ones complaining will be your classically trained organist or pianist. Remind them how much easier it will be to prepare from now on!
  • Second, create a separate file for each of the songs in the playlist. If you want to add some variety, go ahead and add all the verses (you don’t actually have to sing all the verses every time – pretty much the only ones who really care are the MDiv theologians and those same classically trained instrumentalists).
  • Then create your PowerPoint boilerplate. Use a standard theme with a black background with either white or yellow letters. Use at least a 30 point Arial font. If you want to get fancy, add an unchanging graphic for your prayer, communion, offering, and sermon slides. Be sure to include all the words of the Lord’s Prayer, Doxology, etc. Then save it.
  • Each week, import the song files into your presentation. Save it. Done.

And of course, hand this off to someone else as soon as you can – preferably the tech team you have standing around because you’ve invested all your newfound time in growing your church.

3. Staying Available by Keeping Office Hours

Your doctor requires an appointment. Your dentist requires an appointment. You attorney requires an appointment. Your mechanic requires an appointment. But the pastor? Apparently they’re the only professionals who are expected to sit in the office and be available to anyone who might perhaps drop in on a whim.

Here’s the deal, pastor. You can’t grow a church from your office. None of the unchurched non-believers in your community are lining up outside your office door just begging to hear the gospel. Jesus didn’t say, “Go ye therefore into your office and wait for someone to show up.” The only way you’re going to grow your church is to spend less time with the churched and more time (and if you’re like most pastors and church staffers, probably LOTS more time) with the unchurched. So tell your secretary where you’re going – or put a sticky note on your door – and go meet some folks. (see Strategies for Getting Out of Your Office.)

4. Mending Broken Hearts through Pastoral Counseling

It seems that for many (most?) pastors, nesting in their offices is their natural habitat. And doing pastoral counseling is one way to ensure you’ll rarely be able to leave the office. It is true, people carry so much loss and grief and depression and guilt and shame, and someone needs to have a listening ear and a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. But that someone was never meant to be you, pastor – unless you’re in the wrong calling.

In any event, providing pastoral counseling simply doesn’t grow churches. In fact, in those churches where the pastor is heavily involved in providing these services, the church is almost always in decline. If you want to reach people for Jesus Christ, refer, refer, refer. Build a relationship with a couple of local therapists and when someone needs to unload, help them into a counseling relationship with a professional. Then take those extra hours each week and spend time with those who have eternal issues they’ve yet to wrestle with.

5. Keeping the Church on Track by Attending Meetings

Some time ago, I read an article citing data from the Virginia Tech Crilion Research Institute that showed thatthose who regularly attend meetings lose IQ points. That’s at least one good reason to limit your meeting attendance. The second good reason is that most church meetings are totally pointless wastes of time – the reports could have been shared via email; the decision-making put in the hands of those best equipped to make the decisions; and plans made in more comfortable settings between the parties who are responsible. In fact, we regularly recommend that churches suspend all of their meetings for one year (amazingly the bills still get paid, worship still happens, Sunday school teachers still teach, and all your leaders suddenly have extra hours every week to invest in real, life-changing ministry). At the end of the year, it’s apparent which meetings need to be scheduled (like both of them) and which ones should never happen again. 

But pastors regularly tell us they need to be at all these time-wasting meetings because someone expects them to. Truth is, we suspect there’s another “someone” who rather expects pastors to get out there, make disciples, and grow their churches… and “But I had meetings to attend!” isn’t going to carry much weight on the final evaluation form.

Meetings don’t grow churches… in fact, some meetings do more to hinder church growth than to support it. So pastor, stop going. While at Colonial Hills, Bill Easum let it be known that he’d attend only one meeting a month. Seems like it didn’t hurt that church too much (it grew from 30-something to over 23oo-something). Those who have ears… or something like that.

Of course, just stopping these five things won’t grow your church. You’ll have to make an effort to actually do something such as be in the presence of unchurched folks, have conversations with them, build relationships with them, swap contact information, follow up, invite, etc. But the fact is, if you’re doing these five things, you won’t have much time to grow your church anyway… so stop!

Question: What other things are sucking your time from growing your church? Leave your responses in the Comments section below


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