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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Great info that i will utilize.
My husband and I have attended several churches in our new hometown where the preacher was doing all the “right” things you list. And we’ve never been so bored, so lost, so tired of standing and never felt so branded as outsiders as we did in each of these churches. We couldn’t sing the songs because only the lyrics were available–no music. In one location, when we were unable to sing along, our neighbors assumed we didn’t know the Lord and invited us to the altar. Yet there were no real prayers (according to the format Jesus taught) in the whole service– just swaying, sing-songy praise. No confession, no prayers for the sick, no acknowledgement of our need for God as He taught in the Lord’s Prayer. I finally asked the person who invited us to one of the services what attracted her to the church. Her reply, “It’s a real feel-good experience and it’s easy and very affirming.” I asked her what she had learned…and Reverend, you DON’T want to know the answe to that. And apparently she has never even been challenged to declare her commitment to Christ. All in all, we found our experiences at these large (and possibly growing) churches very ostracizing because we didn’t know the game–or the songs, for that matter. Incidentally, I don’t know a lot of church songs, but I read music and their assumption seemed to be that either you were “in” and knew the songs or you just didn’t belong. And we didn’t. At one church, there was darkness and smoke or fog during most of the service and my husband remarked that all that was lacking was the bartender!
Since less than 10 percent of the US population can read music, fewer and fewer churches are opting for hymnal only singing – even those churches that offer classic traditional services. Since you are clearly well-churched (at least you’ve been well-enculturated in the church) and appreciate a more traditional worship service, then of course you should seek a congregation where your heart resonates. The churches you visited were clearly not targeting you … they were targeting those who have little to no church experience, who have experienced the church and Christians as judgmental and intolerant and stuck in a distant past both in style and in content. In all likelihood, any one of the churches you visited have probably done more adult baptisms in the past year than the combined number of those in the city’s mainline churches. Style and even fog machines – or the lack thereof – don’t indicate effectiveness in disciple-making.
So yes, please seek out a church that targets those who resonate and authentically worship in a classic worship service – you’ll be both blessed and be a blessings there.
One note, though … the article doesn’t address any of the points you highlight. There is nothing there about style, music, lights, preaching style, etc. A pastor in a rock-solid traditional church could very well be implementing everything in the list and still lead a traditional worship service. Style and target aren’t addressed in this article … though I certainly address those things in other posts 🙂
good things to think about, but the key is to not go overboard with these things. Some meetings are important to produce common purpose and set goals. This is where members get to know each other. Each of the other categories is important also if done in reasonable amounts. Bottom line is outreach. You can’t win people to church if you never come in contact with those who are not in church. Pastors must address sermons to non-church persons instead of always preaching to”home folks”.
Of course there are meetings that do good and are necessary. The point is to eliminate anything that is non-productive. Unfortunately, that tends to mean the vast majority of church meetings.
Yes … get out of the building and make disciples. Thanks for you words.
I would like more information .I am very much a person with a ” traditionalistic comfort zone” that said I am open to “take a walk ” and learn the talk .!!!
There’s LOTS of info on this site about time management and priorities and meetings and the role of the pastor, etc. on this site as well as our sister site Church-Talk. I recommend doing a search for the info you’re interested in learning more about and asking specific questions as they arise in the comments sections. We’ll do what we can to make sure you get a helpful response.
[…] Over the weekend I came across this article on the Five Things You’re Doing That Won’t Grow Your Church. […]
[…] this article, “Five Things You’re Doing that Won’t Grow Your Church” from 21st Century Strategies, I found some key points which I had seen over the years that […]
Outreach. In the old days we called it canvassing. Personal invitations could make a difference.
The research says that upwards of 80 percent of unchurched America would attend church if invited by a close friend or family member. But in our experience and in interviews in churches across the nation those numbers appear to be hideously inflated.
On the flip side, very few come to church without being in a relationship with a churched person. Thus the numbers are bogus, but the practice is not. We do still need to be making personal invitations … and we know that if the pastor isn’t making them and bringing new people into the church on a personal one-on-one basis, the congregation’s invitation rate plummets to nearly nada. It turns out modeling is more important than talking and teaching. Who knew? 😉