The secret to church growth is that there really isn’t any mystery to growing a church. The principles and practices for how to grow a church are the same ones that have been used since the beginning of the church. The problem isn’t so much about knowing how to grow churches as it is rolling up your sleeves and putting what you know into practice.
Over the past three decades, we’ve been saying the same basic things, though with an ever-changing culture comes changing verbiage and metaphors and stories. Below is a thumbnail sketch of what it will take to grow your church in today’s climate.
1. Build a spiritual foundation within your leaders. Church leaders must be spiritually grounded, filled with integrity, and committed to the Kingdom first; the well-being of the church second; the needs, desires, and preferences of other individuals and groups third; and their own needs, desires, and preferences dead last. In addition, they must have the utmost trust and respect of the other leaders and be willing to lay down their lives (and their personal preferences) for the good of the church – even when they disagree with the majority vote.
2. Identify, embrace, and implement your congregational DNA. It’s one thing to discover your mission, values, and vision. It’s another thing to align everything the church does around mission alignment and vision attainment. That means anything that isn’t moving the church forward specifically in its mission and its vision must be stopped or realigned.
3. Identify your church’s primary target and create indigenous events and worship for them. Contrary to popular opinion, the church does not exist for the sake of the membership. The church exists for those who are not yet Christians – those who “are not here yet.” A church can’t reach everybody and if it is to be faithful to the biblical practices, it must maintain its focus on its target. Jesus targeted the “lost sheep of Israel,” though he showed a modicum of welcome to those who were outside his target. Growing churches model that principle and related behaviors.
4. Offer great first-impression making hospitality and follow-up. When a visitor arrives the first time, the congregation is on trial. If the visitor feels welcome and the worship resonates with their soul, they are likely to return. If the church breaks one of the four Platinum Rules of Hospitality (Don’t Embarrass Me; Don’t Confuse Me; Don’t Ignore Me; Don’t Overwhelm Me) or if the worship doesn’t move, touch, and inspire the visitor, they’ll not return. And if you wait to follow-up until they’ve returned at least once, the odds of your visitors becoming returning guests who become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ (as well as a member) drop precipitously.
5. Increase your first-time visitor count. Don’t rally your Grow the Church tactics until everything above is in place. But once you’re ready for visitors, move heaven and earth to get more. In churches under 450, the #1 task of the pastor is to network with the unchurched and bring them through the front doors. But it takes more than just the pastor’s networking. Audience targeted events, attendance campaigns, servant evangelism, Word Of Mouth Marketing, and so on must be fully engaged. (And if #4 above isn’t firing on all cylinders, then all the work you do to get them there the first time is for naught.)
6. Members must connect with visitors and returning guests. That means every returning guest must have made a good friend in the church within approximately six months or else they’ll drift away. Churches that do this well, grow continuously. Churches that don’t make connections might as well install a revolving door that expels your visitors as quickly as they come in.
7. Discipleship happens. Note I said discipleship, not Christian Education. We don’t need more “we know our Bible well” kinds of Christians – we have plenty of those, and by and large they are the problem, not the solution (if they were the solution, our churches would be thriving today). On the other hand, we definitely need more “I behave like a disciple of Jesus Christ” kinds of Christians. People who engage scripture and prayer and service and encouragement and witness on their own outside of the church walls on a day-to-day, I just can’t help myself because that’s who I am basis. Disciples spend less time in the church building with the saints and spend more time as community missionaries with their unchurched neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends.
Sure, there’s more to a sustainable, growing church. You need effective staff, a policy-making board that does exactly zero management, financial foundations, etc., but all of that happens after the church has entered an ongoing growth streak (really – most of the details can wait until the church has passed 300 in worship). Engage the top seven principles and practices for growing your church and you’ll see the “fruit” that you’ve been waiting for.
What’s worked in your context to grow your church? Share your experiences in the Comments Section below.