I just returned from a training event for a church that’s dwindled down to less than fifty in worship and has less than a dozen committed leaders. They were pretty much in the desperate mode, which is never a good place to be. When they turned to 21st Century Strategies to help them find a way out of their dilemma, I arrived with a full afternoon’s schedule of conversations and training.

I led them through a series of questions to get the lay of the land and to discern where the real problem lay. I expected to find there was some underlying conflict that kept them from being effective. Failing that, I figured that the issue might be related to congregational esteem issues. But as the conversation progressed, it became clear there was no smoldering conflict and their esteem was better than that of most churches of their size… even fast-growing churches.

I was perplexed. I couldn’t see any good reason why this church was in such a state. They had so much going for them. They had a fine building. Their worship band included several professional musicians. The church building was in good repair, it was located on a busy street, and there were literally thousands of residences within shouting distance. They even had a steady supply of first-time visitors coming through their doors. And that last revelation gave me the clue to the problem. “Do they return?” I asked. They said they did, but after some uncomfortable squirming they admitted their guests drifted away within a couple of months almost every time.

It turned out the church leaders were too busy for their own good… or for the good of the church.

Integrating guests into the church is not a task that can be left to chance. We’ve been saying for decades that if a returning guest doesn’t make a primary connection or two (AKA a “friend”) within six months, it’s unlikely they’ll still become a lasting part of the congregation – they’ll slip away through the cracks.

And so I recommended that the church’s leadership set the example by “adopting” a guest or two, building relationships, and make some new friends. Their response? “We don’t have time for our own families… we can’t take on another thing.”

Here’s the reality. If the church’s leadership is so busy that they can’t befriend unchurched people, they cannot be faithful to the Great Commission. And if they can’t befriend a guest or two, they will never see sustainable growth.

Making new friends is a church value that can’t be neglected. If you and your leaders and members are too busy to make a new friend, then they’re too busy. Stop doing something… and start growing your church.

Question: Do you have time to befriend unchurched people? If not, what are some things you can cut from your schedule or delegate to another church leader? Share your experiences and thoughts in the Comments section below.