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church growth

Increasing Guest Attendance

Increasing Guest Attendance

In this day of struggling churches it makes sense to return to the basics regarding why people choose to attend a church. Along with this discussion it’s also important to consider why people stick after that first visit. Ultimately it does no good to attract 10 new guests each Sunday if 100% of those guests fail to return. Makes perfect sense doesn’t it?

A basic rule of church growth is “Increase the number of guests who show up on Sunday mornings”. Most churches have the capacity to increase their number of guests if they work at it. Obviously there are other entry points other than Sunday worship. Small groups, mission teams, special events are all examples. For the purposes of this article I want to concentrate on Sunday worship since the majority of people check out a church at prime time, namely Sunday morning.

It’s helpful to know what influences a person to attend church on a given Sunday. Gary McIntosh conducted a study using a survey administered to 1,100 church goers to gain helpful insights in this regard. In the study he distinguished guests by two categories: Christ-followers and Seekers. Christ-followers have crossed the line of faith and show up at church usually because they are looking for a new congregation. Seekers are people who have not yet given their allegiance to Jesus. They are at some point in a journey towards Him, from initial interest to seriously seeking Christ.

Surprisingly McIntosh discovered that by far the most influential people for encouraging Seekers to check out your church are “Merchants” (41%). Merchants are people who interact with the public: hairstylists, fast food workers, bank tellers, realtors, car salespeople, etc. These are people who know about your congregation and its good reputation in the community.  That is, if your church has some positive name recognition these merchants will drop its name when the subject comes up. These merchants may include your own church members. They have great connectional influence. They will take the initiative to point people to your church, especially if they are deeply involved and love your congregation and its ministries.

The second most influential person for encouraging a Seeker to attend is a “Family Member” (17%), the third most influential is “No One” (17%), in fourth place a “Friend” (11%), in fifth place a “Neighbor” (4%) and finally a “Coworker” (3%). Based on my experience these stats ring true. In my last church a hairstylist was a champion at inviting Seekers to our church. She interacted with all kinds of people all day long and held nothing back when encouraging people to visit our church.

Based on this insight I would recommend that you pull together from among the congregation your most extroverted, winsome and respected merchants for a quick pow-pow. Encourage them to be intentional about their inviting habits. Support them in prayer. Provide them with calling cards to give to clients that includes basic church info: church name, address, worship schedule, mission statement and web address. Ask them for helpful feedback about the experiences their guests share with them after they visit. Use this information to improve your welcoming and assimilation system.

Additionally, it is important that your church raise its profile in your immediate community. One of the best ways to do this is to engage in several externally focused ministries.* These will improve your church’s name recognition, although this is never the primary motivation for doing such ministries. Consider leading your church in a steady emphasis on good neighboring so that more people will be aware of your church and its Christ-like love for everyday people.** Additionally, every pastor would be wise to make it a regular to meet local merchants.

The stats change dramatically when we examine who influences Believers to attend a church. “Merchants” have little influence (1%). Rather,  “Family Members” have the most influence at 30%. These are followed by “No One” (25%), “Friend” (22%), “Coworker” (3%) and “Neighbor” (2%). The most influential Family Members are Parents and Spouses.

The surprise in this study is the large percentage of Believers who show up at church with no previous connection to the church—the “No One” in the study at 25%. Most likely this is due to the rise of Social Media and the Web. An increasingly large number of people hear about a church, check it out online and then attend based on positive impressions from their Internet experience. In today’s world the first visit that most people will make to your church is through your web site. This is especially true for people under 40. Without a strong web presence your church will be virtually unknown. Therefore, it’s important to do a first rate job presenting your church through your web page and your Facebook page.

One of the more surprising insights based on this survey is the importance of theology. Even for Seekers, theology was important to 50% of those checking out a church. For Believers the percentage rose to over 90%. Guests want to know that your church has rock-solid beliefs. One Mission Northwest pastor asked an unbeliever with a critical eye to critique their church’s web site. Her response was intriguing. She said that there wasn’t enough emphasis on God! Her point was that people expect churches to have strong convictions about their beliefs. For these to be missing on a church’s web page is off-putting. McIntosh’s research affirms this to be true.

It’s no surprise that “Friendliness” also ranked high with Seekers at 72% and for Believers at 80%. Warmth and genuine interest in newcomers is highly important. But, the most important question in the mind of a guest is, “Can I make genuine friends here?” If there is a sense that all groups are closed, and there is no obvious onramp for making friends, then guests will move on to another church.

One additional factor is the critical part that the pastor’s preaching played in a guest coming to church. Believers ranked preaching at 90% in importance. Seekers ranked preaching at 75%. This is huge! Responders placed great value on preaching that applied to their lives, the authenticity of the pastor, and the pastor’s convictions. Preaching was more important to guests than worship style, the church’s location, and a variety of other factors such as programs. Least important was a church’s name. This is a clarion call to all pastors to continuously hone one’s preaching skills.

With this information in hand, every church can increase the number of guests who show up each Sunday. In my next article, I will share ideas for retaining guests.

 

*resources: The Externally Focused Church by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson; The Externally Focused Quest by Rick Rusaw & Eric Swanson

**resources: The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon; The Neighboring Church by Rick Rusaw & Brian Mavis

Should We Pray for Growth?

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Should We Pray for Growth?

Charles Revis, Executive Minister

When a church tracks its attendance and finances it may become alarmed to find that decline has set in and major difficulties will be coming down the road. Such awareness may awaken a desire for renewed growth. There may even be a willingness to explore new ministries, launch a different worship service or increase outreach activities in an effort to stop the decline and jumpstart some growth.

I'm all for careful planning that leads to new ministry initiatives, especially if these are motivated by a heartfelt concern for the unchurched. However, I'm leery of new ministry programs that are motivated by church survival. These tend to have a short lifespan and do little to renew growth.

For me church growth is first about effectively implementing the Great Commission within a congregation's immediate ministry reach. Sustainable growth is usually the result of the church's intentional, steady efforts to make new and better disciples who in turn make new and better disciples. With this perspective in mind church growth is not about embracing the latest music style or hip program to attract a larger crowd on Sunday mornings. 

The power for true, lasting disciple-making growth is first and foremost spiritual.

One overlooked key to effective church growth is the role of prayer. We tend to look first to techniques, programs and quick fixes when desiring growth. By contrast real growth is first and lastly a spiritual enterprise empowered by the Living Christ. If one can grow a church without the power of Christ then that growth will prove to be shallow, unsustainable and ultimately yields no disciples. It may produce a crowd of religious spectators but that's not real church growth. The power for true, lasting disciple-making growth is first and foremost spiritual. And, only the Holy Spirit can provide such power.

This is why prayer for growth is so critical. There is such a thing as a real, humble desire for renewed growth in the church. It is motivated by a longing to see people far from God enter into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. When the church prays for growth along these lines I believe that the church is praying in a way that is line with God's will for His church.

Jesus said, "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete." (John 16:24) The Apostle John wrote, "If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." (1 John 5:14-15) Since it is God's will for His Son to build the church we can pray for the church to grow and at the same time be confident that we are praying in accordance with the will of God. Paul reflects this, "God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of truth." (1 Timothy 2:4)

If you want your church to grow I suggest you start with prayer! I'm talking about specific prayers that are focused on seeing people far from God come into a faith relationship with Jesus through your church's evangelistic and outreach efforts. Renew the church's prayers for the lost and there will be a corresponding effectiveness in ministry. Consider this simple outline for praying for growth today:

  • Start with the church leaders praying together for growth at every official board meeting. This shouldn’t be perfunctory but a real yearning for renewed congregational effectiveness in reaching the lost.
  • Confess any and all wrong motives for growth such as survival, achieving financial solvency, or attracting a few young adults to shoulder some of the load. 
  • Pray against the strongholds that close hearts to Christ: obsessive love of material possessions; over-scheduled lives; spiritual coldness; bitterness; intellectual suspicion of Christianity; addictions of various kinds; poverty; racism; etc.
  • Pray for specific people by name starting with family members, coworkers, neighbors and guests who drop in to church. OIKOS is a good approach for doing this in a systematic and church-wide way.
  • Form an intercessory prayer team that meets on a regular basis. In addition to praying for the various needs of the congregation and community the team should pray strategically as described in this list. They should meet early before the worship service(s) and pray through the sanctuary.
  • Conduct prayer walks through the neighborhoods that surround the church.
  • Be prepared to respond to "out of the box" opportunities for ministry that suddenly pop up as a result of praying for growth.
  • A few years ago I heard a church planting coach teach on prayer and starting churches. He told the story of a woman in a house just a few streets over from a new church plant who was standing at her sink washing the dinner dishes when suddenly she had a strong urge to attend church. She was not a regular church attender, but was so compelled by the feeling that she walked into the new church that Sunday and eventually gave her life to Christ. She later discovered that the church's prayer team had walked her street praying for the unchurched that very day. This is a true story!

I encourage you to start praying for growth and look for God to do some really amazing things in your congregation as He empowers renewed congregational vitality and strength.

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Church Growth Matters

Dr. Charles Revis, Executive Minister, ABC of the Northwest

I believe that Jesus wants his Body, the Church, to be healthy and strong. Not in a self-aggrandizing way. Not in a prideful, self-congratulatory way. Rather Jesus wants his church to be healthy and strong so that it is effective in making committed followers of Jesus out of common, everyday pagans. As this goal becomes it’s number one priority the church will grow—it’s a normative corollary to health. Sick churches do not grow, except in some rare circumstances. Healthy churches grow, almost without exception. (Some of the exceptions would be a declining community, or a church in the midst of a turn around.) Growth, as it is for any living organism, is integral to health, and it is Jesus’ plan for his church.

Unfortunately, the short-comings of the church growth movement have caused some to dismiss growth all together. No doubt there were many failings associated with the church growth movement, not the least of which was too much emphasis on human-centered techniques for gathering a crowd and labeling that growth. However, the corrective for dealing with these failings is not to discount the importance of growth, or entirely dismiss it. Growth matters. We would be wise to pay attention to it.

As I’ve conducted church assessments it has become all too apparent that many churches are oblivious to their growth trends. In one instance when asked about average worship numbers one pastor reported an average worship count one hundred above what the actual numbers revealed. In reality his church had been in steady decline for seven years and he seemed oblivious to it. In some instances churches have stopped counting baptisms and conversions. Usually this is a way to ignore current reality.

In fact, as I have observed unhealthy churches I am always surprised by how little they are concerned with growth. This tendency is motivated in part by denial. Perhaps if the decline is ignored maybe it will self-correct, they reason. Or, excuses are offered for the decline: Our community is not growing; some of our best people have moved away; the new mega-church has taken away many of our members; our building is in a poor location; we don’t cater to the masses. And, here is the worst one: We concentrate on quality not quantity.

I know that whenever there is a discussion about church growth someone will always argue against actual numerical growth. I would be the first to affirm that we should be concerned about more than mere attendance expansion on a Sunday morning. In most cases growth is multi-varied—growth in one area leads to growth in another. I affirm the assertion of Dr. John Vaughan who has identified four areas of growth as imperative:

  • Internal growth (nurture growth)
  • Expansion growth (growing larger through evangelism)
  • Extension growth (growing through the birthing, maturing, and multiplication of multitudes of new congregations of born-again believers committed to reproducing healthy, God-honoring, New Testament churches among all peoples in this and every generation)
  • Bridging growth (growing through cross-cultural birthing, maturing and multiplication of new congregations of born-again believers committed to reproducing healthy, God-honoring, New Testament churches among all peoples in this and every generation)

Having identified these various dimensions of growth I contend that expansion growth is paramount. We need to pay attention to it. We need to strive for it. I offer two biblical reasons for this affirmation. First, Jesus promised that he would build his church and the gates of hell would not be able to destroy his church building project. (Matt 16:18) Jesus continues to make good on his promise. The world-wide church is larger today than at any other time in history. In third worlds countries the church is expanding at an unprecedented rate. It is reported that the largest churches in the world are organized networks of house churches with the largest of them reporting over 400k (in China, Vietnam, and northern India). The next largest churches, some are over 250K, now exist in Korea, Ivory Coast, Chile and Columbia. The Christian church continues to expand at a mind-boggling pace in places other than the U.S.A. If Jesus is growing his church in such an unprecedented way why should we not join him in what he is doing?

Second, Jesus’ final marching orders to His followers were to go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20). As long as there are people in the world who are not yet disciples there is work to be done. When God grants us success at that work it means more will be added to the numbers that comprise the church (Acts 2:47). Growth is the result of focused efforts in evangelism and discipleship.

Actually, there is a third reason I believe in the growth of the church. This reason is less obvious, yet no less important or biblical. If I am growing in my love for Jesus I will be growing in appreciation for all the treasures that are mine in Christ (Eph 1:3, 18-19; 3:18-19). The more I grow to appreciate these the more I will desire that others possess them as well. When God’s people are in love with Jesus, that love will compel us to work that much harder to share Jesus’ love with others. This results in new disciples, which in turn translates into growth of the church.

This point reminds me of the story of Billy Payne, who brought the 1996 Olympics to his hometown, Atlanta. Without his vision and hard work the Olympics would have been held elsewhere. He explained why he took on such a difficult task: “Few, if any of us on the Olympic effort would have referred to what we were doing as our job. It was the reason we were put on this earth. Life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who bring joy to the lives of others.” There is no greater way to bring joy to another life than to share the grace and love of Jesus Christ with them. What a wonderful motivation for introducing friends to Jesus Christ!

The start of a New Year is a good time to assess your church’s growth patterns. Bill Hoyt’s book, Effectiveness by the Numbers, is an excellent resource for helping you count more than bodies and dollars. At a minimum, track attendance, guests and baptisms for the last seven years. If you discover that your church is suffering from
steady decline it is imperative that you lead the congregation to face the truth and rectify the situation. You and your leadership folks may be tempted to panic or become anxious over the situation. Resist these natural tendencies and in their place embrace spiritual initiatives (Phil 4:6). Call for a church-wide emphasis on prayer, fasting, forgiveness and reconciliation. Most declining churches need to confess disobedience to the Great Commission. They have been more intent on serving themselves than people far from God. Turning around a declining church is daunting work but not impossible with renewed conviction that the church’s mission is to reach the world for Jesus Christ, one person at a time. When the church gets down to the fundamental reason it exists and focuses on that with renewed energy I believe God will pour out his blessings, and the church will start growing again. And all to the glory of God.

Originally published January 2008 © Dr. Charles Revis, ABC Northwest