It’s fall ministry launch season. Usually, this is an exciting time as people come back to church and all the different ministries lift off and get airborne.
I would imagine that many of you are feeling something else this season—a twinge of disappointment. Your church was growing and now it’s not. Something happened through COVID that we haven’t quite figured out, and many churches have plateaued or declined.
The question is: How do we get back to growing? I would like to suggest that it will come down to focus. What we choose to focus on over the next months could determine whether or not our churches begin to grow again. Here are 7 focus areas.
1. The Weekend Experience
In my opinion, the most important focus area for all of us is the weekend experience. From the parking lot to the sermon, what do people experience at your church? Is it engaging? Is it excellent? Are people connected to the sermon? Is your service so focused on your long-time attenders that new people feel like outsiders?
One idea here is to get outside perspective. Often, we get so used to what we do that we don’t have a clear understanding of how others experience it. What if you recruited a few “secret shoppers” to experience your worship service and give you feedback? What if you visited another church from your area and learned from what they are doing?
If you want to get back to growing, evaluate and then improve your weekend experience.
Typically, there are two ways to grow. There is transfer growth and there is new believer growth. Obviously, we want new believer growth, but that is going to require evangelism. If you want to get back to growing again, turn up the temperature of evangelism in your congregation. Let’s be real, this is not easy to do.
Here’s an idea to explore: Organic Outreach. In my experience, this organization is highly effective in helping churches become more effective at evangelism. If you want to get back to growing, focusing on evangelism will be an important step in the process.
3. Kids and Student
So many of the new people that show up at our church come through our ministries to kids and students. Here’s a story that is way too common. A young person grows up in the church, goes off to college, puts their faith on the shelf, eventually gets married and then has kids. Suddenly, this young person who isn’t so young anymore realizes, “I want my kids to grow up in the faith” and begins looking for a church that has a great kids ministry.
One of the most strategic investments you can make is your Next Gen ministry. It could be the most magnetic ministry in your church.
Where are you going? As a church, what’s the destination? What is the vision of a preferred future that you are painting as leadership? Here’s the bottom line: Churches that are growing are going somewhere. Vision captivates the imagination and drives engagement.
If you want to get back to growing, do the hard work of defining your vision. I’m not talking about what you do as a church—that’s your mission. I’m talking about where you are going, what you hope to accomplish in your unique setting. That’s your vision.
What do people experience when they come to your church for the first time? A few questions:
- Is parking easily accessible?
- Are people greeted warmly at the door?
- Is the signage clear?
- Is there good coffee?
- Do people smile and say hello in the atrium/lobby/foyer/narthex? (these words are so fun)
- Does someone guide them to a great seat in the auditorium?
- Is the language you use from the stage accessible to people who don’t speak “church”?
- Do the people on the stage welcome people and introduce themselves?
You get the idea. First impressions are HUGE. If your church isn’t growing, it may have something to do with what first time guests experience. All I’m saying is that hospitality matters.
If you want to make some headway in this area, I would suggest hiring a few people outside your church to give you a “secret shopper” experience. Their feedback may just help you see what you can’t see because of your familiarity with your church.
6. The Community
Most of the time, people who don’t go to church aren’t terribly interested in church. Duh, right? If we want to attract these people, we need to get outside the walls of our church.
It’s no secret that a huge part of the explosive growth in the early church was the way that Jesus-followers loved each other and served people in their communities. Perhaps one of the most strategic things you can do as a church to jumpstart growth is to invest in your community. Consider asking community leaders,
“How can we help?”
By serving the community in meaningful ways, you may just discover a renewed sense of purpose as a church as well as renewed interest in your church from people in the community.
One of the basic longings of the human heart is belonging. We all need a place where we are known and loved. Churches that offer a strong sense of belonging are magnetic. If you’re not growing, I would suggest investing in relationships.
The culture of the church flows out of the staff team. When’s the last time your staff team shared their stories with each other? When’s the last time your staff team hung out after work or grilled out at someone’s house? And what about the volunteer team or the team of elders and deacons?
The bottom line is this: When we love working and serving together, it is contagious. If we invest in relationships in our church, we might just become the kind of church where people experience a deep sense of belonging.
Something that might feel obvious: None of these areas of focus are overnight fixes for growth. Getting back to growing takes effort, focus and persistence over a period of time. It’s good and important work—eternally valuable work that we are called to pursue.
If you’re in a place where you aren’t growing, feel free to reach out with questions. Or perhaps you’ve rekindled growth in your church after a season of decline. We’d love to hear about what worked in your church. Feel free to share ideas in the comments below. Thanks for reading.