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10 Church Growth Strategies That Cost Zero Dollars

So you want your church to accomplish its mission and reach people.

But so often in church leadership, it’s easy to believe growth can’t really happen unless you spend money on some new initiatives.

And that leaves a lot of church leaders stuck. Why? Because the vast majority of churches are underfunded, not over-funded.

Faced with a lack of resources, too many church leaders throw in the towel and believe growth isn’t possible.

But that’s a fallacy.

Vision always precedes resources. If you’re waiting for people and money to show up so you can get on with your mission, you’ll wait forever.

So how do you start growing now, even with zero dollars?

Here are 10 ways.

church growth strategies

1. Exude more passion

It’s amazing to me how little passion many church leaders exude.

We have the most amazing mission on planet earth. And we have a generation of young adults in front of us who want to give their lives to a cause that’s bigger than themselves.

Yet it’s easy to believe that the only way to reach the next generation is by spending money on lights, gear and sound. As I outlined in this post, that’s just not true.

You don’t need a polished church to reach the next generation nearly as much as you need a passionate church. Because when it comes to reaching the next generation, passion beats polish.

2. Cut the weird

Christians can be socially weird.

Too often, we use unnecessarily weird language—like this:

“This is good coffee, brother.”

“Amen. Hallelujah.”

Why not just talk at church the way you talk at the office or at a football game or on a Saturday by the pool? (Actually, if you talk like that normally, you probably don’t get invited out too often.)

Here’s what’s actually at stake: if someone has to learn code to join your church, you likely won’t have many people joining your church.

Our challenge is to reduce the human barriers that keep people from Jesus, not to erect new ones.

And, no, being weird does not mean you’re being faithful. It just means you’re being weird.

3. Expand your vision

Vision is a leader’s best friend, and it’s free.

After two decades of leading and communicating in the local church, I am convinced it is impossible to overstate or overestimate the vision of the church.  As Bill Hybels has said, the local church really is the hope of the world.

If you don’t dream big dreams for your church, who will?

If you don’t communicate big vision for your church, who will?

4. Encourage people to fall in love with your mission, not your methods

The reason change is so difficult in many churches is because members fall in love with methods, not with mission.

A method is a way of doing things: programs the church runs, the style of music, the architecture of a building or facility, a staffing or governance model.

Those are all simply methods that can and should change with every generation or even more frequently.

The mission is what you’re doing (like reaching people with the love and hope of Jesus), and it never changes.

The more you focus on the mission, the easier it is to change the methods.

5. Smile more

I know ‘smile more’ sounds trivial. But just look around you. Hardly anyone smiles.

If the Gospel is good news, you would never know it from looking at many Christians.

I have to remind myself when I communicate to smile more. It’s not my natural facial expression.

A smile can make a huge difference in almost any relationship.

So smile more and remind your people to smile more. Honestly, this makes a huge difference in how people perceive you.

6. Stop fighting

I have no statistics on this, but my guess is in-fighting has killed more churches than moral failure has.

Christians, it’s hard to convince the world that God loves it when we constantly fight with each other.

If your church is fighting, there should be zero mystery as to why it isn’t growing.

7. Pay much better attention to first- time guests

I’ve never heard of a church whose members claimed they were unfriendly.

In fact, most church members are stumped as to why people don’t like their church because they’re so ‘friendly.’

But being a ‘friendly’ church can often mean you’re friendly to each other, not to guests.

Change that.

Make sure guests feel genuinely appreciated, welcomed and that their questions are answered. This does NOT mean making them stand up in the service or other socially awkward things like that (see point 2 above).

It does mean treating guests the way they want to be treated.

8. Treat your volunteers better

Many leaders fall into the trap of thinking that great leadership comes only when you can hire a great staff.

Nonsense.

You have a great team—they’re called your volunteers. And as I outlined in this post, you can pay your volunteers in non-financial currencies.

If you create a healthy volunteer culture, you’ll be amazed at how well your volunteers serve.

No matter how big you get as a church, you will never have enough money to hire all the staff you want. And you will always need a growing group of passionate, committed, aligned volunteers.

I write an entire chapter on creating a great volunteer culture in my book and video series, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

The bottom line? Passionate volunteers create a passionate church.

9. Invite someone

So there’s this thing out there called personally inviting a friend. Ever heard of it?

Okay, maybe that was a little sarcastic. But I am amazed by how often most of us neglect personally inviting our unchurched friends to church.

Many actually say yes when asked.

If everyone invited one person next weekend, think of what might happen.

Church leaders, encourage people to invite friends and start by inviting someone yourself.

10. Become friends with people who aren’t Christians

Last time I checked, friendship was free too. That’s a good thing.

The sad reality is the reason #9 is impossible for some people is because many Christians don’t actually know any non-Christians.

Change that.

Be a friend.

Hang out with that guy at work. Throw a party for the neighbours in your back yard. Talk to the other parents at your child’s school.

Get out of the Christian bubble and into the world Jesus died for.

If you’re at church 7 nights a week, you can’t be friends with non-Christians. So cut a few nights and go live the mission.

That’s why our church has almost no programming on weeknights other than small groups. We want our people to love the community.

The only way you can love a community is to actually be in the community.

You can’t love people you don’t know.

Want More?

Well, that’s a lot of free strategies there to use to grow your church and that’s exactly where you should start. You can accomplish so much if you just begin.

If you want to know how to raise more money for ministry (without a capital campaign), there’s also practical help. While we use all of the above strategies at Connexus Church, where I serve, we also have raised more money for ministry. The Rocket Company offers the exact process we used at Connexus to raise more money for your mission.

It’s called Thrive, and it will help your church raise money for ministry without a capital campaign. Using the approach outlined in Thrive has helped grow our giving by 90% over the last 5 years. You can get more information on Thrive or sign up here.

What Do You Think?

What have you done in your church that’s helped you reach more people?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

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  6. Michael from Church Fuel on June 1, 2017 at 6:05 am

    Churches can also reach out to people by PARTNERING with existing community events. In a lot of cases, cities put on great events supported by lots of dollars but could use volunteers. Churches, who may not have a lot of dollars, could send people to help. No need to bear all the weight of organizing an event…just make existing ones better.

    That’s one of the five strategies talked about in this post: https://churchfuel.com/five-church-growth-ideas-that-arent-expensive/ D

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  8. Rob Hammann on April 10, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    I can get on board with all of these. However, I find ‘Cut The Weird’ to be a bit weak. Who defines what is weird and what isn’t? I’m by no means an, ‘amen’ shouter. I occasionally might whisper a ‘yes’ under my breath. However, is this universally defined as socially weird? Is it vernacular that is unexpected or unusual? Maybe to some but not to others. I find myself using ‘brother’ to identify just about anyone I have a close bond with that is male. I hear this term used in non-religious settings often. So I guess I just would prefer a stronger case for what is defined as socially weird in order to get behind that one. Maybe snake charming/bites or something like would be more socially weird than an ‘amen’ or ‘brother.’ My church is as flawed as any. We need to get better at reaching the unchurched. All in all, this list has some great pointers.

  9. Steve Bedard on March 12, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Amen brother!

  10. Nina Schmidgall on September 17, 2016 at 6:22 am

    Great stuff Carey! The only one that I would add is to start serving your community. Find out what the community needs and start meeting it. People want to SEE the gospel.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 12, 2017 at 5:27 am

      Thank you Nina! So true…and you and your church embody it!

  11. Theresa Grimshaw on August 18, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Very good advice, but it won’t help our church. We do everything on the list. We are ministering to under privileged families in a town of 12,000. Plenty of churches to choose from, but only a few with strong biblical teaching — ours being one of them. There are only 10 active members and we can have as many as 25 children per week. At issue is that most Christians are nominal at best and enjoy attending church services to feel good. They may not realize it but that is the reality of the situation. We have invited people, been friendly, don’t fight amongst ourselves and are all giving financially, emotionally and physically and we still haven’t seen an increase in our attendance. We have only had a rotation in needy families. We know that all who have spent time with us have been blessed by our ministry and vice versa. We have given out Easter bags with invitations at the town egg hunt, given goody bags during our annual festival with invitations and even participated in the parades with floats. Everyone seems to want to feel good about themselves but they don’t really want to get their hands dirty actually ministering to others. We aren’t bitter, just frustrated. I have enjoyed your articles. Keep writing. It’s an encouragement. And if you have any ideas let us know.

    • Pastor JT on March 17, 2017 at 9:36 am

      I completely understand where you are coming from! I recently assumed the role as executive pastor at a church averaging about 30 on any given Sunday. I have gotten frustrated as well that it isn’t growing; however, I know the vision that God has given to me. And I know that it will happen in His time. Keep working hard!

  12. Jon Perrin on May 7, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Outstanding post! I wish more church leaders would think like this. Even changing a few of them could make a big difference!

  13. Jake on May 4, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    “If you’re at church 7 nights a week, you can’t be friends with non-Christians. So cut a few nights and go live the mission.” Amen. Hellelujah brother. 🙂

    • Tim Watts on March 12, 2017 at 4:58 am

      Don’t be weird too! 🙂

  14. Dave Becker on May 4, 2016 at 6:36 am

    I’ve recently taken the job of directing a Christian Camp and Residential/RV community. These 10 suggestions are very relevant for ministries like the one I lead. I see ways that I can incorporate each of these suggestions into this business/ministry and create an even more redemptive community. Thanks!

  15. Judi Williams Gibson on May 3, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Our church has four teams to actively engage neewcomers. It is generic and specific. Conversation, prayer, physical assistance, whatever, provided as needed. Each team gathers for a meal and fellowship after the service and newcomers are invited to join. The team operates once a month. That after church get together becomes a newcomers monthly small group. It is an opportunity to learn more about the church, grow in faith and service. The team members drop off a box of cookies to all newcomers during that week invites them back. Sometimes, the person invites team members in. Very low key, sincere, friendly. People are not looking for a friendly church. They are looking for a friend.

    I am new to my community. I just moved across the country. We are trying a new church every week. I wish one of them had something like this. I asked for suggestions on my neighborhood discussion board. The first one I responded to was the woman who offered to meet me at the church. I knew her name. She met me and she and her husband sat by us during the service. They introduced us to people after the service. I have no doubt there are friends for me there.

  16. Jim Duggan on May 3, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Thanks for the encouraging word, Carey. With all the church growth bells and whistles these days, one could wonder how the poor impoverished first century church survived, much less grew. There is not substitute for BEING the church.

  17. Ron Baker on May 2, 2016 at 7:34 am

    Love point two! We talk with our upfront people all the time about communicating as if your neighbor was in the room. Critical to creating an invite culture. Thanks again for pushing church leaders to think about these important topics.

  18. David Mike on May 2, 2016 at 6:49 am

    Wow! My church makes the list!

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