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7 Ways To Grow Church Attendance By Increasing Engagement

In an era of declining church attendance, how do you grow your church and advance your mission?

Well, one key is this: you turn ordinary attendees into passionate champions of the mission. Not convinced? I outlined 5 reasons why engagement will drive almost all future church growth in this post.

For too long, too many North American Christians have thought that sitting passively in the back row to get fed is what’s required of them, or that the main goal of finding a church is to attend one you ‘like.’

The goal of any Christian should never be to find a church you like and sit in the back row. The goal should be to fully engage the mission.

Again and again, it’s engaged Christians who advance the mission.

Engaged people are passionate people. They know what the mission is. They serve in it. They live it out.

They’re passionate enough about it to invite their friends.

Over the long-term in a church, you can accomplish more with 300 engaged Christians than with 3000 disengaged attendees.

The disengaged group will dwindle. The 300 engaged Christians will advance the mission and never stay the same.

Yes, only God can bring growth. But he uses people who are engaged to do it.

So if you were going to drive engagement at your church, how would you do it?

Here are 7 ways.


1. Challenge people to serve

People who serve in the mission are people who are engaged in the mission.

I know this is near heresy in some circles, but encouraging people to volunteer may be more important than encouraging them to join a group.

At Connexus, where I serve, we’re finding that our healthiest people are not those who are in groups: they’re those who serve. People who serve (as a rule) get the mission. They’re on a mission. And they love the mission.

Our goal is to get everyone into a group, but only doing group can lead can feed into a self-centred agenda in the same way as sitting in the back row and not engaging the mission is a bit of a selfish approach to church for a long term Christian.

Groups can be about you, whereas serving is almost never about you.

I still think everyone should be in a group, but if a group is all you do as a Christian, it can feed into the consumer frenzy that is North American culture.

If you need to improve your volunteer culture, I outlined 7 questions volunteers ask but never say out loud in this post. I also devoted an entire chapter to creating a healthy volunteer culture in my latest book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow. I teach this material in depth (and much, much more) in my Church Growth Master Class, as well.

2. Provide a clear path toward involvement

The challenge for many people who participate in a congregation is that they don’t know what to do to get involved.

Church websites can be fuzzy about next steps. So can church leaders.

Often during services we list 12 things people can do to get more engaged in their faith and in the mission.

Faced with too many choices, most people choose nothing.

The clearer and simpler the path is toward in engagement, the more people will travel it.

At Connexus Church, where I serve, we reorganized our lobby a few years ago, ditching the ‘Welcome Desk” for two simple kiosks.

Now, we have a “New Here” kiosk for new guests. And we have a “Next Steps” kiosk with trained guest services people who act a bit like concierges who can help people discover which next step is best for them (baptism v. serving v. joining a group v. Starting Point etc.)

At every level, we try to take the confusion away and simply help people engage.

We also try to make our language from the front clear and direct.

3. Focus all programs around your mission

Years ago, we dumped a program-based model of church (if you can dream it, we’ll do it) for a much simpler model.


In part, we moved to a simpler model because when you give people too many choices, people choose nothing.

But we also changed it because we realized that what people are involved in becomes the mission.

So if you have lots of off-mission programs (like the Quilting Club or the Men Who Eat Bear Meat Fellowship), you will have a hard time focusing people on what you really want them to do.

They’re passionate about their ministries, but not the ministry.

And that’s the problem. Too many Christians get passionate about their mission, not THE mission.

If you want people to be passionate about the central mission of your church, only do programming that directly advances the central mission.

When you say ‘no’ to a hundred other missions, you say ‘yes’ to the most important mission.

4. Make it uncomfortable to stay disengaged

People eventually conform to expectations.

Tell a child he’ll never amount to anything, and he’ll likely give up on the dream of college. Tell a child she can persevere and accomplish the tasks ahead of her, and she likely will.

People both rise and descend to our level of expectations.

The same is true of congregations.

When you don’t expect people to do more than to attend your church, don’t be surprised if all they do is attend your church.

Craft a culture through your words, calls to action on a Sunday, and in all your communications where you expect people to serve, join a group, bring a friend and give generously.

5. Preach action, not knowledge

Preachers have this incredible 20-40 minute window with which to speak into people’s lives every week.

You can use it to give people information or you can use it to call people to action.

The second is far better.

Not that you need to hammer people every week. But with your words you can make it clear that the goal of the Christian faith is not to know something, but to do something with what you know.

If you continue to talk about how to get involved and join the mission, providing clear action steps and opportunities to do so, eventually more people will engage. If you don’t, they won’t.

So do it.

6. Try using active language

We’ve had a simple model of church at Connexus since we started, but right now we’re changing the language of engagement from more passive language to active language.

Here’s the background.

For years, we’ve used these four single words to explain our simple model of ministry and call people to action:

Connect (for groups)

Serve (to volunteers)

Invite (to invite a friend)

Give (to donate)

Next month, we unveil new language to convey the same steps.

We’ve added a fifth step because we’re seeing so many unchurched people, and we’re moving to more active language designed to drive action and engagement:

Become a Christian (new)

Join the Mission (was “Serve”)

Bring a Friend (was “Invite”)

Choose Community (was “Connect”)

Give Generously (was “Give”)

The idea is that these phrases roll off the tongue more naturally and paint a clearer outcome toward deeper engagement with the mission than the old language did.

We imagine a day when hundreds more people become Christians, join the mission, bring friends, choose community and give generously.

That kind of action changes cities.

Whatever language you use, make sure it conveys the outcome you long for.

7. Reward Progress

However you define increased engagement, reward it whenever you see it.

How can you do this?

a. Celebrate it publicly

Sometimes church leaders are great at asking but not at reporting back afterward.

If you ask for volunteers and you get 75 new ones, make a point a point of celebrating it the next weekend. Tell some stories. Shoot some video. Thank people.

Ditto when people give generously, or bring a friend, or when 100 new people join community group.

Pretend it’s baptism Sunday…and celebrate.

b. Affirm it privately

When you see someone jump in, thank them. Mention it when you talk to them in the foyer.

Thank them in the next email you send them.

Write them a hand written thank you card.

c. Celebrate with your key leaders

Senior leaders can easily fall into the trap of rewarding attendance, not engagement.

To increase engagement, start celebrating how many people signed up rather than how many people showed up.

When you talk about steps and celebrate when people take them, great things happen in your organization.

Staff and key volunteers need to know when they’re winning. Help them see it.

Signing up is better than showing up.

Remember, as a leader, what you celebrate matters.

As Andy Stanley has said so many times, what you celebrate gets repeated.

How Do You Drive Engagement?

Those are my current thoughts on helping churches drive engagement.

If you want more, I wrote a series of posts on attendance v. engagement that you can access for free below.

I also outlined much of the strategy in my new book, Lasting Impact, designed for discussion you can have with your staff and elder board. You can download a free chapter here or get a deal on bulk orders here. If you’re looking to walk through this material and dive much deeper into conversation, check out my Church Growth Masterclass, open now.

Here are some blog posts and Leadership Podcast episodes for additional reading, listening and context:

5 Reasons Engagement Will Drive Almost All Future Church Growth

10 Reasons Even Committed Christians Are Attending Church Less Often

CNLP Episode 23: Why People Are Attending Church Less Often—An Interview with Will Mancini.

5 Ways to Embrace Infrequent Church Attendees

10 Predictions About the Future Church And Shifting Attendance Patterns

CNLP Episode 24: Churchless: Why and How America is Learning to Live Without The Church—An Interview with David Kinnaman

3 Things That Are Sabotaging The Church’s Future

How do you drive engagement? Scroll down and leave a comment


  1. Pastor Tamas Sousou on October 22, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    I love the message that you share it might help for the growth of my ministry God bless

  2. Sam on September 9, 2019 at 11:17 am

    Good day,

    Am experiencing church growth now… Kindly help me with things to do to retain church members. That is, CHURCH MEMBERSHIP GROWTH SUSTAINABILITY

  3. Lee E on September 4, 2019 at 10:03 pm

    This Is a good post and a great read. Thank you for writing this article. It has helped us a lot.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 5, 2019 at 3:08 pm

      Glad to help!

  4. Luke on July 16, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    Thanks for the article , has helped me a lot

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 17, 2019 at 4:15 pm

      Glad to help!

    • Emmanuel Chipulu on July 20, 2019 at 9:43 am

      I have been helped in my studies, may God richly bless you and continue to use you. Amen

    • Ellen Noi on July 24, 2019 at 7:49 pm

      Thanks so much I learn a lot from this

  5. Musa on May 15, 2019 at 10:19 am

    This is really great. I love it, and I pray that more of God’s grace on you in Jesus Christ name Amen

  6. Herbert Tusiime on April 23, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks for great work. I also want to grow my church . I need your help and guidance

  7. AJDiMaio on January 29, 2019 at 4:57 pm

    Forgive me Carey, but this article hit me hard. It is more Carnival Barker strategies being barked from the pulpit. If what is happening is not reaching people where they are, you will be forcing them to do things, and what is not necessary is more stuff to do.

  8. ogunkunle abiodun Stephen on January 9, 2019 at 10:24 am

    Thank you, God will increase your wisdom and foresight. These are practical ways to move the people of God.

  9. Jo Anne Taylor on December 19, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    Usually, it irritates me when you post old content. This time, the hair is rising on the back of my neck. I’ve been praying for God to show me “the next step” in leading my church, and the past few weeks, the message has been coming through loud and clear: get people engaged. My first preaching series in the new year is going to be all about engaging in the coming year – with God, with each other, with the community. Thanks for some sermon fodder!

    • Francis Barasa on February 18, 2019 at 4:37 am

      I need to hear more from you. I am a pastor From Kenya

    • delores matthews on October 28, 2019 at 10:06 am

      I enjoy reading the information provided for church growth. Thank you so very very much. I will try using these methods.

  10. Gilbert on December 13, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    Thanks a lot for the topic it will be helpful to my local church.

  11. David Finley on December 12, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    This is a great list, but I’m tired of “7 ways to do this” or “10 ways to do that”. You’ve described 7 ways to get people engaged with the mission. Have you written anything about what that mission should be?

    • Christina on January 9, 2019 at 9:11 am

      I would start with Matthew 28:19-20, as it was Jesus’ charge to His disciples before He left. Pray on it, discuss with any leaders in your church, etc. But I believe the Great Commission to be the central mission of the Church (the collective body of Christ) in general.

  12. Apostle Amos Abaasa on December 6, 2018 at 4:24 am

    My name is Apostle Amos Abaasa leading Biblical Truth Ministries ,What can we do to motivate the leaders in church?

    • Dale Carter Sr. on November 2, 2019 at 2:47 pm

      That is my Question.

  13. on December 1, 2018 at 11:17 pm

    Have you ever considered writing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites?

    I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would really
    like to have you share some stories/information. I know my readers would
    enjoy your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free
    to shoot me an e mail.

    • Tamas Sousou on October 22, 2019 at 2:11 pm

      I learned some lessons from this post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the church growth God bless

  14. Paul Tumwebaze on October 31, 2018 at 12:23 am

    I have been so blessed by the approach and in my church I act in office of the administration, I really need someone willing to extend a hand so that we can move this agenda.
    I have for the past been listening to some preachers say about how the church is weakening but I had not experienced it. So I need a team we can invite you to our church so that we practically exercise these strategies.
    Thank you and God bless you

  15. Noah Mitchell on August 21, 2018 at 4:56 am

    Super helpful post! Really loved the bit about expecting people to engage. In our church, no one really expects much of anyone, so I feel it’s a long road ahead!

  16. Greg Yount on July 30, 2018 at 11:07 am

    Great article! This puts into laser focus the practicality needed in our church. I only hope that I’m not too late to implement this here. All the other work I’ve done (mission, vision, organization, planning, etc.) now comes down to this. Now, I pray the Lord will help me to do this here.

  17. […] Want to get people more engaged? Here are 7 ways to grow church attendance by increasing engagement. […]

  18. Paul Daramola on July 17, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    Great article, indeed; and of course, well delivered! My Question is, “But how can you (or we) engage people in the Church just to get them along without solid clarification on how ‘to get them saved first’ before engaging them in the Church?” I am sure, God is not author of confusion!!!

  19. Tim Miller on July 17, 2018 at 10:09 am

    Just an observation on point 6 (Active Language) from an old English teacher. You’re replacing passive verbs that are actually more recent in the English language with older, bolder verbs.

    “Become,” “bring,” “choose,” and “give” all came from the old Anglo-Saxon parts of the English language. They’re plain, strong words. This is a great technique espoused by Winston Churchill, prime minister of England during WWII.

    You’re in good company!

  20. […] action, and rewarding progress (Carey describes these engagement tactics in greater detail here). A simple way to mobilize your current members? Equip them with tools that make it easier to […]

  21. Pastor Solomon Daboh on May 31, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    Hi, thanks very much for providing such powerful teaching.
    God bless you and your ministry

  22. Maina David on May 24, 2018 at 7:42 am

    I am so greatful to be here, it has bored my ministry for awhile now looking around for solutions. Hope you will always keep in touch in with me.

  23. […] The goal of any Christian should never be to find a church you like and sit in the back row. […]

  24. […] 7 Ways To Grow Church Attendance By Increasing Engagement […]

  25. Eli Mirasol on April 13, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    I learned a lot of new revelations here. Thank you sharing these. Keep on inspiring and encouraging churches all over the world. Shalom!

  26. […] sure by the grace of God, but also after almost five years of focusing on increasing engagement in these seven ways. I also outlined why we made the shift and many people have made the shift in my book, Lasting […]

  27. Pastor ebuka baron on March 31, 2018 at 5:44 am

    A wonderful piece of great wisdom.
    Thank you.

  28. […] The growth in the number of new unchurched people has come for sure by the grace of God, but also after almost five years of focusing on increasing engagement in these 7 ways. […]

    • Pr. gIFT on March 20, 2018 at 10:46 pm

      Great wisdom. I pray that i put this in action

  29. Emwinghare Love on March 6, 2018 at 4:15 am

    Thanks for this article. God bless you greatly

  30. Emwinghare Love on March 6, 2018 at 4:13 am

    Great article. I enjoyed and appreciate it. God bless you

  31. […] If you want more on how to engage the people you have in the mission, here are 7 ways to do it. […]

    • The Creator's Word Church on February 13, 2018 at 9:55 pm

      I’m so excited about this and blessed IJN. I know GOD will change everything about the church and the people who are in Liberia through your program, “7 Ways To Grow Church”…

  32. Rabin Coleman on January 26, 2018 at 9:55 am

    Great article.. Leadership needs to be present throughout the organization.
    Growing the organization must be a commitment , not just a idea or wish.

    • Pr. GIFT on March 20, 2018 at 10:47 pm

      Yes Leadership is important. I will do this to keep the church growing

  33. […] 7 Ways to Grow Church Attendance by Increasing Engagement – Carey Nieuwhof – There is so much wisdom here, not just about church attendance but about how to get folks engaged. With the tension of disengagement and productivity in the workplace, Nieuwhof gives sound counsel on how we can demonstrate valuing and increase engagement. […]

  34. Ed on November 25, 2017 at 8:25 am

    Where is at least one quote from God’s Word (The Bible) to support any of your points on this topic? Aren’t you feeding people what “man” teaches, and not what God teaches? No wonder so much glory goes to “man” and none to God in all the so called great things we see done today in the name of Church, Christian Ministries, and Christianity.

  35. Ed on November 25, 2017 at 8:12 am

    So many points and strategies on how to get people churched, and none on meeting the most important needs of humanity, the one for which Jesus came and died (Salvation of sinners). No wonder most of the big and so called growing churches are spiritually dead and void of genuine Biblical teachings and conduct.

  36. […] I outlined here, wise leaders have stopped trying to attract people and started trying […]

  37. Ralph Mattey on October 12, 2017 at 7:02 pm


    • James omoduku on October 19, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      Keep telling others about Christ and make sure that have notting to do wit fornication.

      God bless you and remain blessed. Amen

  38. Pastor Joseph Coffie on September 13, 2017 at 7:19 am

    I want a Christian group either by WhatsApp or any form of social media that will help me to increase and also help in reaching the lost sheep. You can contact me on +233245062147

  39. Rev. Deborah Akogwu on August 22, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    Your article is inspirational. I like it

  40. […] these small points in mind, there is no way you will not be able to increase iyour congregation with a religious […]

  41. Kathy Pearse on July 27, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    Have there been any changes to the CCD Program.? I’d like to see Joseph continue classes anD make his Confirmation. There are 2 things I have always been interested in doing at/for the church. One thing is to form a group and make quilts for each infant Baptised at our Church. I look at this as a welcome to the Church Family. The other interest that I have is the St. Vincent Society. I’d like to be able to cook a meal for emergency situations as they occur. Karl please let me know about classes for Joseph. Thank you.

  42. […] Growing Weekly Worship attendance […]

  43. […] are 7 ways to get people more engaged in the mission of your church, so they make the move from merely attending church to being the […]

  44. Pst Israel on July 9, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    I thank God for this teaching. God bless you

  45. Boniface momanyi. on July 4, 2017 at 12:49 am

    God ayoung man and I believe my pastor Will be edified.

  46. Dean Ralls on June 3, 2017 at 7:44 am

    I would love to see more detailed information about your kiosk desks (new hear and next steps). Can you provide more details. Great idea.

  47. Nate Gustafson on March 21, 2017 at 7:41 am

    I love the emphasis upon engaging with the mission more than a “show” that takes place when you arrive at church. It’s challenging to consider because I feel our little church has not realized that we need a clear path and clear mission to move forward.

  48. James Martin on January 9, 2017 at 11:54 am

    This is a great post. I’m confused on the 7C headline. How is signing up better than showing up? I feel like that is the opposite of the point of the article which is to get people engaged.

    • Johann W on April 8, 2017 at 10:23 pm

      I was as well. Then I realized by signing up he means those who commit to contributing in service, they didn’t just show up but they moved on to actually saying “this is what I’m committing to do from here on”

  49. David Watson on June 20, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    I am a revitalization pastor. My congregation consists of an older group that has been a part of it since the late 1960’s and a newer younger group that we have appealed to with our vision of reaching and impacting the community that we are located in. We have several who feel that their contributions are minimal at best and seriously sell themselves short. I have continued to teach and speak on using what you have been given and its importance. These 7 steps are great but how do I engage the generations that are represented and actually have them work together like I feel the early church did?

  50. Joe Brosious on March 8, 2016 at 10:34 am

    At an old downtown congregation in Madison, WI and we are looking at how we turn the “church of the movers and shakers,” into the church of the Shakers and Movers. Big transition but thanks for all the good materials. We are in the process of redoing many of our spaces to help people engage and connect so your thoughts on language and the actual physical changes you’ve made are very helpful. Your blog is the only one I actually stop what I am doing and read when it comes across.

  51. […] Want to drive more engagement in the mission at your church? Here are 7 ways to do it. […]

  52. Brian Lane on March 7, 2016 at 8:32 am

    I printed this post and hung it on the wall next to my desk as a constant reminder of these things. Good stuff.

  53. Dean Moore on March 6, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    While I agree that Christians need to be engaged in the mission and they need to be hot passionate and fervent towards God with zeal however doing anything for God before they are made true disciples holding the truth of the word of God in purity and true holiness being mature and experienced having the devil under subjection to the authority of the Kingdom of God from within then anything else we try to do is folly. Paul told Timothy never to put people in the place of authority those who are novices. What are novices? They are people who are unskilled and inexperienced in the knowledge of the truth and in handling the meat of the Word of God. Why because the devil would take advantage of their ignorance and weakness because of spiritual immaturity and cause them to fall and bring a reproach against the Gospel. Too much of the church is not following the blueprint of which the Lord has given us to be the church and take the world for the Kingdom of God. If you want to know precisely what that blueprint is contact me.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 7, 2016 at 10:50 am

      I love zeal too Dean. Thanks!

    • Howard on July 18, 2017 at 5:12 am


      Such true words and it is hard to find people nowaday’s standing for righteousness and holiness.

      True words!

    • keith newson on October 2, 2017 at 2:06 am

      how can i contact you on that blue print. i think i really need that

  54. Chris Schoolcraft on March 4, 2016 at 9:46 pm


    I serve in a community in which our youth and children are so involved in school, sports, and extracurricular activities. Could you give a sense of what cultures of engagement might look like where kids and youth have so many things going on?



    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 5, 2016 at 11:00 am

      Your situation sounds like everyone else’s. Honestly, I’d just work on the suggestions in this post. That’s what we’re doing and it’s working despite hockey, baseball, football, dance, skiing, the beach etc.

  55. Luke on February 29, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    Carey, (re #3)
    I have seen in some churches where various ministry teams or leaders are, as you point out, truly focused on “their” mission and not “the mission.” Yet, even when a church institutes a new vision and mission, what I see then, is that said vision and mission get dropped onto the ministry teams but sadly, people incorrectly begin to believe that those same teams are somehow now magically focused on “the” mission. My question is, how do you kindly convince them to see that they are still really just focused on “their” mission and then explain how “the” mission is actually really different from what they believe and are doing?

    I have tried to use words like “alignment” and phrases like “unified strategy” to explain the difference between a segregated “their” mission vs “the” mission, but because the vision and mission have been integrated into the language of the segregated ministry teams, many people think that means their church is now aligned and has unity under that vision and mission. And they can’t see it. Thoughts?



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