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.The goal of any Christian should never be to find a church you like and sit in the back row. Click To Tweet
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.You can accomplish more with 300 engaged Christians than with 3000 disengaged attendees. Click To Tweet
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.People who serve in the mission are people who are engaged in the mission. Click To Tweet
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.The clearer and simpler the path is toward engagement, the more people will travel it. Click To Tweet
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.When you give people too many choices, people choose nothing. Click To Tweet
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.Too many Christians get passionate about their mission, not THE mission. Click To Tweet
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.When you say 'no' to a hundred other missions, you say 'yes' to the most important mission. Click To Tweet
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.People both rise and descend to our level of expectations. The same is true of congregations. Click To Tweet
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.The goal of the Christian faith is not to know something, but to do something with what you know. Click To Tweet
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 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:
If You’d Love to Reach More People in 2020…
So you would love to see your church grow in 2020, but the question is how?
Naturally, I can’t make a church grow and you can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that.
But I believe you can position your church to grow. You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people.
That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.
The Church Growth Masterclass is designed to help you jumpstart a stuck church, or help your growing church reach even more people.
It’s everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.
In the Church Growth Masterclass you’ll learn:
- The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
- Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
- How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
- The five keys to your church better impacting millennials.
- What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change
- 5 essentials for church growth
- 5 disruptive church trends to watch—and how to respond
- How to increase church attendance by increasing engagement.
You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.
Really hoping 2020 is a year of growth and impact for you and your church!
What about you?
How do you drive engagement? Scroll down and leave a comment