Has your church’s attendance and membership been in decline? Is there a new or newer church in the area that seems to always be expanding and growing? Unfortunately, this is a similar scenario with many small and declining churches across America. It’s natural to ask questions like, “What are those other churches doing differently?” and “What are we doing wrong?” I can’t answer the latter question unless I were to experience your church first-hand. But I can tell you what growing churches are doing differently.
Growing churches today almost always focus on four areas. They may look different and the verbiage may vary from church to church, but at its core, they are the same. I encourage you to explore the websites of the local growing churches in your area and see what is emphasized.
Four Areas of Focus in Growing Churches
They strive to have quality sermons that are dynamic (AKA: The preacher is a good communicator and public speaker), relevant, accessible (doesn’t require an MDiv to understand), and often shorter (the standard 45 min is rare nowadays). These churches almost always steer away from traditional expository teaching and use topical series. So if your church puts high value on expository teaching, you’ll have to be creative in how you package and present sermons. This is often a point of friction for churches so every leadership team will need to have honest discussions about the purpose of preaching for their church.
By worship, I mean the style of music and how a church engages the congregation in corporate worship. These churches put a lot of resources into worship and a worship pastor/director is often the second staff hired. In these services you don’t just find quality professional level music but the entire worship experience and production is well thought out (lighting, ambiance, etc.) Yes, sometimes there’s a fog machine and a laser light show. There are a lot of ways churches do this but the bottom line is that the worship experience will be professional, exciting, and probably really loud.
3.) First Impressions
Churches that are growing know how to welcome visitors. When done well, it’s really impressive, almost like an art form. There is often a dedicated team that focuses on being welcoming but not overbearing to every visitor. Welcome gifts are given out, information about the church is readily available, invitations to programs (usually small groups) are made in a non-pushy way, and contact information is collected (but not required because you want to give visitors their space). These churches know that if visitors don’t have a good first impression and don’t get connected immediately there’s a high probability they won’t come back.
4.) Children’s Ministry
Growing churches know two things: 1.) If parents ever feel their children are not cared for or are not safe in a church they’ll never choose that church 2.) If parents of younger children find a church their kids love, that family will probably be committed to that church for a long time. So these churches make sure their children’s ministry is safe and fun. This is why many children’s ministry pastors/directors have a background in a field like early childhood development and not theology.
This naturally raises the question of “why these four focuses”? The answer is pretty simple. It’s what people look for in a church. Pew Research Center conducted a large study on how Americans choose churches and four of the top five reasons are the ones listed above. The fifth is location, which your church probably can’t control (unless your church is considering a multi-site model).
Has your church’s attendance and membership been in decline? If so, first ask, “Are we preaching the Gospel? Are individuals and the community being changed by it?” Then ask:
1.) Does our preaching communicate the Gospel well?
2.) Is our worship service engaging?
3.) Do visitors feel welcome?
4.) Are children safe and do they enjoy their programming?
This might not be an easy exercise for your church to do, but remember, the Lord has called your church to build up His kingdom and proclaim His Gospel.
“May He equip you with all you need for doing His will. May He produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to Him.” - Hebrews 13:21