Whiteboard: How Your Church Can Improvise Like MacGyver

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In this whiteboard session, Rodney explains how churches can use technology and the resources they already have to grow deep and wide.

Video Transcription:

Hi and welcome to an Elexio whiteboard. If I gave you a magnet, some Velcro, and an apple, what could you do? Could you make something? Well, I would say if you are MacGyver from the hit show from the late ’80s and early ’90s, you might be able to take a magnet, some Velcro, and an apple and make a fully articulated robot or a boat or a car or maybe a key to unlock some terrible trap that you are in. I’m having a bit of fun, but the name MacGyver has almost become synonymous with taking what you have and making something great out of it. If you’re not familiar with the show, almost always, MacGyver got into some situation and he would take whatever he had and make a difference in his situation.

Last week we started talking about this triangle and this book and the idea is an optimized church. And when I think about MacGyver, he’s an optimizer. He takes what he has and affects an outcome. And I love this part of the book where it doesn’t make the suggestion that your church needs to be perfect. It does not suggest that only churches that have unbelievable speakers that happen on Sunday mornings or great music, that those are going to be the reasons why you’re going to grow. It’s not that. It’s taking what you have, taking a hard look at it, and then optimizing it. And the book talks about identifying purpose which will lead to a purpose statement. And then we left off last time looking at the fact that those things will lead to a process, specifically acquisition and maturation processes when we talk about the congregation.

So we want to look today a little more specific at three, one, two, three, types of process specifically for acquisition. But before we do that we need to talk a little bit about space slugs. Now, if you are someone who loves Star Wars, like I do, you know that Jabba the Hutt is space slug. And that’s probably a little bit harsh. He’s a much more complex character than that. But for our purposes, a slug moves slowly, they’re a little bit annoying and in Jabba’s case, he’s huge. So if he came right now and was with us he would take over the space. And it would really be hard for me to accomplish what I want to do today because he’s in the way. Well, Allen calls out some things in the book that he calls purpose killers. It sounds harsh, but the point is there are things that may be a part of your church like departments. You have the youth department, the missions department, the children’s department. If everybody is in their own very compartmentalized areas, not thinking about the big purpose, that can be something that really messes this up.

He also mentions programs. Those are things that could mess up the church’s purposes, also events. I won’t get into a lot of detail but it’s certainly one of the parts of the book, that when I read it, It was like, “Hmm, maybe I need to really think about that in relation to the church that I’m a part.” So watch out for the space slugs. But let’s get to what we were talking about. What is a process? Well, this part I need to read from the book because it’s really great. Allen gets very clear. He doesn’t just leave that, “Oh, processes” and assume that you know what that means. Here is what Allen describes as a process: “A process is a formalized and systemized collection of defined practices integrated into a strategic and repetitive plan of action,” and I have to take a breath because this is long, “that can be measured and improved.”

Now, if you’d love to know more, again, get a copy of the book. It’s a great book. I’m going to focus in on some of the words that he mentions in that great definition. One of them is formalized, the other is systemized, repetitive, and measured. Processes need those attributes to really be effective. So what are these three microprocesses that help the church with the acquisition efforts that you may be having? Well, they’re actually connected to our little MacGyver things here. Some of your processes will be magnetic. Some of your processes will be like Velcro, and some will be gravitational. Now, we won’t get into all of these. I hope that maybe it makes you think, “Oh, maybe I should read that book.” Let’s talk a little bit about magnetic processes. These are the things that are pre-evangelism. They are things that attract people to your church.

You may be thinking in your head, “I’ve got those.” or “I don’t have those.” Some degree of figuring out do you have them is important. That is one of the processes. Velcro…once you have attracted them, how can you connect them. You know how Velcro works, it’s fascinating. You have the scratchy side and the soft side and somehow they grab together and they’re hard to pull apart. Allen suggests that your church needs those. Now, when I was reading the book and looking at the details of what he talks about in terms of Velcro processes, I thought back to last week when we talked about Cracker Barrel. The idea there is that we said you may go to all this work to come up with a great purpose, a great purpose statement, but then people look at your church and you seem irrelevant to them like the things you see on the wall at Cracker Barrel.

You see a tool…must have a process, but I have no idea what its relevance is to me. Well, when we look at getting specific in this area Allen calls out some things that all churches have, or almost all. Greeters, announcements, good old bulletins, the follow-up call, and notice ‘the’, and the letter. You may be sitting there thinking as you’re watching, “Well, my church tries to get people involved, and our Velcro tries to be somebody at the door that gives them a firm handshake.” Oh, that’s great. We make announcements about things, programs, or events that people will want to come to. Announcements, we also put those in the bulletin in case people want to take it home. We call people. We make one follow-up call to folks after they come. We may even send them a letter.

These aren’t bad things, but Allen wants to flip the script here, and he talks about the fact that everybody who comes through your door has a story or their story and that churches that are really being effective in their Velcro related processes are connecting to people’s stories in some very specific ways. He calls out purposeful people connections, needs identification, linking, and finally sustained follow up. He’s not saying don’t have these things, but he’s saying if you’re trusting these to be your Velcro you’re probably going to not have great success. You’ve got to make purposeful people connections. That is probably more than just somebody greeting them at the door. It’s probably more than just one phone call. In that process, identify their needs. Connect their needs to resources that your church might have or even community resources. And then finally, some sustained follow-up process.

Notice the connections over here. Formalize, systemize, sustained and repetitive, and certainly measureable. Let’s close with some thoughts about what could you do better. I would suggest that technology is certainly a thing that could help you be better. If MacGyver can take a magnet, Velcro, and an apple and as I jokingly said, turn it into a fully articulated robot, imagine what MacGyver could do with real tools. And I would say the same thing about you and your church. You have wonderful people that are a part of your church right now. Imagine what they could do with real tools and real data.

Let me leave you with three data points that Allen says is really what you’re measuring and trying to improve upon. Your visitor volume rate…how many people are coming through your door? Your visitor retention rate. That’s a percentage. Allen suggests that you should be retaining at least 25% of the visitors who come through your door. It’s unrealistic to think you’ll retain more but if you’re happy with 8% or 10%, well, you’re probably not going to be growing at the rates that you want. And finally, your back door rate. After people have been attending for a while do you know how many people are sticking around? There are ways to make an improvement. Some of it might be in getting rid of some space slugs. Some of it might be in adding some technology to support this process, but like we always say in our whiteboard sessions, the key is first identifying where you are and then seeking some help. Thanks for watching an Elexio whiteboard.

Need some help? Contact us!

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

4 Tips To Bring Christmastime Visitors Back To Your Church

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Whether they’re Chreasters or families looking for a new place to worship, your church has the rare opportunity to connect with a large number of visitors this Christmas season. Some may be out-of-towners, but most guests attending your holiday services are locals who could potentially become a part of your growing church community. Follow these tips to make sure they come back even after the decorations are put away:

1. Deliver on your promises

When you promoted the Christmas program, did you embellish at all just to get people there? If you advertised an ornate live nativity, but you’ve really got a baby doll and some plastic donkeys, you’re probably misleading visitors.

Remember your long-term goal—bringing those guests back so they can connect with your church and be discipled. But why would they want to come back if they’re disappointed and feel like they’ve been hoodwinked this time around?

Set the right expectations and deliver on those promises. Better yet, under-promise and over-deliver. They’ll be pleasantly surprised.

2. Provide a positive experience

It’s not just about the vocals or the chocolate chip cookies you hand out after the cantata. It’s about every interaction from the moment guests walk through the door.

  • Ensure your check-in process is fast, easy, and secure. Christmas visitors are usually coming with the entire family, so prepare for packed nurseries and leery parents. A system that quickly prints food allergies and medical information on nametags will be a relief to families.
  • Keep it kid-friendly unless you’ve specifically planned an adult-only event. Parents will be able to enjoy themselves if their toddlers aren’t squirming around the pews out of boredom. People are more accepting of sentimental cheesiness this time of year, anyway. So let the toddlers sing away!
  • Don’t get stuck in a rut, but don’t stray too far from tradition either—especially if it’s worked for you in the past. People are familiar with the Christmas story and know what to expect. It’s the one time of year when most people take comfort in tradition rather than search for something new. So unless you’ve told them that you’ll be switching things up, keep your Christmas lineup simple.
  • Be genuine, but still put your best foot forward. Christmas at church is kind of like a first date: you want to be your true self, but the very best version of yourself. Don’t leave out important details so visitors feel like your services aren’t too “churchy,” only to change your tune the next week. People can usually see right through the façade or they’ll be unhappy when they return to a completely different environment later.

3. Show them what you have to offer  

While you’ll be focusing on the Christmas story, don’t forget to let visitors know what else your church has to offer beyond Christmastime. Give them a preview of what’s coming up next and highlight those ministries that would be of interest to visitors. Invite them to the upcoming sermon series or special event. Just don’t let them leave without seeing how your church can be relevant to their lives year round.

4. Follow up with them

Collect guest information at check-in or through visitor cards and enter it into your church database so you can follow up with them after the holidays. While you’d typically reach out to visitors within a day or two, people don’t want to be bothered by phone calls or emails while they’re spending quality time with family. Once things calm down after the New Year, reach out to your Christmastime guests and invite them back.

Visit these other resources for more Christmas tips and ideas:

5 Last-Minute Christmas Service Improvements

Plan for Growth During the Christmas Holidays

5 Videos for Christmas Church Services – Note: Link is no longer live

Grow Your Church With Google’s Ad Grants Program

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Today’s post is by guest blogger Nicole Kohler.

Did you know that Google gives out $10,000 in no-strings-attached advertising credit each month to nonprofit organizations – including churches? Did you also know that you can use this credit to bring new members into your church? It’s true: Google’s Ad Grants program, administered through Google AdWords, gives nonprofit organizations (including churches) up to $329 per day to place ads on the top and side of search results, driving clicks to their website…for free.

If you’re not familiar with Google AdWords, or you’d like to find out how to take advantage of the Google Ad Grants program, this tutorial should help. Read on to learn how you can grow your membership through the power of free advertising!

Who Can Use Google Ad Grants?

Free advertising might sound too good to be true – but for churches, charities, and other nonprofit organizations, it’s not. As long as your organization has a current 501(c)(3) status and has a functional website, you should be eligible.

Here are a few other things you should know about using Google Ad Grants:

  • Government agencies, academic institutions, childcare centers, and medical organizations can’t use the program – so promoting your church-sponsored daycare is off the table
  • However, according to Google, you can use the program for philanthropic education programs, including church-sponsored preschool or other learning programs
  • You must have current 501(c)(3) status as assigned by the IRS and a valid EIN; copies of letters from the IRS are not sufficient proof of status (pending or otherwise)
  • Websites that use AdSense ads or affiliate advertising, or those that request donations outside of the traditional philanthropic scope (e.g. asking for property donations), are not eligible
  • To remain eligible, you must actively manage your account, which Google defines as “logging in monthly and making at least one change to your account every 90 days”

You’ll also need a current Google AdWords account to take advantage of the program. AdWords, which is Google’s advertising program, is where you’ll create and modify ads, increase and decrease your ad spend, and do all other activities related to your advertising campaigns.

If you’re already running a pay-per-click (PPC) program, you’re probably fairly familiar with AdWords. But if not, this next tutorial should help you learn the ropes.

Signing Up for Google AdWords

To sign up for AdWords, you’ll first need a Google account – like one you already use for Gmail, YouTube, Google+, or any other Google service. This account will be used to manage your advertising, so choose it carefully!

Once you have your account chosen, go to http://adwords.google.com and sign in. You will be asked to sign up on a very simple screen like this one:

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Choose your email address, country, time zone, and currency before clicking “Save and continue.” Once you have done this, you’ll be welcomed to an empty dashboard:

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Creating Campaigns and Ad Groups

At this point, if you are planning to use AdWords only for your grant-sponsored advertising, you don’t have to do anything else. However, I would suggest playing around with a test campaign to understand how the program works, just so you know what to do when the time comes!

Click “Create your first campaign” and you’ll be sent to a new screen to set up your first advertising campaign. This will look extremely overwhelming and confusing the first time, but don’t worry: Google has great help resources, and you typically don’t need to change most of the options you see on these setup screens, either.

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On this page, you’ll be prompted to create a campaign. A campaign consists of one or more ads that share one budget, and typically target one broad product or service. As a church, you will probably only ever have one or two campaigns, but ecommerce stores or manufacturers might have multiple – for example, a campaign for each group of products, or for each service they offer.

For your test campaign, you can focus on setting two parameters: location and budget. To start, scroll down until you see “Locations” and click the radio button that says “Let me choose…” This will allow you to start typing in the name of a city or area:

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You can do some really great things with location targeting, as you can see in the screenshot above. However, it’s best not to be too broad, because you run the risk of wasting your ad dollars on views by those who aren’t even near your church. So pick a local city or two before moving on.

Continue scrolling down the page until you reach the bottom, where you’ll see a small box to define your budget:

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Since the Grants program provides you with about $329 per day to use on your free advertising, let’s enter $329 in that box.

Below this, you’ll see a few other cool options, which allow you to add location information, links, or phone numbers to your ads. Whether you do these or not is entirely up to you. However, if you want to encourage people to call and/or visit your church, it’s not a bad idea to check the first and third options. The second option is mostly beneficial if you want to send those who see your ads to a “why join us” or other form of targeted landing page.

If you click any of these options, you’ll be prompted to fill in your location, phone number, or sitelink information. Click the “+ New” button at the bottom of each gray menu that appears to add new items, and a popup window will open to ask you for the details required.

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Once this is done, click “Save and Continue” and you’ll move on to your first Ad Group:

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This is where you’ll write a test ad. Google has some great examples of ads you can model yours off of, but don’t be afraid to get creative! Think about ways that you can capture the interest of potential churchgoers as they are scrolling through search results.

Finally, below this you’ll see an empty box asking you to enter keywords for your ad group. This is where you can enter the words and phrases that will help determine where your ad appears. These keywords should be pretty straightforward – for example, if you’re a church in Harrisburg, PA, you might target phrases like “church in Harrisburg,” “UCC Harrisburg PA,” “Harrisburg church,” and so on.

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At the bottom of this page, you’ll see an option to proceed with your campaign and ad group and set up billing, or “set up billing later.” Click the latter and you’ll be able to view your AdWords dashboard, and explore the campaign manager and Ad Group tools, without having to pay anything. (Don’t worry – your ads won’t be active, and you won’t be charged anything.)

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Spend some time exploring AdWords and getting to know the options you have available. This dashboard will be more interesting once you have actual data to look at, but it’s still a good idea to invest an hour or two in trying out different settings, adding and removing keywords, and reading up on basic PPC strategies, before you launch right into the Google Ad Grants program.

Applying for Google Ad Grants

Once your AdWords account is created, you will also need to create a Google for Nonprofits account. You can do that from this page.

After both accounts have been created, head over to this Google Support page to follow the step-by-step instructions to apply for Ad Grants.

After your application has been submitted, Google will review your eligibility and supporting documents, then contact you with their decision. If all goes well and your documentation is in order, you’ll be approved!

Once your application is approved, you’ll receive $10,000 in AdWords credit deposited into your account monthly. As mentioned, your spending limit on this credit is $329 per day (but you can spend less, or can spend all of it plus some of your own money if you want to place additional ads).

How Can We Use Ad Grants to Increase Our Membership?

So you’ve been awarded your free credit… now what do you do with it?

There are a variety of ways that you can grow your fellowship and increase interest in your church with these free ads. Here are a few ideas:

Location targeting: Perhaps the most obvious strategy, you can reach anyone who may be new to your area or searching for a new church with location-targeted ads. Target phrases like “church in (city)” or “(city) worship” to find these individuals.

Event promotion: Have a special event coming up? Whether it’s Vacation Bible School, a rummage sale, or just your annual Christmas service, you can use limited-time ads to promote it. Don’t be afraid to get broader with these keywords, or leave out the religious aspect: you’re more likely to reach people searching for “(city) rummage sale” or “Christmas services” than you are “(city) church yard sale” or “church choir.”

Donation drives: This may seem backwards, but you can absolutely run ads asking for donations. People who are searching for charities to donate their time, energy, and money to will see and appreciate your ads, provided they are for a good cause. Use your space to promote something like a church-sponsored soup kitchen or fundraiser vs your weekly collection, and you’re likely to see a higher response.

Volunteer recruitment: Need a few extra hands for an event you have coming up? Set aside some of your credit to run an ad or two asking for volunteers. If they’re looking for a place to worship, they might just stick around.

Content marketing: If you are using content marketing to reach potential worshippers, you can promote this content with your ads. Just make sure your destination URL points to the content itself, as opposed to your homepage or an un-targeted landing page – otherwise you’ll be wasting your clicks.

You can get a few more ideas on using your Ad Grants budget right here.

A Few Final Things to Keep In Mind

As already mentioned, once your ads are set up, you will need to log in once per month and make at least one change every 90 days to keep your account active. If this is not done, your grants will expire.

It’s not a good idea to “set it and forget it” when it comes to AdWords anyway, though. There’s certainly the temptation to look at Ad Grants as “free money,” but that doesn’t mean it should be wasted on ads that don’t convert or drive any interest. If an ad isn’t working – or an ad is working extremely well – you should adjust your campaigns accordingly.

Additionally, after your ads have been running for a while, you’ll find that there’s a wealth of information on your hands. You’ll be able to see which ads received the most clicks and when. Additionally, if you connect your AdWords account to Google Analytics, you’ll be able to dig deeper, learning the age and gender of those clickers, which ad landing pages have the highest engagement, and so on. This can present you with some very real, actionable information about those interested in your fellowship that can be used to your advantage in other marketing activities.

For example, let’s say you’re finding that a high number of 20-something females are clicking your location-based ads, reading your content, but leaving your site after a few minutes. If you know that females around this age respond well to email marketing, you could add a “subscribe to our email” pop-up on your content to capture their information and possibly bring them to your church, as opposed to losing their interest after a few minutes of reading.

Good Luck!

I hope this tutorial has helped you learn about AdWords and the Google Ad Grants program. If you decide to take advantage of Google’s generous advertising credits for nonprofits, I wish you the best of luck! AdWords may seem overwhelming at first, but with a little time and experience, it can be an enormous benefit to organizations of every size and shape, fellowships included.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nicole Kohler is a Web Content Strategist for WebpageFX, where she spends her time writing blog posts, how-tos, and emails that help people better understand online marketing. In her free time, Nicole enjoys hanging out with her husband and pets, playing video games, and reading classic literature. Follow her on Twitter @nicoleckohler.

How To Decide If An Event Is Right For Your Church

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Church events come in all forms.  They might be a regularly scheduled outreach event for teens, a social event such as an annual picnic, special classes or seminars, a special holiday celebration such as a Christmas or Easter pageant, or community service events.  These events can create community, help people grow in their faith, and bring people together to serve the needs of the local community.  There are many great reasons for hosting an event and some church events consistently draw faithful crowds because they serve a need and are planned and executed well.

Unfortunately, events can also become a habit with no definable outcome.  In these cases, reasons churches do events might range from “because we always have” to justifying staff positions.

When trying to decide if an event is right for your church, answer the following 5 questions:

 

1. Who is the event for?

Is the event to prove you are doing your job or to be visible? Or are you meeting a true need for a specific audience outside of worship?  Who are you trying to reach with your event?

Few events should be planned for everyone.  Events require a lot of planning and follow-up (if done properly) and a lot of work.  Church-wide events should be reserved for special celebrations or purposes.

All other events should be designed with a very specific audience in mind.  Use your church database to capture demographic information about who is coming to your church events and talk with your staff about what is working and what is not.

Who exactly do you want to come to the event?  Take the time to write out a clear description of who the event is for.  Be specific.  “All women” is not specific.  “All women between the ages of 25-50 who are new to Bible study and are interested in exploring their faith with other newcomers” is better.

It is probably safe to say more women attend church events than men. If you really want to engage men, create an event for men targeted to specific segments.  Don’t expect men who are newcomers to automatically feel comfortable attending an event designed for guys who are very active in church and mature in their faith.  Even the way you welcome men to church and engage them during worship should be different.

2. What do you expect to get out of the event?

The fallback answer everyone gives is to “create community.”  But is your event really creating community?  Does the event lead to a deeper relationship with Christ or are people just showing up because they feel obligated to or because it is easy?  Take a look around at the next event.  Are staff and members really reaching out to someone they don’t know and newbies or are they playing it safe?  Is your church growing as a direct result of the events you host or has attendance been flat for some time?

3. What are you asking event participants to do?

Hopefully the answer to this is more than, “show up and have a good time” or “join the church.”  Expecting someone to join the church after a single event is probably a little unrealistic.  And, even if they do, what will you do to ensure they stay engaged?

What is the next thing you want people to do after an event that will lead to a deeper relationship with your church?  Are you equipping them with information and helping them make connections?  Are you giving them an opportunity to provide feedback before and after the event?

4. How will you evaluate the event?

Headcount is the equivalent to likes on Facebook. Sure, high headcount feeds the ego but it doesn’t mean you moved anyone down the path of engagement.

Are people still talking about the success of the event after it’s over? Are they sharing positive experiences from the event with their social networks?  Did the event encourage people to invite non church members?  How many newcomers were at the event?  Did more volunteers sign up to help with the next event because they felt this event was worthwhile?

5. Is it worth the cost?

Unfortunately, too many churches expect their staff to donate their time for free at events.  Church leaders and members expect staff to put in a full work schedule that often includes night and weekends and unpaid extra time for events.  And, let’s face it, they are usually paid a fraction of the average salary at for-profit businesses.  People often seek a position with the church because they truly want to serve the Lord.   Unfortunately, too many of them become disillusioned when they are expected to sacrifice time-off and time with their family.

A church cannot grow if its staff and volunteers feel overly burdened.  They might continue to serve, but do so with less enthusiasm. Or worse, they might vent about their negative work experience with family and friends and discourage more people from coming to church.  Staff should be your best ambassadors.   Are they?  If you want them to encourage more people to come to your church, think carefully before you ask them to sacrifice more time away from their family to plan and run the next event.

 

Before you plan your next church event, decide if it is right for your church.  Need help managing your church event? Our church software includes an effective event management solution that simplifies event planning and promotion.  It helps you reserve and track valuable event resources, identify and request volunteer assistance, and equip attendees with online signup & payment options. Contact us.

Image Credits: istockphoto

How To Engage Church Attendees…Easter And Beyond

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Lent is here.  That means Easter is fast approaching and church staff is putting in overtime to prepare for this most holy of seasons.  While it is easy to fall back on traditions and get caught up in busyness, it is important to take a step back and ask, “Are we making an impact? Are Easter worshipers engaged after Easter?”

Easter traditionally brings more people to church than any other time of year.  However, even this most sacred of Christian celebrations is facing lackluster attendance.  According to a poll conducted by LifeWay Research, 41% of Americans planned to attend an Easter worship service last year, almost the same as the number who planned not to attend (39%).  Another 20% were unsure.  Among Christians, only slightly more than half planned to attend. Protestant (58%) and Catholics (57%) were most likely to attend while only 45% of nondenominational Christians planned to attend.

ATTENDANCE IN GENERAL

A recent survey by Pew Research Center found that 37% of Americans reported that they attend worship services every week, and only 33% reported attending monthly or yearly.  Among religiously affiliated Americans who report that they only attend worship services a few times a year, the following reasons for not attending more often were cited:

  • Personal priorities (24%), including 16% who say they are too busy.
  • Practical difficulties – work conflicts, health issues, or transportation difficulties (24%).
  • Religious or church related issue – disagreement with the beliefs of the religion or church leaders (37%).
  • No particular reason (9%).

GETTING THEM TO RETURN

So, how do we engage more Christians before, during and After Easter?  In an interview with TheBlaze,  Thom Schultz, co-author of  Why Nobody Wants to Go To Church Anymore, suggested 4 four possible solutions to the church attendance problem:

  1. Radical Hospitality – “embracing a church paradigm of full acceptance.”
  2. Fearless Conversation – sharing of divergent viewpoints.
  3. Genuine Humility – true concern for addressing the issues, without being a hypocrite.
  4. Divine Anticipation – a focus on God’s providence in today’s world.

According to ChurchLeaders.com, the majority of de-churched people (62%) are open to the idea of returning.  Getting them to return may be as simple as inviting them.  In fact, 41% said they would return if an acquaintance or friend invited them.  Younger adults, ages 18-35, are even more likely to return if invited (60%).

Of course, the way we invite people may vary greatly.  Some people are perfectly comfortable with simply inviting their friends and acquaintances to worship.  Others feel more at ease inviting friends and family to celebrate a religious holiday or attend a ministry event (e.g., youth activities).  Small groups are also a great way to establish a personal connection and give people who would consider coming back to church a chance to openly explore issues and share different viewpoints.

The key is to discover what matters most to the people you would like to invite and engage them on their terms.  Be patient.  It is not a sprint to the finish line.  Give them a chance to re-engage in a way they feel comfortable with.  In fact, nearly two-thirds of the de-churched who decide to return prefer to remain anonymous until their second visit.  Provide a way for them to access information about small groups or learn about how various ministries serve the community without making them feel like everyone is going to pounce on them the minute they enter the worship center.  A Self-Service Kiosk is a great way to let them learn more on their own while at church.

Open up to people and be authentic about your faith AND your life.  Christianity is not about Christians, it is about Christ.  It is about having an eternal relationship with God through Christ. Of those who left church and expressed dissatisfaction with the membership, 45% felt church members were judgmental and hypocritical.  Demonstrate a little humility while extending the invitation to come to church.   Listen to any objections they may have and show true concern for addressing the issues without attacking the messenger. After all, we refer to our faith walk, not our faith 400 meter dash.

Need help connecting with church attendees and finding new ways to engage those that grace your front step?  Contact us.

Image Credits: iStockPhoto

Church’s Growth Stalled? Ask Why (Look Before You Grow, Part IV)

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Has your church reached a size threshold that it’s having trouble breaking through?

Church leaders have a deep desire to participate in the building of Jesus’ church. So it’s not surprising that pastors and other leaders can feel discouraged when their church seems stuck on a plateau.

Many factors can account for a church’s expanding and contracting over its life span—too many to cover adequately in a brief post. (Earlier posts in this series can be found here, here, and here.)

Remember that the Lord is the church-grower. God gives the increase. The first place to go for guidance is to the Lord and His Word, because leading and growing the church is the Holy Spirit’s work first of all.

Church growth isn’t usually a straight line upward. A “stall” could be a temporary gift of refreshing from the Lord. A plateau provides a season for everyone to rest, rejoice, recover, and regroup. There are usually seasons of growth, then stasis or even contraction.

ASK “WHY?”

When a church finds that it’s been on a plateau for several years or more, it may be due to spiritual, organizational, or cultural factors (or a combination):

  • Spiritual factors. A decline in numbers often signals spiritual concerns. The plateau may be a symptom of spiritual problems such as:
    • Conflict among members or leaders
    • Shallow busyness
    • Neglect of disciple making
    • Neglect of evangelism
  • Organizational factors. Your church’s plateau may be as large as you will grow because of:
    • The limitations of your structure. Having too small a staff for your membership or lacking a leadership-development process will impact how large your church can grow. Growth may have stalled because systems have not been scaled up or upgraded to match the new reality. Your current systems may not be adequate to sustain a church any bigger than it is now. Carey Neiuwhof wrote, “You know why most churches still don’t push past the 200 mark in attendance? You ready? They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization.”
    • Even if a church is poorly managed, it still has a system, and that system produces predictable results. Management expert W. Edwards Deming famously said, “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.”
  • Cultural factors. Both the church’s internal culture and the surrounding culture influence the church’s growth potential.
    • Resistance to change is a major drag on growth. Now, not all change brings growth, but all growth brings change. A dying church is changing, but it’s not growing.
    • But a church that truly seeks to grow will have to make changes, often significant ones. “Simply put, church size does matter for how a church is run, much like a married couple who some years later find themselves with a dozen children cannot simply organize their life as they did with their first child—everything must change.” Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church
    • Leadership can be the reason a church’s growth has stalled. Asking “why?” can be a threatening step for leaders to take, because they themselves may be the primary reason growth has stopped. It takes a strong leader who is committed to the true welfare of the church and to the will of God to take that long look in the mirror.
    • Demographics can account for a church plateau. There may be an innate limit to growth because of where the church is situated. It may be landlocked, or it may be located in a sparsely populated area.

Researcher Ed Stetzer offers some hope to plateaued churches:

“[If] a church is in a pattern of plateau, it can likely be kick-started . . . If a church is in decline, it will take longer to change things, and more things will need to be changed, depending on how steep and long the decline is. Moreover, some churches (there’s no easy way to say this) need to die. Whether no one is left, the community has changed drastically, or those who are left are a self-defeating core, some churches have fulfilled their life cycle. The good side is that some dying churches have resources and assets that can be utilized to start something new (see www.legacychurches.com).” Ed Stetzer, http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-blogs/146139-kick-starting-the-plateaued-and-declining-church-part-3-contemplate-the-state-of-the-situation.html.

IN THE UPCOMING E-BOOK VERSION OF THIS SERIES, WE’LL LOOK MORE DEEPLY AT GROWTH STRATEGIES FOR THE PLATEAUED CHURCH.

 

Look Before You Grow, Part III: From Single-Campus To Multi-Site

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If you have never thought of your church as a complex organization, adding a satellite campus will convince you.

And complexity multiplies with each campus a church adds. The same needs that exist in the parent church will exist in the satellite: visionary leadership, effective organization, and adequate resources (including technology).

The major step most growing churches take—buying or building their own facility—will be discussed in the Look Before You Grow e-book. Part I of this series laid out principles for managing church growth. Part II looked at guiding a fellowship to its first rented space.

THE PASTOR’S ROLE IS INDISPENSABLE

Max De Pree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, a leader is a servant and a debtor.”

For pastors, defining reality includes describing both current problems and possible solutions. Effective leaders describe a desirable future and then help the people work to bring it about.

What’s the reality of your current situation at your church? Can you envision ways to improve it? Are there alternatives to adding a satellite campus (e.g., reworking the schedule to allow more efficient use of your existing building and resources)?

WHY LAUNCH A SATELLITE?

I’m tempted to say, “If you’re outta space, think satellite!” (Sorry for that one.)

Here is a fundamental question to consider: Is the addition of a campus being driven by necessity (i.e., you’re outgrowing your current facility), or is it an intentional part of your church’s mission? All other things being equal, the more integral growth is to your church’s ongoing mission, the more likely growth will continue.

If your church is consistently operating at capacity, gaining space is probably the most obvious benefit to launching a satellite. The building need not be completely maxed out before the church adds a campus, but the planting church should be solid, stable, and growing before attempting to add a site.

But planting a daughter church can do more than give you more room. It can

  • Extend your presence into another community
  • Add opportunities to grow new leaders (at both campuses)
  • Recruit new workers
  • Build unity and enthusiasm in the body
  • Affirm the body’s steps of faith
  • Celebrate successes

HOW TO KNOW IF YOUR CHURCH IS READY

Adding a campus will likely be more difficult than you might expect—unless you go in expecting it to be difficult. The words of church planting expert Steve Pike bear repeating: “At least ninety percent of problems that occur in multiplication efforts can be traced back to unclarified expectations and assumptions.” If your church is considering adding a campus, your leaders should invest plenty of time and prayer into clarifying your expectations and assumptions.

Your church may be ready to launch a satellite campus if:

  • You are consistently at 80% capacity or more in your current facilities.
  • A desire to grow is part of your church’s character.
  • You know that the satellite campus will meet an identifiable need in the new community.
  • You have qualified, trained leaders in place.
  • You have a core of dedicated men and women who will “seed” the church plant.
  • You have the necessary financial foundation; the parent church is willing and able to take on the financing of the satellite until it becomes self-sustaining.

MANY CHALLENGES, EVEN MORE OPPORTUNITIES

As they shepherd their congregations through the challenge of adding a campus, leaders will find endless opportunities to define reality, to serve, and to say thank you—to the people, and to the Lord.

Up next: Reviving growth in the plateaued church.

Look Before You Grow, Part II: From Living Room To Lease

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When a church plant grows to a rented space

Seeing God mature your small living-room fellowship into a growing church body is a uniquely exciting experience—one that the vast majority of believers, at least in North America, have never had. It can bring a sense of eager anticipation as your group ventures from the confines of a home to a larger, rented space. People wonder, what will it be like? Will we keep growing? What does God have planned for this flourishing fellowship?

This article is designed to help prepare your leadership for some of the unique challenges and opportunities that come with moving your church to a leased space.

See Part I of this series for insights that apply to the various stages of church growth. To recap: every stage of growth requires visionary leadership, effective organization, and adequate resources.

Moving to a rented space gives your church the opportunity to: 

  • Reach new people
  • Recruite and train new workers
  • Stretch their leaders
  • Improve the overall experience for church members
  • See God come through in new ways, in a new setting

What challenges will your church face?

  • Problem solving. Every solution brings new problems. You’ll encounter problems in your leased space that you didn’t have to solve before. For example, how will you ensure the safety of the parking lot and stairwells?
  • You’ll need more staff and more money (see below)
  • Opposition. You may lose some members, though founding members tend to be loyal, having been won and nurtured by the person or team who planted the church. Opposition can also come from people who live and work near the rented facility.

What resources are essential?

  • Prayer
  • Unity – not necessarily unanamity, though some reluctance to venture out is natural
  • Workers, which implies a good recruiting process
  • Ongoing training. While God will often send someone with particular skills and gifts to a new fellowship, Scripture indicates that He desires that a church fill its ministry needs by equipping and training its own members.
  • More leaders. Since we’re talking about managing growth, expect that the work will be more than the current leader/church planter/pastor can manage alone. One of the first things the Apostle Paul did when he planted a church was to appoint and equip leaders. Every wise church planter does that. Only put people in key leadership positions who have shown themselves to be faithful Christ-followers.
  • Technology can help. A previous article shows how technology tools can improve the church’s experience when they’re meeting in a rented space.

How can leaders navigate the choppy waters of change?

Even though growth is good change, it’s still change, something most of us naturally resist. Most of us prefer the comfortable and the familiar, and we will only give it up by choice if something better is being offered.

BIG CHANGES GO MORE SMOOTHLY IF THE LEADERS:

Cast vision. Even church leaders who don’t see themselves as visionary can describe a better future for their church. Casting vision involves describing the destination and guiding the journey. People are more likely to get on board when they know where the boat is going. They might row harder, too.

Delegate wherever you can. That’s important if you want to create future leaders. The more people invest of themselves, the more invested they become. (Profound, right?)

Build an effective system of organization. Not all organizational structures are equal. Some of them focus more on keeping the system going than on helping the church and its members to thrive. In these organizations, the workers serve the system. In the most effective churches, the system serves the members, enabling them to minister effectively.

Expect occasional stalls and setbacks – even opposition. Few organizations get the change process exactly right from the beginning. Change is always messy. Learn and grow from setbacks.

Celebrate successes. Show your people that what they are doing matters, and that it’s noticed and appreciated.

NEXT IN THE SERIES: MOVING FROM A SINGLE CHURCH CAMPUS TO MULTIPLE SITES.

Look Before You Grow: Managing Church Growth

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When a church begins bursting at its seams, its leaders will sometimes use the expression “This is a good problem to have!” Steady, healthy growth is something most church leaders dream of.

But as with most dreaming, there comes a moment when leaders wake up and see that the blessing of growth brings with it some new and difficult challenges.

How can leaders successfully manage the promises and pitfalls of church growth? This post is part one of a four-part series on managing the phases of church growth: from living room to leased space; from single campus to multi-site; and from plateau to new growth.

Whether your church is just beginning to outgrow its first gathering place or is long overdue for a surge of growth, there are some things your leaders should know.

  • True and lasting church growth is literally the Lord’s work. The Lord is the true builder of His church, according to Matthew 16:18 and Ephesians 2:18-22. It is spiritual work first of all.
  • A church has to know its context and its constituency in order to grow in a sustainable way. Those churches that have sustained their growth have done so because they researched, identified, and embraced their ministry context and the constituency they serve.
  • A church should study its DNA. Regardless of the phase a church is moving into, it’s a good time to evaluate what makes them the church they are. Why has the church grown as it has? If it’s because of qualities that are part of its DNA—say, small groups or expository preaching or caring for the community—then the church should work hard to ensure that those qualities stay central to its identity.
  • Growth brings both new opportunities and new challenges.
    • A growing church can expand its ministry reach.
    • A church that’s growing usually can improve ministry quality.
    • A growing church needs more resources—personnel, materials, property.
    • Growth, especially rapid growth, takes a church into unknown territory.
  • Growth will not automatically continue unabated. Such factors as geography and demographics will place a limit on the growth potential of a given church. Also, growth needs to be properly managed, or the church will get in its own way.
  • Growth can be caused by any number of factors, not all of them good or sustainable.To see this, you need only to imagine 100 new attenders who have just gone through an acrimonious split from their former church. Unless leaders respond wisely, that kind of growth can damage a church.
  • Growth does not always indicate total ministry effectiveness. A church may grow because it has begun a great children’s ministry, for example, but other ministries in the church may be weak and ineffective. In that case, some of the church’s other ministries may need to be reshaped or dissolved so they don’t impede the overall work.
  • Every stage of growth requires these assets:
    • Visionary leadership that can persuasively answer the question, “Why are we doing this?”
    • Effective organization—a structure that serves, not hinders, the growing church
    • Adequate resources—people and money

WHAT’S NEXT?

A growing family requires its members to adjust to changes. The same is true of a growing church—which is also a growing family, after all. Whether your church is transitioning to its first facility, a multi-site model, or new growth after a plateau, the next three parts in this series will answer these questions:

What challenges will you face at this phase of growth? What opportunities does this phase present? What resources are essential? How can leaders navigate the choppy waters of change?

UP NEXT: LOOK BEFORE YOU GROW: FROM LIVING ROOM TO LEASED SPACE

Is your church currently in a growth spurt? What’s been good about this growth? What’s been difficult? What advice would you offer to other leaders?

(E-Book) Grow Your Church Deeper: Essentials For Making Disciples

It’s here! We’ve released our first e-book focused on the processes of Connect – Grow – Engage as they relate to the church’s place raising modern day disciples and the use of church management software to facilitate this process.

We sincerely hope this serves as a useful resource for you and your church. The download is FREE and we look forward to hearing how you apply (or have applied) these principles and continue to expand the Kingdom.

God bless and enjoy the read!

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