How to Grow a Small Church: Part One
By: Bill Easum
If you're a pastor of a church under 500 in worship, this is a must-read article for you.
So, I'm going to let the cat out of the bag right now. You want to know the most important ingredient for growing a small church? It's a pastor who has one-on-one conversations with non-Christians that leads to their conversion to Christ. I've been saying this for decades based on my personal experience, as well as my observations of pastors who grow small churches.
However, now this insight is backed up by a 2005 study of 700 church plants funded by The Lilly Foundation and the Lutheran Brotherhood titled "New Church Development in the 21st Century."
The study included churches from seven mainline denominations and compares church plants that grow beyond a small church with those that either failed or succeeded and then hit a plateau and didn't grow beyond a small church.
Here is the key finding of the study as far as I'm concerned: the more focused the pastor is on evangelism, the larger the church becomes.
If you are in a church under 500 in worship, the most important thing you can do to grow that church is to practice personal, one-on-one evangelism. In a church this size, you can grow the church all by yourself. Just bring in 50 to 75 new Christians and/or new members and everything changes. You are the solution, not another program!
Here is an excerpt from the book:
"Larger membership pastors ranked higher in the priority they placed on time for evangelism; they tended to devote a 'great deal of time to evangelism calling.' They were more likely to be participants in the Spirit's regenerative work in a person's making a first-time commitment to Christ as Savior and Lord. In fact, the evangelism practices of the larger-membership developers showed that they led all other new church developers in this particular kind of evangelism. Larger-membership pastors more frequently assisted in the making of a first-time faith commitment; indeed, many had assisted in such a commitment with 20y or more individuals in the previous six months."
So, What's a Person to Do?
So, here are some tips.
Pastor, personally respond to anyone who visits the church within 24 hours. I used to teach that lay people should make the first visit with newcomers. I was wrong. I knew in my gut I was wrong, but everyone seemed to believe it to be true and even backed it up with studies.
But, it wasn't true in my history. It wasn't true in pastors like Adam Hamilton or Michael Slaughter, or Randy Frazee, or…. I can go on and on with a list of pastors who grew their small church by personal one-on-one evangelism with visitors who showed up at church.
So, you can begin, pastor, by making in-person calls on first-time visitors within 24 hours after they attend, and 85 percent of them will return the following week. If this home visit is made within 72 hours, 60 percent of them return. If it is made more than seven days later, 15 percent return.
You see, the average person today visits several churches before deciding on a church home. This means they may not come back for six weeks. By then, they decide which church to return to by the friendliness and helpfulness of the members. If you wait until they return the second time, you lose 85 percent of your visitors.
Next, spend time dreaming up ways for you and your congregation to interact with unchurched people. Start making a list, and, as the week goes by, begin doing anything on the list that feels right. You can find a great list of such possibilities on my website under Resources. Just click on FAQS and look for "unchurched."
Make personal evangelism the highest priority on your "to do" list. Set aside time every day to interact with the public.
In the early years, I spent four nights a week responding to visitors and at least two hours a day going to places where I would find unchurched people. At one of my churches, I spent the morning at the local drugstore (most of you are too young to remember soda fountains). At another church, I spent my time playing shuffle board; at another, I sheared sheep; at another, I spent time in the local watering hole.
The key is to find ways to be among people who don't go to church instead of being in your office. I have one pastor friend who rode his Harley to Starbucks to do his sermon preparation.
Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to share your faith. You never know where you will run into an opportunity to share your faith in a non-threatening way.
In order to be able to accomplish this, you need to be freed up from as much of the following as possible: visiting shut-ins, hospital visits, and going to more than one or two meetings a month.
Lay person, you have natural networks with unchurched people. Use those networks to spread the Good News!
Remember – the higher the priority you place on evangelism and make personal time for it, the larger you small church will grow (once the church grows beyond 500 in worship, the pastor's involvement in personal evangelism has much less impact on the growth of the church).
So, what are you waiting for? Get out of the office and into the world!
Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christian for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com.