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Four Ways to Grow
By: Bill Easum

Growth Strategies
Growing a church isn’t rocket science. In fact, there are only four ways to grow a church. Once you have them down, growth is like falling off a log.

1. Bring People in the Front Door 
The first step in growing a church is to gather people. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But surprisingly, most pastors, even many church planters, give little thought to this first step. They still subscribe to the misguided belief that “build it and they will come.” That may have been true 50 years ago, but it certainly isn’t today. And, most congregations exacerbate the problem by expecting the pastor to take care of them first.

Absolutely everything about growing a church begins with developing a strategy for bringing people in the front door.  So, when consulting with a church around 500 in worship, I always suggest that the pastor spend 45 percent of his or her time figuring out how to reach the unchurched and then doing it. If consulting with a larger church, I always ask who on the staff spends at least 20 hours a week focusing on reaching and contacting the unchurched.

When talking about bringing in people, the most often-asked question is, “How do I meet unchurched people?” I’ve found there are two steps:

First, set aside regular time to scratch your head looking for the way into the world of the unchurched in your area. I’m a strong believer that you get what you look for. If you look for ways to connect long enough, you’ll find them. Every city I’ve been in had a different key that unlocked the door to the unchurched. Finding that key may take some time, but it is well worth the effort.

Second, once you’ve found the key, set aside regular time to actually spend among the unchurched. The smaller the church, the more time the pastor should spend with the unchurched. I tell pastors in churches under 500 in worship to spend up to 80% of their time with unchurched people. After that, they should hand off this responsibility to a qualified paid staff person (but never a volunteer if you want consistency).

How does your church go about bringing new people into the church?

2. Retain People Long Enough to Disciple Them
Three things cause people to stick around long enough to be discipled:

First is worship that connects them to God. Worship is the bread and butter of any church. As goes worship, so goes the church. Therefore, every need of worship needs to be met before spending money on anything else. This truth includes hiring staff – your first hire should always be a worship leader.

The second is intimate settings, 95% of which are small groups that meet in homes on a regular basis to share life, develop leaders, and fellowship around Bible study. The goal of most small groups that retain people is leadership development, behavior modification, and multiplication of groups.

The third element is relationships that make like enjoyable and fulfilling. Studies show that unless new people find five to seven friends within the first three months, they are unlikely to be with you two years later. 

For these three things to happen, first-time guests have to return to the church, and unless the church responds to them in timely fashion, the odds are 75% they won’t return. It is imperative that churches respond to first-time guests within 24 hours; if fewer than 500 in worship, it should be the pastor and if over 500, a paid staff person. They should be put into a data bank, and any information passed on to the appropriate person like a children’s pastor if the family had a child. In addition to these two measures, I know of one church that sends the first-timer a package on Monday with a variety of gifts in it.

I was working in a church recently (the church ran 800 in worship) that had 15 first-time families attend worship every week. That’s a good enough number to grow the church through the 1,000 barrier. But guess what? The church was declining. Go figure. How could that be? When I asked how they followed up on those first-timers, they said, “We send them a letter.” “When I asked, “Then what?” they just looked at me as if I were crazy to even ask the question. They had no idea of what follow-up meant. 

How does your church respond to first-timers to retain them?

3. Disciple Those Who Return
In order to make disciples, church leaders have to have a paradigm shift. The essential shift is from believing their primary job is to provide programs/ministries to believing their primary job is to raise up and equip leaders. Because of their history, many church leaders are unable to make this shift, so they continue to provide programs that keep people busy but never transform them, much less disciple them.

Many people confuse discipleship with classroom training of a course curriculum when the truth is you are the curriculum. Like Jesus, our role is to simply hang out with them. If you look closely at what Jesus did, you will find that he used the following formula:

* I do; you watch; we’ll talk.
*You do some; I watch; we’ll talk.
*You do; I watch; we’ll talk.
*You do; someone else watches; you’ll talk.

If you take this formula seriously, you realize that discipleship is more on-the-job-training than it is a classroom content dump with you being the main curriculum.

A good farm system is necessary for discipleship to reach its maximum potential. Think of a farm system in terms of a pro sport. Every farm system has three types of people: players, scouts, and coaches. The problem in most churches is the pastor doesn’t understand that he or she is the coach and not the player. A good pastor doesn’t play the game (ministry); a good pastor coaches the laity who plays the game and scouts for additional staff and key lay leaders. The more the pastor plays the game, the more dependent ministry is on the pastor. 

The same problem is true with most staff. They want to play the game instead of scouting for new players and coaching them to play the game. The more they insist on playing the game, the fewer laity is involved in actual ministry. Therefore, the scope of ministry and their ability to handle more responsibility increases only so far and then begins to disintegrate. This is why so many church plants grow up over 500 or 600 in worship in a few years and then fall back into the 300 range because that is as far as the staff can be stretched.

How does your church disciple new people?

4. Sending Them Back Out Into the World
The issue here is whether your church nominates people to serve within the church or commissions people to serve outside the church. Where do you put most of your emphasis? In most dying churches I consult with, almost all of the people are recruited to work in ministries or committees that take place within the church. Be forewarned – putting people on a committee is the quickest way to lose them, whereas putting them to work in some ministry outside the church is the quickest way to disciple them.

Do yourself a favor – count all your ministries and list the ones that keep people occupied within the church. Then, list the ministries that take them outside the church. If the first list is longer than the second list, is it any wonder that after three years of being in your church, they no longer have any unchurched friends?

What does your church do to send people back out into the world to bring more people into the church?

Bill Easum is president of 21st Century Strategies, Inc. a full-service church consulting group since 1987 whose mission is to equip Christians for global impact, www.churchconsultations.com. He is a consultant, author, ex-pastor, futurist, husband, and father who enjoys releasing Billfish. You can reach him at easum@aol.com and keep up with him at his blog, www.billeasum.com.

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