Let’s be clear: there’s no push-button magic formula on how to grow a church congregation overnight.
If there were such a thing that could be bottled up and sold then someone, somewhere would be very rich by now.
I should also say that the size of a church membership is not the only indicator of church growth; knowing how to grow a church is more than just the numbers.
The number of people sitting in your Sunday worship service is not necessarily the same number of disciples being trained and mobilised.
There are many small churches who are having a greater impact in their community through local engagement than many of the bigger churches.
Smaller churches have an advantage over the mega church; both relationships and levels of commitment have proved to be much deeper than that of bigger congregations.
Preamble aside, there many lessons that can be learned from those who have seen their church congregations grow.
With real-life examples, case studies and how to’s of church growth, here are the 10 steps you can take to increase your church membership and attendance to grow your church congregation in the 21st century.
1. Make Sunday A Special Event
A vast majority of churches that have have seen growth in their congregations have done it by making their Sunday morning worship service an event.
They’ve done this in a variety of ways, from improving the quality of their worship set, to implementing multimedia into their service through video announcements or live visual feeds during worship.
However, preaching still remains the primary reason that someone visits your church and stays.
Research conducted by Thom Rainer showed that for 90% of unchurched people, preaching is the biggest reason they will join a church.
People enjoy listening to sermons that are relevant and useful in their everyday lives.
Learning how to improve your preaching could your biggest key to church growth. The pulpit really is the rudder that guides your church.
One of the main ways churches create excitement around their weekly church service is by creating monthly sermon themes, each month having it’s own preaching topic.
Not only does this encourage a first-timer to return next week for the next installment, but it gives your people a reason to invite their friends and family to church.
You probably won’t be surprised to know that congregations grow because people invite their friends and family along. If your people don’t feel confident bringing other people along then there’s something wrong.
“People come to church because other people bring them. Who will you invite?” [Tweet this]
And this doesn’t mean watering down your message.
Pastor Phil Moore of the Everyday Church in London believes that ‘When the church is most controversial, it is most relevant….’
The subjects of their monthly sermon series have included, money, sex and answering the tough questions.
‘This combination of letting God be God and preaching God’s word in all its offensive glory has been behind our considerable growth,’ he says.
2. Add A Second Service (Or Maybe An Extra Venue)
Research shows us that a church congregation stops growing once the worship venue reached 80% of its seating capacity.
There’s just something in the psychology that once a place is seen as ‘full’, first-time church visitors can’t see a place for them.
As soon as many churches meet this ‘tipping point’ they move into a new, bigger building.
But for many, moving into a different venue just isn’t an option. This is where adding an extra service is the best step to take.
Some churches will move to a larger building when they outgrow the old one, but if this isn’t an option, adding an extra service may be the obvious step.
Recently the Holy Trinity Church in Brompton added a Sunday afternoon service to run alongside its Sunday morning service.
Attendance quickly grew in the new, second service without having a detrimental effect on the other service.
And they’re not the only ones…
Potter’s house in Croydon very recently launched a 9:30am Sunday morning service and within just nine months attendance in both services had grown to where they were both running at full capacity.
“Growing a church is all about opening new ‘front doors’ to the church. – Joel Virgo” [Tweet this]
The Everyday Church’s congregation in London has grown from 250 to 750 in the past four years. The serving pastor Phil Moore, says this:
“We have gone from one venue to three venues and we are planning to launch two new venues in September.
We didn’t jump on the multi-venue bandwagon…but we felt very strongly that God was leading us into it and it has proved a very powerful strategy.”
3. Welcome Church Visitors Well
In the same way you’d make sure you’re prepared before welcoming guests to your house for dinner, be ready for your first time church visitors when they come.
Have church welcome packs ready to give to them as soon as they walk through the door.
Prepare your church welcome speech in advance.
You’ve heard it said that you can never make a second first impression and it’s so true.
Making your church guests feel welcomed as soon as they drive into the car park will greatly increase the likelihood of turning them from one-time visitors to full-time members.
This is where training your church greeting team becomes so vital to the growth of the church.
- Will people talk to me?
- What if my baby makes too much noise?
- Where should I sit?
Mark Landreth-Smith is the pastor of The Beacon Church, Camberley, who has seen his church congregation grow significantly in the last five years. He says this:
‘We’ve worked really hard to have a good and well-drilled welcome team.
After newcomers have visited we’ll follow them up and get in touch: “It was great to have you on Sunday morning, is there anything else we can do for you?”
As you can see, making a good first impression, as well as having a good follow up system in place, will certainly be key to growing your church congregation.
4. Create a Culture of Community
God created us for community. Once a visitor has walked through your doors for the first time, the next step is helping them feel like they belong.
A new unchurched person, would have likely been nervously anticipating his or her visit for some time.
Their main worries will be about ‘fitting in’ and their ability to make friends; to not feel like an outsider.
Creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere can easily be done by making your existing church members more visitor-aware.
Your people should be approachable and friendly without appearing overbearing. Cutting out insider-jokes and jargon from the pulpit also helps to make your services feel more inclusive.
Dr. McMillan has long studied the psychology of communities. Here is his definition of what a culture of community looks like:
“Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”
Victory Church Leeds is my homebase church back in the UK whilst I’m serving as a missionary in Thailand. Their motto is ‘Belong. Believe. Become.’ and with good reason…
Forming solid friendships, having a sense of belonging and integrating into the wider church family must happen before any teaching and discipleship can ever take place.
5. Invest in the Next Generation
Survey after survey has shown that more than 80% of Christians make a commitment to Christ before they reach their 18th birthday.
With this statistic in mind, it makes sense that churches should be spending a considerable amount of their time and funds in reaching young people.
Yet, on average, only a very small fraction of annual church budgets is used for their youth or children’s ministries.
Lee Kricher became the pastor of a dwindling church congregation based in Pittsburgh in the United States.
Now, ten years later, he has grown Amplify Church to more than 1,600 regular members.
Pastor Lee attributes the significant church growth to his emphasis on investing into the next generation through the church’s youth and children’s ministries.
“I believe that young people need to be purposefully placed into visible leadership roles and provided the mentoring to be successful in those roles,” he says.
We have a ‘75% rule’, which is that 75% of all of the people in visible leadership during any given weekend service must be the average of, or younger than, the community we serve.
Since that age is 35 for our church’s community, that takes a lot of intentional mentoring!”
With the church planting efforts here in Thailand we have also placed a major emphasis on reaching young people.
In the last 12 months we have done a complete overhaul of both the children’s church and youth ministry. We learned how to start small group Bible studies. I’ve been blown away by how many new families we have seen coming into the church as a result.
Every month our children do a special performance in the main church service. We send invitation letters out to all the parents to let them know about this special event.
Once you have a good church service, a warm welcome and follow up system in place, a culture of community, it doesn’t take long for the parents and families to become regular church members.
6. Involvement in the Community
Being actively involved in the life of your community will not only help make your church known, but it makes your church relevant.
Many churches experiencing growth started out by asking the question:
“What need is their in our community that we can meet?”
They looked at the local issues and came up with a creative way to meet that need.
Life Church in Newton Aycliffe, UK is the home of Christians Against Poverty; a creative social ministry that started when local Christians came together because they wanted to help people who were struggling to get out of financial debt.
They very quickly had a church of over 100 as the people they were helping and building relationships with started asking them about their Christian faith.
Another example from my home city is from the Leeds Youth Cell Network; once a month they organise ‘Demonstrate Days‘ where they might do street clean-ups, gardening for local residents, community cafes and family fun days.
‘Demonstrate Days are about supporting young people to get involved in mission here in their own city. For us, that means serving local communities in practical ways, talking to people and sharing faith along the way.‘
Church members need to place community engagement alongside evangelism.
Whether it be the pub quiz or a community barbecue, allowing unchurched people to experience some of what the kingdom is about is an important step before you preach the gospel.
Demonstrating God’s love in practical ways shows that your church isn’t some strange, fringe group but a group of ordinary people who have discovered something of the power of God.
7. Get Your Church Online
This relates to point 6, because the best marketing is the kind that comes from positive interactions with the local community.
Giving people a reason to walk through your church doors is the biggest hurdle.
So make the most of Christmas, Easter and any other holidays or events that give you an excuse to invite people.
And don’t forget your church website.
Many churches spend more on their external signage than they do on their online presence.
9 out of 10 people will see (and judge you on) your website before they ever set foot inside your building.
A tired-looking website containing outdated information will immediately raise questions about whether a church is worth visiting.
If your church doesn’t have a website yet (40% of churches don’t), I’ve laid out exactly how to build a church website in my newbie-friendly guide: How to Build a Beautiful Church Website Today – Step by Step
You also need to get your church on social media.
Everyone’s on Facebook and creating a church Facebook page is easier than you think.
We use it everyday and yet, most of us have yet to tap into the hidden potential of leveraging Facebook to promote our churches.
Your page can be used to invite people to your events, tagging people in photos and letting people know there’s something happening at your church’s a powerful way of getting your church on people’s radar.
8. Pastor, Don’t Try and Do Everything
As pastors and church leaders we have to be careful not to spread ourselves too thin. Don’t do it, it’s just a one way street to pastoral burnout and it limits your church’s growth.
The key to building a strong church is knowing what your proper priorities should be.
Sociologists say that the average person can manage about 150 people in his or her circle of friends.
This might go some way to explain why many churches fail to grow beyond this number when they adopt the view that the pastor must be accessible to everybody in the congregation.
Churches that have been able to grow their congregations have done so because they’ve developed pastoral support networks that allow everyone in the church to be ministered to without the pastor having to do it all.
Remember that your job as the pastor is not to do everything, but instead, to equip your people for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12)
9. Be An Outward-Focused Church
These outreach programs can be a great way to connect with members of your community who have questions or are searching for meaning.
Whilst these programs can really spearhead your church’s growth, they can only have the maximum desired impact if your church members are outward-focused.
This may take a slight shift in the culture of your church as the natural tendency is to veer towards the inward.
Training your people in friendship evangelism an really help by showing them how to share the gospel in an easy and friendly way, or how to share a personal testimony with their friends and family members.
Not only does this help give them confidence in sharing their faith with others, it automatically puts the primary mission of the church at the forefront of their minds.
Chris Sinkinson helps to lead Alderholt Chapel in Dorset, where the congregation has trebled in size over the past decade.
He says the Christianity Explored course has been the single most effective activity through which people have come to faith in Christ, but that its success depends on the evangelistic energy of the whole church.
‘If it weren’t for men’s groups, parents’ and toddlers’ groups, and good friendships, there would be no one feeding into Christianity Explored.
Strategically, the church needs to be missionary-minded so that every member knows they have a role in sharing their faith, inviting friends and ensuring that visitors feel at home.’
Whenever you see church growth, you can be sure that it’s built by a strong foundation of prayer behind the scenes.
In all of your efforts to grow your church, remember that it’s God’s church and He will build it.
We can have all of steps 1-9 in place, we can run well-organised evangelistic outreach programs, but we will only see fruit if God’s hand is on it.
We need God’s blessing.
The Jubilee Church in London has seen a period of rapid growth to more than 1,000 in attendance at the multiplex cinema it takes over on Sunday mornings.
But the senior pastor, Tope Koleoso, says there were years of prayer before the church ever grew.
“The first key in our transition to growth was a renewed emphasis on prayer,” he says.
“A few of us began to meet weekly and really cry out to God for his presence and for him to cause us to grow. As that prayer meeting grew, our passion for God grew and our concern for the lost grew too.”
Praying for the unchurched raises our faith level. Praying for the unsaved gives us God’s heart for the lost.
I am confident that when we submit our plans to Him and seek to serve Him in whatever we do, God will build his church to be all she could be and should be.
God has placed you where you are for this time. We can be confident knowing that He will never call us to something without giving us everything we need to accomplish it.
I pray that these 10 steps to growing your church congregation will help spark new inspiration, creative ideas and fresh vision for what God can do in and through your church.
Push past the limits and grow your church
If you want help to get from where you are to where you want to be, I have some deeper practical help.
How To Solve The Church Attendance Puzzle is a completely FREE webinar that’s going to show church leaders how to break through attendance barriers that limits growth and take their churches to the next level.
In this webinar hosted by Ben Crawshaw you’ll learn:
– The biggest mistake churches make that costs them attendance (You’ll be surprised… it’s not what you think!)
– How to get more people at your services (and keep them coming back)
– The best way to get this Sunday’s guests to return next week
(only 200 places seats available!)
Whether your church is 50, 150 or 250 people, I know this live event is really going to help you get your church unstuck.
What has caused your church to grow?
Wow this was a mammoth article to write – well done for getting through it! I really hope you’ve found this helpful.
I’d love to hear from you on this one. What are your experiences? What have you seen that has caused your church congregation to grow? We’d love to hear from you!
Go ahead – scroll down and share your comments below.