Stuckness is no respecter of the “brand” or “flavor” of a church. All kinds of churches across America are stuck. Large churches, small churches, old churches, new churches, Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Nazarene churches, Presbyterian church and even non-denominational churches are stuck. Lead long enough in a church and it will probably happen to you. Stuckness is such an epidemic in the American Church that Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources has stated in his research that:
“Eight out of ten of the approximately 400,000 churches in the United States are declining or have plateaued.” Thom Rainer, Breakout Churches
And while there are a lot of reasons that churches get stuck and plateau or begin to decline the biggest culprit is that somewhere along the way new people stop getting connected or assimilated into the life of the church. It doesn’t have to be that way. Try giving the list below to the Sr. Leadership Team at your church to read and then come back and have an honest conversation about each point and identify opportunities to improve and islands of strength to build on.
Create an Engaging Guest Experience
I’ll admit that what I’m about to say may sound a little like heresy, but here goes. Instead of learning from other churches begin looking at other public spaces that people in your community enjoy going to. Visit resorts, restaurants, stores and other public venues that have a great guest experience and have people coming back for more. Take your teams, debrief, and build a list of what you can learn and principles and ideas that you can transfer to your local church.
Create Opportunities for People to Self-Identify
Guest parking, children’s check-in, a physical guest services location, and a communication card located in your church program or bulletin are all simple ways to create avenues for guests to self-identify. By a guest self-identifying they are essentially “opting-in” or giving you permission to speak with them. Instead of butting into people’s lives and spamming people are you engaging them in a dialogue with their permission.
Make it Personal
It’s a nice touch when I make reservations for my wife’s birthday and we show up at the restaurant to be greeted by a “Happy Birthday Mrs. Alexander,” (and I don’t mind the free dessert either). The more personal you can make it, the more memorable it will be. Instead of a cookie-cutter guest follow up letter, could you write a personal handwritten note? Could the person who greeted the guest and walked them around actually be the one writing it? How about a personal phone call to say, “Thank you for being our guest,” instead of trying to just get them to come back. Think: personal without intrusive.
Identify Next Steps for People
It can be frustrating going onto a church campus for the first time. It can seem like everyone else (insiders) already know where to go and what to do. It’s easy to feel like an outsider; in fact in can be plain intimidating. You can make it easier for people by thinking through a “what’s next” exercise with your team. Imagine a guest drives into your parking lot…what next? Imagine they find the right place to park…what’s next? Asking, “What’s next?” moving through the moment a guest arrives on your campus to the moment they leave will help you discover opportunities you have to make it easier for people to get connected at your church.
Make it Easy to Volunteer and get into a Group
People come to church for all kinds of reasons but they stay at a church because of relationship and responsibility. So instead of making it difficult to volunteer and get into a group make it easy. The best way to build a great assimilation process at your church is to focus on building a strong culture of volunteering and Bible Study Groups.
Create an Invitation Culture
When people come to church with people,assimilation becomes easy because there is already an existing relationship. In the same study conducted by LifeWay Research referenced above, they found the following to be true:
- Most people come to church because of a personal invitation
- 7 out of 10 unchurched people have never been invited to church
- Only 2% of church members invite an unchurched person to church
- 82% of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited
This post is an excerpt from an article that I originally wrote for Converge Point Magazine.