Many churches find themselves in a catch-22 when it comes to growth. It’s hard to find an effective church growth strategy that doesn’t require significant funds.
But in order to get more money, the church needs to grow.
Churches in these situations need to find some simple ways to reach out regularly. You’ll find pretty quickly that consistent community involvement will create momentum in ways that the occasional huge outreach never could. Plus, frequent outreaches will change the way church members see their relationship to the community.
When a church puts together a church growth strategy, they’re really thinking about infiltration. How can they embed their church more in the community? Too often we see our building or meeting places as a destination for drawing people. A major shift happens when we begin to see our city as our focus. The moment everyone begins to see their church as the community’s church, everything changes.
Here are ten church growth strategies to get you started:
Church Growth Strategy #1: Build key relationships
When churches are trapped within their building’s walls, they gravitate toward the same ideas about outreach. There are some well-worn practices and service opportunities that churches tend to move towards.
For instance, when a church thinks about service, they gravitate toward food kitchens or serving the homeless. The only problem is that every other church in your community is thinking about those same things. Also, if you live in a rural area, poverty looks a lot different than it does in an inner city. The homeless community is less obvious, and it can be harder to really get a handle on where the need is.
If you can be strategic about building relationships with key members of your community, you can gain a broader view of local needs. The right relationships can give your church a better understanding of your city’s pressure points and supply all sorts of opportunities to come up with creative solutions and ministries.
As you deepen these relationships, these key individuals will see your church as a trustworthy resource. They’ll start coming to you with opportunities, questions, and suggestions—and they’ll also direct people to you.
Here are some people to reach out to:
Mayor and City Council
Find a few people in your church who you trust to represent you in city council meetings. Make sure you keep dialogue with these individuals open. If they go to council meetings regularly, it can be easy for them to get passionate and personal about some of the issues that come up and forget that they’re there as ambassadors. Help them remember that their goal is to find ways to build key relationships.
The mayor’s office and city council members are connected to many people in the community. It’s hard to gauge the ripple effect of goodwill that can be created when you forge a sense of camaraderie and collaboration with these key movers.
Police and Fire Departments
These two agencies are on the front lines in your town. If you want to have a better understanding of areas where your church can make a big impact, your relationships here will make a big difference.
Put on barbecues for police and fire departments. Take some of these men and women out to coffee and pick their brains. They’re going to be able to tell you if the community could be served by better drug prevention or recovery classes, divorce recovery, food or winter clothes pantries, etc.
You can also become a clerical first responder who’s called into crisis situations to minister to the individuals involved. Being the pastor on the scene when a child has died or after a fire is an emotionally draining responsibility, but it really helps people in your community and allows you to work alongside the service men and women you’re building relationships with.
Schools are the gateway to the community. By getting involved with school staff, you’re building a relationship with a faculty whose fingers are on the community’s pulse. They touch the lives of most of the town’s families.
There are all kinds of ways your church can serve a school. You can do lawn work and maintenance for them, donate stuff to the breakroom, host back-to-school fairs, put together thank-you bags for the teachers, etc.
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Church Growth Strategy #2: Prayer walks
Prayer walking is a really simple idea. It’s about getting into the community and praying for God’s kingdom to come. The purpose is three-fold:
- It focuses on specific needs for homes and families in the community.
- It helps to build a sense of responsibility for the community in the hearts of churchgoers.
- It demonstrates to God how serious we are about ministering to our communities.
Putting together a prayer walk is easy:
- Have everyone meet at the church or some other central location.
- Break people into groups of two to four.
- Give every group a map with their route (keep the length within what can be covered comfortably in about 90 minutes).
- Release them into the community.
- Gather afterward to talk about your experience, pray, and share some refreshments.
Some Prayer Walk Guidelines
- Be discreet. The point of a prayer walk isn’t to draw attention to yourselves. A huddled group of loudly praying churchgoers in front of a house is more weird and intimidating than it is charming. You want to be on the scene without causing a scene.
- Be open. Greet people on your walk and be open to any conversations that may come your way. But don’t try to force spirituality onto them.
- Be aware. Watch for signs of change in the community. Are there people moving in or out? Are there businesses opening or closing? Are there homes or yards that could need some T.L.C.? Make a note, because you might want to make a point to come back and reach out to these people.
- Be focused. This time isn’t really about going on a walk where you can get to know people in your church better. It’s time to focus on the community. Be careful not to fall into chatting about yourselves and your lives—focus on prayer and the needs of your neighbors. Then use this time to pray together quietly or to yourselves for homes and businesses along your route.
As you’re on your prayer walk, here are some things you can pray for:
- Pray that God would make himself known.
- Pray for God’s peace in your community.
- Pray for blessing in the lives of families.
- Pray for your church to have empathy for the people in your town.
You might wonder how this is a church growth strategy. The truth is that focused regular prayer for your community pays off in all sorts of ways—and might be the best growth strategy there is.
Church Growth Strategy #3: Partner with charities
There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. Your city has plenty of charities and service work going on that your church can join in on.
Consider partnering with…
It’s likely that your town has a few charities. There also might be other national services that have affiliate partnerships in your area. Reach out to them and see how your church might be able to assist them. Ideally, you’ll look for opportunities where you can have direct contact with members of the community.
For instance, it’s better for your church to distribute goods than it is for you to end up in a warehouse bundling goods for someone else to distribute. If you have a choice, choose to interact with others. If that’s not an option, it’s OK; in the end, service of any sort is changing lives.
See if there’s a Love INC in your city. This is a wonderful agency that figures out what kinds of skills the people in your church might have, and then connects those skills with others who are in need of assistance. Once your church goes through the work of assessing the expertise or abilities of each church member, Love INC actually sends people to you. It’s a pretty amazing ministry that feeds you constant outreach opportunities.
Remember you’re not in competition with other churches. Once you figure that out, what your church can do grows exponentially! Look into the work that other churches do and find out how you can pray for and partner with them in it.
Is there another church that’s in the same boat that you’re in? Why not join up and figure out how the two of you can minister to your city together?
This is always a touchy one. Sometimes secular charities are doing work the church should be applauding, but because we don’t want to be associated with some of the beliefs that might accompany their good work, we don’t get involved.
But what if sharing concerns for the same needs is a way that we can introduce the community and these charities’ volunteers to the gospel? If you can find a charity worth getting behind, this can be a way to tear down some walls of division between people and the church—and do good work to boot!
Church Growth Strategy #4: Open up your facility
Some churches have amazing facilities that are only getting used a couple times a week. Opening up your church to different groups can make you a better steward of your building—while you serve your community.
It’s important that your church understands that for this to be a church growth strategy, they need to find ways to serve and interact with the groups that use the facility.
You could open your facility to:
There’s a lot of need for childcare in cities. By opening up part of your church to a daycare, you can help with some of that need without having to be responsible for managing an auxiliary business. As a bonus, you have the opportunity to create relationships with many young families in your community. And if a family thinks about trying out a church, they’ll likely start with the one where they’ve been in the church and met the pastor.
Do you have a local Boy Scout troop? Is anyone trying to build one? This can be another good way to build relationships with families. Your church can cheer kids on and provide refreshments during their pinewood derby or during badge ceremonies.
This might be a big need in your community, and it represents people at their most vulnerable. Because of the anonymity of these groups, you would probably have to be very careful how your church gets involved, but talk to the facilitator and discuss ways you can serve the group.
There are a lot of people in your community who work remotely. But home isn’t always an ideal environment to get stuff done. To make matters worse, it can be expensive for these people to work from a coffee shop every day. Your church might be an exceptional place to provide a comfortable work environment for them.
Be creative. The more you get to know the needs in your community, the better prepared you are to offer your facilities in imaginative ways.
Church Growth Strategy #5: Build an email list
With all the discussions about social media lately, email doesn’t get the love it deserves. If you grow a strong email list and put some strategy behind how it’s used, it will outperform your social media channels.
If you want to use your email list as a strategy for church growth, you’re going to need to populate it with local email addresses. Obviously, this can be done with your church contact cards, but you might also want to create a free devotional or ebook that someone can download for free after joining your list. Just make sure these resources are of particular interest to your community, such as…
- 10 Ways You Can Pray for the City of [blank]
- 20 Fun Things to Do on a Date Night in [blank]
- 10 Commonly-Asked Questions about God and Church
Once someone’s on your email list, you can reach out to them with information about your church, your ministries, and ways they can get involved.
Church Growth Strategy #6: Reach out to new families
It used to be that neighbors would reach out to new families and welcome them with baked goods and meals. Those days have passed, but that opens up a whole new opportunity for the church.
The first thing you have to do is find out when people move to town. This can be done by building trusted relationships with realtors and school administrations. It’s also another way that you can leverage your relationship with city officials.
Then you’ll want to hit up local businesses for coupons and certificates for new families. Businesses will love this because they will get the opportunity to draw these new families into their establishments.
Create gift bags or baskets that include stuff like…
- Certificates and coupons
- Baked goods
- A little book with important resource numbers in the community (e.g., plumber, veterinarian, family doctor, babysitting services, etc.)
- Information about your church
You can have one night monthly or bi-weekly when people go out and deliver the baskets to new families. It’s as simple as knocking on the door and saying, “Hi! We’re from [church name] and we just wanted to welcome you to town. We have some goodies here for you and we wanted to let you know that we’re here if you need any help settling in.”
Church Growth Strategy #7: Grow your Facebook presence
Imagine if there was a place where your whole city hung out at least once a day. It would be foolish not to have a presence there, right? That is exactly how you need to think about Facebook. It’s an opportunity for your church to set up shop where so many people are spending their time.
You want to get your entire church involved in your social media strategy. The key is to get people liking, sharing, and commenting on what your church posts. The more involved they are, the more exposure you’ll get. Your goal is to get into local people’s news feeds.
To do this, be thoughtful about what you share. Bible verses imposed over pretty backgrounds might get a lot of engagement, but they don’t necessarily tell people who you are or what you’re about. You want to include stories of changed lives, successful ministries and outreaches, and celebrations of things going on in the community.
Pro-tip: Use Facebook events strategically for your activities. This gives people in your church a low-pressure way to invite their friends to your events.
Church Growth Strategy #8: Create an onboarding process
Most churches don’t have a clearly communicated strategy for turning visitors into attendees. You need to think through ways to…
- Make visitors feel welcome
- Capture their contact information
- Reach out to them during the week
- Invite them back
This can’t rest solely on leadership. You need to mobilize your people to reach out to visitors. They need to be trained to ask the right kinds of questions so they can discover visitor’s interests. This way, they can connect with others in the church who have similar interests.
The goal here isn’t simply to be friendly. It’s to make visitors feel welcome, create reasons they’d want to return, and prevent them from falling through the cracks.
Church Growth Strategy #9: Throw Matthew parties
Matthew’s gospel tells the story about how he came to follow Jesus:
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.
Matthew invited all of his friends over to meet Jesus. Some churches have followed his lead and created “Matthew parties” where they invite local low-income and needy families to a party at their church. They might barbecue some donated burgers, watch a movie in the sanctuary, and play games on the grounds. The whole point is just to create an opportunity to build relationships in the community.
Spirituality can happen naturally as church members talk to people about their lives and offer to pray with others as it feels natural.
To get these kinds of activities off the ground, church members can be tasked to invite 3–5 friends (Facebook events make this a lot easier to do). If you do this regularly, it’s easier to get the community on board.
Church Growth Strategy #10: Single parent care
There are a lot of single parents out there who could use some help. Get creative about ways you can minister to them. Maybe your church can offer free oil changes or lawn care and home weatherization.
If you want to do any of these ideas without out-of-pocket expense, you’re going to need to get local businesses or families to donate supplies.
For oil changes:
- Other fluids (windshield wiper fluid, antifreeze, etc.)
For lawn care and weatherizations:
- Caulk for doors and windows
- Vent covers
- Faucet covers
- Plastic sheeting for unsealed windows
- Garbage bags for leaves
- Mower gasoline
Invitations can be sent out through a Facebook event, a Craigslist ad, or flyers around local businesses. It’s ideal if you can get people to make appointments so that you can ensure that you don’t run out of supplies.
It’s helpful to have some people on hand who can visit with people as their lawn, home, or car is worked on. It’s wonderful to do acts of service, but the key is to build relationships with the people you’re helping so that they don’t feel like strangers if they visit your church.
Take Advantage of the Opportunities
I tell you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ripe for harvest.
Once your church begins to look up and outward, you’ll see opportunities differently. The church building isn’t a place you should hope to attract people to; it’s a base from which you send out troops to love the community around you
In the end, church growth strategy is synonymous with serving others.
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