How to shrink your church or ministry:1. Never change. 2. Keep to yourselves. Do not build any bridges to the community. 3. Make people fat on sermons/study and forget the vitamin A (application). 4. Never experiment, just stick to what you know. 5. Exist for yourselves, to keep each other happy. 6. Keep everything you do within the four walls of your church. Make your focus the one hour on Sunday.
Of course, the opposite is true, if you desire to reach more or new people with the Gospel.
This past week I was visiting three different ministries that were all asking the same question “How do we grow?”, that is “How do we grow in numbers?”, “How do we reach more people, particularly the younger generation?” One was a conference where the average age has kept creeping upwards, and a sea of gray hair dominated the audience. Yet, for the first time they were experimenting with running a retreat for pre-teens simultaneously. One was a small church where the youngest people were in their early sixties, but they were asking how they need to change to connect with the younger generations. One was a kids’ club with eight very well cared for kids. The leaders met with Andrew and I after the program and their big question was “How do we grow?” I love the attitude of these places! All are willing to ask, “Is there something different or more we need to be doing?” I love their willingness to ask the difficult questions. I love their hearts that want to reach more people.
I can hear you asking already – “Is it about the numbers?” Yes and no.
No - We cannot underestimate the value of pouring into a few lives, extremely well. I was particularly impressed with the kids’ ministry we visited this week. They had eight kids and three leaders (usually they have four leaders, one was sick). It was so clear those kids knew they were loved, known and cared for by the leaders. The leaders and kids see each other regularly, not only at kids’ club, but also out in the community where they look out for each other. I kept thinking about the Hemorrhaging Faith statistics, the high number of kids who grow up in the church, but leave the church by the time they are young adults. I was thinking about how connected these eight kids were: to seeing faith lived out in the community, to peers in the club with them, to opportunities to share their own questions, to leadship opportunities…and I thought these kids, with this many adults watching out for them, will not be one of those statistics. I’ve seen plenty of kids, youth and adult ministries with a lot more numbers, but also with a lot less effective transformation, community and discipleship. It isn’t all about the numbers, it’s what you are doing with those numbers. How are you being faithful with what God has given you? And yet, those leaders, were desiring to see more kids come.
Yes - It is a good desire that they want to see more kids come. Of course we’d want more kids to have this same support of caring adults, a loving community, a place to come to know God, a place to develop their faith… Of course you want to see more people come to your church/ministry, especially if your desire is for those people to know the God who loves them, journeys with them and has a mission for them. It’s growth for a reason. It’s not flashy growth or gimmicks to get growth. It’s multiplying what is good and trusting God for the growth. Each number, each life, matters to God and to us. So we should be multiplying! Faithfulness also looks like following God to find lost sheep. Faithfulness looks like making changes to remove barriers from new people, new generations coming to Christ. Faithfulness looks like doing everything you can for the sake of the Gospel and trusting God for the growth.
Yes and No I love that these churches/ministries are asking for growth. We’re made to grow. We should desire to see God transform more lives. This isn’t a bigger is better blog. This is a faithfulness blog. We are called to reach the people around us. We are called to pass on the faith to the next generations. We are called to share the Gospel and make disciples. We are invited to leave the 99 and find the 1 who isn’t with us any more or never was with us.
How do you grow? How do you reach new people?
1. Change something – If you want to reach people you are not currently reaching you’ve got to do something different. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. What has become a barrier to this generation, particularly the young generation, connecting with your church/ministry? Where can you change to create greater relevance to every day people in your community? Some examples might be – change your on-line presence, change your formality, offer a new option for worship, change the ages represented on the platform, change where you meet, turn a program into a inter-generational experience…
2. Build a new bridge – Where can your church/ministry build a new bridge into your community? Are their existing connections from church members to schools, boards, city councils, camps, people groups, sports teams, food banks…? How could you be a support, resource or blessing to these connections? How can you build a bridge so that a new pocket in your community could see your faith in action? They might not be ready to come check out your church, but you can build a bridge to them and start a connection. Another question to ask is whether it is time to build a new bridge with another church – to share a youth ministry, to combine in running an Alpha program or to talk about amalgamation.
3. Equip - Equip people to live out their faith. Have clear applications from sermons/studies that help people connect Sunday to the rest of the week. It’s not enough to tell people – tell them, show them and give them practice in living out their faith when…there is an argument in their home, when their neighbourhood is going through a rough patch, when their health takes a turn for the worse, when their workplace becomes toxic, when they are trying to talk about God to their kids, when they are trying to talk to their kids about hot topics… Also equip people to personally invite others and talk about how Jesus is making a difference in their lives. Help people know how to line-up every area of their lives with the ways of Jesus and call them to live that out daily. Make it clear that belief in Jesus leads to changed living in all areas of life. Your community will notice changed lives.
4. Try a new experiment – if you want to reach new people, try something new. Call it an experiment and try it – try involving the church in the community parade, try sitting around round tables on a Sunday, try having a free BBQ in the park, try having a grandparent/grandchild day, try having a party for the new Canadians in your area… Experiments give us permission to try and assess the results later.
5. Have a crystal clear passion for a cause – we live in a world where people are keenly aware of the struggles and challenges of those in our community and world. They and we are often overwhelmed in discerning what to respond to and how to respond well. Give them a cause to focus on and an avenue to help. Let your church/ministry be known for making a difference in one area, and invite others to join you in that cause, even before they know what they believe about Jesus.
6. Invite everyone to join God in changing their neighbourhoods – Everyone is a minister. Train people to show and tell faith in the places where they live, work, study and play. Your greatest evangelism tool will not be a program, it won’t even be Sunday morning. Your greatest evangelism tool will be people in your congregation showing and telling the Gospel to others they know. Your greatest advertisement will be the people in your ministry telling the story of what a difference the ministry has made in their life. Equip people to share, in relevant and personal ways, with those they are already connected with in their daily lives. Imagine if everybody in your congregation became the “minister” to those around them in the places they go – journeying with the people around them in their life through their questions, struggles and faith journey. If you have eight people actively joining God in their ordinary lives every day, you are way further ahead then having eighty people whose faith is not evident beyond an hour on Sunday. Get people out of the four walls of your church and help them to see they are all ministers and ministry happens through them every day. Christianity was never meant to be contained within walls, it is a movement – unstoppable, every-growing, life-changing movement. Invite people to be part of the movement, with God, every day.
Help us out, what other advice should we be giving these churches/ministries that want to grow, for the sake of the Kingdom?