‘Church growth’ is a divisive phrase. For some the word is exciting. A church that’s growing has a buzz, more people coming to know Jesus, fuller auditoriums, more leaders. For others, this phrase talks about turning church into a corporation: it’s all about getting numbers for numbers sake, organisational growth without spiritual growth and looking like the next ‘big thing’.
At thinking.church we don’t focus on growth, we focus on health. Why? Think like a parent. Are you more focused on your children growing or being healthy? Being unhealthy can stunt a person's growth, however when you are healthy, growth just happens.
To stretch this further, think about when a person stops growing. The reason you stop growing is because it would become unhealthy to grow much further. A quick google of gigantism shows that it’s very possible to grow beyond the point of health, and when that happens, life expectancy goes down.
Think about churches that plant multiple locations (A.K.A. multisite). If you’re not healthy to start with, you start replicating ill-health, and the whole church can suffer as a result. Common symptoms of this are launching too soon, launching with a different culture, launching in the wrong location and launching too many. It’s growth, but it’s not good growth, and often not sustainable growth.
Would this then suggest that there’s an ideal maximum size of a church? That would be missing the point. It’s not about maximum size, it’s about health. As long as you stay healthy, growth is fine.
In the U.K., we have rarely have the problem of gigantism, our problem is dwarfism. Most churches are reaching fewer people than they could. And the common cause? You guessed it, health. What churches need is health.
So what does health look like? It starts with clarity of mission, values and strategy. And one of those strategies is growth: how do we reach more people?
So what are the things that are going to help you reach more people? It depends on your context, your target market and the skills and abilities within your church. Here’s a few that you should start thinking about:
The statistics are clear, most people who engage with a church in person have been engaging for a long time online. It’s the modern world. When was the last time you went to a restaurant and didn’t check the menu online first? Engagement happens well before they step in the building.
Here’s the issue. It puts a lot of pressure on your service. Suddenly, less than excellent worship is a non-negotiable. Would you listen to someone sing out of tune on your computer? No way. Would you listen to a 30 minute talk if it didn’t grab you in the first 10 seconds? No way.
The counter argument to this is that we shouldn’t be catering to “consumers” but to those who really want to engage. It’s a nice thought, but the simple fact is that everyone starts off as a consumer. The point is that you take people on a journey from consumer to a fully devoted, non-consumer follower of Christ. But if you want to reach people, you need to meet people where they’re at. An excellent weekend service is now a given if you want to reach more people.
Excellence is a baseline, but so too is authenticity. You can create an excellent service, great music and great preaching, but if there is no authenticity to who you really are, your online audience will be in for a shock when they arrive in person. Don’t throw out authenticity for the sake of excellence, and vice versa… both must exist.
Here’s the other note of caution: be careful of the legal aspect. You need to make sure you have the right licences to perform songs online, and that’s not just other peoples’ songs either. Check with the CCLI first and get yourself some legal assistance. You don’t want to land yourself in trouble.
Of course, in the post-COVID world, online services are no-longer an option, they’re a necessity.
Like with Church Online, engagement happens online far before physically entering the building. So it’s worth thinking about your website. Who does it exist for, what does it exist to do?
Throughout the brief history of the internet, websites have gone through a number of phases regarding their existence. The early purpose of the website was to make it a notice sign, that is, just creating an ‘online presence’ that you exist. The next iteration of the website was all about forums. Creating a place for people to chat was the big thing, but with the problem that there was no real purpose behind this conversation. Not to mention the amount of time curating the content.
The next phase of the website became making websites a news source. Websites like the BBC popularised websites as a place that you come back to, so there was a need for regular news and posts.
The latest iteration of the website is to blend the three into a purposeful sales website. It’s no longer just about creating an online presence, it’s about creating a funnel to help people take the next step. It’s not just about community, but it’s about finding the right community experience for the right purpose. It’s not just about news, it’s about meaningful content that helps you stay top of mind of those you are seeking to reach.
So with your church website, think about creating it for first time guests. What do they need to know? What do they not need to know? What community space do they need? What content would be right for them?
After you’ve sorted that, you can begin to strategise about how you layout your website. Here, it’s worth reading up on the current best practice of where to place buttons and how to write copy. If you want to reach more people, everything about your website should be intentional.
If you’re a multisite church or thinking about going multisite, this should be your number one strategy. However, we mostly find that very little strategy actually goes into the planting of new churches or campuses. Many plants happen on an opportunity basis, a church folding hands over the keys to the building or someone moves to another location and offers to set up a new campus, or often, you pick a big city and hope for the best.
Before you plant, you have to know why you want to plant. If your reasoning is that you’ve promised to plant a defined number of campuses, or that you think it will make your church look bigger than it actually is, stop! The world doesn’t need any more vanity campuses.
Only plant from a place of health.
There’s a number of strategies around the best way to plant, but the majority comes down to this: Do you have a Nationwide/Worldwide brand? If you are known throughout the country, the options for planting new campuses or churches become a lot more open. Here’s the obvious problem though… that’s really hard to get, unless you’re a Hillsong, Bethel or Elevation. If you have this, you can rock up at almost any location and it will draw people, because your brand has gone before you, so people know what to expect. Remember, your brand is your reputation. When people know who you are and what to expect, you can go to places where you haven’t been before and you’ll draw people.
If you don’t have a Nationwide brand, there’s still hope. The best place to start is with the congregation you’ve got. Look for large pockets of your congregation travelling from 20-30 minutes away, then look to start a campus there. Be careful though, there’s a reason that they’re travelling 20-30 minutes to get to your church… you need to make sure you replicate the same feel, heart and excellence in your new campus.
These are not exclusive routes for growth. And doing them doesn’t guarantee that you’ll reach more people. At the end of the day, Christ will build his church. We have the awesome responsibility like Paul and Apollos of planting seeds and watering them, but in the end, only Jesus makes them grow. What may work for you may not work for others.
We’d love to hear what you think are the main areas to focus on for reaching more people. If you’d like help figuring out how to reach more people, we can help. You can book a FREE 1-hour Consultation call with us to discuss how to work out your growth plan.