I like outliers.
Outliers are, by their definition, exceptions to the rule. They are different from others.
Our Church Answers team closely watches church attendance, especially attendance since the pandemic. Most churches had a decline in attendance. Since many of these congregations are intentional about recovering from the decreases, we note what approaches these churches take.
Our team reports trends among large numbers of churches. But some churches are growing using approaches that don’t match the current trends. Here are five surprising practices a few churches are using to increase attendance.
- Subtract and add. One church used the pandemic to review all of its ministries and programs. The church leaders realized they had too much activity with little fruit. So, they decided to eliminate the time-wasting activities. They moved methodically, at times slowly, lest they engender too much conflict. Over the past three years, the church has eliminated six programs and activities that were largely unfruitful. But they took it one step further. The leaders committed to adding a Great Commission or outwardly focused ministry whenever they saw the need to introduce something new to the church. They have to date added two of those ministries. The net result is the removal of six time-draining ministries and the addition of two growth-focused ministries. Their attendance has moved from 117 to 154 since this new approach began.
- Two invite programs a year. Two churches started with similar emphases. Both congregations have two major emphases a year where they attempt to get every member to invite one person to church on a specific date. For one of the two dates, they connect it to a naturally high attendance day like Easter or Christmas Eve. For the other invitation day, they pick a date that is typically a typical attendance day. One pastor told us that his church’s attendance had broken the 200 level for the first time in its history. We did not get specific numbers on the second church, though the pastor commented that this emphasis engendered “healthy attendance growth” for each of the past three years. Church Answers has its own resource for invitation programs called Invite Your One.
- One More Group. A Midwestern pastor heard one of our podcasts where we talked about the vital importance of groups: community groups, home groups, Sunday school classes, life groups, and others. He led his church to start at least one new group a year. In three years, the church has created five new groups, and the church has nearly doubled in attendance from 80 to 155.
- The Hope Initiative. Though this ministry is less than a year old, we are getting growth and renewal reports that far exceed our expectations. A pastor in Kentucky told us that when he came to his church in 2021, attendance was 80 to 100. They have gone through The Hope Initiative twice. Attendance is up to 180, and 15 people have been saved.
- Evangelism training in new member classes. The first time I heard about a church putting this training in a new member class, my reaction was, “Why haven’t I thought about this before?” This particular church uses the training called “3 Circles.” The app version is called “Life on Mission.” The pastor said he spends about 20 minutes teaching it, confident the new members can use the app from that point forward. Since integrating the training into the new member class three years ago, attendance has increased from 315 to 390.
Please understand two points about these five approaches. First, they are outliers (though The Hope Initiative may soon defy the definition of an outlier). Most of them are not in widespread use. Second, they are not silver bullets. They are different approaches to obedience to the Great Commission.
I would love to hear from you. Please share what tools or approaches God is using in your church. Your response would be a blessing to all of us.
Posted on November 20, 2023
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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