10 Ways to Grow Your Church (growing Through Engagement)

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In an era of declining church attendance, how do you grow your church and advance your mission?

Well, one way is this: You turn ordinary attendees into passionate champions of the mission.

For too long, many North American Christians have thought that sitting passively in the back row is all that was required of them. For many, the main goal of finding a church is to attend one you ‘like.’

The goal of any Christian should never be to find a church you like and sit in the back row. The goal should be to engage the mission fully. 

It should be about how to grow a church community and reach more people.

Again and again, it’s engaged Christians who advance the mission.

Engaged people are passionate people. They know what the mission is, they serve in it, and they live it out.

They’re passionate enough about it to invite their friends.

Over the long term, in a church, you can accomplish more with 300 engaged Christians than with 3,000 disengaged attendees.

The disengaged group will dwindle. The 300 engaged Christians will advance the mission and never stay the same.

Yes, only God can bring growth. But he uses people who are engaged to do it.

So if you were going to drive engagement with the hope of growing a church, how would you do it?

Here are 10 ways to grow a church, by increasing engagement in person: (If you want 7 tips to increase digital engagement, you can get them in the Church Leader Toolkit here.)The goal of any Christian should never be to find a church you like and sit in the back row. The goal should be to engage the mission fully. CLICK TO TWEET

This article was updated and republished on June 19th, 2023.

1. Challenge People to Serve

People who serve in the mission are people who are engaged in the mission.

I know this is near heresy in some circles, but encouraging people to volunteer may be more important than encouraging them to join a group.

At Connexus, where I used to serve as head pastor, we found that our healthiest people were not those who are in groups: They were those who serve. People who serve (as a rule) get the mission. They’re on a mission. And they love the mission.

Our goal was to get everyone into a group, but only doing group can feed into a self-centered agenda in the same way as sitting in the back row and not engaging in the mission. It’s a bit of a selfish approach to church for a long-term Christian.

Groups can be about you, whereas serving is almost never about you.

I still think everyone should be in a group, but if a group is all you do as a Christian, it can feed into the consumer frenzy that is North American culture.

If you need to improve your volunteer culture, think about what questions volunteers might have but are afraid to ask and then answer them!

I teach this material in-depth (and much, much more) in my Church Growth Master Class, as well.People who serve (as a rule) get the mission. They’re on a mission. And they love the mission.CLICK TO TWEET

2. Clear the Way for People to Get Involved

The challenge for many people who participate in a congregation is that they don’t know what to do to get involved.

Church websites can be fuzzy about next steps. So can church leaders.

Often during services, we list 12 things people can do to get more engaged in their faith and the mission.

Faced with too many choices, most people choose nothing.

The more clear and simple you can make the path toward engagement, the more people will travel it.

At Connexus Church, we reorganized our lobby, ditching the “Welcome Desk” for two simple kiosks.

Now, we have a “New Here” kiosk for new guests. And we have a “Next Steps” kiosk with trained guest services people who act a bit like concierges. They help people discover which next step is best for them (baptism v. serving v. joining a group v. Starting Point etc.).

We tried to take the confusion away at every level and simply help people engage.

We also tried to make our language from the front clear and direct.

A clear path forward is a clear path to growing a church.A clear path forward for first-time guests and visitors is a clear path to growing a church.CLICK TO TWEET

3. Focus Your Programs Around Your Mission

Years ago, we dumped a program-based church model (if you can dream it, we’ll do it) for a much simpler model.

Why?

In part, we moved to a simpler model because when you give people too many choices, people choose nothing.

But we also changed it because we realized that what people are involved in becomes the mission.

So if you have lots of off-mission programs (like the Quilting Club or the Men Who Eat Bear Meat Fellowship), you’ll have a hard time focusing people on what you really want them to do.

They’re passionate about their ministries, but not the ministry.

And that’s the problem. Too many Christians get passionate about their mission, not THE mission.

If you want people to be passionate about the central mission of your church, only do programming that directly advances the central mission.

When you say “no” to a hundred other missions, you say “yes” to the most important mission.Too many Christians are passionate about their ministries but not THE mininistry.CLICK TO TWEET

4. Create a Culture Where Engagement Is Expected

People eventually conform to expectations.

Tell a child he’ll never amount to anything, and he’ll likely give up on the dream of college. Tell a child she can persevere and accomplish the tasks ahead of her, and she likely will.

People both rise and descend to our level of expectations.

The same is true of congregations.

When you don’t expect people to do more than attend your church, don’t be surprised if all they do is attend your church.

Craft a church culture through your words, calls to action on a Sunday, and in all your communications where you expect people to serve, join a group, bring a friend, and give generously. 

The stronger your culture, the more your church will grow.When you don’t expect people to do more than attend your church, don’t be surprised if all they do is attend your church.CLICK TO TWEET

5. Preach Action, Not Knowledge

Preachers have this incredible 20-40 minute window to speak into people’s lives every week.

You can use it to give people information, or you can use it to call people to action.

The second is a far better strategy to grow your church.

Not that you need to hammer people every week. But with your words, you can make it clear that the goal of the Christian faith is not to know something but to do something with what you know.

If you continue to talk about how to get involved and join the mission, providing clear, actionable steps and opportunities to do so, eventually, more people will engage. 

If you don’t, they won’t.

So do it.

6. Use Active Language

We’ve had a simple model of church at Connexus since we started, but right now, we’re changing the language of engagement from passive language to more active language.

Here’s the background.

For years, we’ve used these four single words to explain our simple model of ministry and call people to action:

  • Connect (for groups)
  • Serve (to volunteers)
  • Invite (to invite a friend)
  • Give (to donate)

However, we realized those words weren’t “connecting” with the congregation and visitors, so we unveiled new language to convey the same steps.

We’ve also added a fifth step because we’re seeing so many unchurched people and were moved to a more active language designed to drive action and engagement:

  • Become a Christian (new)
  • Join the Mission (was “Serve”)
  • Bring a Friend (was “Invite”)
  • Choose Community (was “Connect”)
  • Give Generously (was “Give”)

The idea is that these phrases roll off the tongue more naturally and paint a clearer outcome toward deeper engagement with the mission than the old language did.

We imagine a day when hundreds more people become Christians, join the mission, bring friends, choose community, and give generously.

That kind of action changes people, communities, and cities.

Whatever language you use, make sure it conveys the outcome you long for.

7. Reward & Celebrate Progress 

However you define increased engagement, reward it whenever you see it.

How can you do this?

Celebrate it Publicly

Sometimes church leaders are great at asking but not at reporting back afterward.

If you ask for volunteers and you get 75 new ones, make a point of celebrating it the following weekend. Tell some stories. Shoot some video. 

Thank people.

Ditto for when people give generously, or bring a friend, or when 100 new people join a community group.

Pretend it’s baptism Sunday and celebrate.

Affirm it Privately

When you see someone jump in, thank them. Mention it when you talk to them in the foyer.

Thank them in the next email you send them.

Write them a handwritten thank you card.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, just thank them.

Celebrate With Your Key Leaders

Senior leaders can easily fall into the trap of rewarding attendance, not engagement.

To increase engagement, start celebrating how many people signed up rather than how many people showed up.

When you talk about the steps to take and then celebrate when people take them, great things happen in your organization.

Staff and key volunteers need to know when they’re winning. They need to see when their efforts at growing the church are working. Help them see it.

Signing up is better than showing up.

Remember, as a leader, what you celebrate matters.

As Andy Stanley has said many times, “What gets celebrated gets repeated.”“What gets celebrated gets repeated.” @andystanleyCLICK TO TWEET

8. Stop Catering to Members Who Treat Your Church as a Private Club

Many churches today make the critical mistake of focusing too much of their time and effort on the preferences of members.

Members who treat the church as if it’s their private club and prioritize their taste in music, style, or politics impede the mission. And, as I mentioned earlier in this post, you may even have to cut some programs that these members love.

Firstly, catering to this group is killing the church, causing attendance to decline, and people to drift from Christ. None of which help with growing a church.

Secondly, it’s an un-winnable game. You can never please everyone, even in a small congregation.

Lastly, it’s simply wrong to let personal preferences keep people from God’s love. It’s time to change those preferences if they hinder the unchurched from experiencing the promise of Christ.

9. Equip Members to Have Spiritual Conversations With Non-Religious People

If you asked your congregation how comfortable they are talking about their faith with non-religious people, some answers might surprise you.

Even people who have been Christian their entire life can have difficulties finding the right time, place, and words to approach spiritual conversations with their unchurched friends – even when they want to.

To start, you’ll want to encourage your congregation accordingly:

  1. To be patient. Don’t begin with your own stories or rush into the conversation.
  2. To move past assumptions. Often, we have already pre-decided what someone thinks about God. Listen before speaking.
  3. Express interest and curiosity. If you don’t care about this person, you don’t get to nudge the conversation into the faith arena. 
  4. Know your truth. Reach daily into scripture and apply the words of Jesus to your life. God will use you.

Doing this is how churches grow.

10. Be Prepared to Have Deep Conversations Where They’re Taking Place

Whether it’s to keep your congregation engaged, answer a prayer request, or have a conversation with someone exploring their faith – texts, emails, and social media are where these conversations start.

While traditional methods still have their place, there’s no denying that communication is changing – not just for people, but for churches as well.

If you fail to adapt how you’re communicating, you’ll also fail to engage the very people you’re trying to reach.

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