Church Growth: Details and the Devil

churchgrowthL Josh Hunt recently sent out a newsletter pointing out how the little things often make a huge difference in church growth. Now, the big things are big for a reason, but even if you get the big things right, the little things can kill you.

Here’s his list of little things many churches need to work on —

Advertising — although few converts come in through advertising, it just might be because churches do so little! But if you commit resources to advertising, ask your new members if it influenced them. If it doesn’t work, spend the money more productively somewhere else.

Web page — today, most young people, and many older, will check out your web site before visiting. How does the site look to a visitor who knows nothing else about your church? At the least, it should provide insight into your congregation’s story: what makes you special? And it must give essential visitor information — directions, service times, adult class schedules, and such. And it needs to look up to date! And keep it current. If the information is for 6 months ago, it looks like you’re not paying attention, because you’re not.

Curb appeal — women have a major influence on a family’s decision where to attend. Women will hold you to the same standards they impose on themselves when it comes to housekeeping. Would your wife be proud if your yard at home looks like your church’s yard? Is your church landscaped and maintained as well as your own home? I mean, the same women who watch the Home and Garden network will look at your church like a house they might buy.

Greeters — the best greeter program we have are a few members who’ve volunteered to stand outside (often with an umbrella) to greet members and visitors, dispense welcomes and hugs, and make people feel truly welcomed — 75 feet before you get to the building. But the church also needs greeters inside who serve to welcome, give directions, and introduce visitors to teachers, small group leaders, and walk the visitor to a classroom and make introductions.

Paint — how do your walls look to newcomers? It’s amazing how blind we become to what we see every week. It takes a visitor to mention the drab walls or peeling paint before we even see it. Unfortunately, the visitors aren’t habituated, and so they see it all immediately.

Restrooms — women notice restrooms and will judge you by them. How do they smell? Are they spotlessly clean? Are they pretty? Are they decorated? The men aren’t generally as particular, but if you’re out of toilet paper, soap, or paper towels, or the restrooms are poorly maintained, even the men will think you’re incompetent.

Preschool — mothers expect meticulous sanitation, great attention to security, and an “enriched environment” with posters and other learning material prominently placed throughout the facility.

Little stacks of old literature — 15 or more years ago, my wife was asked to direct a wedding at our church. She assigned me to clean up the foyer. I thought there was nothing to do. It’s always clean, I thought to myself. But when I started to clean up, I found enough trash just lying around here and there to fill two garbage bags! Every horizontal surface was covered with lesson materials and bulletins from years gone by. It had been there so long, we just never noticed!

The same is true in classrooms. How many stacks of handouts and lesson books from prior quarters are there? Never begin a quarter without throwing away last quarter’s mess.

Music — again, habituation is the enemy. You may have heard “Ring It Out!” so many times you actually enjoy it, but your visitors will find Stamps-Baxter corny and odd. Get rid of it! Never again! In fact, if you don’t get your music attractive to visitors, you’re going to fail to grow and lose your children. It’s really just that simple. And if some older members hate the change, tell them to grow up. It’s not about making members comfortable. It’s about saving souls.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Church Growth: Details and the Devil

  1. johndobbs says:

    Great list! Thanks! I do think, though, that the outdoor greeters can be threatening. I once drove into a car lot and three salesmen left the porch and walked toward me before I got out of the car. I simply drove through and didn't stop. Hopefully we're not regarded as car salesmen hot for a commission … but … maybe there's a way to do this that is not 'in your face' … but just warm.

    Thanks!

  2. David Guin says:

    Seems like you've got two independent lines of thought going on recently with respect to what it means to be church, and I'm not sure they mesh very well. Several months ago, the series was on "missional" Christianity, which stands in stark contrast to an "attractional" facilities and programs-based model of being church. Whereas the facilities/programs model seeks to draw people to a congregation, being missional is more focused on going to where people are and building the Kingdom there (instead of attracting them back to our programs/facilities).

    This more recent discussion sounds more like the "church growth movement" of the 1970s-1990s. The newsletter mentioned today, e.g., could have come straight out of one of the CGM books from 1980. Most of the points made relate to making ourselves and our facilities attractive to others – but primarily – to other Christians. The mindset is one of competing against other churches. This newsletter, e.g., is about how to distinguish "our" church from the church down the street. We should have cleaner restrooms, easier parking, prettier paint. That seems to me to have very little if anything to do with spreading the good news of the Kingdom, but more to do with attracting Christians who are tired of their church's worn out carpet, etc. Or it may appeal to Christians who have moved into a community and are shopping for a church home, but to me, it seems to seek to attract them for all the wrong reasons.

    The fastest growing churches in Birmingham right now are of two molds – the attractional/"church growth movement" model built on newer/nicer facilities, dynamic "relevant" preaching, etc., and missional churches operating out of rented or borrowed facilities built around community Bible studies rather than Sunday morning worship. Both are growing in numbers, but the latter are growing the Kingdom while the former are playing a shell game (not exclusively, but mostly), moving members from one church to another. The latter emphasize living the good news of the Kingdom; the former emphasize a more therapeutic gospel that asks little in return except money to fund the improved facilities and programs.

    I visited one of the 2 or 3 fastest growing churches in the area Sunday. They had a pothole-filled parking lot; I had to park pretty far from the door on a drizzly morning; old A-frame auditorium with no glass that was purchased from a former private school. But no one cared. They weren't there for those things. They were excited to be together wherever that could be to share what God was doing in their lives. This church focuses its life around community groups, who come together on Sundays to share what God is doing. Whereas most churches do the reverse – build everything around Sunday mornings, and maybe use small groups to keep the pilot light burning between Sunday worship services. Very different perspective, but one that makes facilities of little significance and sharing lives of much greater significance.

    So how does this newsletter and the book you've been reviewing recently fit into missional Christianity? They sure sound attractional/CGM to me. Of course, being "missional" doesn't mean you sell your church building, but it does mean you don't focus on it as a means of growth.

  3. Jay Guin says:

    johndobbs,

    It can certainly be done in a non-threatening way. You just need people who like other people. We are very blessed in this way. Our outdoor greeters were not recruited. They just decided to do it. They don't see themselves as salesmen. They just very much want people to feel welcomed — members and visitors alike.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    David,

    Josh Hunt writes on church growth largely via small groups and Sunday school classes, from a Southern Baptist perspective. He is mainly into friendship evangelism.

    As important as missionality is, I don't think the church growth ideas are all wrong. It's not either-or. GCM is woefully incomplete. And it puts the emphasis in the wrong place. But I think many of the lessons remain true.

    We make our building available to all sorts of charitable groups in town for nominal cost — and they greatly appreciate it (most churches in town charge quite a lot, using their buildings as profit centers). And we have events where we invite people to our facility — Christmas dinner for those served by our Harvest Hands food distribution program, Apples of Gold for school teachers in the community, etc.

    If we were to invite visitors in and have messy bathrooms or an ugly lawn or trash lying around, we'd be a poor host — and would be much less likely to appeal to visitors.

    On the other hand, to the extent "missional" means getting out of the building, into the community you serve, you'd think the building would become much less important in terms of attracting the lost. But if you expect the people you meet and convert to worship with you, you still need to have music that doesn't make them laugh at you and you should have enough respect for your visitors to clean up your trash and maintain your lawn.

    And while we want to focus on conversion growth, rather than transfer growth, we sure like to have folks who move into town ready to go to work and do mission. If our website is missing directions or is badly out of date, we look like we don't know what we're doing and they just might not bother to even visit.

    Ultimately, you just don't want to look bad or inept or out of touch when you can very easily avoid giving a bad impression. I'm not saying you should spend $10,000,000 on a building or that you should hire a huge staff — only that for not much money — often none at all — you can avoid putting people off and even become much more attractive.

    I mean, I don't care what your theology is, you really need to make sure the bathrooms are clean and well stocked. Isn't that just the Golden Rule?

    But I'm intrigued by the idea of dispensing with the building altogether. The International Churches of Christ generally rent their worship space and it frees a lot of money for better uses. I'm in conversation with an elder of the ICOC on this subject and will likely be posting some ideas on how to do church without any building at all. If you rent, someone else is responsible for the toilet paper!

  5. David Guin says:

    I'm familiar with the "doubling" SS class concept and with Hunt – the doubling concept reminds me of the "Andy Griffith" episode where Opie tries to get rich by doubling his pennies every day.

    But relational/friendship evangelism can still be tied to an attractional/facilities-based model, and that is where you get into the danger of creating a sense of "marketing" to folks similar to that noted by johnbell. It's pretty common. A church starts a new friendship evangelism drive. Small groups are formed with goals for inviting the "unchurched" to their meetings. These small groups are viewed as "foyers" or entryways into the "living room," i.e., church. Once the new unchurched person is drafted into the church, s/he is put into a new small group with the goal of drafting yet more unchurched people into coming to their church. It's still an attractional model, and the danger noted by johndobbs of people feeling they got a "bait & switch" or were just marketed to is very present.

    Of course, any time one hosts others, whether in a home or church, the welcome mat should be extended and the bathrooms cleaned. No dispute there. The difference between attractional and missional models has more to do with what it means to "be" church. It's a matter of focus and emphasis – Kingdom vs. congregation. Attractional churches are primarily about Sunday worship and attracting/inviting others (both Christian and not) to visit – whether directly to the church bldg or indirectly through the intermediate step of a relational small group. Tremendous emphasis must therefore be placed on appearance, maintenance, a professional-appearing presentation and the like.

    In a more missional, Kingdom-focused approach – as I view it (and as I understood your earlier series to describe it) – church is lived at the community or small group level. It's not an intermediate or temporary step to getting someone to attend your church – it IS church, at least of the sort described in Acts 2 and 4. Bldgs can be a part of that, esp. for churches that already have facilities and are transitioning to a more missional model. Churches still meet on Sundays. But growth is achieved where people are instead of trying to attract them to one's own facility. "Church" becomes less about a place and more about a community of people. Doesn't mean there's still not a meeting place or multiple meeting places. It just means that it plays a smaller role in the life of the church.

    Renting is easy. And, more importantly, there are decaying church bldgs being torn down all around us. New construction is bad stewardship and a waste of resources. When I was involved in a church plant a few years back, we strongly considered a house church model, but decided it would not work in the South because of peoples' expectations of what it means to go to "church." I think that's changed a lot now, but I'm still not suggesting that all church should be house churches – just that we need to get away from the idea of building church around the Sunday service, which then means inviting people to our meeting/bldg. I'd rather see us focus on building community – the Kingdom – where people are, and when that happens, we'll all be excited at the prospect of meeting together regularly to share the good news of what God is doing among us and we won't care whether we're meeting in a warehouse or a white-columned church bldg.

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