5 Growth Lessons from Planting Two Churches

question1One question that has come to me is

What can a new church plant do to increase it’s membership?

For the last 12 years, I’ve been involved in planting two churches.

Both churches were aimed immigrants and one of our core values was to “gather the nations to worship Christ.”

We felt that our call was to reach out to different nationalities and grow a multi-cultural congregation of new believers.

I’ve served in the Associate Pastor role because that suits me and my gifting.  I had taken a church planter’s assessment and discovered that I wasn’t gifted as the pioneer church planter who carried the vision, but rather gifted in a support role to come alongside that planter.

I learned a few things along the way that you may find helpful.

Every new church development wants to grow.  Each lead pastor has a burden to reach people for Christ.  Every leader in the church plant wants to see the fruit of their efforts and labor in the number of people coming to Christ.

They don’t want transfer growth from other churches (though that will happen).

They want new believers.

1).  Prioritize evangelism to reach people for Christ.

Find ways to share the gospel as you serve and build relationships with the community.  Do not allow your outreaches to simply be good deeds than any non-profit can do.  As you serve, share the gospel (read more.)

Find ways to encourage your members to be involved in personal evangelism where they live.  You’ll need to equip them regularly.

Any leader in the church plant must prioritize personal evangelism, as they will be the models that others will follow.

Hold your leaders accountable to having faith sharing conversations with at least 1 person a week, if not more.  Debrief and review those conversations regularly.

Read: 5 Evangelism Tips for Pastors.

2).  Develop your leaders to carry out the vision.

Don’t let immature leaders derail your vision.  Be sure to teach potential leaders how to deal with conflict and reconciliation.

In our context we started growing new Christians into leaders.  That intentional discipleship was planned to create leaders worthy of becoming elders.  Along the way, immaturity created conflict and immature reactions derailed us for a while.  We had to work through that conflict and it took us a year.  The end result – several people left, nearly decimating our young congregation.  We’ve learned from that mistake.

You may already have your team of leaders who helped you form your church.  Continue to invest in them.   Empower them to carry out the plan that God has laid upon your heart as the lead planter.  Once you empower them, encourage them.

3).  Saturate yourself in the Word.

Keep your communications and sermons centered on the Scripture.

There will be temptations to focus on felt needs. I’ve seen felt needs preaching go to the extreme of simple self-help that is devoid of Scripture.  Make sure you keep yourself anchored in Scripture when you teach.

Use Scripture in your decision making.  The Bible is full of wisdom that can be discovered through regular reflection and meditation, as the Holy Spirit reveals truth that is applicable to your context and time.

Hold your leaders accountable to a personal devotional life where they are reading and sharing Scripture with people.

4).  Cast the church vision.

This needs to become the DNA and it comes only through repeated explanation, application, and re-statement.  Every person getting involved needs to know what your church exists for.

People will gather around a vision. That vision will motivate and inspire volunteers to give of their time, talent, and treasure.  That vision will inspire people to live up to it and carry it out.

Help your leaders and people to know: “This is who we are” and “This is what we will do.”

In my first church plant, we boiled it down to this phrase: “Gather the nations to worship Christ.”  That captured the ethos of reaching out to immigrants and inviting them to church.

In my second church plant, we boiled it down to “Help families follow Christ and experience His grace.”  That captured the ethos of seeking families that needed healing and helped define our programming.

Provide your leaders with consistent clear direction and vision.  There is nothing more frustrating to your leaders than a changing vision that shifts from month to month.  If you are the primary leader – make sure your vision is clear, and that it’s consistent.

Be sure to clearly communicate that vision regularly.

5).  Don’t overstart.

In a new church plant, the temptation will come to start all sorts of ministries:

  • Food pantry
  • Worship team
  • Men’s ministry
  • Women’s ministry
  • Community service ministries
  • Retreats
  • Celebrations
  • Social service projects
  • Park Outreaches
  • Visitations to Hospitals, Elder care homes, or orphanages.

Too many initiatives at one time will dilute the efforts of your church.  When your church is small, focus on one thing.  You cannot become all things to all people.  As a leader, you cannot do it all.

You’ll have to navigate what are the core ministries.

We empowered too many people to do too many things and that led to vision confusion.

Let me ask you this?

Grow in Personal EvangelismIf you want to prioritize evangelism among the leaders of your church plant, you’ll need to give them some simple steps of where they can grow.

Get the download copy of my teaching “Simple Steps to Personal Evangelism” ($10).  With your one copy, you’ll have the right to share this valuable teaching with your entire team.

In this 70 minute MP3 AUDIO recording on personal evangelism you will learn:

  • How church invitations are part of evangelism
  • How to discover and share your own journey to faith
  • What you can say about the gospel message.
  • How to personally lead someone to faith in Christ.

It’s a 70 minute audio file that takes just a few minutes to download, but it may help you answer the question:

What can you do in the next 90 days to grow in your evangelism skills?

You need to hold your leaders accountable to personal evangelism when you are planting a church, and this is one way to help provide some practical training for them.

Update your Church Website for Your Christmas Visitors

Many people check out a church’s website or Facebook page prior to visiting your church at Christmas.

If you are having special events at Christmas to attract new church visitors, ask yourself these questions while at your church website:

  • What time is your Christmas Eve Service?
  • What should I expect on Christmas Eve?
  • Is there childcare at the Christmas musical?
  • Are there photos of congregational life that show people?
  • Is there quick access to directions to your facility? (How many clicks to get directions?)
  • What does the building look like so I can recognize it?
  • Would I fit in with these people?
  • Who is the pastor?

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Example of our attempt to find a Christmas Eve service

Over Christmas one year, my family visited relatives.

We wanted to attend a Christmas Eve service in a near by church.

Our friends in the area recommended a Presbyterian church about 5 miles from where we were staying.

Step 1.  We Googled the full name of the Church.

Funny thing is, they didn’t show up #1, even though their name is somewhat unique.

They showed up #3.

For their exact name, a similar but different name church showed up #1.

This is an easy fix.

In their webpage, they didn’t include the name of the church in their meta tags for description or keywords.  They used generic words like “church, christian, fellowship, worship, worship services, praise and worship.”

They could have used their church name, as well as their tribe, and town in these descriptions.

Their name is unique enough that they could have used their church name as their domain name.

Use can use your church name as alternate descriptions in some of your photos as well.

Step 2.  We looked at the home page for Christmas Eve Services.

When we found the website, it was 2pm on Christmas eve.

We wanted to attend their Christmas eve service.

We couldn’t find the schedule of Christmas eve services on their home page.

We dug around various pages, including the “upcoming events” page.

In fact, we couldn’t find any information on Christmas Eve services at all.

They post the church calendar on line, but information on the Christmas Eve service wasn’t there.

The rest of the website seemed to have current information, but this critical information for potential church visitors was missing.

(FYI, this church does have a Christmas Eve service.  We attended a year later. . . )

Step 3.  We stayed home for dinner.

We didnt’ bother calling the church office.

We didn’t bother emailing the pastor.

We gave up.

We stayed home for dinner, and missed Christmas eve services for the 2nd year in a row.

Don’t make it hard for church visitors at Christmas

Update your home page to include the critical information, with links to detail pages.  The [Read More . . ] links come in handy.

Include social book marking tools on such pages so that your members can invite their networks and promote your activities.

If your church has a facebook page, update it with related information about your Christmas activities.

Don’t make it hard.

Prepare Your Church for Christmas Visitors – Hospitality Review

Church Hospitality for ChristmasChristmas is an ideal time to attract people into your church

  • by hosting Advent activities,
  • reaching out into the community, and
  • making your church more inviting.

Don’t miss the opportunities to introduce people to Christ this Christmas.

As you celebrate and announce the birth of Christ, don’t forget to also proclaim the resurrection of Christ. After all, that is the reason Jesus came.

Your church can make an eternal difference in the life of your visitors, if you can help them come back on a regular basis.

Several of you are already rehearsing your Christmas musicals, setting dates for your parties, and getting the ball rolling on your community service projects during December.

If you haven’t started, now is the time to begin planning your events to reach the first time visitor who will come this time of year.

Are you ready for a Christmas increase in First time church visitors?

A study in the late 1990s showed that three out of four Americans attend church some time during Christmas, and almost 30 percent attend church more frequently during the holidays.

They will be

  • family members from out of town,
  • people thinking about making a change in the coming year after Christmas
  • seekers longing for the familiarity of Christmas traditions they grew up with
  • curiosity driven consumers seeking the comforts of beautiful Christmas music

How one church failed it’s first time Christmas visitors

Don’t be like this church I visited — read here to get some ideas on how to fail your visitors.

A Christmas Eve Tale (My first time visit failure)

This was a disappointing experience.

Even though I was an out of town guest, this church lacked the foresight to connect with any of it’s guests.

Sloppy music, hard to find, and no one said hello made for an uninviting Christmas experience.

Prepare to receive your Christmas church visitors

Over the next few posts, I’ll share some ideas on Christmas outreaches, but let’s start this one with an intentional review of your hospitality systems.

Wise church leaders will do some advance preparation related to hospitality in expectation of new church visitors at Christmas. A regular review of your systems is a good way to make sure things flow smoothly. You know that Inertia and inefficiency always creep in.

Whether that is you as

  • Senior Pastor
  • Head of the Greeter / Ushers.
  • The leader of your church hospitality ministry
  • Chair of the committee that oversees your church welcome ministry.

Your systems and processes are 1 of at least 4 Variables in Church Hospitality.

Wise hospitality ministry leaders will

  • Review their facility navigation
  • Review their current facility appearance.
  • Review their church visitor follow-up process.
  • Review their status of current hospitality ministries
  • Review their current church greeter process / volunteers
  • Review their process to how they get church visitor contact information.

Doing this kind of review will often reveal a bunch of

  • We need to fix this.
  • We ought-a
  • We should have . . .

Free Church Hospitality Assessment Download

Other Evangelism Coach resources to :

Read more for your Christmas planning

5 Ways to Grow Small Church Numbers

A regular question I get is “How do you grow a small church?”

In our current life situation, we are planting a church in the city in which we live.

We are currently a small church, made up primarily of immigrants from foreign countries.

Approximately

  • 35 adults in attendance each week
  • 20 children under age of 14

Here are 5 steps we are implementing to grow that total number to 70.

This list focuses on ways to increase numbers in the small church congregation.  As a church adds to its numbers, do not forget the actual work of evangelism: sharing the gospel message with those becoming part of your community of faith.

1.  Set a growth target for your small church

While we might agree that evangelism in the small church is not about numbers, you can’t reach a goal if you don’t set one.

We have set a goal to reach a consistent attendance of 70 people within the next few months.

From our current regular attendance of 55, we need to add 15 people, a realistic number.  We don’t expect to reach an currently unrealistic goal of 200.

A year ago, we were simply 4 adults and 4 children.

2.  Increase the number personal invitations

The invitation of a friend or family member is still the most effective form of adding people to your church.

Our leadership team regularly calls people into prayer about inviting people, including strangers that we meet who express a spiritual thirst.

We regularly launch new sermon series on a life theme to give a natural invitation point for friends to be invited.

We have small groups that are open to connecting people that want to take that step.

Inviting others is being built into our DNA.

Our members pray (see number 5) regularly and are sensitive to opportunities to invite people to church.

Even last week, a complete stranger showed up who had been invited the day before during a random encounter.  The stranger had been chatting with our church member about her search for happiness and our member gave her a church invitation.  She came.

3.   Serve your church visitors and guests with honor

Your hospitality system plays a role in shaping a visitors decision to return and get involved.

Greet visitors when they come, visit with them after the service, and most of all, remove the unnecessary barriers that keep visitors from making that second visit.

Just last week, we invited a family in our neighborhood to join us for church.   They came and had such a good experience they have promised to come again this week.

Hospitality and welcome plays a role in this.

We also look for opportunities to pray with our guests before they leave.  This often opens the door for God to work and for our guests to notice that God is concerned about them as well.

4.  Be on a Mission in the community

I’m not talking about mission statements and cliche verbage, but rather the hands on work of serving in the community – be that in the schools, in the parks, in the orphanges, etc.

What is your church doing to be an agent of transformation in the community?

Churches that spend themselves on behalf of those on the margins (and sharing their faith as well as serving) have an attractional element for people who want to do something with their lives, not just attend a monologue bracketed by a few songs.

I once asked a church, “What is your church known for in the community?”

The answer: “We have a great music program.”

If I don’t play an instrument, sing well, or enjoy their style of music, there is no place form me and I won’t return.

But if a church is tutoring kids, sharing food with the hungry, building affordable housing, cleaning up the streets, mentoring work-release people – I want to be involved.

We are still doing our community exegesis about the needs of our community.  We’ve visited with three high schools and talked with their leadership.

In the meantime, our small groups set aside a time every six weeks to do a community service project.

If you’ve got a great mission in the community, you’ve got a reason for people to come back and get involved.

5.  Prayer

I’ve found from John 15 there are two keys to effective prayer in general.

  1. Abide – an intimate relationship with Christ.
  2. Ask – Jesus invites us to ask.

This key theological point has rattled my soul.  What can I ask for that would advance God’s kingdom?

What is something measurable can you ask for?

  • That your unchurched neighbor will accept your invitation and come to your church?
  • That your church would add 15 new believers this year and celebrate their baptism?
  • That 4 visitors would join the church over the course of the next 8 weeks?
  • That you could invite 5 people in the next 10 weeks who express a need for church?

What is something specific that you can ask the Lord for with regards to your evangelism efforts?

Prayer is key to all church growth.

Lots more to say . . .

By no means is this list exhaustive.

But these are action steps we are applying in our local context to grow our small church.

Statistics on PC USA Membership Loss 2008

Since the PC USA is where I hold my ordination as pastor, these statistics are of interest to me, and I know that many of the EvangelismCoach.org subscribers are in that same tribe.

Source: PC(USA) – Presbyterian News Service – PC(USA) records steepest membership loss since reunion in 1983.

Membership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) fell by 69,381 in 2008, the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) has announced in its annual statistical report, continuing a trend that began in the mid-1960s.

Total membership of the denomination is now 2,140,165.

According to the Research Services office of the General Assembly Council (GAC), the 2008 decline was the PC(USA)’s largest numerical and percentage net membership loss since Presbyterian reunion in 1983.

Almost 104,000 people joined the PC(USA) last year, but that good news was more than offset by the 34,101 Presbyterians who died, the 34,340 who were members of the 25 congregations that left the PC(USA) for other denominations, and the staggering 104,428 who were removed from the rolls by their sessions without apparently joining any other church.

Can a positive spin be put on this?   The General Assembly Stated Clerk announces

Parsons insisted that “Presbyterians can be evangelists!”

“But we often stumble over the words. Can we not challenge one another to be able to answer these basic questions,” he said. “Why do I believe in God? Why do I go to church? Why do I go to that particular church?”

Fewer congregations were dissolved in 2008 than in 2007 — 65 vs. 71 the previous year. And 40 new churches were organized last year, 23 more than the previous year. The PC(USA) currently comprises 10,751 congregations.

This suggests the need for

Eric Hoey, in an additional statement wrote:

In a June 18 statement, the Rev. Eric Hoey, the GAC’s director of Evangelism and Church Growth,  . . . . . attributed the large number of new members, in part, to the “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide” initiative that came out of the 218th General Assembly (2008).

“Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide” created a groundswell of local and regional activity. The initiative challenged all levels of the church to acknowledge our decline and to commit to four areas of growth: evangelism, discipleship, servanthood and diversity,” Hoey said.

Presbyterian News Service has written a series of articles about congregations that are engaged in innovative outreach programs in order to Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide,’” he added.