7 Steps to Successful Church Growth
I want to share with you a prayer request that I've never heard offered. I'm sure I've heard ten thousand prayers.
Dear Lord, please help this church to grow smaller in the year to come. Please make our numbers shrink and help us to free up space in our auditorium so that there will be a lot of empty seats in the weeks and months to come.
In Jesus name,
I've never heard that prayer. On the contrary when it comes to the local church I mean we pray for the opposite don't we.
- More souls to be saved
- Better attendance
- Full Bible classes
- Bigger numbers and giving
Growth is part of our task and if we do this effectively the results will be seen in a pattern of steady church growth.
Some people whether they admit it or not think that it's not spiritual to count souls as a way of measuring successful growth. It's not the only way to measure growth of course but it's one way to measure it and it's very much a biblical way of measuring church growth. For example in Acts 2:4 Luke describes the growth of the church in numbers. He doesn't say "oh they were really spiritual", he said they grew in numbers. 3,000 of them were baptized that at one time. Then he talks about the church growing to be 5,000 souls. Somebody had to count.
Did you know that there are nine other instances in the book of Acts where Luke refers to the success of the work of ministry by saying that the number of believers increased substantially. Nine times somebody was counting back there among the first disciples in the book of Acts.
So judging the growth of the church by examining its numerical growth is biblical and is necessary. So with this in mind I want to take a look at the numbers for our congregation for the year 2001 and see what the numbers say about us.
Attendance for services on Sundays and Wednesdays are a general barometer of our overall involvement in all the church activities. Let's face it high attendance percentages for worship usually indicates a high involvement ratio in other ministries as well. If a lot of people come to worship then a lot of people get involved in other things and vice versa. The thinking is that if a church is negligent in attendance for worship then that also becomes a pattern for other areas of church ministry as well. You can't do the simple things well how can you do the complicated things.
Well now our average attendance on Sunday morning for this worship service and night in the year 2001 was three hundred ninety six people. That's slightly higher than the year 2000 where the average attendance was three hundred and ninety one people. Now the good news is that considering all of the changes that took place in 2001 when you take into consideration the ministers that came and went several.
And support staff that came and went and elders that were added and elders that left and deacons that less than deacons that were added all in the same year that attendance actually went up when it actually should have gone down is a good thing because when you shift the staff around and ministers come and go and there's all of that movement in your ministry staff the normal thing that happens is attendance begins to drop. That didn't happen here. So that's a good thing.
Now the bad news is that the ratio of total number of souls who belong here to the total number of those who actually were here is poor. Let me explain. We have about five hundred and twenty souls five hundred and twenty people who belong to this congregation Our average attendance is three hundred and ninety six for Sunday morning worship.
You do the math. This means that 76 percent of our total congregation is here on average 76 percent. That also means 24 percent are gone somewhere else. Now this number becomes more meaningful when compared to national ratios for church attendance which settled at around eighty five percent.
In other words the national average of numbers attending on any given Sunday is about eighty five percent of the total number that belong to that congregation. Our average is 76 percent. You see how the numbers now begin to mean something now. Our attendance numbers therefore tell us that we are below average when it comes to simple faithful attendance to worship service.
Now what is even more distressing is that we here at Canyons you because we are in this lovely city where a lot of people come and visit we have a higher number of visitors than other congregations. So our true attendance ratio is probably even lower than 76 percent now if you're curious the other numbers break down in the following ways Sunday morning Bible classes average.
Two hundred and twenty seven that's 44 percent 44 percent of our congregation show up for Bible class on Sunday morning our Sunday worship. I told you three hundred and ninety six that 76 percent Sunday evening worship average one hundred and forty eight. That's twenty eight percent national average 50 percent.
We're 28 national average with Wednesday evening service average hundred seventy nine people 34 percent of our members come from midweek Bible study and worship and fellowship. National average 60 percent or 34 percent see numbers. Numbers are important like a mirror they tell us something about ourselves.
So what the numbers tell us is that two of the basic elements of spiritual life which are corporate Bible study and worship are not high priorities with the majority of our members. That's what that tells us.
2. Additions to the body
Now there are two ways to add to the body of Christ which is the church. The first way is through baptism. We know that act chapter to 38 to 47 when people are baptized into Christ they are baptized into the body. That's how you are placed into the body into the church in the year 2000 we baptized 24 people here at the building and 30 people were baptized at our outreach ministry at M.S. RDF the Marine training base in 2001 here at Canyon View we baptized 19 people and 64 were baptized at MCI.
Now another way that people are added to the local congregation is when a person identifies they're a lot of ways of saying it identify. Give the right hand of fellowship place membership. That's another way people are added to the local body. This occurs when a Christian who is already a member of the body of Christ through baptism leaves one congregation for some reason or other usually because they move and they begin to worship and serve the Lord with us here at Canyons you on a regular basis. Now usually not always but usually people in this situation will notify the elders and the congregation of their presence and their intentions so that they can be recognized as faithful Christians worshipping and serving among us placing membership or being received in membership is a way for the congregation to publicly be introduced and to publicly confirm that you the newcomer are a faithful member of God's church and that you are received here in the local congregation of course.
This activity becomes more important to do as churches grow larger and it is more difficult to know who is a Christian and who is not. You know you got five hundred thousand people. How do you know who just arrived as a member of the church or not we have to have some way to to figure that out and to identify well.
In the year, 2000 people identified with us here at Canyon View in the year 2001 43 people identified with us. Now you need to realize baptisms that M.C. R.D. are a great harvest for those who served there and for those young Christians who go on to serve in the military. They also go on to serve in various congregations.
My son was not baptized at MCI but received great encouragement when he went to services there when he was a young recruit and it helped him to forge his own faith and to become to become a young man that served so that's a tremendous tremendous program that affects a lot of other congregations but it doesn't have an impact on us because these young men go on to to other places on the other hand the 30 who placed membership in 2000 and the 43 who placed membership this year are a great blessing also because we are receiving Christians who are already members of the church who are ready to come here and and get involved and to begin serving the local body.
Now you know what this should be a win win situation. But again the numbers tell a different story in the year 2001 we baptized 19 people and we gained another 43 who placed membership for a total of 62 new souls now even if you make allowance for the dozen people or so who moved away in 2001 the people who were added made absolutely no difference in our overall attendance. How do you do that.
How do you how do you add 50 people but it doesn't change at all your attendance. How does that happen. You know there are several possible conclusions here but the one that stands out is that people are falling away or negligent in attending worship at a faster rate than we can ask them.
How else can you explain an addition of 50 new people without any any change at all whatsoever in total attendance OK. The other number tracked is this contribution.
Now there's good news to report here. The trend among most churches is to give between 85 and 90 percent of the proposed budget. So if there's a ten thousand dollar budget every week the average national average people give between eight thousand eighty five hundred by the end of the year our weekly budget for two thousand was eighty two hundred dollar an hour average giving was eight thousand sixty dollars.
That's 98 percent of the total our weekly budget for 2001 was nine thousand dollars and our average giving was eight thousand eight hundred fifty eight dollars. Again 98 percent of the total. Now among other things these statistics revealed two important characteristics about us as a congregation and our giving number one canyons use a generous church.
I mean when you add on the special collection for missions the 9/11 tragedy a collection on all the other requests canyons you always comes through financially that's through it. It also says one other thing about us and it's this canyon view needs a bigger dream as to what that says about us.
When a church is giving continually overreaches its budget it means that there is a great potential that lies untapped and I think we need to start asking God to reveal his will to us that will take us out of our comfort zone and stretch our faith beyond what we have experienced making budget without breaking a sweat means that we are cruising and we'd better get into gear soon before God gives somebody else the task that should go to us as the largest and best equipped church in the city. We need a big dream.
OK enough about last year's figures and what they mean. Let's move on to a new mayor a numerical success story that we can learn from. I appreciate Mike Osborne because he's always bugging me to read books. Like I've got a reading list. You know a mile long but Mike always is reading and I appreciate that and he was an elder He's always reading always trying to learn. So he gave me a book months ago he read this and I ask you and I put at the bottom of the pile.
But I finally pulled it out. I started going through it. And this book that he gave me told the story about a church growth book told the story about the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky this congregation began in 1962 as a church meeting in a local school.And that's how familiar soon after they met in the local school they built a building and they organized a staff similar to ours here at canyon view their auditorium eventually sat about five hundred and fifty people. They had a group of elders a number of deacons and a staff of ministers and secretaries. Much like our own Same size same type.
And although they identified themselves as a Christian church they baptized by immersion for the remission of sins and they were organized as a congregation and functioned largely as we do if you went there to visit. You wouldn't see a whole lot of differences. Now there are a lot of similarities between them and us but when we look at their numerical growth this is where the similarity abruptly ends.
In 1987 the Southeast Church moved into an expanded building that could hold twenty two hundred people remember they only had room for 550 they decided to have a big green.
And so they moved into a building that could hold twenty two hundred people because they had been growing at a rate of 10 percent a year. National average five percent three to five percent that's the national average for church growth. They were growing 10 percent. Now once in this location they began to grow at a rate of 40 percent per year to the point in 1980 88.
They once again enlarge their church complex to accommodate over fourteen thousand people a week. Or Bible study and worship. Now remember this church is located in a place where people are used to the Bible there are already entrenched in the Bible and there's not supposed to be room for another megachurch there churches everywhere.
And remember also that this isn't a city that only has a population of two hundred and fifty thousand people as compared to San Diego's one wet one and a half million people. Now what do they have that we don't have. That's what I want to know. What do they have that we don't have. I mean they have the same Lord in the same spirit. They've got the same gospel message the same organization the same type and number of staff. My question is why them and not us. Well perhaps it's because they followed a plan of success and growth that we have not yet considered.
7 Steps to Successful Church Growth
And as I read the book and thought about our work here at Canyon View I saw seven very specific steps that they took to succeed in numerical growth seven steps that are perfectly perfectly in the spirit of Christ and in the letter of the New Testament and perfectly adaptable here at Canyon View as we search to succeed as a growing congregation.
Step #1 – They knew and they stayed focused on their primary mission.
Churches that grow need to know what their mission is. They need to be able to articulate that mission and they need to understand how everything they do fits into the basic mission of the church. The Southeast missions statement said the following and I quote Our mission is to evangelize the lost edify the save and minister and be a conscience to our community. Is there anything there we can disagree with. I don't think. Every member knew what the mission of the Church was and served and gave and planned and prayed. In light of the mission if we want to succeed we must also clearly define our mission so that every member here at Canyon's you owns the MIT not just knows that they own it. As a personal mission and a personal goal.
Step #2 – They established faith goals.
They call them bags B H A G. The letters stand for big hairy audacious goals. I just thought I'd call them faith goals. And I call them faith goals because they were the type of goals set by their elders that were only reachable if God's hand was that work. The only way that could happen there's no way they could do it on their own.
They were goals that at first glance were beyond their financial their emotional their numerical ability of the congregation they were goals that depended on God's intervention and demonstrated power to reach. In other words if they set these goals and it didn't happen they would look foolish. They dared to be fools for Christ they dared to be fools for Christ. You see there is no faith without risk and there is no growth without faith. Faith goals glorify God and not the church.
Step #3 – They unleashed the word.
Do you know the book Unleashing the church? A nice book with a good title but the wrong idea. They unleashed the word. They understood that in marketing terms the product that the church has to get into the hands of the consumer is God's word. They found ways to get the word to the community outside the walls of the church building in their case. They began using their preachers sermon tapes as handouts to friends and neighbors. Such a simple thing eventually they purchased radio time for him to preach and teach through this particular medium.
And the book says that the many who heard the teaching of the word on tape or through the radio and other forms of the communication eventually wanted to come to their Bible studies and worship because they wanted more of God's word in their hearts and in their lives. Know most churches spend much of their budget for an evangelist but then they go ahead and confined most of his preaching to the auditorium. And that's not the best way to use this expensive tool that you just plot.
God's Word if released will not return without a harvest. If we get the word out God will provide the increased but we've got to get the word out of here.
Step #4 – They fully empowered their staff.
Their elders charted the goals monitored the progress and provided encouragement and advice but they allowed the ministry and support staff to do their jobs. A growing church needs the coexistence of a firm and central direction on one hand and an environment that allows the maximum individual autonomy for the staff and when I say the staff also meet for deacons and ministry leaders now in business models they call this the loose tight principle. This type of relationship between the leadership and the the staff the ministry individuals promotes personal accountability and creativity and motivation and long term commitments from a ministry team at SE.
They hired the very best people that they could find at every post. They didn't cheap out. They provided them with good benefits and they trusted them to do the job that they had been trained to do. This permitted long term commitments with very little turnover among church employees. And this consistency and staffing contributed to the amazing growth and stability. That they experienced over the years. They hired a young preacher back in 1962 who was still with them in 1998. That kind of stability promotes church growth.
Step #5 – They were committed to excellence.
In all things great and small from custodial services to worship services from the nursery to potlucks they were committed to excellence. Everything they did reflected thoughtfulness and intelligence kindness and excellence.
You know people make up their minds to come back to a particular congregation in the first four to seven minutes of their visit. You know that long before you handed him a piece of paper about you. They've already made up their minds about you. I mean if parking is a hassle and if it's difficult to know where the bathrooms are and then the bathrooms are not clean when they find them. If classes start late and teachers are poorly prepared. If we look like we're not aiming very high in what we do. They're not going to stay and they're not gonna come back.
Let me put it this way. You know IKEA the furniture store. I go there just to browse. Imagine that if the IKEA furniture store does a better job of welcoming and facilitating their customers visit to their showroom. Then we facilitate our visitor and our members time with us. Then there will always be more people at the store buying chairs and stuff than people worshipping Almighty God.
People naturally want to be associated with someone or something of excellence. If we want people to visit often and eventually say we need to improve the quality of our service and the quality of our services they succeeded at numerical growth.
Step #6 – They designed an inclusive ministry system.
A growing church needs to expect that every member will be involved in church life and service in one way or another. Now the Southeast Church, very much like ourselves I was happy to read, have a well-defined way to organize and train people for ministry when every member is expected and trained for service. There's a greater sense of ownership and participation in the mission of the church.
Now in the ministry model that we use here at Canyon View based on X chapter 2 the basic philosophy of ministry is that the more effective we become in the five areas of ministries the more souls that the Lord will add to the church. My own personal ministry goal is that I could look at every name in our church directory and know that each name there is responsible for some type of ministry or another. And when this happens we will be on our way to becoming a megachurch with unlimited growth potential. There's nothing wrong with being a megachurch. You know why? Big churches can do big things. And I want to do big things in the name of the Lord.
Step #7 – They made welcoming visitors a priority.
It wasn't a leftover ministry or something that you know oh well we knew it if we get it right it was a priority. There's no shortage of people who are searching for answers spiritual answers to their questions and problems. My son's friend comes to our house an opportunity to invite him to church and his parents the church. We have all these types of opportunities. Many come here on their own or they're invited by a friend or family or a family member and they come here hoping to find something. Do you think that somebody comes here. All right they find our address in the phone book. They come here on their own there are several hundred strangers they have no clue of who is here and what's going to go on. Why do you think they come at all? They come because hopefully there's they're going to find something they're not even sure themselves what they're gonna find but they want to find something.
The way that they're treated from the moment they see the ad in the Yellow Pages or receive an invitation or drive into the parking lot, from this moment to the first six months with us these experiences will determine if they stay or if they leave if they stay. It will determine what kind of Christians that they will become. At Southeast, every single step of that journey from the parking in the parking lot to a visitor welcoming them.
They even have a visitor welcoming committee in a separate part of the church where they were they. They bring all the visitors to meet some of the ministers and elders so that they can have a little bit of private time with them to meet them and greet them and so on and so forth. Every single step of that journey from parking in the parking lot to a visitor welcoming meeting to Bible studies to training in ministry, every single step has been planned for in advance with careful and prayerful thought. Everything that happens.
The common denominator shared by all churches experiencing dynamic numerical growth is that each one of them has a well-defined plan of action for the crucial first six months of church life so that no one falls through the cracks and no one leaves through the back door because of neglect. People come people go. I mean the church is not a prison but at SE no one leaves because of neglect because no one took care of them because no one ministered to them because no one introduced themselves. It doesn't happen.
State of the Church Address
This time of year is the time for review the time for assessment you know there's the state of the Union address by the president and the State of the state address the state of the city address. Well this morning we've had the state of the church address by the preacher after a year of work and observation I see that basically as a church we're doing what we have to do. And we're doing what's been said before us and that's a good thing.
But the objective for the future however is to try something challenging to try something where the bar is set just a little bit higher than it's been set in the last few years because there's really not much stretching of our faith at the rate that we're going now. We're cruising Now I've talked to you about this other church in order to give you a real life example of a church resembling ourselves and where they set the bar and how with God's help they reached what seemed an impossible goal.
And they did it you know no one person can decide on behalf of an entire congregation. But if enough individuals make personal decisions to aim high. If enough individuals make those big hairy audacious goals then God will reward our faith in ways we can not even imagine now. So it isn't faith. If we can imagine it it isn't a big hairy audacious goal.
If we know all the steps one to 10 a lot of times with God what it is is you know step one and he'll provide steps 2 to 10 when he gets around to it. But you just take step one first so I invite each of you from our elders and deacons and teachers and ministers and ministry leaders and everyone in the congregation I invite each of you my brothers and sisters to let go the safety of your comfort place and begin to aim high not just for the whole church. Begin to aim high for yourself for your spiritual life for your service to God for your family life for your personal conduct.
Aim at another goal. And if this decision moves you to come for prayer or baptism then please do that now. As we stand in as we sing our song of encouragement.