All pastors are interested in church growth. At the age of 23, I had graduated from college with a Bachelor of Arts degree in religion, and I was ready to pastor. My first church was 12 years old and I was the 13th pastor! The church averaged 33 people and the monthly income was $375. My salary was $15 a week plus a parsonage in which to live. I wish I could tell you that the church experienced phenomenal growth. However, my church growth skills were limited to working hard and staying there five years. I made mental observations regarding why some churches were growing and others were not. From my book Let Your Church Grow, here are four observations in particular that stood out.
My first observation focused on children’s ministry
Each church that focused on children’s ministry was growing. They did not view children’s ministry as an appendage of the church, but as important to its whole operation. The correlation between church growth and the health of the children’s program was at least two-fold. First, growth in a local church generally has to do with attracting young families with children. Second, reaching children is a theological concept. Jesus was concerned about caring for children and he placed them as a high priority in his own ministry.
My second observation was that churches were not implementing normal business practices
For instance, of the 150 churches that I visited, only two acknowledged my attendance or the gift that I made in the offering. Each time I visited a church, I would place a gift, by way of a check, in the offering. I knew the church bookkeepers would know I was a first-time giver because they would have to record my gift. Only two churches contacted me.
I conducted a survey and called 100 churches during normal business hours and asked one question: “What time is your Sunday morning service?” Fifty percent of the churches either did not answer their phone or answered with some type of phone answering device. Of the 50 churches that did answer their phone, only one followed up with any additional information. They did not ask if I needed help with directions or try to engage me in any type of conversation to draw me in to their church. While half the churches did answer their phones during business hours, almost none answered their phones during a critical time period. Most phone calls from first-time guests are not made during normal business hours, but rather between Saturday afternoon and service time on Sunday morning.
Third, I was amazed at the number of churches that still did not have a website.
The churches that did have a website in many cases were difficult to find. On the other hand, many churches that had a website did not keep the information updated. If a church cannot update their website on a weekly basis, it would be better to provide a more generic website that would not require regular updates.
Fourth, most churches did not have a good program for tracking first-, second- and third-time guests.
Consequently, I began to put together a mental overview of what such a program would include. After explaining my ideas for guest retention to a fellow pastor, he implemented them. Six months later this pastor reported that after putting them into practice his church had grown by 50 percent—from 50 to 75 people in attendance.
This got my attention and began my pilgrimage into church growth.
Excerpted from Let Your Church Grow by Richard Varnell. To find out exactly how Richard is teaching churches to grow, get his book on Amazon.com
Looking for other articles on church growth? Check out “Triads a Key to Church Planting Networks.”