Church Growth: Andy Rowell Summarizes the Studies, Part 3 (Involvement, Welcoming)

churchgrowthl.jpgHigh involvement

I went to a seminar a long time ago that measured church growth on involvement percentages. You need 20% to 30% involvement to keep the doors open, teach classes, etc. 40% to 50% will generate growth. 60% is the maximum involvement rate anyone can achieve.

I don’t know. I suspect that at my church we are at least at the 60% rate, although we’ve not measured it in a while. But why aren’t we at 100% (with allowance for those too sick or burdened to be involved)? Is it that the newer members aren’t willing? Actually, it’s just as much that the older members aren’t willing. And what kind of Christianity have we been teaching if involvement is considered, you know, optional?

You see, American churches have fallen victim to our Reformation heritage. We think Christianity is all about going to heaven when we die. It’s not. Yes, we’ll go to be with Jesus when we die, but that was accomplished at our baptism. That’s done. We were saved for a purpose, a purpose that’s been lost in our theology.

(Eph 2:8-10)  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

You see, we’re all about verses 8 – 9. But verse 10 is, for us, the answer to the oh-so-interesting question about why we must do good works even though we’re saved by faith. But what we forget is — God sent his Son to die on the cross so we would be part of God’s kingdom — to do good works. It’s the doing of the good works that fulfills the purpose of Jesus’ death. If we don’t bother to get involved in real, authentic acts of ministry, well, we’ve made the crucifixion pointless, a sin I wouldn’t care to have on my conscience.

Involvement is not an option. It’s fulfillment of the commitment to repentance we made when we were saved. We didn’t so much agree to give up cigarettes and cuss words as to dedicate our lives to God’s work. We really need to preach on that sometime, you know.

Welcoming new people

Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce suggest that “Three congregational strengths are positive predictors of numerical growth: Caring for Children and Youth, Participating in the Congregation [including giving rates], and Welcoming New People.”[4] However, they also note: “Other factors don’t predict growth — denomination or faith group, congregational size, income levels of worshipers, average age of worshipers, and population growth around the church.”[5]—conflicting with some other theories. They also note:

Many new people (47%) visit for the first time because someone invited them; only 6% came for the first time due to advertising . . . People return because of the quality of the sermon (36%), the friendliness of the people (32%), and the overall worship experience (30%) . . . Growing congregations are more likely to hold events to meet new people or to add members, advertise in the newspaper or telephone book, use email, have a church Web site, and send materials to or telephone first-time visitors . . . Services in growing congregations are more likely to include contemporary music and laughter.[6]

[4] Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, Beyond the Ordinary: 10 Strengths of U.S. Congregations (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 113.

[5] Cynthia Woolever and Deborah Bruce, “Myths and Facts about Evangelism and Church Growth,” U.S. Congregations website, n.p. [cited 8 December 2008]. Online: http://uscongregations.org/growth.htm

[6] Woolever and Bruce, “Myths and Facts.”

It’s astonishing that many churches do not reach out to visitors. We’ve all visited churches where we felt excluded just as soon as we crossed the threshhold. These are not actually churches. They are social clubs pretending to be churches.

Here’s a plan. Ask a friend from out of town to visit your church on the sly and write a report on his experience. You’ll be astonished! (There are actually people in the business of doing this, but any astute observer can pull it off.)

Here’s another plan. Find a Greg Allen. Greg is in the construction business, and is stout, solid, head-shaven man — who has entirely of his own accord decided to do curbside greeting at our church. He stands at the sidewalk, greets everyone by name, with a hug, and welcomes them. He meets visitors and makes them feel truly welcome and appreciated.

Now, I’ve been to churches where someone was tasked with that job — and clearly felt uncomfortable in the task. The key to being a Greg is to so love the work that you get up early every Sunday to make sure you’re there early enough to get everyone. You see, Greg doesn’t show up in the involvement database and doesn’t report to anyone. He’s a one-man, self-motivated ministry showing Jesus to everyone walking through the front door.

How do you have a great greeters ministry? Pray for God to send you a Greg.

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3 Responses

  1. Can anyone say “making disciples”? Let’s learn to say this instead of church growth.
    The church growth craze has led to a serious issue. There are many ways to increase numbers but making disciples is a whole different thing. The church should not be dependent on having a bunch of children or any of those factors. Although making disciples of your children is very important. Does the NT talk about welcoming new people in the sense we think of it in formal worship service handing out a bulletin? No! It does say to practice hospitability and entertain strangers though. Hospitality means to have someone over to you house personally and serve them a meal. The word hospitality actually starts with hos which is the root word for house. Making disciples of all people is better than just all nations because you can make disciples of all nations but never reach the poor or uneducated or different race and so on. The scripture means that the Gospel transcends all human divisions. Well let’s start over with the idea of actually bringing new people (who did not believe I Jesus before) to believe in and follow Jesus for the first time through life transformation. That is a lot different now isn’t it than how do we grow our church?
    There are millions of people in the USA who don’t believe in the Jesus of the bible. Do we seek to understand them? Do we attempt to become all things to all people in order that they may believe in Jesus? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves not the church growth garbage. The church growth era is about to come to a crashing end when the baby boomers reach the age of life expectancy because there will be very few sheep to swap and steal from other congregations, the generations X and Y will not continue the church “just” because.

  2. “The church growth era is about to come to a crashing end when the baby boomers reach the age of life expectancy because there will be very few sheep to swap and steal from other congregations, the generations X and Y will not continue the church “just” because.”

    In many respects this is true, considering the number of children of, Church of Christ members and other denominations, that leave christianity in college and never return. The statistic ranges from 70 to nearly 100%, depending on which survey… This is a current problem; as generations x and y are hard to find in many congregations. I don’t doubt the statistic as most of the children of the retirement age members of my former church are not christians anymore… These very children were “raised in the church”.

    “The church should not be dependent on having a bunch of children or any of those factors. ”

    To minimize the extreme importance of children’s ministry, youth groups, youth programs, etc. would also definitely doom the church to extinction. True.

  3. Amen brother! Preach it!

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