Normal people don’t ask strangers to marry them. Churches do.
As church leaders, we have a lot of responsibilities. The most important is church growth. I mean, if a church isn’t growing it can’t really say it’s about the Father’s business, can it? Jesus said to go and make disciples. In other words, we are given the charge to grow His church.
But that’s easier said than done. A good portion of churches across the United States are in decline – meaning, they are losing more people than they are gaining. And while we all love to hear about a new church that just explodes and somehow becomes a mega-church with thousands of members, the majority of leaders are scratching their heads about how to grow their church.
The truth is, we’re getting left behind.
The horseman is now a mechanic.
The writer is now a typist.
The coach driver is now a pilot.
Everything has changed – but the church clings to methods like they shouldn’t change. Sadly, that’s why a lot of churches are not growing – they are struggling to adapt their outreach strategies to a world that is changing faster and faster each year.
Church Growth Ideas: Why Aren’t They Working?
A lot of church growth strategies rely on people asking strangers to come to the church with them. We knock on a door, and our “pitch” is, “would you like to come to church with me?” The rate of failure to that strategy is extremely high. That’s why nobody likes to do it!
How do most church leaders respond to that aversion? With a scolding and encouraging us to “get out of our comfort zone.” It’s if the only way to reach our community is to make ourselves so uncomfortable we act and feel like a creepy stalker. It’s gut-wrenching – but many people force themselves to do it because us church leaders are telling them it’s God’s will.
Meanwhile, there isn’t a farmer out there that gets butterflies in his stomach when it’s time to harvest the corn. Why would he be nervous? He’s done this before – he plants, irrigates, waits, watches, nurtures, and then harvests. This should make us question our methods. Jesus compared church growth to a harvest – why do we make it feel like we’re stealing cattle in the middle of the night?
Building relationships is something we do naturally. We understand that asking a stranger to marry us is going to be a low-percentage proposition. That’s why we don’t do it. But we do take a chance on asking for a phone number, a cup of coffee, and then maybe dinner. Even when two long-time friends start gettin’ sweet on one another, they still, as a general rule, “take things slow.”
We all understand that our level of commitment is commensurate with our relationship.
As our relationships grow, we are more willing to make bigger, and more significant commitments. But the church outreach strategy gives everyone a flyer and says, “go ask strangers to go somewhere with you on a whim!” In other words, go ask strangers to make a big commitment without giving time for the relationship to grow.
I’m convinced this is why the church is so used to spending so much time to get so few visitors. Our members hate being involved in outreach because it forces them to act unnatural, and ask strangers for a commitment that is uncomfortable for the church member and the stranger.
There is a Better Way – It’s Called Relationships
Consider the ultimate goal in church outreach – to convert a sinner into a saint. Typically, that means our first goal is to get someone to come to church. Most of our outreach methods are pushing as many strangers as we can to that commitment level. Come to church – if you don’t, we’ll forget about you and move on.
Now, don’t throw out that goal, just move it way down a timeline of commitment steps. Like this:
Now go back all the way to the beginning of that timeline, and think of something that takes almost no commitment. What can you give someone that makes them notice you, but doesn’t seem unnatural? It needs to be something the people in your community will value, without being too big that it seems ‘gimmicky.’ Whatever that is, write it at the beginning of the timeline.
Now you have the beginning and the ending of your “commitment journey.”
Filling in the Journey
Now that you have the beginning and end make 2-4 more stages between the two. These should go in order from least commitment to the most. When you are finished, you have a fully-functional church growth model. This is what you want to do with strangers to take them from stranger to church member. It’s not going to work on everyone, but it will get your foot in the door with many more people, and allow your outreach volunteers to do something they enjoy.
The Value Ladder
In the business world, we call this a value ladder. For ChurchBait, I do the same thing – I have a low-commitment offer on every blog post. All you have to do to get this valuable content is to enter your first name and email address. That’s my introduction. I exchange a whole lot more eBooks for email addresses than I would be able to for money. But, this gives me permission to email you future offers. Which I will do in order to show you how I can help you grow your church, but also to warm you up for the next stage of commitment.
The next stage of commitment is a course in digital evangelism. It costs $27, and it’s packed full of great stuff. It takes a little more commitment than the free stuff, but it delivers much more value. The end-result of my value ladder is that some churches will hire me to completely set up their evangelism structure, utilizing the internet and inbound marketing tactics to make their outreach team much more effective. That will cost much more money, but the few that walk down that ladder will, by design, be ready to pay for it.
Those of you who don’t know much about ChurchBait or Ryan Scott would probably laugh, or choke if I told you the price of that final step in my value ladder. It’s not cheap.
Most people aren’t ready to talk about that product because they don’t understand the value of it yet. So I can’t throw it out there expecting people to pay for it when they don’t understand the value.
The church is no different. This is the Refuge’s Commitment Journey:
We’re still working on building out the actual assets to complete this commitment journey. We are getting our webinars created, and some free online courses as well. But as we fill in each step, we see interest from our community. I can’t remember a single visitor (and we have first-time visitors often) that had not at least visited our website. Many of them say they watch our YouTube videos.
The great thing about putting a church growth system like this in place is that you can measure the effectiveness and tweak it to work for your community. If you have an excellent response to step 2 and 4, but step 3 just isn’t working very well – change step 3. When all are working really great, pick out the one that needs the most improvement and make it work even better.
Don’t Throw Out the Baby With the Bath Water
Let me be clear, I’m not saying you should stop knocking on doors or passing out flyers. Those things have their place, and we should continue doing them. What I am trying to help church leaders understand is, there is a better, wiser church growth model.
Instead of sending awkward volunteers out to knock on a door, so nervous they are sweating buckets, not knowing what the person on the other side of the door is going to do. What if those knocking doors were instead going to the homes of people who would be excited to see them? People who knew them. People who already had a relationship with them.
What would our volunteer’s attitudes be like if instead of saying, “Knock on every door on Elm Street,” we said, “go visit John, Adam, and the Smith family?” Yeah, it would be night and day difference.
If we are going to experience remarkable church growth today, we are going to have to tweak our methods. We are going to have to realize it’s not the 50’s anymore. People are skeptical, they are private and shut in, they are annoyed when someone knocks on their door. It’s just how it is.
Rather than trying to force our older methods on nervous volunteers (I mean really, some of them are introverts, and you’re asking them to do the one thing their whole body despises?) try tweaking those methods to fit a natural commitment journey.
I would like to know your thoughts on this. Did it spark any ideas of what you can do to help your church grow? Let me know in the comments.