According to research by Lifeway Research, churches are at 85% attendance from pre-pandemic numbers. Every pastor wants their church to grow numerically. It means you are reaching more people for Jesus Christ. This is exactly why church growth strategies are a dime a dozen and so many of them don’t net results you were hoping for.
I’ve been regularly attending churches who have tried some church growth strategies and I’ve also been a part of church leadership testing out some of these strategies. I’ve seen which church growth strategies are actually effective and which ones aren’t going to help you grow your church like you think they will.
In this article, I am going to define “church growth strategies,” discuss the stages of church growth, and outline concrete church growth strategies to put into action. By the end of this article, you’ll have a much clearer idea as to what will work for your church and which strategies might have your church leaders looking for newer ideas.
What Are Church Growth Strategies?
A church growth strategy is a plan for increasing the number of people who attend a church. However, there are plenty of ways to think about growing your church numerically that also does a lot of equipping church goers to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Too often, lead pastors and other church leadership get a bad taste in their mouth about numerical growth strategies.
The Great Commission calls for us to go and make disciples. It’s difficult to practice discipleship when you don’t have a growing church community with new members coming in to be discipled, right?
All that being said, church growth strategies can look like making attractive church websites, doing plenty of outreach and other church events, creating or volunteering with nonprofits and community events, or focusing entirely on your social media presence. A healthy church will strike the balance between church growth and staying aligned with their mission statement.
How To Grow A Church
Most effective church growth strategies are timeless because church members will always need to be reaching out to the broken, the lost, and the hurting. Welcoming people in as new members of a local church is nothing new. As long as your strategies align with the church’s mission, then it will always fuel growth in some form or fashion.
The bigger question is how to let the Holy Spirit lead the conversation of reaching the unchurched while also figuring out marketing strategies like how to start a podcast, understand SEO, and define a clear process for church visitors both online and offline.
If you think people aren’t checking out your church via the website and deciding then and there if they are going to visit in person, then think again. Church services used to focus on the experience as the most attractive part of visiting a church. Now, though, the first time someone experiences your church is on social media and on your church website.
Whichever church growth strategies you try and see how they fit with your local church will need to be filtered through the lens of evangelism rooted in the heart of the Great Commission.
Relying on God’s call to help the hurting, Jesus’ call to disciple the lost, and the Holy Spirit’s nudge to have a heart for the unchurched will always move you in the right direction of church growth.
What Are The Stages Of Church Growth?
From planting a church to figuring out how to manage a church that has been around for over a century, the work of figuring out effective church growth strategies is no easy task. Good church management, though, means digging deeper and discovering what core values we can cultivate in our local churches to grow no matter the season of life church goers may be in.
"The most important factor in church growth is not the size of the church, but the quality of the people in the church.” - Thom Rainer in Church Growth: Strategies That Work
According to Rainer, as well as studies by Barna Group, the most important factor for churches that grow are the quality of church members that make up that church community. This means that, no matter the stage of church growth you may find yourself in, investing in people will continue that growth beyond your current situation.
Now, let’s walk through the average stages of church growth and growing pains which all churches have to go through at some point. From conception, to alignment, to multiplication, to stagnation, and, sometimes, to decline.
The conception stage doesn’t have to refer to church planting, but it does refer to the point in which staff members, church leadership, or an inspired lead pastor decides that things must change in order to keep growing. During this stage, staff members are largely non-existent, worship services are run and organized by teams of volunteers, and church needs are minimal.
As a church moves through the conception stage, they start to grow from small groups of determined and fired up volunteers to churches of 200+. For churches re-entering the conception stage, this looks like stripping all church activities down to the bare minimum and reassessing every action to determine whether it stays or goes.
The alignment stage is characterized by the point when vision and mission statements become more important to sustaining the church as it becomes more difficult to make the church community feel like a cohesive unit.
This can present itself as growing pains when people start to trickle out, but the unchurched are continuing to join the community faster than people are leaving. For established churches working back through this growth cycle, this is when long-attending church members become frustrated and leave or double down and become your most valuable volunteers.
The multiplication stage is the part of church growth everyone looks to as the pinnacle of the entire church growth process. Attendance is trending ever upward, fundraising is a breeze for every mission trip, and you are at the stage where you can start dreaming of planting more churches.
However, this is when, if you aren’t careful, your front door becomes a revolving door of churched and unchurched alike just coming and going at a constant rate. The church community can start to unravel here if church leadership isn't on top of things.
The stagnation stage is where many church communities begin to realize that their church growth strategies are no longer working. People aren’t as involved, they aren’t as plugged in, and attendance begins to start to dip downward.
As long as you are still catering to the hurt, the lost, and the broken, then things are going to be okay in this stage, but it’s time to start thinking through how to change direction before hitting the final stage of church growth.
This is, definitively, the opposite of church growth. There may still be small groups and bible studies going on, but people are checking out and have completely lost interest in outreach, evangelism, or discipleship.
Churches in the decline stage can either start stripping things away, asking difficult questions, and move back into the conception stage or they can choose to close up shop and pass along their knowledge and stories to the next generation of churches. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.
8 Effective Church Growth Strategies To Try
While it is helpful to think of churches as organic beings that are born, live, reproduce, and, eventually, die, that doesn’t make it any less sad. In order to avoid the decline stage altogether, here are eight effective church growth strategies to help you grow in both the short term and the long term.
1. Define Your Church Growth Strategy Goals
Too many times, church leaders want to see what works for the church down the road and do the exact same thing. Before deciding on any church growth strategy, you need to set down some goals:
- What does growth look like for our church?
- How many times a month does someone have to attend to be considered a member?
- Why do we consider X as a success but not Y?
- When will we consider our growth strategies “effective”?
Clearly defining what you count as successes and failures throughout this process is often overlooked and underrated. Spend time discussing goals and successes so you have areas to push toward rather than some ambiguous idea of “growth.”
2. Double Down On Investing In People
Reduce the budget, time, and energy spent on worship services and start transferring those resources to working with nonprofit organizations in your local area and investing in community events. When you become an integral part of the community, then people will know you care and will, likewise, care about you.
3. Start Thinking About Your Digital Front Door
When you realize that your website, your online content, and the online interactions of your church members are typically the first point of contact with the unchurched, then you can start making plans to adjust and course correct. Spending extra time on your digital front door is a great first step for churches of any stage of growth.
This means learning how to utilize tools like:
- SEO (search engine optimization)
- Social media
- Content marketing (think blog posts, newsletters, podcasts, etc.)
4. Create Unique Online Experiences
In-person events and worship services will always be the bread and butter of the church. However, recognizing that there are people, no matter their circumstance, who can’t or won’t come to your building means you can create online experiences that cater to them as well as your regular attenders.
5. Partner With Other Churches
Churches in America have spent too much time battling for territory rather than partnering together for the sake of their communities. Find some like-minded, growth-focused, and discipleship-oriented churches in your local area and host community events together, mission trips, etc. Having a united front encourages the unchurched to participate in a community.
6. Define a Discipleship Process
One of the most effective church growth strategies is to create an organized and defined discipleship process. This is the whole reason we are trying to grow our church, and having a process in place will actually help fuel that growth. People want to improve and grow, no matter their beliefs or stage of life. Seeing it happening in front of them is an incentive to get involved.
7. Offer Worship Services Based On Your Community
There is an unspoken expectation for churches to have church services on Sunday mornings. However, depending on your community you are trying to reach, that may not make sense. Cater services to the people you want to reach. Be creative with services, too, and have offerings for smaller, more intimate worship services as well as community worship services.
8. Adopt a Local Mission Mindset
People love investing in the communities they live in. No one wants to live and work in a place they don’t enjoy. Making your local area your mission field and making changes in your community attracts people who also want to make their community a better place. You will grow when people can see how invested you are in their community.
4 Pitfalls Of Church Growth
While these church growth strategies are only a handful of the many paths your local church can take, these strategies work for anyone at any stage of growth. It’s easy to stumble across strategies that don’t work for your church, though. Carefully assess each strategy for whether it will work for your church or not, and, if it doesn’t, find out why.
While you are figuring out and adjusting to strategies you are implementing, make sure you aren’t falling into some of the most common pitfalls for those who are growth-focused.
1. Don’t Lose Sight of Your Mission
Part of the reason churches end up moving into the stagnation phase is because they stop focusing on their mission and vision. Keep reiterating your mission until people are sick of hearing about it. Make sure every church member knows the goals of their church and can share them with others.
2. Stop Chasing Trends
As I mentioned earlier, one of the activities that halts church growth in its tracks is trying to use the same strategy as the church down the street. What worked for them may not work for you. What worked for a bigger church in another state also won’t work for you. If trends align with your mission, then try it. Otherwise, ignore those trends.
3. Always Focus On People
Referencing our quote by Thom Rainer above, when you stop focusing on the quality of your people, then you are doomed to stop growing. Keep your eyes on investing in good people and discipleship.
4. Never Neglect Prayer
While we haven’t mentioned this yet, one of the worst pitfalls lead pastors and church leaders get sucked into is to stop praying for growth. If you and your leadership aren’t praying for church growth, then you can be sure your congregants aren’t either. Pray often, pray publicly, and pray earnestly for church growth in order to reach people for Jesus Christ.
Looking For More Strategies On Church Growth And Management?
My sincere hope is that you can push beyond those pre-pandemic numbers or plant a church that skyrockets in growth so you can make more disciples. By recognizing the stages of church growth you may be in, strategies to help you succeed, and pitfalls to avoid along the way you can break your next growth barrier.
If you want to keep learning and growing on how to grow or manage a church, then make sure to subscribe to The Lead Pastor for more articles and resources.