How to Grow Your Church for Free

How to Grow Your Church for Free July 1, 2012

Nothing is free! I can hear the critics already. I get that. You can’t grow without paying a price. But attracting and keeping people in the pews of your church doesn’t require a new line item on your already thin ministry budget.

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The question is are you willing to do what Jesus did to WOW those God has brought into contact with your church?

First, take a quick visit to my guest post at Godvertiser with my friend Kenny Jahng of Liquid Church: “Here’s a Quick Way for Your Ministry to Stand Out.” Then you’ll see why I say that you can grow your church for free IF you’re willing to be bone-deep authentic — like Jesus.

Even his harshest critics had to admit that Jesus was real. He didn’t have a special seeker-friendly program complete with vinyl signage and matching program covers. He didn’t have cheery greeters with coordinating sweaters and matching “I’m Here for You!” buttons. He didn’t even have a trendy app with an even cooler name like JCLive.

Not that those things are bad. In fact, I would argue that they are fast becoming “table stakes” in Western churches — for better or worse.

Jesus engaged people with bone-deep authenticity. Who does that? Few churches I know.  Few people I know.

I was raised in the church. I’ve visited many. I’ve led in a few.  We all seem to get the need to greet people with a smile and engage in some polite conversation for the first week or two. We might even invite them to attend an event “so they can get plugged in.” But even that language sends the message that we want them to fit into the factory model already in place. What about getting to know them to find out if, in fact, your church is the right place for them to grow at all?

Getting “plugged in” implies we really don’t need to know them as individuals. We just need to find the right category, the right church bin to put them in. Getting grafted in — now that’s different. When successful, grafting creates a synergy that yields a stronger plant. But grafting takes more time and authentic care than plugging. And you’re right. It’s not truly free.

Here are a few things that your church can do to grow authentic relationships with visitors:

  • Stop selling. Start serving. I know we mean well, but I also know from experience with a dozen years each in retail and ministry that people trained by our retail culture can detect a sales pitch — especially a desperate one. When all you can talk about is the church, you’ve already lost them. Make a point of asking questions — Jesus did all the time — and then actually listen to the answers. Hugh Hewitt suggests asking at least six quality questions in every conversation. I echo that sentiment. Unless, of course, you really don’t care. In which case your not greeting people would help your church grow dramatically.
  • Know your niche. As the traveling salesman in the opening scene of The Music Man pointed out, “You gotta’ know the territory!” One often overlooked way to build authentic trust quickly with church visitors is to have the courage to speak candidly about who you are not. There’s something refeshing in hearing an organization is not trying to be all things to all people. They actually stand for something that isn’t going anywhere regardless of polls and focus groups. That’s something you just don’t see much of anymore. Know where you fit in and, more importantly, where you don’t.
  • Just ask. Most churches seem to practice a policy of “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” After a week or three of polite greetings and amiable conversations, the budding relationship stalls because no one has the courage to ask if that church is the right place for them to grow. The parishoner fails to ask because he or she fears rejection. The new attendee doesn’t want to tell what he or she is thinking for fear of dissapointing the obviously eager fan of the church. And so the dance goes until, one day, they just awkwardly fade away. And the zealous greeter looks for the next new face.

Have you felt the pain of trying to be authentic in church ministry as either a member or a frustrated visitor? Share your experiences by sharing a comment.

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