This week begins the annual Southern Baptist Convention (of which I am a part), and like clockwork the blogosphere has once again erupted with blogs of lament as church numbers are down again and despair seems to be the emotion of the day. But it doesn’t have to be. Growing a church isn’t as complicated as we try and make it out to be. I love the simplicity of how author Rich Birch puts it: “Our churches grow because of one simple reason: people tell their friends. It really isn’t any more mysterious than that.” In that spirit of simplicity, here are five things churches can do tomorrow to jumpstart growth:
1. Preach better sermons. As your sermons go, so goes your church. Sermons are the primary thing that can keep or drive people away from your church, so if your church isn’t growing, start with the preaching. This is something I’ve written extensively on because of how important the sermon is. There are 3 cardinal sins of preaching to avoid, 7 keys to a transformative sermon and 5 practical ways to preach to the non-believers in your audience. Tweak something in your sermon: tell more personal stories, start preaching in series, learn how to build tension into your message. Do something different next week and see what happens. Websites like Preaching Donkey are dedicated to helping you preach better sermons, so change something!
2. Dress down. The people you’re trying to reach outside the church, the ones currently lost and on the road to hell, don’t see dressing formally as a sign of respect and honor to God. They see it as a barrier, something that keeps the church separate from the culture around it. Instead of how your church dresses being a wall keeping people out, you can decide to turn how you dress into a bridge. Decide as a church that everyone will start dressing more casually, not in disrespect towards God but in complete respect for God’s lost children that He wants you to reach. That means start wearing jeans to church. Dress more informally and see how the culture becomes more inviting.
3. Give your children’s ministry a face lift. Your children’s and preschool ministry should be the best staffed and best funded ministries in your church. Period. Do you want to see growth happen in your church, especially with young families? Give your children’s ministry a face lift. Take some of that rainy day money your church has and remodel the children’s area. Hire a consultant if you need to. Believe me, if you create an inviting children’s space and staff it with your best church volunteers, kids will literally drag their parents to church. Parents will come to your church if their kids want to come. So create something the kids want to come to.
4. Start an addiction ministry. If you want to get back to the frontlines of ministry, start a ministry that helps people overcome addictions (Celebrate Recovery is a great program to partner with). Addiction and recovery ministries are the fastest growth areas in the church world because people are struggling with addictions at a faster rate than churches can keep up with. If you build and champion a first-class addiction ministry, you’ll have non-churched folks beating down the doors (and bringing their friends) to your church.
5. Lighten up. It’s okay to laugh in church, I promise. Lose the doom and gloom. Jesus isn’t still on the cross or even in the tomb. The mourning is over. The grave is empty and we’re called to live in celebration. Too often church services feel like a funeral and it seems unholy to smile, laugh or even remotely enjoy yourself. Lighten up! Live like Jesus has conquered death and sin, like your chains have been broken and your eternity in heaven has been secured. Lighten up the mood in your church. People don’t look forward to going to funerals, but they do look forward to going to parties. So find something to celebrate each week, and learn how to breathe hope (not despair or doom) in your services. People will flock, I guarantee it.