Every church loses people. It’s a natural part of living in our current culture. Two to three percent will likely move away—more if you’re in an urban area. One or two percent will die. And some will just fade away and stop attending without connecting to another local body. Obviously these figures and how relatively successful you are at reaching people will vary depending on your local context.
You can’t stop people from moving. You certainly can’t stop them from dying. But there is one group of people you can do something about. Some of the people who leave are people who started attending, became regular attenders or even members, and then fell away within a few months because they never really became rooted. They simply didn’t stick.
There are only two ways to experience net growth as a church: reach new people, and keep the people you reach. And you must focus on doing both of these.
Reaching people who are new
The biggest single difference between churches that are growing and churches that are struggling is that growing churches invite new people well. Promoting your church through advertising is a great idea, but most of the people who actually walk through the doors and experience what your church family is all about are people who were personally invited by a friend or family member.
I believe social media is an extremely powerful medium for outreach because of its relational nature. Running a traditional advertisement in a newspaper or on television will give your church exposure in the community, and some may attend as a direct result of seeing a particular promotion. But with social media, the story of your church will spread from friend to friend, by natural referral.
It is interesting that an overwhelming percentage of people who visit your church on a Sunday do so because of the personal invitation of a friend or family member. But most people don’t actually join a church as a result of being invited by a friend. People commit to membership for other reasons. People join after they’ve listened to the preaching and the music, gotten involved in a small group, or discovered something about your church that connected them more deeply.
Getting the word out about your church and equipping your current attenders to invite their friends is only half of the equation. You must also focus on helping people stick long-term, and the one single key to this is relationships.
Keeping the people you reach
People will attend your church because of an invitation, or perhaps because of something they’ve seen or heard concerning your teaching content or your approach to community outreach. But people stay when they develop a deeper and more personal connection to the body. They will come because they’ve been invited, but they will stay when they feel personally invested in at least two ways:
- They’ve developed closer friendships in a small group.
- They’ve devoted their time, talent and treasure to an area of ministry.
Never confuse a crowd with a church. A crowd is not a church. A crowd can be turned into a church, but a crowd is not automatically a church.
Purpose driven churches are very intentional about moving people inward and outward at the same time.
- We move people inward from the community to the crowd by creating an inviting culture.
- We move people from the crowd to the congregation by asking them to commit to membership and by joining a small group.
- We help people in the congregation stay committed by developing the habits and disciplines of a disciple.
- We move committed people into our core by involving them in ministry to others.
- And we send the core back into the community on mission to reach others for Jesus.
Your church members must be equipped to invite others to attend and to belong. And then to keep those who belong, the leaders of your church must work very hard on two particular tasks—plugging people into groups, and connecting people in a ministry. The new attenders who will be part of your church a year or two from now are those who join and group and who join a team.
After a big day, like Easter, when you’ve had an enormous influx of new visitors, it is vital to make it as easy as possible for people to know how to take the next steps of finding a small group and volunteering in an area of ministry.
We never move beyond the task of reaching people who are new, and we never give up the ministry of connecting people more deeply in relationships within the body of Christ. This is how churches grow—they work at reaching people, and they work at keeping the people they’re reaching.