Almost anytime I mention numbers related to church life, I anticipate some responses about the value of numbers and congregations.
In the 1980s, this type of discussion came primarily from more liberal churches that weren’t growing. Some of these leaders felt that declining membership and attendance was likely a sign of health. The members who really cared about the church were the ones who remained. They could make the biggest difference without the more nominal members remaining as obstacles.
Today, it is not unusual for me to hear from more conservative church leaders that declining church numbers may be a good sign because it is an indication that the numbers reflect true regenerate members.
But, for the purpose of this brief article, let’s assume that attendance growth is a positive indicator. Presumably, more people are hearing the gospel and being discipled when a church is growing.
It is in that context that I hear almost every week from church leaders whose churches seem stuck at some level of attendance: 100, 200, 500, 800 and so on. I even got a call a year ago from a church where the pastor was concerned that attendance was stuck at 7,000!
After 25 years of consulting and researching local congregations, I have found four common approaches churches take to break attendance barriers regardless of size.
There are certainly more than four possibilities, but allow me to evaluate these four more common approaches.
1. Create new groups.
These groups may be home groups, small groups that meet in coffee houses, Sunday school classes, ministry groups and others. Church leaders are intentional about creating groups on an ongoing basis. They typically have goals for the number of groups they start.
Evaluation: Frankly, I have seen great success with this strategy (and recently wrote about this strategy). I would speculate that as many as eight out of 10 churches that strategically create new groups grow to new attendance levels.
The mystery to me is why most churches don’t have this strategy.
2. Create new worship services.
A church moves from one service to two, or from two to three or even more. The move is typically precipitated by one or more services running out of space.
Evaluation: Most of the time, the new service does aid the church in breaking attendance barriers. But, keep in mind, the church was most likely growing already until it ran out of space. The new service simply takes the lid off so the church can continue to grow.
I would caution a church, however, about moving to an additional worship service if it’s not already in a growth mode. The worship center can seem vacuous if one nongrowing group is split into two nongrowing groups.