Our recent report on church and congregational growth suggests that there are things a leadership team can do to promote membership growth. Unfortunately it also requires a willingness to do things differently.

Helping Churches Grow and Transform Lives
Our purpose is to help churches grow by offering a free survey that helps leaders evaluate the ministry essentials that really make a difference. Many churches have been unable to grow. The good news is that churches that improved certain ministry essentials increased average attendance by 23% per year!!

We make this offer because we would love to see more churches growing. Our research is over. It’s time to share. As you think about the church you attend most often, ask yourself the following questions:
• Do Pastors and leaders in this church support trying new things?
• Are leaders willing to evaluate and use what works, and put aside what doesn’t?
• Is there a lot of joy and laughter in this place?
• Does this faith community play a vital role in my spiritual well-being?
• Does this church continually remind people of God’s love for us?
• Do sermons help me handle daily life?
• Is the special music excellent and soul satisfying?

Why? Because in church communities that improved these essentials by an average of 4 percent or more, attendance increased an average of 20 percent per year! In ministries where the quality of essentials decreased significantly attendance dropped an average of 9 percent per year.

Options for Struggling Congregations
Many churches come to a time in their congregational life where the question of sustainability or viability is raised. At this crucial juncture it is important to look at a wide range of options and to prayerfully discern what direction God is calling the congregation. In the information that follows, your church’s leadership can look at strategies congregations in similar circumstances have taken. There is no “right or wrong” answer but rather the goal is to be faithful to the situation facing your congregation and the unique setting of your ministry. It is always helpful to have a person from your judicatory or an outside consultant work with you through this process.

Whatever path you consider, we hope you will surround your discerning process with prayer and listen for God’s voice in the midst of your deliberations.

Encouraging your congregation to grow
One of the key questions I’ve been asked by church leaders is: ‘How do I mobilize my congregation?’ The answer is complex, and may well include some self-awareness by Church Leaders to recognize that sometimes what we do in church life discourages this kind of engagement.

For example, expectations are placed upon the congregation in terms of attendance at church events. This means they have little time to think about engagement. If you are expected to be in attendance at a small group; participate in a ministry; go to business meetings and be in church at least once on a Sunday, then there is little time for anything else.

This can be particularly acute for those in the various forms of church leadership. A volunteer children’s worker, for example, will find the time needed for preparing a children’s session will edge out other activities.
Part of the solution is not to abandon these aspects of church life, but rather to modify our expectations of the congregation.

A ‘come and receive’ culture
It is also true that churches can be guilty of encouraging the congregation to regard church as a place to ‘come and receive’. Some radical thinkers have even suggested that having a paid, ‘professional’ class of church leaders encourages the growth of church as a spectator sport. I’m not sure I agree with that, but I do like this quote:
“Church is a little like a football match with 22 men on the pitch desperately in need of a rest, watched by 22,000 spectators who are desperately in need of exercise.”

In his book, Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch suggests that if we are to see our congregations grow in character more like Christ we need to think through what we offer by way of discipleship.

Hirsch argues that the best way to see people grow in faith is to encourage them into places of service that will stretch them and encourage them to rely upon God and others. This means encouraging them to do things that are unfamiliar to them and for which they may feel ill-equipped. Hirsch calls this pushing them to the ‘edge of chaos’ where change and growth occurs.


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