One way to grow a congregation is to create outposts into the community to attract seekers, and then invite them to participate with the parent church (even if they never actually join). This takes a mix of business innovation and marketing savvy, but is not hard to implement. A good place to start is an article by Outreach Magazine, “The Church Needs a Skunkworks.”
A skunkworks is a group within the organization that is given broad powers to try out new ideas. There is an expectation that some of the ideas will fail, or will never achieve popular approval, buy by allowing the group to think way outside the box, they have the opportunity to find disruptive ideas that make major progress. It was a skunkworks that created the atomic bomb. Another one created the laptop. The copying machine (Xerox) came from one.
Dean Kelly, the late former leader of the National Council of Churches, in his book Why Conservative Churches are Growing (1972) suggested growth could come by creating an ‘eklesesia’ – a congregation within a congregation, and allow them to worship differently, reportable only to the pastor or a small group of elders, until the ideas being tried are evaluated. (The Oureach article notes “it is better to establish some boundaries in the beginning rather than let them be discovered…by hitting a brick wall later.”) It may be their ideas are later adopted church-wide, or that they eventually become a new church plant sponsored by the church, or that the group dissolves, leaving the leaders better trained for future service within the congregation.
One phrase from the Outreach article argues for this group to start outside the church: ”Once you start on church grounds, the likelihood of ever getting off campus is weak. But if you start off campus, you will find fewer restrictions in the future and more opportunities in the present. Besides, it is healthy if the church finds itself out in the community figuring out ways to bring the kingdom of God to a place.”
The other reason comes from in internet marketing space. Savvy marketers will establish multiple ‘feeder’ sites whose only purpose is to attract a subset of the market and draw them toward the main sales site. By establishing themed ministries in the community, we establish connections on topics that interest them, and then use those relationships to introduce them to the church itself.
If you need help establishing your own skunkworks, let us know.