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.

Ed Stetzer is one of the experts I follow.  He writes on behalf of LifeWay publishers, and is a Southern Baptist (SBC).  With the annual meeting approaching, he wrote an interesting post as food for thought

It’s easy to look at the declining statistics in our denomination and moan over the opportunities we are missing. It’s also easy to dismiss statistics and the story they tell, choosing to ignore reality. The way forward for Southern Baptists is to reject both approaches. Instead, we ought to take a deep breath, come to grips with what the stats tell us, and then move forward in hope. There are reasons to be concerned with the state of the Convention, but also reasons to celebrate. I’d like to highlight reasons I’m excited about the meeting in New Orleans next week, and encouraged about the future of the SBC.

He also quoted former SBC president Jimmy Draper, who said “Ed, if we don’t find a way to encourage church starts, to reinforce doctrinal principles for discipleship to the Great Commission, to enlist, encourage, and equip younger leaders, and to cooperate with those within [doctrinal] parameters, we are dead in the water.”

You know I support church planting, but we can’t get there from here with new churches alone.  We will have to do better at renewing our faith inside existing congregations.  If we only start one to lose two, we fail.  Better to start two and strengthen three.  Both must teach the Bible faithfully, build young leaders, and be intentional about evangelism and missions

 

In your efforts to revive a struggling church, the temptation is to lock in on the latest trend or someone else’s success story.  However, each situation is unique, and times are always changing.  There is no single solution that is guaranteed to work.

This is why I was concerned by the recent decision by the United Methodists to endorse ‘blended worship’ as THE solution to end flagging attendance.

The UM Portal itself noted on June 10 that some congregations were vibrant and growing by using hymns and choirs (in robes!).

I was recently in a growing Baptist congregation in upstate New York that uses hymns (piano accompaniment) – I was there for the 30-minute Wednesday night sermon.  We sang 4 or 5 hymns and an invitational.

It’s not the style of music but that the congregation participates.  In our Massachusetts church, after a couple of whole-church learning sessions, we decided on a blended service that started with choruses but also included hymns; that church now uses an active blend, but it is the music the congregation can sing.

Consider the Taize movement.  The songs are almost chants, and there is no real leader in the service, except that there is a suggested program for what comes next.  There are times of public and private scripture reading, times of silence and times of singing – the accompanist decides when is the appropriate time to start & stop singing.  Taize works because those who come participate.

The worst choice is one that the congregation doesn’t participate in.  They probably won’t join in to Gregorian chants, but neither will they join a too-loud concert of unfamiliar Contemporary Christian music.

The term UPG – Unreached People Group – refers to any identifiable population or tribe where there is less than 2% gospel penetration and/or little or no indigenous church planting.  There might be an active missions effort or not, but so long as the congregations rely on outside support for survival, they are not considered indigenous.  In extreme cases, there is no substantive or consistent witness to the Christian gospel message.

At our church in Massachusetts in the 1990s, we had relied on outside missions teams to run our summer camps and perform repair and maintenance of our buildings for most of our history.  We were a self-run independent congregation, but a sliver denomination in an area that was overwhelmingly post-Christian, with 90% not attending any kind of Christian assembly on a consistent basis.

Even so, we started our own mission (co-funded with outside support!) to the up and outs in downtown Boston, and planted the congregation on Beacon Hill, just blocks from the statehouse.

This was similar to what Eric Metaxas refers to as the UPG of cultural elites.  His essay on Gabe Lyons’ book The Next Christians illustrates the importance of reaching those with influence and the dangers of retreating to our closeted safe congregations.

By giving in to our pride and abandoning the elite culture of places like New York City Christians have hurt the rest of the culture by allowing a secular worldview to dominate the whole culture, just as it did in England before. Surely a God who would have us humble ourselves and pray for demon-worshiping cannibals would have us humble ourselves and reach out to pro-choice television anchors, too.

It’s a question worth pondering.  How is your congregation reaching out to those not like you, those in civic and cultural leadership positions in your community?

Today is the holiday to commemorate Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.  On this day, I usually listen to some of his speeches, such as the eloquent word choices in the Dream speech given at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug 28, 1963.  I listened again today on NPR in the car, and then again when I got home. (watch it yourself)

One thing that struck me this year was the introduction.  Dr King was called ‘the spiritual leader of the nation.’  Not Billy Graham.  Not the other 4 speakers at that event (whose names are largely forgotten).  Dr King’s use of scripture to make a moral and social point in the middle of his speech, his insistence that civil rights was a spiritual problem to be addressed by spiritual means.

My home church did that earlier this month when they covered the front lawn with 2,470 crosses, to call attention to the abortion issue.  Not a political statement, but a statement of belief, calling attention to the problem in a way that would not be ignored by passers-by.  It got attention.  The sign was torn down and some of the  crosses were uprooted and thrown into the street.  The sign was replaced with a simple message: “considering abortion? there is an alternative.  call us” and gave the number.  It made the paper.

There are other examples, of course, of Christians giving the faith a bad name.  Protesting funerals.  Pastors arrested for unholy acts.  For these we cringe, and move forward in spite of them.

What are you doing to advance the Gospel in the community?   Wilberforce and his group of friends reshaped England and Western Civilization by speaking out against slavery and complacency.  How are you exercising spiritual leadership?

Tis the season for year-end charitable giving.  In America, many businesses give Christmas/Holiday/year-end bonuses, and charities are ready to receive a portion of that largess, to help offset the tax implications of the large influx of cash.

Some of us receive meager bonuses, or special pay at other times of the year, so it’s an interesting phenomenon to watch from the outside.  But for the enterprising charity, it can be a windfall, and some have come to rely on this time of year to stay ‘in the black.’

Today I received one of the most effective notices I’ve seen.  It was the end-of-year tax statement.  Normally, these come in January, since most organizations don’t want to spend the extra accounting time calculating the receipt twice.  But this charity has found a way to make the effort pay off.

Team Impact is an impressive ministry.  About a dozen strong men travel around giving shows.  It’s easy to get a crowd to show off extraordinary feats of strength: bending frying pans, tearing phone books, breaking blocks and crashing through ice walls.  In schools they give a message of strength and humility, of good character.  And they invite the kids and their parents to the church for an evening repeat performance.  At the church house, they can give Christian testimony and offer an altar call.  It’s effective.

What they did today that was effective was to send the receipt for my token gift before the end of the tax year, along with ministry information and a donation envelope.  It puts them top of mind, reminding me of how I supported them back in April, with a gentle request for continued giving, inside a mailer they are required by law to send me.  They did not waste the opportunity.

The biggest take-away is to always give existing donors an opportunity to support you again.

The Christmas season is upon us.  No doubt your church is already scheduled music, special services, and lighting the advent wreath.  Are you using this as a growth opportunity?

Have you advertised on community and online bulletin boards?  I posted notice for our church’s presentation on the ‘Events’ page of the local paper,and the 3  local TV stations and 3 radio stations that had events pages.  Posters went up at workplaces and stores that were amenible.  (Not many stores will post flyers at high impact times like this -for fear of alienating those that come later and don’t have space to post - but you can ask.)

Every special music presentation should point the listener to an understanding of the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  If the music & story line doesn’t implicitly say so, the moderator or pastor must make the connection clear between the birth and death and resurrection.  Don’t assume everyone there is a believer.  I have a Jewish coworker coming to hear me sing, knowing it’s a church; she will hear the Gospel plainly.

I say this because I was chatting on an online news site last week and another mentioned he was a-theist; he wasn’t against God, just didn’t believe it was true.  He said his friends told him his lack of belief would send him to hell, but never told him how to be saved.  I mentioned that some believers don’t know how to share the faith, and pointed him to an online explanation of the plan of salvation.  He replied with thanks for my concern, at not condemning his position but offering a solution.  He said he’s never been told the Gospel before.

In your Christmas audience may be an uncle, grandma, child or friend who has never before clearly heard the Gospel.  They just came to hear the music, or to spend time with someone, or to keep peace in the family.  Never let the opportunity pass to provide a reason for the season.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.