Churches often scramble to find new ways to attract new members. Morph into versions of larger churches. Build new buildings. Offer more up-to-date technological tools. Engage in large scale marketing.
Advertising tycoon, David Ogilvy, believed, “Great marketing just makes a bad product fail faster.”
“Most churches are not growing because they’re not connecting with people and effectively fulfilling their mission,” insists Carey Nieuwhof, church leadership expert.
Our words and actions – even our invitations to new members – reflect our beliefs. Nieuwhof explains many churches wear blinders that limit their focus on their own wants and perceived needs. When this occurs, it should not surprise anyone when outsiders admit they do not feel welcomed, valued, or included.
If a church believes the purpose of its members is to serve itself, the church will die. The purpose of the church is to serve others – not the other way around.
Listed below are 12 suggestions that will help you and your church community create a culture that feels like “home:”
- Are decisions aligned with the vision and mission of the church? Are you who you say you are? Creation of a collaborative vision and mission are great first steps. Use your vision and mission as a filter through which you make decisions.
- Is worship vibrant and meaningful? What do you hope others will experience when they attend worship services? Is worship aligned to your vision and mission? Is worship aligned to a theme? Do worship services include intergenerational involvement? Do younger members see others who look like themselves involved in your services? Was any of the music written in the 21st century?
- How well do you welcome guests? Fearlessly examine your efforts to reach your congregation through the lens of a newcomer. Is there someone available to talk to newcomers before and after services? Does someone collect contact information from newcomers? Do the bulletin and welcome packet material contain accurate information?
- Does anyone follow-up and invite newcomers to come back? Is there a phone call, letter, or email to newcomers? Are they invited to return or to take part in other church activities? How are newcomers initiated into full participation in your community?
- Do members of your community know where other groups meet during service times? Can congregants guide newcomers to the correct rooms for Sunday School classes? I was recently at a church where congregants regularly told visiting parents that there were no Sunday School classes for teens. (There were.)
- Do you have clear systems of communication? Many people want something they can attach to a refrigerator. Do you have a calendar of upcoming events? Does your bulletin have contact information for your church leaders? Is your bulletin easy to read? Is your website easy to navigate?
- Do you plan and host intergenerational events that build community? What do you do to make others feel welcome at special events? Is someone available to greet new members and introduce them to others? Do you provide childcare?
- Do you offer opportunities for others to become involved in service? Do you provide training? Service opportunities are not the sole means through which congregants experience community. Service is an extension of the sense of community members experience. Service is a reflection of the relationships among members in its community.
- Do you know the members of your community? Personal surveys are a great first step to understanding special interests of congregants. Does someone reach out and invite others to take part in activities that are aligned with their interests? It makes no sense to beg a potential volunteer to bake cookies if their interests are in strategic planning. (This happened to me.) When people have too many vague choices, they usually choose nothing. Express a personal interest in getting to know your church members before you ask them to volunteer.
- Are there opportunities for members of special interest groups (like Millennials or young families) to meet? If you do not have programs for special groups, invite them to a planning discussion. Your presence in the planning process reflects your interest in them. Support them in their efforts to build a foundation that will serve others. Guide them to others in and outside of your church who have experience building special interest groups.
- In what ways does your church connect with other community organizations? Members of the early Christian Church did not wait for others to come to them. The Apostles went out into the community to spread the Good News (Acts 2:1-41). Do you network with other community organizations? Do you participate in community events? Do you build relationships with schools and other churches in your area? What does the community know about your church? If you don’t know, ask.
- Is the community involved in discussions about the future? Change is hard. Sometimes it is difficult for communities to admit they are trying to recreate a future church with building blocks from the past. Invite congregants into discussions about their church’s future. Encourage groups to brainstorm and find solutions. Together.
Create a positive, warm, and inviting church culture. The ways through which you welcome visitors, your calls to action on Sunday, your worship, communications, youth and Sunday School programs, ministries, groups you hope others will join, service opportunities, special events, and activities throughout the week – even your budget (Do you have a budget?) – are reflections of your culture.
A church’s mission is more than words. Your mission is sacred.
Live your mission.
Be your mission.
You don’t have to know how to move forward. You only have to be brave enough to take the next step.
What can you do to ensure visitors and members of your church feel welcome?
Roll out the welcome mat for young adults and their families with tips from What Churches Must Do to Attract Millennials.
Do you want to learn more about Millennials? Paige Stanard, a college student, explains 9 Great Reasons to Love Millennials.
Try these 10 Tips to Mentor Like a Superstar if you want to build a relationship with a young adult who needs you.
These suggestions explain What You Must Do to Invite & Involve Youth (So They Want to Stay) in your organization.