With upward of 70% of churches today either plateaued or declining, and the growing 30% wanting to grow more, every pastor looks forward to the possibility of new people attending his church. Both numbers and common sense tell us that growth can only happen with new people (or more baby dedications than funerals).
But many struggling churches see guests in their services on a regular basis. A few stay with us, if they feel they fit in, but most don’t. Some even attend for several weeks before moving on in their spiritual journey. In working with many older congregations, most will tell of occasional opportunities with younger families or a short-term burst of teenage life in their church. But before long, the new growth fades away, and we’re back to the same old bunch as before.
Sometimes these bursts of new life come when a new pastor is at the helm or a ministry campaign brought some tender new fruit to the church’s baskets. But a church on an attendance descent usually sees these new friends for a few weeks and then sees them no more. Why did they leave?
Probably the better question would be, “How can we keep this from happening again?”
Certainly a church needs to do a good job extending itself in friendship. Comments on effective greeter ministries and such belong in a different blog entry than this. Here my focus is on a bigger picture.
When a few young families wander into an older congregation, the church will likely want to celebrate this new life. But celebrating alone won’t keep these new friends around. We must INVEST in this new life. What ministries are in place for them? What steps will the church take in caring for and training their children. What ministry programs will they connect to?
When young couples started coming to the older church I pastored, we had to get busy starting new ministry efforts. And that required taking some of the resources we were using elsewhere and aiming them at this new life. Unfortunately, in many churches, there’s reluctance to shift resources toward new people. Those who’ve been paying the bills for years can get a bit resistant if the focus of the spending shifts away from them.
Such thinking dooms the opportunity. If we won’t invest in the new life, we won’t see that new life for long. Too many churches seem glad for new friends, but they respond with the expectation that those new friends just “fit in” to the old stuff. Seldom does that work out, especially if the new friends are a lot younger or a lot different from the old gang. “Be like us and you can be with us” is frequently the song sung in struggling churches. Such a song might as well be a funeral dirge for the future of those who sing it.
Remember that the first question we must face if we will see a turnaround in our church is do we know we need to change? Until we can say a strong and committed “yes” to this question, we will not find the congregational energy to be any different than we’ve been. AND, in most plateaued and declining churches, one of the first things that must change is our attitude toward new people.
You must invest in new life. It’s the critical first step when the opportunities for growth come knocking on your door.
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