We beg, we plead, we guilt trip and we promote. Still, the vast majority of people in our communities will never set foot in our churches. Some statistics reveal an all-time low in church attendance. We can blame the people – their priorities are wrong and they don’t love God. Or we can consider offering a more “entertaining” worship experience. But does this actually solve the problem?
I talk with Pastors who get discouraged when they put on a community event on Saturday and no one from the event shows up at the church the next day. The reason they aren’t there on Sunday is because you invited them to an event on Saturday. If you can connect the event with an actual worship service, your numbers may increase. But we still may not see the long term result we desire.
In my opinion, the best way to get people to attend your church is to minister to them before they attend. By “minister”, I mean actually making a difference in their lives. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.
We must understand that “hyping” a worship service probably doesn’t help in the long run. Without coming across as critical, some churches appear to prefer a hard sell approach. Making all kinds of promises about having the most exciting service in town is counterproductive. It may result in a quick bump in attendance but eventually people will tire of the hype. Additionally, if you try to impress people into coming, you’ll then have to impress them to keep them coming. And I have visited the website of a church I planned to visit. The pictures portrayed an exciting atmosphere and the verbiage described an energetic and life-transforming ministry experience. Then I visited the church. Let’s just say that some churches may get sued for false advertisement.
Big promises had better be fulfilled or irreparable damage could be done. But big promises, even fulfilled, don’t necessarily result in more people showing up at church.
Here is a key to this entire topic: more people at church shouldn’t be the goal. More ministry is the goal. And more ministry results in more people in church services. So everybody wins.
Let’s understand that people simply coming to church may not be the solution. For the average person who is unfamiliar with church, the idea is frightening. They don’t know what’s going on, they are uncomfortable and the experience can feel awkward. And once the service concludes, they hightail it out of there. So, they’ve, “been there and tried that”, with no plans of coming back. All that work to get them there is wasted.
Now let’s get back to ministering to people before they arrive at church. This is almost always accomplished in relationships. Pastors must know people outside the church. They should be involved in the community. They should have friends that don’t attend their church. Church members and leaders should be fully engaged in community life. This means we can’t spend all of our time at the church.
So Pastors, ministry leaders and church members: think about who you know outside of the church. Now, what needs do they have that you can address? Pastor, they probably don’t need you to write and deliver an excellent sermon and they won’t be impressed by your level of ministerial credentials. Your advanced degrees mean very little to anyone other than you. Church leaders and members: hurting people in the community are not looking for another commitment or something to do on Sunday morning. People need something more.
At the risk of putting off some, let me use some alliteration to make my point.
If you hope to minister to more people, embrace the “3 C’s.”
Connect: Get to know people. Don’t stay in your church building. Get out into the community. Know and be known.
Care: People can spot ulterior motives a mile away. If you are connecting with someone just so you can get them into your church, well – please don’t. Genuine care is impossible to fake and impossible to ignore.
Compassion: Connecting and caring is motivated by true compassion. Everyone needs it. As spiritual shepherds, Pastors must be moved by hurting sheep. Church members who practice grace and mercy are a church’s greatest advertisement. Compassion opens the door to effective life-changing ministry, and at times, is ministry itself.
I believe that, at this time in our culture, more people are being brought to Jesus outside of the church building than inside. This certainly is the New Testament model for evangelism. If we lead people to Christ before they even arrive at church, our desire to assimilate into the family them will be easier.
We all want a full church. But more than that, we want people to know and love the Lord. The best way to see this happen is to love people right where they are. Think about it; it’s what Jesus did for us. He didn’t wait for us to come to Him – He came to us!