If there’s a couple of things I have learned from pastors is that they have a mutual desire to grow their church and to be wise stewards of their finances.  Over the next month, as more and more churches will be emphasizing getting back to worship in the church building, I’ll be writing a 4-part blog series packed with practical ideas to help you grow your church for little to no money!  Not only this, but each idea will also issue a challenge to complete.
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Here’s my promise to you: these ideas will be clear and practical, not vague things like “care more” and “be nicer” and “preach better.”  While those things certainly help, I’m going to assume you already do those things.
Today’s blog will introduce why church growth is important along with the first two ideas.

Why is Church Growth Important?

We are called to remain faithful to the Gospel, but we also have a call as God’s church to be fruitful.  God is passionate about growing His kingdom and He uses the local church to be His expression in this world.  This expression can and should take many forms, but every expression of Jesus should be pursuing faithfulness and fruitfulness. God has called us to be faithful, but there are also many commands that God calls us to be fruitful.  To me it is not an either/or, it’s a both/and.
Many pastors claim that they want an “Acts 2” church.  If that’s true, one of the most often-overlooked qualities about this church was their ability to grow and pivot rapidly.
Just look at the statistics of this church:

By the end of the book, in a period of about 20 years, there were an estimated more than 100,000 people that were a part of the early church.
Church growth sometimes has a stigma attached to it.  Get rid of the stigma and begin pursuing church growth.  Every single number is a person who has a story and God cares about every person and every number.  1 Timothy 2:4 says: God desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Every church’s context is different, but I also believe that too many of us will blame our context or our demographics or something else, when the reality is we need to look inward and ask, “Is there something that I can do, that our church can do to change this decline?”
Often, stalled churches push back on the idea that growth should be a priority for pastors. Obviously, growth isn’t the only sign of a healthy church – there can be fast growing churches that aren’t healthy. The challenge for any size church whose numbers are at a standstill – is to refrain from criticizing the growing churches around you. Don’t write off the fact that there are some practical, simple things you could do that would allow you to share the gospel with more people.
A Lifeway study found that the majority of the churches that are actually growing aren’t growing faster than the communities they are in

Over time, the message and influence of Christ has been losing ground and it’s time for the church, the physical representation of Jesus in this world, to take back God’s ground.
Church priorities can’t only be about increasing numbers, but leaders should absolutely be thinking about that growth. At the end of the day, churches who are passionate about spreading the message of Christ should want to proactively do more to reach people.
I am passionate about churches playing offense, not defense.  Growing a church requires action.  Yes, God is at work, and we trust in His power, but the fast-growing churches have lead pastors and staffs that are action-oriented.  Especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen estimates of 30-40% of practicing Christians stop attending worship, either in-person or online, the mission field has never been as large as it is right now.  Rather than focusing on that obstacle, churches that play offense see this as an incredible opportunity.
We cannot just sit back and let status quo continue.  We have the greatest news in the world and God has called us to share this news with others.  It’s time.
Out of all the practical ideas I will share with you, this first one could have the greatest financial cost, but it’s pennies to the dollar for how important it is.

Idea 1: Build A Guest-Friendly Homepage

In light of the global pandemic, churches began to rethink about their online expression. Rather than taking away people from the in-person gathering, a great online expression can actually lead to a growing in-person gathering.
While we still have much to learn about the long-term effect of online ministry, one of my convictions is that the answer for doing online church well in the future is definitely more and not less. Quite simply, this is where people “live” today and we have to “live” there as well even if we don’t understand the full ramifications yet.
Brady Shearer, church and technology guru says many visitors will check out your website first before they check out your church in person.   Your church’s website is the frontline for your entire ministry.  It’s your most important marketing tool.  It’s where first impressions are formed, where you get discovered, and where new visitors are introduced to you.
Church growth starts with a great first impression.  Decisions are made about your church based entirely on your website.  And once a poor first impression is made, it takes considerable effort to undo it. 
Sadly, most church websites make miserable first impressions.  To make a point, Brady’s team conducted an extensive case study that analyzed more than 1000+ church websites from 30+ different countries.  All 50 states are represented.  For more on Brady’s study and accompanying statistics, visit here.
His team concludes that there are 5 simple elements that a homepage of a website needs to pass.  The homepage is very important, because if the homepage isn’t right, they’ll quickly go away.

Based on that, 96.2% (970 out of 1008) of church websites fail the first impression test.
8 out of 10 failed more than one of those 5 things.
Let’s look at each one of those elements.

1. 76% (765 out of 1008) of church websites failed the primary focal point. 

What is a primary focal point? A primary focal point is the part of a website that you see first.  It’s where your eye is drawn when you see a website for the very first time.  According to a study from Google, website designs with “low visual complexity” were found to be most appealing to users.
“The feel” of the website is the main driver of first impressions…in fact, researchers have found that 94% of people when talking about “feel” is the design of the site and not the actual content.  You can have great content but if it doesn’t feel right, you’re likely going to fail.
By the way, according to his team, the primary focal point of a church that wants to grow should be an “I’m new” button. 

2. 40% (603 out of 1008) of church websites did not have responsive design. 

In 2017, worldwide mobile traffic accounted for 52.64% of all Internet traffic.  If your church’s website isn’t responsive (meaning it doesn’t adjust its size and structure based on the dimensions of the device it’s being viewed with), you’re creating a frustrating experience for the majority of the people visiting your site.
According to Adobe, nearly 8 in 10 consumers stop engaging with content that doesn’t display well on their device.

3. 38% (386 out of 1008) of church websites fail the speed test

If your website loads in 3 seconds instead of 2 seconds, 2 times as many people will leave your site without visiting another page.  As if that’s not enough, mobile pages that are 1 second faster experience up to 27% increases in conversion rates.  And if you still don’t think it’s important in July 2018 Google announced they that page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches, meaning that if your site is slow loading it will impact where you rank on Google searches negatively.
For 9 quick tips on how to improve your website speed, visit here.

4. 32% (320 out of 1008) of church websites contain stock photos 

Photography is an amazing way to introduce your church to a potential new visitor and make a good first impression.  On the other hand, using stock photos that include the faces of real people that do not attend your church is disingenuous and deceptive.
It’s like a restaurant putting up pictures of another restaurant’s food.
Along with this idea, did you know that the second most visited site on a church webpage is the staff page?  When people visit your site, they want to know who you are. They’re looking to get to know the faces that make up your church—the people who will be welcoming them in when they show up on Sunday morning. They want to literally know who the people representing your church on staff actually are!  A page devoted to highlighting the who of your church staff is essential.  It should feature big, vibrant pictures that are engaging.  Why is this important?  Because knowing the names and faces of the people who represent your church helps make a visitor more comfortable.
Your website, especially your homepage and your staff page, should be an extension of who you are.  The look and feel of your homepage should be consistent with what they would find if they were to attend in person.

5. 62% (622 out of 1008) of church websites do not have easy to find new visitor information

Most websites didn’t make any effort to acknowledge potential new visitors on their homepage.  Attending a new church for the first time can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar.  To make things easier, dedicate a portion of your church’s homepage (ideally, a very prominent portion) to acknowledging and welcoming potential new visitors.
When was the last time you thought about your website from the perspective of a first-time guest?
Many people will check out a church online long before they check out a church in real life.
Here’s a basic question. Did you build your site mostly for your attenders, or for your first-time guests?  If it’s only for your attenders, why?

Challenge: Take some time to analyze your homepage according to these 5 elements.


Idea 2: Pursue 5-Star Reviews

Just about everyone is using Google.  Research shows that it accounts for 94% of mobile searches and 70% of desktop searches.  In addition, 97% of consumers search for local organizations online.  46% of all searches on Google are local.  88% of searches on a mobile device call or visit the business within 24 hours.
Knowing these statistics, then, we need to do whatever we can as churches to get ourselves seen on the front page of Google.
How do we do this?
When a person is searching for a church on Google, right below your church name is a place for a visitor to read reviews about your church.  In Google’s algorithm, the businesses, industries, and even churches with the most reviews usually rise to the top.
In past research of our visitors from church, somewhere between 15-20% of our first-time visitors first heard about us not from a friend, or in the community, but from a Google search!
Here’s a snapshot for us of a month prior to coronavirus of what was happening on Google alone.

If people are using this platform and if reviews are important to rising to the top, it is poor stewardship to not invest in pursuing 5-star reviews. 
Why in the world would we not put some time and intentionality into our Google page, the reviews, the pictures, etc.?
Do you think that it’s unbiblical and consumeristic and a little bit weird to have people rate and review churches in the same way they would rate and review the burger at the local burger joint?  So do I.  My advice is to get over it.  It’s happening, whether you like it or not, and you might as well use it for your advantage.
Not only is this a low-money investment (It’s free) but it’s also one of the lowest time-investment ideas as well.
My suggestion would be to reach out first to your staff, then to your key leaders and volunteers, then to your regular attenders, and ask them to write a 5-star review for your church.  While you ask them, ensure them the reasoning behind this is because we want to reach more people for the purpose of glorifying God.  Make it easy for them by providing links for them to go directly and write their 5-star review.  The whole process should take a person between 1-10 minutes.
Also, I would keep a close eye on your staff.  If a staff member has an issue with writing a 5-star review for your church, that could open up some really needed and candid conversations.
And why stop at Google?  Ask for Facebook reviews, Yelp reviews, and anywhere else your church might be found online.

Challenge: Find out how many reviews your church has on Google. Make a goal to double this in one week and act on it.

There are two ideas to help get you started.  Stay tuned next week for Part 2 and future weeks for Parts 3 an 4.  Subscribe to the blog to ensure you don’t miss any.
Do you have an idea that you have implemented that has helped you see church growth?  Email hello@redletterchallenge.com and let us know!

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