Welcome to Part 2 of a blog series called “10 Practical Ideas to Grow Your Church For Little to No Money!” In this blog, not only will you learn three more practical ideas to grow your church, but I will share with you the number one key to church growth and the real reason behind how our church became the fastest growing church in our denomination.
Over the next two weeks, as more and more churches will be emphasizing getting back to worship in the church building, I’ll be dropping blogs packed with ideas to help you grow your church for little to no money! If you missed Part 1, you can read that here. Blog 1 in the series introduced how God desires to grow His church and presented the first two ideas. Be sure to subscribe to the blog to get Parts 3 and 4 to your email.
On average, according to Thom Rainier, Former President of Lifeway Research, 2% of attenders will promote their church to an unchurched person in a year. 2%! For those that aren’t great with mathematics, that’s 1 in 50 people.
Imagine if this number went from 2% to 20%. Imagine the growth that would take place in your church. How do we increase the total number of people that invite their friends, so that their friends get connected to the church, and ultimately get connected with the life-giving message of Jesus?
According to Rich Birch, author of Church Growth Flywheel, the number one key to a growing church is invitability. While this may be a made-up word (thanks Rich!), I’m in full agreement. How many times do you give the people in your church a chance to invite, to share, and to brag about your church? How do we increase the total number of people that invite their friends, so that their friends get connected to the church, and ultimately get connected with the life-giving message of Jesus?
And while the nation is becoming more and more post-Christian, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t open to attending church. One of the most encouraging statistics that I think I have found is also from Lifeway Research. 82% of people who don’t attend church on a regular basis would attend a church if a friend invited them. That’s incredible news. And it’s a good reminder of how important it is for us to continue to plant seeds.
Simply put: a church grows when its people talk about it.
The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3 that while we can plant and water the seed, God will ultimately make it grow. Creating moments and experiences for people to invite their friends so that God can do His work is of utmost importance.
Part 2 of the blog will share the next 3 ideas with you and also present a challenge for you to further each of these ideas. All three of today’s ideas will help getting your people to talk about, promote, and invite others to attend your church. Looking back at the growth that our church experienced over the years, I believe idea #4 is the single biggest practical reason we became the fastest growing church in our denomination.
Idea 3. Invent Big Sundays
In January 2019, we were in the middle of a 3-week series called “Hearing the Voice of God.” For whatever reason, God stirred my heart to do something different for the service that upcoming Sunday. It felt as if God downloaded an entire beautiful service structure to me that Monday morning while I was on the elliptical. Rather than dismissing it or pushing it off or making excuses as to why it wouldn’t work, I talked immediately to our other campus pastor and gave him the idea. We then clued in our director of music that same Monday morning. Finally, all 14 of our staff met that Tuesday morning and we ran through the service as a team.
As we were sitting in that staff meeting, we just knew that God was up to something special. Because of this, and with them now having greater understanding of what would be taking place that Sunday, I challenged each of them to invite their friends and share on social media. I urged them to talk about why they were excited and why others should come. Some posted on Instagram, some texted their friends, and a few did Facebook Live videos.
Each of the staff got busy inviting others. Organically, others in our church, without knowing all the details, helped us build excitement. They were re-sharing, reposting, and inviting their networks. Sunday came and we jumped in attendance that random Sunday by more than 100 people than we had the previous Sunday. You can watch the experience here. This whole effort took work and action, but proved to be valuable in getting new people through the front door of our church.
As we reflected on this Sunday experience next week as a staff we realized that we sort of “invented” a big Sunday out of nowhere.
Every year we know there are two major church days on the calendar: Easter and Christmas. Churches across the nation see a spike in energy, excitement, and attendance. Our prayer becomes that some of those people would then further connect in coming weeks. But why do we just stop at two big services a year? Are there other Sunday’s that you could manufacture into celebratory Sundays?
When I’ve looked back at our attendance trends, here are some other Sunday’s we naturally see a higher attendance:
- Mother’s Day
- The 2nd Sunday in January
- The 1st Sunday after the new school year begins
- The Sunday after Labor Day
- The Sunday after daylight savings when you get an extra hour of sleep
Knowing that these Sundays are typically higher attended Sundays should allow us to leverage these days into special experiences.
On top of the ones that will come naturally on the calendar each year, growing churches also understand the importance of celebrating special Sundays as well. Other types of celebrations that could fall into the church planning calendar could be any of the following:
- Baptism Sundays
- Anniversary Sundays
- Back-to-School Sunday
- Vision Sunday
Do you have any of these on your current church calendar?
Baptisms are such a great tool and witness to bring people into the church.
I remember early on someone was having a baptism for their daughter and invited her friend. Her friend came the very next day and she was hungover. Ministry is messy, right? But she said the only reason she was there was to support her friend. She heard something she needed to hear that day, because she came back again, and we actually had the chance to baptize her a few months later. Over the following 18 months, then, I had the privilege to baptize her son, her granddaughter, and her mom. 4 generations.
9 years later and she’s still a faithful attender of our church.
Some friends would not be inclined to attend on a normal Sunday, but they will attend and support a friend being baptized.
Growing churches should be thinking about how to have 8-10 special Sunday’s a year. Every Sunday is important, but use these big Sunday’s to do extra special things.
Challenge: Map out the next 12 months of your church calendar and identify 8-10 Sunday’s that could be “Big” Sundays for you and share this with your staff.
Idea 4: Seek Publicity from the Press for Large Events
When I look back at what made our church the fastest growing church in our denomination for a few years, it’s easy to see where the growth really spiked. It was in 2014. This was a year, by the way, in which we were severely understaffed and our church building was not conducive to growth. Why did we grow?
In 2014, we had a couple different stories that went viral thanks to the local press.
In March, as I was preaching chronologically through the book of 1 Corinthians, I got to the section on food sacrificed to idols. This was an issue that some in the Corinthians church were making black/white that Paul decided to leave gray. As I was trying to be practical for what this meant for our church I looked at issues that some in the church today make black/white that likely are meant to be gray. One of those issues is tattoos.
Sarcastically, being a new church plant, I said if anyone would like to get a tattoo of our church logo on their body, that I would pay for it. I was joking, but sure enough, some took it seriously, and I so ended up having to pay up. Altogether, we had 23 people that got tattooed with our church logo and the story went everywhere. This story made the front page of Yahoo, Huffington Post, and many other top news organizations around the world.
Later in that year, in November 2014, I had this crazy idea to break a Guinness World Record by preaching the longest sermon of all time, which turned into the Longest Speech Ever. As I preached for 53 hours and 18 minutes and broke a Guinness World Record, we raised more than $100,000 to open up a men’s recovery home. The story caught on and made it to NPR, Huffington Post, Fox News, and even made the top of the Drudge Report.
Of course, we know that God is the one truly at work, but these events got our name literally everywhere. Everyone in our community knew about our church because we were dropping so many seeds. The attenders of our church were proud of their church and happy to invite others and share all the amazing things that were happening. When you are a church that is accomplishing great things and making a difference in the community, it turns out the people in your church love to talk about you.
So what can you do to get the press to cover you? Well, you can buy tattoos, break world records, and open men’s recovery homes, but most of you won’t go that route.
Are there other ways?
Many of the fastest growing churches resonate towards very large service events. Large service events are great opportunities to seek publicity from the press. Remember, the local press is looking for stories to tell. That is their job.
A great strategy I learned Rich Birch’s Church Growth Flywheel Online course is that you can look up past events that the press has covered and even find the writer in your community that has written previously. If you approach them at the right time and if you have everything presented to them well, they will likely cover it again. Many times, the real reason a church doesn’t get covered is not because the press is negative towards us, but we don’t organize our materials and send out press releases to make it as easy as possible for them to cover your event.
The goal should be to create a few press-ready, social-media events each year. Here’s 4 quick examples of press-ready, social media events that churches have done:
- Helicopter Easter Egg Drop
- Trunk ‘R Treat
- Night to Shine
- Packing Large Quantities of Meals for Charity
All of these events create amazing visuals that is important when the press is considering covering an event. But even if the press doesn’t come, you create incredible opportunities for your attendees to post pictures on their social media accounts. Over time, you can help teach your attendees when they post, to also post a next step to join them at your church in the future.
Now, if everything you ever do is with the intention to get the press to show up, you may need to ask what your real motivation is. But most churches are trying their best to make a difference in the world, and it’s important your community knows that you are here for them.
The truth is that hosting, organizing, and leading press-ready events is a lot of work. But it’s work that pays great dividends.
Large community events are a great way for people in your community to engage with your church family. In fact, when we launched an internship program we asked for people to tell us why they attended theCross. There were several of them that mentioned the first time they ever heard about theCross. Wouldn’t you know it, there were many answers but included in the answers was all of these:
- The Tattoo Story
- World Record Speech
- Easter Egg Helicopter Drop
- Trunk ‘R Treat
After attending one of these events, or hearing about these events in the press, they came to our church. Not right away, but eventually. And the more they kept coming, the more they experienced relationship with Jesus. And now, they were ready to go deeper into learning some deep theology and practical applications about how to be leaders in our church.
I learned this truth: Sometimes people won’t come to a God thing, but they will come to a good thing. These events are good things that can ultimately be a bridge to a God thing.
Some people have said things like the world record speech and dropping eggs from a helicopter are gimmicks. Truthfully, I didn’t care and I still don’t care. Jesus said it’s our responsibility to let our light shine for the world. And, if, through these “gimmicks,” I can preach the Good News of Jesus for 53 hours with the promise that every time His Word goes out it doesn’t return void, and if, on top of this, we can raise money for charity, and if few can provide a great family event in a time of great disconnection, and ultimately through it all get people connected to our church and to Jesus, then sign me up for more gimmicks.
Challenge: Plan 3 Large Service Events in Your Calendar for the Next 12 Months
Idea 5: Supply Your People with Invite Cards
You might think with all of the creative ways we’ve come up with already that this one is kind of boring and old-fashioned. But in a hyper-digital, saturated screen age, a physical invite card can stand out now more than ever.
If invitability is the key determining factor then supplying invite cards to give to your people is a must.
I was listening to Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast, and he was interviewing Rich Birch. Rich had interviewed hundreds of pastors of fast-growing churches and one of the churches he interviewed had seen explosive growth, one of the fastest in the country. And Rich asked him, “What did you do?” And he said, “It’s a little embarrassing, what we did this year was every week, we put invite cards on every seat in our auditorium for the entire year. We got aggressive with getting invite cards out in front of people.”
What percentage of invite cards actually end up in the hands of guests? Probably not a lot, but when you bring an invite card home, most of the time you will stash it in a little nook or place where random things go. Typically, if you are like me, this nook is a place that you pass by often. Seeing this invite card will constantly remind you of your church, and not only make you more apt to go, but many will feel more obliged to give it to someone else as well.
A lot of churches typically will do invite cards for their big Sunday’s (Christmas and Easter) but why not every Sunday? If you preach a new sermon series, why not every single sermon series?
The key is to help your people invite others. If church growth is about how many invites are given, then let’s do our best to supply them with the seeds to throw.
Strategically, it would be wise to think of at least four different physical invite cards to print out:
- Christmas and Easter
- Major Church Events
- Every New Sermon Series
- Sit with Me Cards: Invite to come any Sunday
In addition, we can get creative around other ideas too. For instance, if someone is going to have a baptism, that’s an amazing step in a person’s faith journey. Maximize this opportunity by giving them tools to make the invite easy for their networks. Here’s a few ideas:
- Give special invite cards that they can pass out
- Supply the person a ready-made email that they can tailor
- Show them practical steps on how they can make their baptism a Facebook event
One other effective invite card could be what’s called an “Acts of Kindness” card. I first heard about this from “Church of the Highlands.” They have a website here devoted to this that gives tons of incredible ways to use these cards.
The idea behind these “Acts of Kindness” cards is that as you are being the people of God and doing kind acts in the world that you drop this card with it. The card that Church of the Highlands uses has a nice personal message on one side, “Just something to show you God loves you.” Then on the back you can supply a link to your website, an invite to come to your church, or whatever other important information you would like to get out into the community.
By supplying invite cards regularly you are not only resourcing your people well, but you are also reinforcing the fact that invitation is a common practice in the life of a follower of Jesus.
Challenge: Create an invite card for your next sermon series to give to your church attendees.
I hope those three ideas are helpful for you.
Make sure you subscribe to the blog to see Parts 3 and 4 coming in the next two weeks.