How to Grow a Small Church
How can we grow a small church? In spite of the huge ministries and churches we see on television, the majority of churches in the United States have under one hundred members. The following tips apply to really small, struggling churches, as well as average size churches that have reached a plateau. Pastoring small churches can be a challenge, but there are a few simple things you can do to help your church grow.
Be passionate. If we are going to grow our church, we must be passionate about the ministry. Those in the Bible who accomplished great things were passionate and committed men and women. Elijah was passionate and unafraid when he confronted Ahab, the king (1 Kings 17-19). As a result, he saw a nation touched by God’s power. Let’s be passionate men and women of God. Our ministry will be the better for it.
Pray. We must be men and women of prayer. No great work has ever been accomplished for God outside of much time in earnest prayer. It was said of Jesus, “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35 KJV). It was also said of the early church, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer along with the women” (Acts 1:14 NASB).
I must qualify this somewhat. My spiritual overseer in the ministry, the late Dr. Paul E. Paino, frequently said, “Great preaching and great praying alone will not build great churches.” Some of the greatest preachers and most committed prayer warriors continue to pastor small struggling churches. It takes more. God may move and bring us people, but it’s up to us to keep them.
Structure. You can pray and God may bring people into your church but if you don’t structure for growth you will never keep them. Much of a pastor’s time should be devoted to praying on how the Holy Spirit would have him structure and restructure the church. We must constantly structure and restructure to allow for continued growth and to maintain growth that has taken place. You must change the way your church is structured at every level or plateau of growth you experience. This is one of the reasons God has placed you where you are. Paul told Titus, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking” (Titus 1:5 NKJV).
You should constantly be in prayer about how you may need to structure and restructure the classes (Sunday school and/or children’s church) in your church. As you grow this will need to take place in order to maintain the growth God brings your way. This needs to takes place at every level or plateau of growth you experience. You should also be constantly praying and brain storming on how you should set in order every aspect of the church.
This includes your leadership (elders and deacons) and who is put in charge of different areas and responsibilities of ministry. All things in the church must be subject to change as the need arises. Frequently, trouble comes our way to force us to change and restructure the church as is seen in Acts 6:1-7. New structure and delegated responsibility allowed for continued growth in the New Testament church. It also allowed for pressure to be alleviated from the Apostles (or you as pastor) and allowed them to prioritize their ministry.
Meeting places. Make sure your facilities and meeting places are up to par. No matter what type of building you have, make sure it looks the best it possibly can. Paint and cleaning supplies do wonders for both the inside and outside – and always keep up on the grounds. People’s first impression of your facility will make all the difference in the world. It may very well determine whether they come back the second time or not.
Advertise. Use media and publications in your area to let others know about your ministry. Almost all towns and cities have some sort of news outlets that offer free public service announcements and news releases. It’s foolish not to take advantage of them.
When pastoring I’ve always used local news outlets for nearly everything we had going on. Even if it’s as small as a pitch-in dinner, VBS, a special meeting, or a concert; let people know about it. Write up some general information, explain your event or activity thoroughly, and then take it to the local paper. You can also mail a condensed version of the announcement to your local Christian radio or TV stations. If promoting a concert or guest speaker, always submit a picture with your news release. They will usually include a small photo if they have room, and a picture will help bring attention to your ad.
Signs and church information. Make sure your signs and displays are clear and accurate. For example, make sure Sunday school and service times are clearly listed, especially if you have multiple services. If service times are not accurate, it can be very confusing to guests and newcomers. Also, make sure relevant information is kept up-to-date on marquis, Internet advertisements (denominational information if it applies), websites, brochures, letterhead, business cards, and other ministry materials.
Accessibility. Pastors, we must be accessible. Make sure your contact information is displayed clearly so people can reach you. Preferably, you should hold regular office hours so people will know how and when to reach you at the church – so they won’t have to call you at home (unless it’s an emergency). If you are bi-vocational, or live a distance from the church, make sure you have a local number where you can be reached. The church should at least provide a cell phone with a local number for their pastor. For a few years, I pastored a church that was an hour and a half away from my home. During that time we forwarded the church phone to our home.
Think and act big. The Bible says, “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7 KJV). If you are going to grow your church, you must think and act as if it is larger than it is.
Be consistent. If you have certain time schedules for your services, make sure you keep them. When pastoring I would never cancel a service for fear that someone who has been thinking about checking out our church might come for a visit and find we were not there.
I remember one time in particular, there was a city-wide crusade going on and they wanted all the churches in the area to cancel their mid-week service for the crusade. I refused to cancel our service because someone who needed our ministry might show up on that particular night. The evangelist asked me why I was not conforming to their wishes. I was familiar with a large church he used to minister at, and asked him if he thought they would cancel their service if they were in the same situation. He immediately said no, he was sure they would not. I responded, then neither will we.
Be punctual. If you tell someone you are going to meet them at such and such a time – be there when you said you would. If you have meetings listed or advertised at a certain time, you must start at those times. Frequently, people get in the habit of arriving late to church. If they arrive late and find the service has already started, it will teach them to be on time. On the other hand, if visitors come at a certain time because it is advertised as such, only to find that the service is delayed, they will not be punctual the next time (if they come back at all).
Pursue excellence. Paul wrote, “That ye may approve things that are excellent” (Philippians 1:10 KJV). We must be the best we can in all that we do. We must be professional in appearance, the best we can be at preaching and teaching, how we order and conduct the service, the worship, etc. Think of what you have seen when attending a small church as compared to what you see when visiting a large church. You wouldn’t expect to visit a large church and see the order of service, worship, timeliness or so on conducted in a haphazard manner would you? Of course you wouldn’t. If a small church expects to grow it should do no less.
Visitors. Visitors are very important to the growth of your church. For each visitor, make sure you…
- Welcome them. It’s important for all visitors to feel welcomed, cared for, and accepted (Romans 15:7), but not embarrassed. Visitors should never be put on the spot or feel like they are on display.
- Get visitor’s personal information. Make sure you fill out a card or sheet with each visitor’s basic contact information. What is normally used is a visitor’s card requesting information such as name, mailing address, phone number (home and cell), and email address.
- Contact them. It’s imperative that visitors be contacted. A letter should be sent to them first thing Monday morning thanking them for visiting your church. If the pastor doesn’t have time, someone should be designated to send the letter out for him (in his name). By the end of the week, the visitor should be contacted by phone as well. I usually waited until Thursday so they had time to receive the letter I sent earlier in the week. If they are open, a home visit can be good.
Visitation and follow up. The sheep or congregation need to be visited and followed up on as well. If a member of the congregation misses two or three weeks in a row, they should be called or visited. We never know what they may be going through. Jesus stressed the importance of this in Luke 15 with three illustrations: the lost sheep, coin and son.
I would rather have people complain because we loved them too much than because no one ever called them when they left. If someone leaves to attend another church, you should let them go. If they have strayed from the body, we must go after them.
Regular visitation is needed as well. A phone call doesn’t take that much time. Set apart a regular time to call people to see how they are doing, pray with them, and show them you care. You’ll be amazed by the results. As the church grows, this can also be delegated to the leadership.
I also usually called everyone on our mailing list for special events and services we were having. I would go through our entire mailing list of everyone who had ever visited the church and remind them of what was going on and secure their commitment to be in attendance. As a result, we usually had a good turnout and the people (as well as myself) were encouraged. A good turnout to a special service always helps strengthen and encourage the body.
Special events. Have as many special events as you can. I always tried to have something going on at least every four to six weeks. In case you haven’t noticed, larger churches tend to have things happening regularly – which draws attention to your church. In the churches I’ve pastored, I’ve had families visit our church and tell me they came because they noticed things going on at the church. Again, always advertise all of your special events. Most TV, radio stations and newspapers offer free public service announcements or news releases. You can also advertise special events many places online.
When planning special events, don’t have preachers only – diversify. Have different kinds or types of speakers, testimonies, musicians, music groups, and anything you can think of. Use your imagination – have regular brain storming sessions with your leaders. People are attracted by different things. Use various types of events to attract people. I like to use music because it attracts people who may not come hear a person speak. We used everything from quartets to Christian rock styles. One pastor I know, who had built a large church from nothing, once said, “We do some carnal things to get people in the church because people are carnal (he didn’t mean sinful things). Once we get them we can work the carnality out of them.”