After 25 years of consulting and researching local congregations, I have found four common approaches churches take to break attendance barriers regardless of size. There are certainly more than four possibilities, but allow me to evaluate these four more common approaches.
Preaching is central to the worship services in most churches. Indeed most services are built around the message. The sermon is critical to the life and health of a church.
Christians look at everyone else as if they've got targets painted on their foreheads. Nobody likes being hunted down or treated like someone else's project. Love does not seek to create clones of itself. Selfishness does.
I arrived on Saturday, so I have already had an opportunity to interact with a number of people. Most of those I have spoken with are here for the SBC. A few of them, though, work in Houston. I would like to share summary comments from two of them.
I was serving a church in St. Petersburg, Florida, when it hit me hard. One of my young children had playfully fallen on the floor in the foyer after a worship service. A deacon in the church came up to me and spoke forcefully: "You need to tell your kid to get up. Pastors' children aren't supposed to act that way."
My burden to see struggling churches become turnaround churches grows daily. There are an estimated 100,000 churches in North America that would be deemed terminal by most pundits. There are another 100,000 to 200,000 that are very sick and could soon be on the deathwatch.
There are few vocations that can engender burnout like the pastorate. The demands on a pastor's time, emotions, and energy can be overwhelming. When I was a pastor, I often felt at least the symptoms of burnout.
Most church leaders don't grasp the value of a website to get guests to their churches to hear the gospel. Most church websites are terrible
So what have I found these past seven months? I could give you a fairly extensive consultation report about the churches, but I prefer to distill my words into just a few helpful hints. Each of these issues clearly needed addressing in most of the churches I visited.
Over the past few years, I've heard the phrase "courageous leadership" used to describe the trait of those leaders who are making a difference today. Unfortunately, we also know many who are in leadership positions where that courage is not apparent. Indeed, they demonstrate leadership that is fearful.
I have used these lines many times in speaking venues. I ask the audience if they know how Baptists count weekly worship attendance. The knowing smiles break forth on most faces. I then began counting each person in the conference by saying 2, 4, 6, 8 . . . As the audience waits for the punch line, I say that every believer is indwelled by the Holy Spirit, so each person counts as two.
My recent blogpost on pastors' salaries drew a lot of attention. There are indeed some heated emotions on both sides of the issue. Much of the concern expressed about the pay of ministers seems to focus on those cases of real indulgence and abuse. But it's those cases that get the most attention and, sadly, hurt the vast majority of ministers who are faithful stewards of God's money.
Worship leader: your pastor is the single most important professional relationship you have. You may be the primary facilitator of music and media, but he's ultimately in charge—and he's usually the one taking the fallout when things go awry. You absolutely want a healthy, dynamic relationship with your pastor.
I must say from a pure statistical perspective, most churches with the symptoms I noted will die within a matter of a few years. Though I don't have hard data, I would be comfortable suggesting that the percentage exceeds 99 percent. In the midst of the gloomy news of terminal churches, I took a look at a few churches that had all the signs of impending death and then turned around to life.
Almost a decade ago, I led a major study on churches that had reversed negative trends and become positive breakout churches. I established the criterion that the breakout had to take place without changing pastors. I knew from previous research that most breakout churches had new pastors. I wanted to see if it was likely for a church to turnaround without getting a new pastor.
Preachers are also too familiar with distractions. While it's the way of life of someone who gets in front of people to speak, it is no less annoying. I asked a number of pastors to share with me the most frequent distractions they experience while preaching. Here are there responses in order of frequency. I also took a representative quote from one of the respondents for each item.
The first "test" consists of three questions. Though the church member may not ask these questions specifically, he or she is evaluating three critical issues to determine if it's time to move or stay. These are the issues around the six-month point.
Of all the members who drop out of church, 82 percent leave in the first year of their membership. Retention efforts are thus critical in the first twelve months after a member joins a church.
The exercise was simple. I made a list of over 30 of the most unified churches I know. Some of them have been my clients in the past. I then made a list of over 40 fragmented churches (they were easier to find). From that point I began to answer my own questions: What makes this church look like it's unified? What makes this other church look like it's fragmented?
I am especially grateful to have the opportunity to hear from pastors' wives since much of my focus is on pastors. Our recent, informal survey simply asked the open-ended question: "What do you wish you had been told before you became a minister's wife?"
I travel a lot and spend a lot of time in different churches. I have had a church consulting firm that did "guest" visits as part of our services. Sadly, many times I do not feel welcome as a guest when I visit churches.
The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches assembles various data on churches and denominations across North America. I recently gleaned the top 15 denominations by membership in the United States from their reports:
Many years ago I was serving as pastor of a church where I was an avid supporter of door-to-door outreach. But I struggled with leading people to be involved in the ministry. We kept decent records, so I got the old "outreach cards" for the previous year. My brief research shocked me.
The Christian Booksellers Association has published its list of bestselling Bible translations in 2012 for the United States.
I have informally counseled hundreds of ministers about financial matters. My background lends itself to such interaction. I have a business degree with a double major in finance and economics. I served as a corporate banker before answering the call to vocational ministry. undreds of ministers have sought my advice. I am humbled and happy to share my knowledge with these servants of God.