by Tom Ehrich
I have had many requests for my article, “Six Surefire Ways to Grow Your Church.” In fact, one more request hit my inbox while I was typing that sentence.
I sense a hunger for growth – to survive, to attain critical mass so that every year isn’t a budgeting and staffing nightmare, to fulfill a gospel commandment, or to enjoy what growth brings, namely, new people, new activities, more children, more excitement, more sense of purpose. Whatever the impetus, a pro-growth mood seems to have emerged. I think a great window of opportunity is opening for mainline churches. I am happy to send out copies of the article. But I wonder what happens when the recipient opens it up and discovers what my first two prescriptions are:
- Step 1: Work on “lead generation” by developing a following on Facebook and Twitter and e-mail
- Step 2: Pastor must blog
I can hear a collective “Huh?” Followed by, “That doesn’t make any sense.” But it does make sense. Not the usual growth recipe, I’ll admit, but necessary. Here’s why. For many decades, our primary growth strategy was to open the doors on Sunday and wait passively for whoever walked in. That hasn’t worked for fifty years. Now, two generations have stopped seeing church as something they do on Sunday. Most, in fact, have stopped seeing church altogether. We have become invisible.
We need to get in people’s faces, as it were, tell them about faith community, ask for their yearnings and needs, make connections that are deeper than “come rescue our church” and more promising than “in business, unchanged, for 100 years.” To connect, we need to go where people are. That meeting place isn’t a newspaper, curbside mailbox, or church sign. We need to make ourselves known on social media (Facebook and Twitter, especially) and by e-mail marketing, still the most direct, most effective and least expensive way to get a message out.
These venues each have their unique ways. Posting a typical church announcement on Facebook would be pointless. We have to learn what works in social media and what makes people open an e-mail. For example, an announcement from the church office will get nowhere; but 100 members posting about the great experience they had at a Gospel Festival or a mission trip will have impact.
E-marketing is virtually cost-free, once you have invested in a decent web site and e-mail system. It requires some skills that are quite learn-able. The key is visibility. Get out there, meet people where they are, convey a simple message that is oriented toward the recipient, and keep doing it, day in and day out.
A key player in any growth scenario will be the pastor. For better or worse, prospects judge a congregation by its pastor. Key criteria will vary, but generally will touch on authentic, approachable, made me think, spoke about God, stirred me. A 60-minute glimpse on Sunday morning isn’t enough. The pastor needs other venues to communicate a message, to display authenticity, to be a “thought leader,” to promote the congregation’s “brand.” The venue being used most effectively now by leaders is the blog. Straight from me to you, short, to the point, in your inbox, and filled with links to items of interest (photos, videos, articles).
The pastor needs to take the lead, be assertive, get out there, become the face of the congregation, sell the brand, convey excitement, convey personal authenticity and convey the community’s worth.
So, yes, not your usual recipe for cornbread, but it’s what will work today.