Some Tested Ideas Related
Church Membership Growth
Every congregation is unique in some way, so it should develop its own program to promote growth and remain healthy. Nevertheless, there are lists compiled out of the past experiences of many congregations which may be helpful when developing a program. Here is one such list:
1. Put nametags in a convenient location, and encourage everyone in your congregation to wear one on Sunday.
2. Provide different colored name tags for visitors.
3. Provide coffee mugs of a special color for visitors and others who may want to meet people. Be sure to talk with those with visitor mugs!
4. Hold special events for newcomers, such as an informal orientation dinner, dessert, or a luncheon following the Sunday service. Plan to offer a tour of your facilities and be prepared to offer a description of your church's beliefs, principles, and practices.
5. Appoint people to be responsible for following up on all visitors, including children, youth and young adults. When a member calls on a newcomer within 72 hours after the visit, the chances for a return visit increase by more than 50%.
6. Assign “buddies” to visitors. The buddy stays with the visitor to answer questions, to introduce the visitor to others, and to follow-up during the coming week.
7. Hold regular “Invite-a-Friend” or “Rally” Sundays when active members are encouraged to bring friends who are potential members, regular attendees at services, or participants in Religious Education programs.
8. Make regular announcements regarding how one becomes a member.
9. Encourage each committee to take time for orienting and training a new member who joins them. It is helpful to provide new committee members with materials that include the committee's mission statement and minutes from past meetings.
10. Invite promising new leaders to attend leadership training sessions.
11. Have regular adult education programs to which newcomers can be invited. One-time events or a discussion series should be planned throughout the year, including summer months.
12. Hold Sunday services all year long.
13. Reserve several “choice” spaces in your parking lot for “Visitors” and mark them clearly.
14. Put all visitors on your mailing list without requiring them to request it. Never remove someone without first telephoning to confirm they are no longer interested.
15. Have a variety of pamphlets on your church's beliefs and practices handy for visitors.
16. Develop a brochure that describes your congregation and its history to hand out to visitors and place in your brochure rack.
17. Give an attractive “welcome bag” to all first-time visitors. In could include a pen with your congregation's name on it, a list of current Religious Education offerings, a church newsletter, a mission statement, a description of ways to get involved, an introductory pamphlet on your religion's most important beliefs, and ways a person could contact the minister and Religious Education director.
18. Take time in the service to joyfully welcome all visitors. Invite them to raise their hands and have the ushers give each of them a “welcome bag.”
19. Develop a “new member's” packet. It might include your church directory, bylaws, history, the church's main beliefs, a Religious Education brochure, and last annual report and a pledge card.
20. Include a space for telephone numbers and email addresses in your visitors' book so you can follow up with them later.
21. Have specific breakfasts or luncheons so newcomers can meet members and leaders of the congregation.
22. Make sure that your membership committee has a budget that enables it to do the best possible job.
23. Offer a pictorial directory. It will enable both newcomers and old-timers to more easily find and learn the names of members.
24. Make sure that your Religious Education facilities are attractive to children and their parents. Pay special attention to the church nursery. Make sure it appears safe and inviting.
25. Provide Sunday morning greeters at each of your major entrance areas. If yours is a larger congregation with more than twenty visitors a week, station your first group of welcoming greeters in the parking lots.
26. Designate someone adept at identifying and connecting with visiting young adults to be a young adult greeter.
27. Identify two young adults who are committed to going out for brunch every Sunday with any young adults who come to the morning service and would like going to brunch. Same place, same time.
28. Have an attractive, user-friendly web page which is updated regularly.
29. Join with other area congregations to advertise your religion. Welcome Wagon, the local media and the web are often the first places newcomers to your community will hear about you.
30. List the time and location of your services, and a telephone number that will always be answered, even if by a machine, in the yellow pages.
31. On your answering machine message, include an option to listen to recorded directions to your church. Read the directions a bit slower than normal.
32. Evaluate the quality of your Sunday services. Regular participants sometimes put up with situations that make visitors feel uncomfortable.
33. Develop strategies to assimilate newcomers quickly into the life of the congregation. New members who are not involved within 18 months after joining frequently become totally inactive within 3 years.
34. Expand the “ownership” of your congregation by including young adults in their twenties and thirties in leadership positions.
35. Hold religious education orientation sessions for parents.
36. Provide child-care for your newcomer meetings and other activities. Give all committee chairs a sheet listing pre-approved sitters' names and phone numbers, along with directions for having the sitters be paid.
37. Post flyers about your special events in key locations around your community.
38. Print an eye-catching flyer about your church and put it on the windshields of cars in major parking lots.
39. When you are 80-85% of capacity on Sunday morning in the adult service and/or Religious Education program, you have three choices if you want to be growth oriented: (a) expand your facilities, (b) add a second service and church school session, or (c) start a new congregation.
40. If you choose to add a second service, consider using a different style of worship.
41. Involve a number of people in your Sunday services, such as readers and people to make announcements.
42. Make announcements at a place in the service when they won't over-whelm what comes before or after.
43. Announcements should not exceed one-tenth of the total time of your Sunday service. Encourage people to submit announcements in advance and print them in the order of service.
44. If you have only a few guests per Sunday, provide a time for them to introduce themselves if they wish.
45. Provide good music during your service. Even a recording played on a quality sound system is better than nothing at all.
46. Conclude every Sunday service with a note of hope. Visitors never forget the “downers.”
47. Place occasional “testimonials” in your Sunday service and newsletters, in which members share why they belong and what the church means to them.
48. Devote a space in each of your newsletters for a personal/inspirational note. The people who read it are your enlarged congregation.
49. Look at your facilities from a visitor's eye. People feel friendlier in a space that communicates warmth through its colors and décor.
50. Keep your building clean and attractive. A sense of pride in your space communicates a sense of pride in your faith.
51. Designate specific individuals rather than committees to look for and attend to visitors.
52. Begin and end your services on time.
53. Meet diverse needs by offering many choices in your programming. Smaller groups permit sharing more than larger groups.
54. Begin Covenant Groups, Prayer Groups, or Small Group Ministry in your church. Small-group participation is an important key to making members feel they are part of the church.
55. One way we grow is by being welcoming, inclusive, and honoring of diversity. Do an audit of your space and programs, including Religious Education programs and worship. Ask yourselves questions like these and then develop a plan to make needed changes:
· Whose pictures are on the walls? The bulletin boards? What are the messages?
· In choosing stories for worship and sharing in other settings, who are the characters? What do they do? Who describes their experience?
· What celebrations are parts of your congregational life? What do these celebrations help you learn about the “other”? How does this learning affect your life and the life of your congregation?
· What are the themes and values of the curricula you use? Whose values are they? What is implicit in them?
· Explore the environments for Religious Education programming. Look at every thing in each room, in each space. What messages do the spaces convey?
· What kind of diversity is present in your congregation? At worship? In the Religious Education program? Consider age, race, ethnicity, gender, family configuration, and sexual orientation. How is this diversity represented in the life of the congregation? In Religious Education? On committees? In adult Religious Education? In decision making?
· What place does the diversity of your larger community have in the life of your congregation? How do you approach your responsibilities for justice? Out of entitlement? With a sense of accountability? Accountable to whom and how?
56. If your parking lot is always full, expand it, find other spaces, or add a second service. People hesitate to walk more than a block to church.
57. Keep your bulletin boards attractive and up-to-date.
58. If your sanctuary is uncomfortably empty, set out 2% fewer chairs than you'll need. Setting up more chairs provides a more positive note than looking at empty ones.
59. Remind members that welcoming newcomers is everybody's job, not just that of some designated individuals or committee members.
60. Organize a program of direct mail advertising. If your congregation can't afford it all at once, divide the zip code(s) into thirds or fourths and target one section per year.
61. Do a demographic study of your community. See how your membership compares with the community around you and make knowledgeable decisions about folks that you might try to attract in the future.
62. Allocate 5% of your budget to advertising. Web pages, direct mail, telephone, ads in newspapers (including alternative papers), radio, and shopping “throw-aways” are the most effective. Also, post flyers in laundromats, coffeehouses and on the local college campus.
63. Conduct a person-to-person canvass of your congregation every year. The personal visits provide an opportunity for outreach and communication with every member and friend. Direct solicitation will produce greater pledging than any other method.
64. Put up signs along well-traveled routes directing people to your building.
65. If the main entrance to your building is not obvious, mark it with visible signs.
66. Make your building accessible to those who use mobility devices.
67. Make sure ushers know how to welcome people with various disabilities in a friendly way.
68. If your building is accessible to those who are physically challenged, include the symbol on your print advertising to let others know.
69. Ask a local agency or member of your congregation who is physically challenged to help you assess the accessibility of your congregation. People who do not have disabilities frequently overlook such things as high counters, narrow passageways, etc.
70. Offer large-print hymnals. Orders of service and other print materials can be enlarged with a copy machine.
71. Help those who have difficulty hearing participate in your activities by installing and using a good sound system, by asking all speakers to stand in a place visible to the entire audience and by offering Sign language-interpreted services consistently. In the Deaf press, advertise when interpreted services are held.
72. Put up signs directing people to offices, rest rooms, the sanctuary and Religious Education areas.
73. Ask a young adult to assess the Sunday morning worship service from young adult eyes. Is the service participatory? What is the pace? What kinds of music do you sing and play? Will young adults see themselves reflected in the service?
74. If your meeting room or sanctuary is crowded, encourage long-time members to leave empty seats along the aisles. It is more comfortable for a newcomer to slip into an aisle seat than a middle seat.
75. Keep meeting areas free of clutter. Build storage cabinets for supplies and equipment, and encourage folks to clear away leftovers from various activities rather than letting them collect in the building.
76. Allow other groups to rent your building, and put brochures about your church near entrances where visitors will see them.
77. Put a visible lighted sign on the building or property.
78. If you do not have your own building, ask the owners for the right to put up a sign as part of your rental agreement.
79. Display multicultural artwork and symbols representing a diversity of ethnicities and cultures.
80. Start new groups with every 40 new members. It is easier for newcomers to make friends in a newly formed group than to “break in” on established groups with a shared history.
81. Offer a variety of music and worship services to appeal to and learn more about people of different cultures and age groups. Examples of added services include a Soulful Sundown, or services in Spanish, American Sign Language, and other languages.
82. Host a few special speakers at your congregation each year, and publicize them widely. At each event, publicize follow-through programs on the same, or closely related, theme.
83. Provide quality activities for children during coffee hour and other times when parents are busy with adult activities.
84. Before the Christmas and Easter holidays, collaborate with other congregations in your area to do a special advertisement with a message about the holiday in a local paper.
85. Join the local community cable network and train someone in your congregation to videotape special programs for cable. Include in these programs a tag line about your congregation's program and a few testimonials from members, including young adults.
86. Send press releases regularly to community newspaper calendars or newsletters. (African-American, Deaf, Parents Without Partners, gay and lesbian, campus, etc.)
87. Volunteer as a congregation for the telethon for the local public television or radio stations. Purchase as a congregation one or more days of programming. Just as every successful program within a church helps the whole church, every successful program within a community helps the whole community.
88. Set up a booth about your congregation at a community fair.
89. Appear at gay pride events and other community events with a banner designating your congregation. Set up a booth with information about your congregation.
90. To become more visible in the area, make your building available to community groups. Volunteer for joint projects with some of these groups so they get to know you as more than a “landlord.”
91. Train the members of your congregation in listening skills. Successful community depends on people’s ability to listen to one-another.
92. Have members of your congregation connect with people who have stopped attending to learn whether and how the church might have done something to turn them away. Evaluate the results from these contacts to determine how things might be done better. Invite people to have stopped attending to return, at least occasionally if not regularly.
93. Have someone call new members six months after they have joined your church to explore ways they can be incorporated into the life and ministry of your church.
94. Plan committee meetings to include opportunities for a brief spiritual reflection, personal sharing, and fellowship. Always evaluate your committee meetings at the end. What went well? What do you hope to do differently in the future?
95. Have a committee fair once or twice a year so that new and long-term members can become informed about your committees and find a place to invest their talents.
96. Nurture enthusiasm among your present membership. If the present members are enthusiastic about the congregation, they will want to tell their friends and neighbors about your church.
97. Have a workshop in “witnessing” and sharing (y)our faith. Help participants tell about their spiritual journeys and how their religion and church home have supported them. Include role-plays.
98. Invite newcomers to join you in doing a job at a Sunday service, such as ushering or serving coffee hour refreshments.
99. Gather a group of newcomers together for a feedback session. Ask them what they found attractive about the congregation. Ask them what has been difficult in becoming active.
100. Hold a variety of events, such as retreats, family nights, and trips that meet religious, educational and social needs. Include others, besides children and parents, who want to take part.
101. Ask newcomers/new members to sit on the Membership Committee to add their experiences to the projects and planning sponsored by that group.
102. Hold a special celebration for welcoming new members.
103. Convene a meeting for committee chairs in which the names and interests of newcomers can be passed on to the related committee.
104. Maintain and make use of a record of how visitors are hearing about the congregation.
105. Publish an attractive Religious Education prospectus each year, or each time the program changes, describing the programs for children, youth, young adults and older adults. Have copies to give away in your pamphlet rack.
106. Make sure the ushers know where to direct new families as they arrive at the church door.
107. Have good signs to the church school parts of the building and a clear indication of where new children are registered.
108. Display children's artwork attractively with signs to explain the themes and program from which it came.
109. Have a special Religious Education greeter/registrar.
110. Hold programs for parents to (1) get acquainted and (2) learn how to talk with their children about your religion and church happenings.
111. Make it a regular practice to introduce each newcomer to yourself and one other person.
112. Bring a visiting young adult over to meet another young adult member during coffee hour.
113. Consider changing “coffee hour” to something like “social hour.” Many people don’t drink coffee. Augment your social hour with juice, seltzer, herbal teas, etc.
114. Have a young adult (18-35) category on the form your Membership Committee asks visitors to complete. (It might ask, “Year-of-birth if Young Adult (18-35)?”)
115. Have a young adult tell you what they see, or don't see, as they arrive on a Sunday morning.
116. If your church has become an Open and Affirming Congregation or a Welcoming Congregation, clearly indicate that fact in your materials, e.g., by having the rainbow flag icon on your sign.
117. Tell your friends, coworkers, and others with whom you associate what you love about your church.
118. Leave a copy of your religion's magazine at your hairdresser's or barber's shop