7 Ways To Grow Church Attendance By Increasing Engagement

By Carey Nieuwhof

One key is this: you turn ordinary attenders into passionate champions of the mission. The goal of any Christian should never be to find a church you like and sit in the back row. The goal should be to fully engage the mission.

If you want to see your church grow, stop trying to attractpeople and start trying to engage people.

Engaged people are passionate people. They know what the mission is. They serve in it. They live it out. They’re passionate enough about it to invite their friends. Over the long-term in a church, you can accomplish more with 300 engaged Christians than with 3000 disengaged attenders. Yes, only God can bring growth. But he uses people who are engaged to do it.

1. Challenge People To Serve

People who serve in the mission are people who are engaged in the mission. At Connexus, where I serve, we’re finding that our healthiest people are not those who are in groups: they’re those who serve. People who serve (as a rule) get the mission. They’re on mission. And they love the mission. Groups can be about you, whereas serving is almost never about you.

2. Provide A Clear Path Toward Involvement

The challenge for many people who participate in a congregation is that they don’t know what to do to get involved. The clearer and simpler the path is toward in engagement, the more people will travel it.

Now, we have a “New Here” kiosk for new guests. And we have a “Next Steps” kiosk with trained guest services people who act a bit like concierges who can help people discover which next step is best for them (baptism v. serving v. joining a group v. Starting Point etc.)

3. Focus All Programs Around Your Mission

Years ago, we dumped a program-based model of church (if you can dream it, we’ll do it) for a much simpler model. Why? In part, we moved to a simpler model because when you give people too many choices, people choose nothing.

If you want people to be passionate about the central mission of your church, only do programming that directly advances the central mission. When you say ‘no’ to a hundred other missions, you say ‘yes’ to the most important mission.

4. Make It Uncomfortable To Stay Disengaged

People eventually conform to expectations. People both rise and descend to our level of expectations.The same is true of congregations. When you don’t expect people to do more than to attend your church, don’t be surprised if all they do is attend your church.

Craft a culture through your words, calls to action on a Sunday, and in all your communications where you expect people to serve, join a group, bring a friend and give generously.

5. Preach Action, Not Knowledge

Preachers have this incredible 20-40 minute window with which to speak into people’s lives every week. You can use it to give people information or you can use it to call people to action. The second is far better.

Not that you need to hammer people every week. But with your words you can make it clear that the goal of the Christian faith is not to know something, but to do something with what you know.

If you continue to talk about how to get involved and join the mission, providing clear action steps and opportunities to do so, eventually more people will engage. If you don’t, they won’t.

6. Try Using Active Language

We’ve had a simple model of church at Connexus since we started, but right now we’re changing the language of engagement from more passive language to active language.

  • Become a Christian (new)
  • Join the Mission (was “Serve”)
  • Bring a Friend (was “Invite”)
  • Choose Community (was “Connect”)
  • Give Generously (was “Give”)

The idea is that these phrases roll off the tongue more naturally and paint a clearer outcome toward deeper engagement with the mission than the old language did.

7. Reward Progress

However you define increased engagement, reward it whenever you see it.

How can you do this?

A. Celebrate It Publicly

Sometimes church leaders are great at asking but not at reporting back afterward. If you ask for volunteers and you get 75 new ones, make a point a point of celebrating it the next weekend. Tell some stories. Shoot some video. Thank people.

B. Affirm It Privately

When you see someone jump in, thank them. Mention it when you talk to them in the foyer. Thank them in the next email you send them. Write them a hand written thank you card.

C. Celebrate With Your Key Leaders

Senior leaders can easily fall into the trap of rewarding attendance, not engagement. To increase engagement, start celebrating how many people signed up rather than how many people showed up. When you talk about steps and celebrate when people take them, great things happen in your organization. Staff and key volunteers need to know when they’re winning. Help them see it. Signing up is better than showing up.

Remember, as a leader, what you celebrate matters. As Andy Stanley has said so many times, what you celebrate gets repeated.


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