When Our Calling Isn’t Enough

Recently we had the privilege of participating in several church planting events, including ARC, Exponential East, and Stadia.

The level of passion and enthusiasm we saw was unparalleled.  I can’t tell you how many pastors spoke to me about their calling.  They left no doubt that this was the decision God had asked them to make.

Meeting these expectant pastors reminded me of an article I had read several months before in the Christian Post.  The article referenced research done by Warren Bird and Ed Stetzer claiming that U.S. churches were no longer in decline.

Their primary metric to prove this was that, according to their research done in 2010, 4,000 new churches were being planted each year, compared to 3,500 that close their doors.  Essentially working out to a positive net 500 churches.

A secondary data source, from the Barna Group and mentioned by Pastor James McDonald in a 2013 article, claimed that there are now 4,000 churches that close each year, equal to the number of church plants.

In summary, anywhere from 3,500-4,000 churches close each year, while approximately the same number are planted in their place.

There’s positives and negatives to take from this data, but the simple fact remains that the average American church has an attendance of 75 people, and approximately 80% of all churches are either stagnant or declining in terms of attendance growth.

Advice from popular pastor Tim Keller, quoted in the aforementioned Christian Post article, suggests one potential solution to the problem, “The only way to increase the number of Christians in a city is to plant thousands of new churches.”

But is this really the answer?

There must be a reason why some churches survive, grow, and thrive, while 4,000 others close each year.

Countless church consulting groups have identified the “stuck” nature of many churches, and are now creating programs specifically tailored to create growth.

Two of these programs in particular target the small church.  Tony Morgan’s Unstuck Group launched a program call GrowthSolutions with the goal of helping small churches, “take intentional steps towards growing their church to 500 in weekly attendance.”

The other group, simply titled Grow, is a ministry of Church of the Highlands, and since 2010 they’ve been pursuing a goal of, “helping 1,000 churches under 1,000 in weekly attendance break that barrier.”

The two initiatives represent comprehensive programs, led by industry experts, dedicated to helping churches find a way to survive, grow, and thrive.

At the end of the day though, if for a second we can remove spiritual elements such as faith and calling, church success comes down to a single word: participation.

As a church, your best ideas, most well thought out programs, and truest intentions cannot survive the absence of participation.

On the positive side, when we have participation, it allows for amazing growth and spiritual maturity through those very same discipleship programs.

Here are three ways churches can focus on increasing participation without sacrificing calling.

Increasing Participation Comes Down to Three Elements

1. Generate Excitement by Leading with Generosity

In our book, Be Prolific, Brad Leeper of Generis made this profound statement, “Generosity is now the best apologetic we as Christ followers have to a watching and needy world.”

His point is that generosity is now so counter-culture, that to see an individual or group practicing it in ridiculous excess is the one thing that catches people’s attention.  As a pastor, lead the charge.  When was the last time you publically gave financially to your church?  Or to another church or ministry?

During the holidays this last year, we matched the first Sunday offering of churches who signed on with Pushpay, up to $500, as a way to generate excitement from individual givers.  Find a way to create a matching moment in your church as an excitement generator!

2. Make First Time & On-Going Participation Easy

This may seem like a no-brainer, but the statistics still remain the same.  80% of church attendees do not give or volunteer on a regular basis.  I refuse to believe that these 80% are just extremely selfish individuals, seeking to take more than they give.  I imagine them to be not so different from myself: busy, slightly distracted, managing a family, and splitting time between work, church, a non-profit, side projects, hobbies, and quality time with my wife.

These aren’t excuses, they simply speak to the fast-moving and always-on culture that most of us find ourselves in everyday.  As a church that is serious about increasing participation, how do we interrupt that flow for a moment to encourage first time engagement?

Use technology to do three things really well: make giving & church communications available through apps on the mobile phone, collect and manage email addresses to send highly targeted invitations, and be proactive in creating on-going real-time conversations through social media.

 3. Never Lose Sight of the True Goal

Rachel Held Evans wrote a spectacular commentary in the Washington Post this past week, titled, “Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church cool.”

Her point is that participation isn’t tied to flash or bang, but rather to authenticity and substance.  For example, “You can snag all sorts of free swag for brand loyalty online, but church is the only place where you are named a beloved child of God with a cold plunge into the water. You can share food with the hungry at any homeless shelter, but only the church teaches that a shared meal brings us into the very presence of God.”

Echoing her sentiment is blogger Amy Peterson, also mentioned in Evans’ article, “At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community.”

The true goal is not participation in our church, but rather participation in the life of being a disciple of Christ.  Keeping this front and center is essential as we move away from entertainment and towards true church growth.

I’ll leave you with a final line that I heard from one of my favorite worship leaders, Will Reagan of United Pursuit.  During a recent worship set he made this statement, “There’s a new development in Christianity where we’re beginning to see it as more of a participation and less of a club.”

Amen!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Derek Gillette

My name is Derek Gillette and I am the Communications Manager for eChurchGiving and Pushpay. I like to use analogies and metaphors as a way to tell better stories. If you are a church, ministry, or non-profit leader, contact me to learn how eChurchGiving & Pushpay helps engage with young and first time givers to build lasting relationships.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Stop Asking Millennials for Money

Drawing on the findings from research into giving by millennials here and here, I’ve compiled six traits of young givers that charities and non-profits would be wise to keep in mind as they look to engage with the $200b spending power of the Millennial generation:

1. We like to invest in ideas that actually make a difference

Photos of starving children don’t stir us to donate, rather they stir us to care about fixing the root of the problem. We want to donate toward something that will help prevent poverty, hunger and trafficking altogether. Have you noticed the term “social enterprise” is on the rise? As the discussion on development and market-based solutions is advancing, so is our interest in innovative ideas to donate to. Or rather invest in.

2. Our buying looks like our giving

Many creatives and entrepreneurs have recognized the opportunity to blend social impact with business. This competition has driven an increase in the quality of socially-benefitting goods, and they’re no longer just unworn beaded bracelets from Africa. Many of them are really cool and mainstream now. Check out Boll & Branch’s comfy fair trade and organic throw blankets, or these leather bags and jewelry from fashionABLE.

3. The experience is everything

The cost of traditional entertainment is through the roof these days. Since we go to the movies less these days (the cost of that alone rivals a nice meal out), we instead hope our donation experience will give us some level of satisfaction. Invitations to attend meet and greats, events, volunteer functions, and best yet, a seat at the table for decision-making, all of these engage the Millennial’s desire to create a memorable experience.

4. Smartphones are good for more than just social media

For years, charities have pushed social media campaigns on us, inviting us to share and tag and hashtag and what not. But we’re doing more on our smartphone than just social media. Propelled into the mainstream by the introduction of Apple Pay, more of us are not carrying around cash, and we’re definitely not carrying around checkbooks. We want the ease of payment through our phones, but only if it can be as simple and streamlined as a song download. At eChurchGiving we’ve found that 85 percent of users abandon mobile giving attempts if the transaction takes longer than 30 seconds. Average experiences for online giving can take up to three or more minutes. That’s a major lost opportunity for most charities and churches.

5. Embrace the Thrifty

As mentioned above, many Millennials are caught in this tension of feeling generous, wanting to be more generous, but being held back by thrifty habits. However, position a campaign in a way that taps into both thriftiness and generosity, and Millennials will jump on board. An example, Kickstarter’s Founder just started Dollar a Day, where you commit to donate a dollar each day, and they send you an email each morning with the story of the non-profit your dollar went to. That’s one thrifty way of donating $365.

6. It’s cool to care

I grew up in an era where it was cool not to care, about anything. Sagging pants, oversized hoodies, poor posture, and one word answers, these were the character traits of many popular figures. Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore. The rise of technology has made intellect a valued commodity. Combine that with the shared desire to leave the world a better place, it’s all of a sudden really really cool to care. And not just to care, but to do something about it.

How are you engaging the Millennials in your church in generosity?

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| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Vision >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Derek Gillette

My name is Derek Gillette and I am the Communications Manager for eChurchGiving and Pushpay. I like to use analogies and metaphors as a way to tell better stories. If you are a church, ministry, or non-profit leader, contact me to learn how eChurchGiving & Pushpay helps engage with young and first time givers to build lasting relationships.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

clarkd52 — 05/13/15 2:14 pm

Or they could be taught that giving is not for us to feel good about, but to honor God with the resources He blessed us with.

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.