Building a Growing Church
Church Growth Concepts
I was recently questioned by a denomination about the growth of our church. From 2005-2010 our church doubled in size, which I realise is not particularly remarkable, except for the fact that we are based in the city with the lowest church attendance in the UK.
Below are some of the answers, and I hope other leaders find it useful:
Q>Please tell us something about yourself
Firstly, thank you for the kind invitation to write a few words on church growth. I came into leadership of New Life Church Hull in 2005, after a four year transition to the post. At that time we were a community of around 200-240, having never broken beyond the 250 mark. Upon becoming leader of the church I made it my task to survey the church, ask lots of questions and find out where people had come from, what they loved, what worked and what did not, which helped in trying to facilitate a way forward. Alongside this I did months of research on global trends and strategies for church growth and prayed much about what to apply (or not!) to our situation.
Since that time we have adjusted, removed obstacles, and made “changing for the sake of church growth” a part of our journey, which we are still on today. Within months we reached a membership of 300 and then plateau-d. This occurred several times as seasons of growth, preceded a numerical plateau until we figured out what was stopping growth, and fixed it. The journey has brought us to a current membership of around 500, where we have reached another ceiling, and are in the process of adjusting and repositioning for growth and the future.
The phrase “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” has been our theory in church growth. We have consistently designed church for the next (not the current) stage. E.g, at 200, we began to design and behave as if we were 300. At 300, we “dressed for” 400 etc. This creation of space, skill and expectation, has consistently grown our membership. Like a pot bound plant, a bigger pot has enabled us to keep growing. With the practical things in place below, any healthy church should grow.
Q> do you have a missions statement?
We have more of a “motto”: Revealing God’s Glory, from the Neighbourhood to the Nations. In addition to this we have 7 core values that will never change (as strategies will of course). These are Word, Worship, faith, Family, Power, Presence & Mission.
Q> To what do you attribute Growth?
a) A Visionary Leader A visionary being in the senior leadership role (as opposed to a pastoral or teacher personality). I am not called Pastor, neither do I function as one. Using Acts 6 as an instruction manual for growing churches, the senior leaders role is to pray, minister, envision, delegate & train, but not to do the work itself.
b) Massive emphasis on outreach Gathering and reaching non believers in many ways, and giving them a clear opportunity to hear and respond to the Gospel. Our discovery has been that gathering a crowd, without “hooking them” is “feeding fish”, but not actually “fishing” (as Jesus commanded!). The brave move from just having people attend events, to actually bringing the challenge of the Gospel when they are with us, has transformed the numbers saved. 250 responded to the call for salvation last year.
c) More outreach, less discipleship Outreach events should outnumber discipleship events and ministry. We are on a journey to work toward this.
d) Enough Pastoral staff to connect with the amount of members. We have researched and discovered that a single, full-time pastoral couple, can only care for up to 150 people. So for every 150 members, you need another couple called “Pastor”. We have 8 Pastoring couples who care for the church. As soon as your church numbers exceed your pastoral capabilities, your growth will plateau.
e) A venue that is excellent (but not extravagant), and modern, so non believers walking through the door feel that we look as though we know what we’re doing (even if we don’t! Ha!) and that the church message is contemporary in value. God looks at the heart, but the un-churched man will look at the outward!
f) A venue big enough for growth. Studies of western churches have shown when you are 70% full, you are full. So a hall that seats 100, will plateau at about 70 and the church will stop growing. At this point you either 1) move to a new hall 2) add more services 3) add additional venues with satellite congregations.
g) A busy calendar of events. Multifaceted, holistic, spiritual and fun events for all. We have around 70 departments with all sorts of ministries taking place. Many of these are very small…and help develop the feeling of community.
h) Ministry done by members. We have over 200 volunteers who serve in everything from the basics of stewarding and catering, right through to preaching and teaching. Opportunities for the laity to engage in ministry raise a high level of ownership and responsibility for church vision.
I don’t believe blueprints can be transplanted from one place to another. Our three congregations in Driffield, Hessle and Longhill are all very different, and the blueprints becoming more individual as time goes on. Ingredients involved include the specific gifting of the leadership involved, the demographics of the congregation and the location of the church.
Ministry is definitely evolving all the time. We change strategies, close down what doesn’t work, try to only appoint people to their genuine best function and allow God to adjust our operations whenever necessary. Building a culture that is fluid, relaxed, and always open to change (and failure) has been vital.
Q> How is the church organised?
New Life is structured in the following way: The senior leader is considered anointed by God (though fallible!). So we operate in a theocratic manner (eg we don’t vote, we look for God to speak, seek consensus where necessary, trust God to lead us through godly, tested leaders). (As an Assemblies of God church, members can go to national and regional boards if anything unscriptural, immoral etc, is thought to be going on..so there is accountability). Based on Acts 6, the senior leaders role is to pray, minister and delegate (including train, oversee and support).
A Senior Leadership Team, currently of 4, lead the vision and oversight of the church. Some may call these “elders”
A team of 8 Pastoral couples (3 paid, 5 voluntary) pastor the church and express the vision of the senior leadership team through pastoral care.
A team of Trustees administrate the legal, charitable, accountancy side of the church, expressing the vision of the senior leadership team in legal/admin ways. They take the visionary decisions of the senior team, and “make it happen”, making sure all actions are legal and positive. Budgets are drawn up, spending powers released to certain key figures for speed of decision making and boundaries for responsibilities made clear.
Around 80 Key Leaders lead 70 departments and activities, each connect to a member of the senior leadership team for advice and support.
Around 200 volunteers do the work of the church.
Major decisions are made by the senior leadership team, in collaboration with specialists and advisors where necessary, though clear boundaries for decision making are delegated to all levels of leadership wherever possible, so decision making is decentralised for ease of service.
Selection of leaders for various roles is made in collaboration with the senior leadership team. All workers in New Life, at every level, must adhere to our “Leadership Guidelines”, a basic policy of scriptural demands for leaders. We encourage as many as possible to get jobs as soon as possible within the life of the church.
Q> Do your structures enhance or impede mission?
Well, it isn’t Utopian, but where ever possible, over the years, we have constantly worked towards making our structures functional and facilitating, so they support mission, speedy decision making, high levels of quality control and honouring of staff members. It’s not perfect, but we do try to make the mission the “main thing”, rather than the structure, so if anything doesn’t work or something has outlived its usefulness….we change it.
Q> How many Staff do you have?
a) 3 full time paid ministers
b) I full time Operations manager
c) I part time administrator
d) 1 Full time Personal Assistant to the minister/ & Promotions manager
e) 1 part-time TV Editor
f) 2 managers for our work in Colombia (We are a UK HQ)
g) 2 paid cleaners
h) The following are voluntary/part time: youth workers (9), children’s workers (25), Money Management team (12), Congregational Pastors (10), Worship staff (30 ish), Tech Team (6), receptionist, trustees, and various other small groups leaders.
Q> How do you operate pastoral care within the church?
Ratio pastors to congregation: 1 full time couple for every 150, or 1 voluntary couple for 50-60. Members receive an allocation to a Pastoral couple after the New Arrivals Course/membership application, who then connect up at varying degrees of commitment, depending on the needs of the member. For some it may be simply a phone call if missing for a few weeks, for others it’s meals together, counsel and friendship support.
Q> What is your Membership criteria?
We are quite laid back about this. There is no signing of forms or ceremony. We state the three steps as:
One: Commit. Decide that this is the place you want as your spiritual home for the next season of your life.
Two: Communicate: Let a Pastor know, preferably at the New Arrivals Course or via a membership form.
Three: Contribute: Begin to get involved in church life at what ever level is appropriate to your gifting & time.
We encourage all to simply let us know if and when they decide to leave New Life, and we release all without question and bless them on their way. We give people a list of other churches to try if appropriate.
Q> What are the levels of commitment like across the membership?
Levels of commitment to events and activities is purely on the time they have. We do our best to inspire commitment, rather than demand it. This means it varies massively across the congregation.
Q> How do members of your church give financially?
We practice tithing and giving above that, with some giving up to 20-25% of their income to Church mission.
Annual turnover is currently around £400,000 with an additional £150,000 annually for our Colombia work. Divide that by Approx 225 households and that is about £1333 per household. So some are giving way above, some way below. Tithing is not something we “police”, though we preach on it then leave it between members and God.
Q> Does the church leadership take financial risks?
Steps of faith (rather than leaps of faith!) are common, and we have seen God come through time and time again. I prefer the measured step of faith, to wild presumptive leaps, unless God speaks clearly. Our current mortgage is very small, though we have just begin a new school, and are about to launch into a £2 million building plan!
Q> What are your meetings like?
Worship is free, contemporary in style (though we also sing hymns), Spirit filled, with an expectation of the gifts of the Spirit in operation. Basically, if it’s in the Psalms, we do it, and teach the value of such: dance, clap, quietness, shout, sing, music. This also adds powerfully to the culture of prayer in the house.
The preaching is Christ centred, Spirit filled, hope giving, challenging in regard to holiness and also incorporates the communication styles of informality, laughter, fun and in a way that the 21st century laity relate to. Preachers usually wear jeans,….ties are pretty well banned except for weddings, funerals and baby dedications. i.e. we only dress up on special occasions. This connects with our large 20-40 year old demographic.
Preaching at the larger venue is done by a team of 5 who can cope with presentations to a group of 3-400. In this venue, as the leader, I do 70% of the speaking, and use this as a means to develop culture, envision and release passion for the vision. I choose this high ratio of me speaking, as it is my core gift and so I’m playing to my strengths. I think there are better models if a leader is more pastoral and has a good team of preachers around him.
In the smaller congregations there is a team of 30-40 preachers who are training and growing in public speaking.
Q> What is the Demography of your members?
We have a full spread of members, from 0-90+, as we are a 80 year old church. All ages are valued, are active in ministry, even the children pray for the sick in our weekly ministry area once a month. (we pray for the sick after every meeting, every week, in every venue. I believe momentum to be important to success in developing a culture of, and faith for, healing. People are healed and saved weekly in the ministry areas)
The biggest group in the congregation would be the 20-40’s (probably gone that way over the last 5 years as I am 40 myself).
Q> What do you do in Evangelism?
One of our main aims is “bring a friend to church” type evangelism. This happens at various levels of success! We do provide a lot of small, as well as large “headline” events for people to bring friends to, in addition to the weekly church service (where there is always some kind of opportunity to respond to the Gospel).
Headline events are things like: Showstoppers concerts, Fun days and BBqs, Audiences with Christian celebrities: Nigel Benn (boxer), XFactor singer, bobby ball, etc. In all these events we try to include a short, clear Gospel message and full altar call, and are finding this really works.
Smaller connections have included: Pamper days, invites to seasons of healing @ all congregations (fliers through doors), special talks on Da Vinci Code, Climate Change etc. Currently we are doing a month on “Beating Stress” talks about anxiety, depression and mental health in all venues. 5000 fliers will go through doors near our congregations.
When the floods hit we: took free Christmas hampers to 600 flood victims in caravans, free pamper days for them, doing up flood hit homes, free concerts, free photo shoots for flood victims, free plant giveaway for flood hit gardens (About 6000 free plants and trees in conjunction with Driffield churches together).
We do regular “Invasions”, where we pray together, then head out into areas where our small congregations meet, and put a few thousand postcards through doors plugging events. In the last year, over 100,000 different homes have received postcards and fliers across East Yorkshire.
We have a found a cheap way to buy bill board space, plus ads in local magazines, press releases to newspapers, tv, radio.
We have a weekly TV show on 3 times a week, and radio show on DAB 6 times a week.
We also have mother and toddlers, monthly visits to old peoples homes, concert tours, (creative arts really work for us…a particular strength, so we invest in it), money management ministry (debt counselling type stuff), youth clubs etc etc.
Q> How do you disciple new believers at New Life?
When arriving at New Life, if you give your life to Jesus the following takes place:
a) I Said Yes Card On your seat is an “I said yes” card. Fill it in and take it to the ministry area. We’ll chat with you pray for you, give a “Journey into Life”, a UCB word for today and a new testament bible.
b) In the post In the post that week you will receive a CD set, teaching all the basics of Christianity, and an invite to the New Arrivals Course.
c) New Arrivals Course At the monthly New Arrivals Course, part one is about our vision, work, history, meet leaders, fill in an “All about you” form, and chat to a leader. We will allocate you immediately, where possible and desirable, to a job, small group and/or pastor. Part two of the course is an informal new believers night…basic teachings of the Gospel, pray for people to be Spirit filled, answer questions etc.
d) Get Involved From this point, it is expected you would get baptised, be around lots on Sundays, work in small ministry areas, attend various conferences (we have 6 day conferences a year) and short courses as they arise, and continue to grow in God. If anyone is not progressing or wants more, their Pastor is always on hand to chat things through.
e) Small Group system We are soon to add a new small group system to the church, as we ended a system that wasn’t working the middle of last year (only 20% of the congregation were attending in the end, so we felt it had run it’s course.) But community cannot be established without some small group system, so we have completely re-designed it and modernised. Let’s hope it works!!
Q> What failures have you experienced?
Our failure bins are at least as big our trophy cabinet!! In fact, it is an important part to our culture, not to fear mistakes, trying new things, shutting things down that don’t work etc. Here’s a few:
a) Promoting people that don’t really carry the values and culture you want to aspire to. I have always regretted this, and am becoming better as biding my time in making appointments.
b) We have struggled with making appointments from outside our own church. I would always rather offer a job to someone who I really know, as I know their weak areas and can work around them. But this has meant areas like youth are underinvested in New Life, and I feel that we are reaping the consequence right now. I wish I had been bolder.
c) Our small group system, that had been in operation about 10 years, was designed as a typical home group. The problem with home groups that have no outward focus or pressure to grow, is they can easily be cosy and inward looking and struggle to rise to new challenges. This always means they slowly die, and as previously stated, in the end less than 20% of the members wanted to be in one. Our new system will have emphasis to grow, multiply and evangelise, which release more vision and energy we hope.
d) We tried multiple services for four years (i.e. 9.30am and 11.30am instead of one 10.30am service on Sunday), which added another 100 to our congregation in a short time, but this structure also stole from the cultural value of the sense of God’s presence among us, as we were rushing through two morning services, preachers got tired etc. In the end we decided to try multiple venues instead while also expanding the seating capacity of our main centre. This seems to have allowed for growth, but also kept the strong sense of presence, prophecy and prayer. This would be very individual to our setting and the gift set of our leadership team though, as most growing churches are using multiple services as means to growth.
e) When I took on New Life 5 years ago, I did a survey of church members, and found that only 2.5% had come to the church through formal evangelism. One third had been brought to a normal service by friends and got saved, one third was transfer growth, one third arrived in the city through jobs or uni, looking for a church. This told me our outreach projects were failing, while friendship evangelism was immensely valuable. We have since redesigned church completely, so that all outreach is very connected in to the life of the church, with clear opportunities to respond to the Gospel. Unless this takes place, I have found that social action will not grow the church congregation.