Churches have always looked to accomplish two primary tasks. It’s the challenge given to us by Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples. Right there in that one sentence are the two basic jobs to be done by every local church.
More growth. We are called to help the people in our congregation grow deeper in their faith, following Jesus with their whole lives. This is the call to discipleship.
More people. We are called to go into the world and make new disciples. This is the call to evangelism.
In 2020, we were forced to examine new ways to do both of these tasks. We’re wrestling with important questions, including…
Can you truly disciple people digitally from a distance?
What does engagement really mean?
How can we reach new people online?
A lot may have changed in your church, but your mission is still the same. We’re just looking at the opportunities ahead of us and trying to make sense of it. Besides, the challenges before us are really just opportunities for those willing to embrace some new ways of doing ministry. I want to share five practical things you can do today to begin to engage and ultimately reach new people online. These ideas are not expensive (in fact, they are all free). This list is the beginning of a simple strategy you can use to truly reach people online.
#1 – Really get to know your online audiences.
Just like shepherds should know the condition of their flocks, pastors should really be in tune with what is going on in the lives of the congregation Just like missionaries must first understand the context where they are called to serve, pastors should seek to truly understand the ups, downs, struggles, pain, and issues facing those who live in their community. If you want to reach people online in your geographic area, how well do you really know them? How well do you understand them? And how accurate is your information?
You can dive into demographics, family status, relationship with money, and even learning style. It’s a good starting point for anyone wanting to better understand their mission field.
#2 – Start sharing helpful content.
Since we engage with so many churches around the country inside the Church Fuel membership, I get to read a lot of church email newsletters and see a lot of church social feeds. And it probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that most of the information is announcements. Churches have gotten really good at talking about our own stuff. Our services. Our programs. Our events. Our new series. Justin Nava sums it up well with this appropriately snarky post: Your new series? The outreach events? The church programs? Those are great things, but unfortunately, that’s not what people in your community are searching for online (or clicking on or sharing). That stuff is important to YOU but not interesting to them. What kind of stuff am I talking about. Here’s a list of posts I wish churches would do.
10 Local Shops We Love
New in Town Guide: The Most Important Things to Know About (City Name Here)
The Five Best Places to Go For a Run
Where Kids Eat Free in (City Name Here)
The Best Staycation Ideas in (City Name Here) Back to School Checklist for Kids and Parents
Best Spot for Watching Fireworks in (City Name Here)
A 21-Day Christmas Devotional Guide
10 Things to Be Thankful for in (City Name Here)
Local Non Profits Who are Serving our Community Well
Can’t Miss Activities this Fall in (City Name Here)
Hometown Tourist: 5 Ways You Can Act Like a Tourist Near (City Name Here)
Can you imagine how your church would be perceived if you began publishing more content like this? It’s not that we should never talk about our new series or post about our events…those things are really important. But they are like posting selfies all the time. Use the other camera on your phone and start talking about stuff that is important to your audience. I’m going to give a lot of examples (and even share some free content that you can quickly customize) on this free training. It’s Thursday, January 21 at 1pm EST and I’d love for you to join us.
#3 – Ask your church members to share helpful content.
Here’s where it starts to get interesting. Once you share something helpful online, now ask your congregation to share it. This is how you expand your reach. This is how you knock on people’s door. If the content you create is truly helpful (like the stuff on the list above), your church members will want to share it. You’re giving them a pretty easy task, one that might even make them look good as they complete it. They just need a gentle reminder and some clear direction. When you post stuff like this to your channels, you’re reaching people who have probably already engaged with your church at some level. Maybe they have liked your page in the past. But when your members share on their pages, you’re reaching their audiences. You’re branching out to people who may not have a direct connection to your church. In a small way, you’re going into the world.
#4 – Make it EASY for your church members to share helpful content
When you ask your people to take action, make it very easy for them to follow through. Here are some ideas:
Don’t just ask them to share, write a few sentences and ask them to copy and paste.
Create an image for them. Or a handful of images so they can choose what is most relevant.
Rally everyone at a certain date and time (even if it’s a little cheesy) like “Share it Saturday” or “Talk about it Tuesday.”
Remember, when your members share this stuff, you’re knocking on new people’s doors. Ask them to do it, but work very hard to make it easy. Tactically speaking, I’m a big fan of creating a page like yourchurch.com/invite and putting all your congregation-facing inviting resources in one place.
#5 – Start having normal conversations with people who engage.
If this doesn’t really sound like Biblical evangelism or discipleship, you’re right. Everything here is like a knock on the door. But once someone opens the door by engaging with this content, you have an incredible opportunity. Now you get to engage. Now you get to follow up. You’ve said hello, now it’s time to have a conversation. So make sure you have people ready to engage online, by liking comments, saying hi, and asking questions. Not in a weird way, but like a normal human. You could even create a volunteer team or utilize volunteers to do this. Take a Next Step By no means is this a comprehensive strategy. And by my own admission, this is a very “light” way to “reach” people online. But my goal is to give you a specific way to initially connect with people. We’re going to dive deeper into this topic, and talk about some other strategies on a free training called “How to Reach People Online.” I’ve got examples from real churches and lots of practical next steps you can take. The webinar is free and it’s happening on January 21 at 1pm EST. Reserve your spot here.
There’s nothing like a church staff retreat to get people on the same page, get excited about the vision, plan for the culture, and contribute to a positive team culture.
A church staff retreat gives everyone the opportunity to work on the ministry, not just in the ministry.
Done right, a staff retreat can be productive, effective, and fun. People will return to everyday ministry energized and excited about the future. But do it wrong and people go back to the office feeling two days behind schedule.
For it to truly work, you don’t just need a bunch of team development ideas or a few vision-filled team dinners. You need the right people with a focused agenda and the right activities.
The Perfect Staff Retreat Agenda
Now is a great time to plan your next church staff retreat, so as you put together the agenda, here are five things to include.
#1 – Your Staff Retreat Agenda Should Include Time for Spiritual Formation
Churches have a lot in common with businesses.
Even though we use different terminology, we do a lot of the same things that for-profit companies do. Things like…
Finance, including budgeting and spending
Operations, including planning and strategy
Marketing, including advertising and outreach
Human resources, including hiring, firing, and developing people.
Your church is much more than a business, but it is at least a business.
In fact, churches ought to be some of the most well-run organizations on the planet because our mission is more important than anything else.
But as you plan your church staff retreat, make sure you lean into the spiritual side of leadership. Don’t make it all business and all planning. Make sure you include spiritual development on the agenda.
If you’re looking for a practical tool to use, here is a free resource.
These devotions were written for pastors to use in team meetings and team retreats.
#2 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include a Time of Leadership Development
Spiritual formation and leadership development are related, but they are uniquely different.
You want everyone on your team to get better, to keep developing skills that will make them better at their jobs or in their volunteer roles. When you get your leaders together in a retreat setting, make sure you build in some time to help them skill-up.
In our discovery phase creating The Leadership Course, we surveyed hundreds of pastors about the skills they wanted to see in their leaders and volunteers. We consolidated all of those skills into this list, which we call “12 Core Skills.”
Imagine if all of your leaders developed or continued to develop these skills in their personal lives.
They would do their jobs better. They would lead better as a volunteer. They would be better moms, dads, employees, and people.
We created a curriculum around these 12 core skills and it’s a part of that leadership development course. You can access this curriculum (which has both digital resources you can use and video teaching that you can play) immediately when you join Church Fuel.
In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni writes, “Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors.”
That kind of trust isn’t built overnight, but every time you have a meeting or retreat, you can add a building block.
That’s why it’s important to carve out time to actually build culture and help people understand and trust each other.
Many churches do experience a ton of value by working through Myers Briggs or DISC and talking about interpersonal relationships. Tons of churches have grown together by processing through the Enneagram, perhaps bringing in a coach to help facilitate conversations.
While formal team development exercises can be helpful, don’t forget about less formal activities. Tanys Mosher, Communications Director at Southgate Community Church, says this:
Ziplining, hiking, Spelunking, road trip in an RV – these shared experiences have given us more personal connection and trust-building along with many laughs. We’ve worked through personality tests as well but the above has been far more productive on the human end of team building.
Fun Team Building Ideas for Your Church Staff Retreat
Brian Smith, a Church Fuel member, recommends Escape Rooms. “It was fantastic and required everyone’s ability to get out.”
Make a playlist. Ask everyone to submit a song that summarizes their life and listen during breaks.
Kari Sullivan remembers a staff and family camping trip with lots of time for just hanging out.
Make a bio book. Joan Garry suggests everyone write a 1-2 page personal (not professional) bio and put them together in a notebook. Have everyone read and give a quiz.
Wii Bowling or a tournament around some other video games.
Bill Rose, another Church Fuel member, says: “For some reason our most memorable was a Scavenger Hunt. It sounds youth groupish but we had 3 teams of 4, ages 31-66, piled in cars driving all over town and solving riddles for 3 hours.
Team building activities aren’t just for fun and games (though there’s certainly value there). But as your team learns about each other and learns to work together, you’re building a culture to support your strategy.
Jenni Catron says leaders are keepers of culture. Your church staff retreat is an opportunity to build and curate a staff culture. It’s much more than an event, it’s an opportunity to build on your values and help everyone learn to trust those who are working together on the same strategy.
#4 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include a Time of Honest Evaluation
When you gather key leaders who care about the future of the church, one of the most meaningful things you can do is look back on what happened.
When you look back, set aside phrases like “I liked that” or “I didn’t like that.” Your preferences aren’t what needs evaluation.
Instead, you should push hard to talk about effectiveness. Did this program accomplish its intended goal? Is this ministry helping us accomplish our mission? Those are far better questions.
Look at expectations and reality. Talk about numbers. Evaluate plans compared to the outcome.
Ed Catmull of Pixar/Walt Disney Animation talks about the Braintrust, a group of people assembled to evaluate every movie and give notes to the director. In Creativity, Inc., he writes:
“The Braintrust is fueled by the idea that every note we give is in the service of a common goal: Supporting and helping each other as we try to make better movies.”
Evaluation isn’t just an activity. It’s a mindset.
But each time you take an honest look back, you’re helping create a culture of continual improvement, a place where it’s normal to get better, not coast on past success or get used to a steady decline.
Here is another tool to help you evaluate honestly. It’s a set of 7 distinct evaluation forms to help you look back on a special event, staff performance, a sermon, a church service, your website, and a ministry or program. There’s even a “secret shopper” form you could give to someone you ask to attend your church for the first time and evaluate their experience from an outsider’s perspective.
#5 – Your Staff Retreat Should Allow Plenty of Time to Plan and Look Forward
There comes a time in most team retreats where some people feel like it’s time to start on the real work.
This isn’t to say that spiritual formation and team development isn’t real work. In many ways, it’s the most important work.
Team building and talking about the past aren’t good enough for some people. They want to make plans and get to work. While you’ll likely have to pull these people through the first parts of your staff retreat agenda, this is where they shine.
William Vanderbloemen says a staff retreat is an ideal time to cast vision or, “If your team has drifted from their mission, re-direct everyone back.”
At your staff retreat, you don’t want to look to the immediate future. You want to look into the near future and slightly beyond. The staff retreat isn’t the time to talk about this Sunday or even next month. You want to talk through the next horizon and the next milestone.
Dan Reiland says, “Be fierce about making progress, not merely dealing with more maintenance.”
Our favorite tool for this is the Two Page Plan® – a strategic ministry plan that packs everything important into just two pages. There’s a PDF you can print, an online version where you can create, save, edit, and share, and a course to show you exactly how to use it.
The Two Page Plan gives you the space to talk about the vision for the future but keeps you from spinning off into visionary la-la land. The plan, not just a big vision, is what gets your team on the same page and moving in the same direction.
The Two Page Plan template really can guide your staff retreat planning session. And once you complete it, you can revisit from year to year, adjusting what needs to be changed for the current ministry season and reinforcing what should stay the same no matter what.
Mary Jinks, the Director of Operations at Grace Church in Knoxville experienced positive results as her team went through this planning process. Check out her story.
“Our entire staff went through about 5 months of deep depression. Then we decided it was time to do something about it. Stopped talking about “when things get back to normal” and started a whole new plan. Used church fuel’s ministry plan template. Spent 3 months developing and rolling out a completely revamped ministry plan. The staff is off the charts excited. Our people are re-engaging in new ways. Giving is up. In-person attendance is increasing. Online attendance is gaining momentum. Hang in there. Better days are ahead. Pray and seek. Love and bless. Go and do.”
Change Your Staff Retreat Agenda to Suit Your Needs
The perfect staff meeting usually includes components from each of these five areas.
But sometimes, you might need to throw out the perfect agenda and focus on just one or two activities.
For example, in a normal year, this agenda might hit the sweet spot. But coming through all you’ve been through, you might prayerfully decide what your team needs most is a focus on emotional or spiritual health. It might be more important for you to rest and refresh rather than plan and advance.
Know your people. And pastor your people.
Other churches might find all five things in one event is still too much, choosing to break things into two parts. Something like this might suit your needs:
A Retreat focused on spiritual formation, leadership development, and/or team building
An Advance focused on evaluating the past and planning for the future
As you look to make a new financial plan or church budget for next year, here are thirteen practical tips.
Now is a great time to evaluate your ministries and programs for effectiveness and trim things that no longer work. Don’t keep programs and ministries you like but are no longer effective. Go through a season of evaluation right before you go into budget planning and then fund what is working. These evaluation forms can help.
Underestimate your church’s income and overestimate your spending. “A budget is really a forecast, which at best is an educated guess,” says Joe Sangl of INJOY Stewardship Solutions. If you’re making guesses, it’s probably smarter to guess on the conservative side.
Build a budget based on a percentage of last year’s income. Budgeting by faith sounds spiritual but it might not be the best financial strategy. Eric Owens, Pastor at Rincon First Christian Church says, “We base our budget on 85% of income for the current year and strive to have a reserve of 3-6 months operating expenses.”
Consider a shorter budget cycle if needed. If your church is growing or if you’re affected by COVID, a shorter timeline will give you a built-in mechanism to make adjustments. Maybe your budget is for six months instead of twelve. “Trying to plan out the entirety of the year could be difficult with the fast, changing climate we are currently in. Build for the first quarter, and then make needed adjustments throughout the year,” says Philip Scowden, Community Engagement Leader for Thrivent.
Make sure your budget accounts for cash flow, not just total giving. When you receive and spend money matters. Connor Baxter, Campus Pastor at Watermark Frisco says, “Businesses are having to look at different numbers than years prior. Pastors should do the same. Don't just look at top of line donations, but look at your overall cash flow weighed against the expenses you've been able to cut this year.”
Build a budget that reflects the priorities you laid out in your strategic ministry plan. And if you don’t have a strategic ministry plan, create one immediately. Chuck Taylor, CFO of Trinity Fellowship Church says, “Make sure that everything you spend can be directly tied back to your church's mission, vision, and strategy. Too often church leaders prioritize a cost but cannot explain why. From volunteer t-shirts to software, be intentional with everything you spend.” If you don’t have a written and clear ministry plan, here’s some practical advice (and a template).
A good financial plan should have two parts. A spending plan, which most people call a budget. And a funding plan, which describes how you’re going to actually receive the money, which most churches don’t have.
Get your stewardship committee, finance team, and leaders thinking about funding, not just spending. Most churches agonize over how they are going to spend it and give very little effort to strategically thinking through the funding side. This is a big shift for a lot of churches. We talked about five of these shifts here.
If you want your people to help fund the budget, make sure you have a strategy to help them win with their personal finances. This means you need to help them manage the 90% not just ask for the 10%. If you don’t talk about wise financial principles, who will?
Stephen Kump, Co-founder and CEO of Charityvest, says: “Encouraging members to give stock rather than cash can increase donated amounts by a significant margin. When members give this way, they avoid paying capital gains tax on their stocks that have gone up in value, putting more money toward giving rather than the government. Having a simple way to receive donated stocks ensures you get the benefits without the operational headache of opening a brokerage account and coordinating the receipt of stock + paperwork yourself.” Charityvest is a great tool for this and it’s dead simple for churches.
Don’t be afraid to ask people to give. Jeff Henderson of The FOR Company says, “My responsibility is to ask. Their responsibility is to answer. Don’t shy away from asking big.”
Say thanks. A lot. Sometimes, with a hand-written note. Everyone who is currently giving to your church needs to know they matter. They need to hear you personally say thanks. People who work in non-profit fundraising know donor retention is more important than donor acquisition.
If you’re a Church Fuel member, you’ll find budget templates, cash flow worksheets, finance team training, and a lot more to help with the budgeting process in the Resource Library. Plus, when you sign up for membership, you’ll get immediate access to The Stewardship Course, our premium training to help you raise and manage money in the church.
There’s something fun about moving the calendar from December 31 to January 1.
And this year more than ever, we’re going to turn the page on that calendar with force. Like many, I’m ready to banish words and phrases like…
An abundance of caution
Rigorous safety protocols
Let’s get this year over with.
But the reality is, starting a new year won’t necessarily solve any of the problems or challenges your church is facing.
Even with the natural sense of optimism people have in January, your church, programs, ministries, financial situation, lack of leaders, and questions about engagement are still there.
It might be a new year. But chances are you’ve got the same problems.
Let’s change that.
You can head into the new year with a renewed sense of purpose. You can leave behind the confusion of COVID and move forward with focus.
It will take some intentionality and good leadership on your part, but you can create a plan that doesn’t just rely on hope.
This Will Help Every Church
When you ask any question, one of the most common answers is, “it depends.”
How much does a website cost? It depends.
Who should we hire next? It depends.
Should we try this new product or service? It depends.
“It depends” is an accurate but frustrating answer. You know that it depends, but you were hoping for a little more clarity.
I’m ready to make a pretty bold statement.
You need to write a 2021 Strategic Ministry Plan.
This is exactly what you should do. And it DOESN’T depend.
Regardless of your denomination, church size, budget, or staff makeup, this is your next step.
It will help you get to where you want to go…no matter what.
There’s a Biblical Reason to Plan
Whenever I talk about planning, I get pushback from pastors who would rather trust the Holy Spirit. After all, strategic planning, proformas, and KPIs don’t sound very spiritual.
It’s not like a 17-point plan is needed to pray for people. A complicated planning spreadsheet won’t help you spread the gospel.
Of course, there is some truth here. We’re not advocating for planning instead of faith. Planning that does not account for the supernatural blessings of God aren’t good plans. But God isn’t against planning and plans aren’t the opposite of faith.
You’ll find principles of planning throughout the pages of Scripture. Here’s an example from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profitas surely as haste leads to poverty.”
Luke 14:28 says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”
Hopefully, Mr. Tower Builder prayed, got good advice, and had a vision for the tower. But the reason he failed was a lack of planning, not a lack of faith.
The Bible is pro-planning. Your church should be, too.
There’s a Practical Reason to Plan
Jenni Catron writes this on Carey Nieuwhof’s blog: “There is nothing more frustrating as a leader than to have a God-given vision burning in your heart but the inability to see that vision become reality.” When there’s a disconnect, leaders usually try harder to cast that God-given vision, leveraging all of their communication skills and passion to get people to buy into the vision.
But vision is overrated.
There, I said it. For too long, people have been lifting vision up as the holy grail to get people on the same page. Experts constantly say things like:
People give to vision.
Casting vision is how you get volunteers.
You need a big vision to experience growth.
Blah, blah, blah.
Vision is an important piece, but it’s not going to get your church to where you want to go.
Vision isn’t how you get people on the same page. You and I can agree on the vision to go to Mexico, but if you want to take a boat and I want to fly a plane, we're not aligned. We agree on the destination, but we’re not on the same page about the process.
Throwing more vision at people won’t help them get on the same page. People need to align around the plan, not just the destination.
If you’ve never created or clarified a strategic ministry plan, this should be the year. Even if you’ve created one in the past, it’s in need of a major overhaul. Here are a few reasons why you need this document this year.
Don’t Skip This Step
Because planning doesn’t sound very spiritual, and because most pastors would rather preach than plan, the tendency is to skip over this step and get right to the “real” ministry.
But don’t do it.
Don’t decide to start a new ministry, hire a staff member, raise money, conduct a campaign, hold a leadership retreat, make an important ministry decision, or head into 2021 without first creating a ministry plan.
There’s a lot at stake here and I’ve seen too many churches leave ministry on the table or get in over their heads in complexity all because they didn’t plan.
Without a good plan…
#1 – Everything seems like a good idea or a God-given opportunity.
I know you’ve been in meetings where someone said, “We just can’t let this pass by.” Without prayerfully putting a strategic plan in place, you’ll say yes to every good idea. That will lead to ineffectiveness. A good strategic plan is permission to say no to what doesn’t fit.
#2 – People get tired of bumping around from ministry to ministry and program to program.
If your volunteer base is burned out, you have a strategic problem, not a people problem. A good plan will keep you from wearing out your people on things that are off-mission or not happening at the right time.
As a quick aside, our Volunteer Course will give you a good strategy for recruiting, training, and pastoring all of your volunteers. It’s a proven system to help you keep people engaged.
#3 – Your people will keep drifting.
Staff members, leaders, and volunteers all naturally drift from what is most important, shifting focus to what is urgent.
It’s not that bad things are distracting them, it’s that disconnected, off-strategy ideas are pulling them away from what is most important. A strong strategic plan that’s simple to understand and follow will keep people centered.
Ultimately, your strategic plan will solve problems BEFORE they come up.
Two Reasons Ministry Plans Don’t Work for You
At this point, you might be convinced. Or you might still be skeptical that a plan will really help. Maybe you feel like the work and effort won’t be worth it, considering most strategic plans end up in a filing cabinet or an outdated Google Drive folder. You’re wondering if the work is worth the reward. It’s understandable.
Reason #1: Too Complicated
Most church strategic plans don’t work because they are far too complicated. Most of the examples that I find online are way too long. One was 67 pages!
People can’t follow a 67-page plan. Heck, they probably won’t even read a 67-page plan. Churches are actually complex ecosystems…you’re not a business but you do business-like things. You’re a local organization that is a part of a global movement. You don’t sell products but you do raise money. You have staff, but most work is done by volunteers. It can get very complicated.
Where there is great complexity, simple plans are needed to provide clarity—not complicated plans created with the help of an expensive consultant. That’s why the template I’m going to show you is just two pages.
Reason #2: Too Generic
The second reason strategic plans don’t work is that they are too generic. With grandiose purpose statements or cute, alliterated phrases pretending to be a strategy, they fill up pages and pages but don’t answer any concrete questions. I’ve read dozens of strategic plans that don’t answer the questions people are really asking and provide no clear direction to anyone in leadership. That kind of plan isn’t helpful at all. Your ministry plan doesn’t need to live in the clouds. It needs to be very specific, abandoning flowery language in lieu of actionable lists.
This is what we’re doing.
This is how we’re measuring success.
This is who is in charge.
Those are the types of specific questions you need to answer with your 2021 Ministry Plan.
Introducing the Two Page Plan
To cut through the complication and help you create something that is both useful and actionable, we’ve created a template for you. It’s just two pages but everything has a purpose. The first page helps you clarify who you are. It’s all about getting crystal clear about your identity as an organization. The second page helps you clarify what you do. It’s all about getting clear on your programs, ministries, and activities. Since it’s just two pages, there’s no room for fancy fluff or meaningless phrases. Everything matters. Everything is focused.
All in all, the Two Page Plan has 13 boxes you fill in. They are….
Purpose. You’ve probably already got this written, but we’ll help you make it clearer and show you where to use it.
Mission. This will likely be one of your biggest “AHA” moments. It will be a big game-changer and, unlike most mission statements, it will rally your people toward specific actions.
Vision. This is a sentence or phrase that paints a picture of where you’re going.
Values. More than just fancy words, we’ll help you clarify and actually use your values to make actual ministry decisions.
Strategy. Big plans will never be accomplished without a corresponding strategy.
Profile. Who are you really trying to reach? Spoiler: The answer can’t be “everyone” and we’ll show you why.
Distinctives. What makes you truly unique? Once churches clarify these, we’ll help you lean in and leverage them.
Keystone Ministries. What are the most important ministries in your church? And yes, this means some things you do aren’t as important.
Annual Events. What are the big church-wide events that need everyone dialed in?
Key Metrics. Which numbers are most important for you to measure? Every church is a little different but every church needs to be crystal clear.
Key Processes. There are a handful of systems and processes in your church that will help you solve problems once and for all.
Annual Goals. Goals inspire us toward a better future, and there’s a way to set them so people are inspired, not annoyed.
Three Year Outlook. Imagine what your church will look like and feel like three years from now.
The Two Page Plan is like a business plan for your church. It will help you clarify who you are and what you’re doing. It will help you get all your people on the same page. It will give you an easy-to-follow plan.
Don’t ever mistake something that’s simple for something simplistic. The Two Page Plan is a simple tool, but it’s effective. You can print copies of the plan, talk through it in meetings, and work to get it right.
When you log in, you can create drafts, enter your information, save or share, and export to a PDF. By keeping your plan online, you can easily return to it.
Finally, the Two Page Plan comes with a premium course called Building Your Ministry Plan. In this course, we walk through each box on the plan and give the principles and examples you need to complete each section.
The course and the plan go hand in hand and they will set you up for success in 2021. Of course, each year you can update your plan and let it guide you for years to come.
You get the course, the plan, and the digital tool immediately when you join Church Fuel.
The phrase “church growth,” sparks a variety of opinions.
On one hand, you'll find people who promise seven simple steps to explode growth now and organizations that will reveal the secret to church growth for three easy payments of $97.
And on the other hand, some writers use words like “abomination” and say the church growth movement usurps the Holy Spirit.
These are two distinct camps: the spiritualists and the pragmatists.
Spiritualists are quick to point out that the words “church growth” do not appear in the Bible. They remind us that because the church belongs to Jesus, church growth is something only God can do.
Pragmatists, on the other hand, love to talk about church growth plans and strategies. They remind us that while church growth is up to God, He uses people and systems, and technology to accomplish His purposes.
So, what is the right approach?
A Helpful Metaphor for Church Growth
Here’s what Jesus said in Mark 4:26-29:
“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know-how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Jesus used a farming analogy to explain how the kingdom of God grows.
Growth happens naturally, but only after the farmer did the hard work of preparing the soil.
And that’s how church growth works.
It's a combination of the blessings of God and the stewardship of man.
Spiritualists focus on how God gives the increase. Pragmatists point out that Paul planted, and Apollos watered.
Yes, church growth was all up to God. But two humans both played a part in the process.
So, the pragmatists are right.
And so are the spiritualists.
Church growth is up to God because the church belongs to Him. But He chooses to use us in the process, allowing us to be great stewards.
Karl Vaters, the author of The Grasshopper Myth and an advocate for small churches, says, “Church growth should always be a part of every pastor’s prayers, passion, and strategy.”
Pastors should want their churches to reach more people. But that’s not the only kind of church growth in the Bible.
Numerical growth happens when churches reach more people and grow in size.
It's simple to track numerical growth, and many churches do. The Outreach 100 Fastest-Growing Churches list is based exclusively on this type of growth.
This kind of growth was reported in the early church and recorded in the book of Acts. Despite persecution, a lack of buildings, and little formal training, the early church grew as people shared the gospel with their friends and neighbors. Luke tells us that people were “added to the church” daily. That's church growth.
Spiritual growth happens when the people in the church come to love and follow Jesus.
People in a church should grow to love the Lord with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength and take intentional steps to obey His commands. That's discipleship.
Spiritual growth is much harder to measure, and there’s no Top 100 list. But when we talk about church growth, we must not limit our discussion to attendance and budgets. There’s something far deeper at work.
Kingdom growth happens when there is both spiritual and numerical growth.
When individual churches grow numerically and spiritually, there is an excellent opportunity for Kingdom growth.
The Bible says the Church grew through multiplication. For example, the church at Antioch prayed, fasted, and sent leaders out to start new churches (Acts 13:1-5). This intentional decision to get smaller resulted in the Church growing larger.
Since the formation of the early church, Christians have been arguing over where we should put our focus.
Church growth advocates often use phrases like, “reach the lost at any cost.”
The focus is often getting people in the front door. And even though there’s Biblical precedence, this type of passion can be easily misplaced.
After all, unhealthy things can grow too and much damage can happen in the Kingdom by adopting a “grow at all costs” philosophy.
Church health advocates argue that if you focus on the flock, growth will naturally occur. Well, there are a lot of inwardly focused churches who seem to have lost focus on the Great Commission. It looks like a focus on church health can lead people to live like the “frozen chosen,” unaware of the real needs around them.
Should we focus on church growth or church health?
In 1 Corinthians 3:8, Paul writes, “The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.” This verse seems to indicate that pastors will be rewarded for their part in building the church.
Even though Jesus said, “I will build my church,” and Paul also acknowledged, “God gives the increase,” it's appropriate to view earthly leadership as a stewardship opportunity.
In Ephesians 4:12, Paul says that pastors and leaders are not to perform all the ministry in the church but should equip the believers to “do the work of the ministry.” Commenting on this verse, Eric Geiger writes, “In some sense, a pastor is to leave the ministry the moment the pastor enters the ministry.” This shift in thinking should result in a more distributed ministry and greater effectiveness.
To this end, God gives spiritual gifts to each Christian to use to build up the body of Christ. Building up should result in a healthier church, but also a church that’s growing in size and influence.
Church growth, then, doesn’t just depend on the pastors but also involves the people.
Since the tension between church growth and church health should never reach a resolve, it gives us the freedom to lean into both sides of the equation.
There are times to focus on church growth.
For example, churches that have lived on the discipleship side might need to willingly tip the scales toward evangelism, with campaigns, efforts, or even staff that might appear to favor an evangelistic model rather than the well-known discipleship model. In this case, intentionally being unbalanced for a season is a part of a broader strategy focused on healthy growth.
Maybe you need a greater focus on reaching people for this next ministry season.
In high-growth churches that don't have a fully-formed discipleship process, it might be wise to tip the scales toward health. Tipping the scales isn't abandoning your core values or changing your mission to reach the community; it recognizes that seasons of growth include a time to form roots.
You don't need to sacrifice church growth for church health and vice versa, but it might be wise to choose goals that focus on one side of the equation for a season to bring you back into balance.
Most books, articles, and podcasts addressing church growth barriers deal with visible and tactical issues.
You'll read about changing the worship style to attract a younger generation.
You’ll read about adding service times when you’re 80% full.
And while worship style, an aging facility, service times, parking lots, and websites are valuable issues, these are probably not the reasons that churches don't grow.
What are those real church growth barriers?
The church is about Jesus and people – and helping people follow Jesus. As simple as that is, it's incredible how easy it is to forget the people part of ministry.
Church isn’t about a building.
Church isn’t dependent on events and programs.
Church isn’t even about sermons and music.
Ultimately, what we do is meant to help people follow Jesus.
Pastors and church leaders are always looking to reach more people.
And while evangelism, outreach, and inviting people to church should always be a part of our strategy, from a leadership and stewardship perspective, it is wise to start with the people you already have.
There are already people connected to your church.
There are already leaders.
There are already volunteers.
Don't let the quest for more keep you from being a good steward of what God has already given you. You may have 1, 5, or 10 talents, but God wants you to be responsible for what He's provided.
You may not have enough leaders, but you have some leaders.
You may need more volunteers, but there are a handful of people who already care deeply about the church.
Just like companies say people are their most valuable asset, churches must embrace this principle.
Your people are essential.
Let's dive a little deeper into the people you already have and how to lead them best.
First, there's your staff.
Whether you have a big staff, a small team, or volunteers acting as staff, the people in paid positions are vital to the health and growth of your church.
Whenever I think about church staff (and needing more people to do the work of the ministry), I remember a message from Bishop T.D. Jakes. In a way that only he can say it, “The staff in your hand is enough.”
If someone is on staff, make sure they're trained, appreciated, and indeed a part of the team. Developing your staff is one of your best opportunities to lead your church to growth.
The people in paid positions should be some of the most effective ministers in your church. But too many times, people in these roles coast through. We think because they are good Christians or good parents, that automatically translates into being good employees. The secret is not better people; the secret is better development.
Before we try to start something new, we need to develop.
For this to happen, leadership development conversations and meetings need to make it to our calendar.
We have two resources that can help you put this into action.
First, here are some ways to make your next staff meeting more engaging, more productive, and even more enjoyable. It's a free resource called 7 Staff Meeting Ideas.
Second, every pastor who joins Church Fuel gets instant access to our leadership development curriculum. This carefully-researched material will help you walk your staff through 12 essential skills to help them lead themselves, lead others, and lead projects.
It's important to have a called, committed, and caring staff to oversee the work of the ministry. But you'll never be able to hire people to do all of the ministry in your church. That's why you need lay leaders and volunteers.
When it comes to leaders and volunteers, I’m afraid we’ve made this too complicated.
There’s a time to create pipelines and programs, but you can also start where you are.
Recruit. You need a calendar-based approach to inviting new volunteers to step up and serve. It's not about announcements or pleas for help…we've got an intentional strategy you can follow.
Train. Once you have people express interest, you need to train them. But adults don't learn the way most churches try to teach them. There's a much better way.
Pastor.Pastoring staff is the most critical part of the system. Your volunteers should be the happiest and healthiest group of people in your church.
This volunteer system works. And it's one of many systems you learn how to execute when you join Church Fuel.
“I think Life Church and North Point will thrive after Craig Groeschel and Andy Stanley are gone because both churches embrace team teaching, developing leaders, and establishing healthy systems. Many large churches lack all three.” – Tony Morgan
A system is a documented process that leads to a clear outcome.
Before you write off systems and processes, recognize that there are several examples in the Bible of God working through systems.
Exodus 18 describes how Jethro helped Moses create and implement a system for hearing people's cases. His method allowed him to serve and the people better. Luke 10 describes how 72 people were sent ahead of Jesus to help prepare the places he was going to visit.
I don't believe systems are unspiritual. Instead, they are part of God's created order.
God can do whatever He wants, but human beings benefit from good systems. And when you have sufficient systems in your church, great things will happen.
Good systems solve problems.
Good systems save money (this is when the church planters start paying attention).
Good systems promote consistency.
A lot of the problems that churches face are system problems.
System problems can disguise as people-problems. It's a broken system, the wrong structure, or a process missing key steps that leads to a breakdown.
And here's the deal with system problems. You can't solve them with more preaching. I've seen this happen many times: Church finances aren't going well, and the church is getting behind in budget. The Finance Team or the Pastor decides to preach a message on generosity to right the ship.
But a few weeks later, it’s back to reality.
That's because low giving in a church is a system problem.
You also can't solve system problems with more vision. Too many pastors think casting vision for the future is a silver bullet that solves all problems.
Structural issues require structural solutions. You can only solve system problems by creating effective systems.
You need to design and implement systems that will sustain growth in the future. In other words, you need to structure your church, not for the size you are now, but for the size that you want to be.
Work on each of these systems, plus get practical training and templates, in The Systems Course. It's included for everyone who joins Church Fuel.
The third driver of church growth is culture. It's often ethereal and hard to define, but culture is the overall environment of your church.
Many churches struggle to attract new people because they don't have a welcoming culture. If your church has a culture that values existing members far more than people who are new to the church, you're going to struggle to grow, no matter what kind of Facebook ad you run or sermon series you preach.
Culture is not something you can download, purchase, or upgrade instantly. It takes much intentional work, hard conversations, and exceptional leadership.
There are things you can do to shift the culture from what you have to what might be more desirable. Although culture is esoteric, here are five tangible things you can use to create a great culture in your church.
Values – Your defined core values are an excellent place to start. Values represent what is important to you.
Language – Language is one of the most critical culture-creators, and too many churches don't recognize this. You need to give words to things you think are essential.
Behavior. The actions you take daily, whether intentional or allowed, create the culture in your church.
People. The people you have in leadership, whether paid or volunteer, create culture. Just like an employee with poor behavior brings down culture and drives away good people, intentional actions that reflect who you want to become will create a healthy culture.
Budget. Perhaps your biggest culture creator is your budget. Show me your budget, and I'll show you what you truly value.
Ministry without a strategy can be a waste of time. Your selection of ministries must be strategic, not random. Your ministries should be on purpose, not merely at the whim of anyone's ideas. Ministry is your heart and passion. – Dan Reiland
Even though your church is much more than a business, this business-like thing can help you grow.
There are parts of your church that would benefit from proper planning and strategy.
The problem is that most ministry plans take a lot of work and produce few results.
An expensive consultant dazzles you with their terminology, and you're drawn into a comprehensive process, peppered with promises of change. But in the end, a fancy report is shared briefly in a meeting and then ends up in a computer folder somewhere.
Nothing happens. Nothing changes.
You might pull it out next year to see just how much you DIDN’T do.
It's a double fail—tons of work and minimal impact.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
And you don't need an expensive consultant to guide you through the process. You can achieve fresh clarity the Church Fuel way, with a simple two-page worksheet and an insanely practical course that will show you exactly what to do.
The Two Page Plan is our insanely practical tool that will help you clarify what’s truly important in your church.
We helped a church in Littleton, Colorado create a ministry strategy. Their pastor, Cody, emailed to say this:
“We finalized our ministry plan after chipping away at it for the last few months. Our leadership meeting yesterday featured the right amount of contentious and harmonious conversation 🙂 Thank you once again for helping us get unstuck! We started this process with one group of leaders, and we actually changed out about a third of our leadership in January, and we were able to generate buy-in and receive meaningful ideas from the new group very quickly.”
Church planting, church revitalization, and church growth are inherently spiritual endeavors.
Strategy, culture, and leadership can make a huge difference and drive growth, but ultimately that growth is up to God.
You can do all the right things and not experience growth. And many churches experience growth despite problems with leadership.
Think about how these spiritual traits intersect with the organized ministry of a church.
Faith – Pastors must trust God, not their plans or skills. Losing faith is a terrible thing and can be a growth barrier in your church.
Prayer – No church growth strategy should exist apart from prayer.
Gospel – A real and deep understanding of the Gospel can not only refocus a church; it can re-energize a community. Churches who lose sight of the Gospel are facing spiritual growth barriers, and spiritual breakthrough is required.
Loving others – The greatest commandment is to love God, and part two is to love others. Churches who forget this will face barriers to growth that no tactic will help overcome.
Your church might be facing system barriers, leadership challenges, and tactical obstacles, but you also are fighting a spiritual battle.
Now that we’ve talked about the real barriers to growth in your church, let's turn our attention to things that drive growth.
Many of these things are not expensive. You will need focus, and you might need support.
These principles are not formulas or steps, but we've seen churches that focus on these issues turn the tide in their church. Putting time, effort, and resources into these areas might yield positive results for you.
We work with churches of all shapes and sizes, and by far, the biggest growth barrier they are encountering is leadership. It cuts across every program and ministry and touches every corner of the church. When the leaders get better, the church often grows.
No one will make you do this and people aren't going to ask you to make time for it. But it's one of the most significant opportunities you have to lead your church.
In The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield writes about the difference between a professional and an amateur. He brings up the example of a professional golfer who develops a problem with his swing and says, “It would never occur to a professional golfer to try and figure it out on his own.”
Great leaders invite people into the development process and model the way for other leaders throughout the church.
I heard a mega-church pastor recently attribute church growth to the high number of engaged leaders.
“Every church has volunteers,” he said. “What makes us different is we have people that are engaged.”
Healthy and growing churches have a higher percentage of volunteers and leaders who thrive in their roles. These aren't people who show up on Sunday morning to do a task or reluctantly meet a need; they are people invested in the ministry outcome.
Volunteer and leader engagement is often a leading indicator of growth. It’s on the front end.
If you want to see church growth happen in your church, create a plan to develop leaders.
Start with yourself.
Again, nobody is going to make you do this. And there might not even be people to hold you accountable.
Great leaders take responsibility for their growth and development.
The good news is that you can take responsibility for your leadership development. You can adopt a growth mindset, create a plan, and lead yourself.
This free PDF will give you a starting point. It's one page, and you can fill it out today.
The truth is that we act like our culture. Culture determines behavior, and that's why the culture of your church is so vital.
One of the questions that Andy said they wrestled with at North Point was, “What habits do we need to turn up or what habits do we need to implement to impact the culture?” They asked this question because Charles Duhigg says in his book, The Power of Habit, you have to introduce a new keystone habit to change a culture.
He defines a keystone habit as something that triggers a series of related behaviors or habits.
These keystone habits could potentially change behavior or reaffirm current practices.
Andy said they wanted to find a habit that could galvanize their values and what they did as a church that tied back to their mission and vision as a church.
For North Point, their mission is to create churches that unchurched people love to attend. So their keystone habit is inviting unchurched people.
Provide a few strategic times of the year when inviting is super simple. Do a few series a year where you push your people to invite their friends.
Write social media posts or create graphics for your people. Don’t just tell them to post; write the post for people. Put everything on a specific page on your website and then tell your people how to access the resources.
Teaching your attenders how to invite is often an overlooked piece of the puzzle. We church leaders assume that people know how to invite their friends to something.
Teaching them how to use the tools you give them and how they can effectively invite their coworkers, family, and friends will pay huge dividends in the long run.
A few ways to teach the art of the invite is:
Do a message or even a sermon series on why it's crucial to engage with unchurched people.
Set up a class or vision night where all you focus on is the power and how-to of the invite. Newspring Church has done a great job with this.
Write a blog or Facebook post on “5 Ways To Invite Someone To Church Sunday.” Make it practical and easy.
The other way is teaching people how to have inviting conversations.
I heard Andy Stanley once teach his congregation to look for the three NOTS.
He said, “Anytime you hear one of these statements in casual conversation, that should be your cue to extend an invitation.” He went on to give lots of examples.
Andy recently cast a fresh vision for inviting and introduced the phrase “Come Sit with Me.” In a Sunday morning message more geared to the North Point faithful, he walked everyone through exactly what to say and how to extend a personal invitation. He gave people language and vocabulary to make it normal.
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a million times: what gets celebrated, gets repeated. Mine your attenders for stories like the one I shared above about how they invited someone. Ask people when they attend, how they heard about your church.
When a great story comes along, share it with your church. When someone invites someone and they show up, celebrate that both corporately and personally.
If you take the time to create a habit of inviting in your church, not only will your church grow numerically, but your church will grow in its faith as well as maturity.
Cast a Clear Vision for the Future
The third driver of growth is casting a clear vision for the future.
Growing churches are clear about purpose and mission, and those are two very different terms.
Your purpose is the deep reason you exist.
It comes from God and it's eternal. It will never change. It has nothing to do with where your church is or what kind of ministries you have.
One of my favorite leadership books is Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why. He says every organization (and I'd include churches) needs to clarify the WHY…the real reason they exist. He says it's more important to get clear about the WHY than it is to define the WHAT.
Before you talk about ministries and programs and strategies, you’ve got to have a clear WHY. You’ve got to have a solid PURPOSE.
Now, your church may creatively say this, but I would bet all the money in my pockets that your church's purpose is pretty similar to the Great Commission or the Great Commandment.
When we started the church in Atlanta, we had a sense of purpose, but we hadn't taken the time to clarify it in a memorable sentence.
We clarified our purpose statement and began talking about it all the time. We said our purpose like this: “We’re here to lead people from where they are to where God wants them to be.”
Someone said this phrase in our welcome and announcement time every Sunday morning. When writing thank-you notes to our first-time givers, I used it. We put it in our email signatures.
After a year or so, I would start to say it, and our church people would say it back. That's when I knew people were starting to understand it.
But here’s the thing about purpose.
It's never accomplished.
It's always going to be there and you're never going to finish it.
It's not like I was going to come to the church office on Monday and say, “Listen up everyone…we've led all the people from where they are to where God wants them to be…that’s done…what’s next?” You can't check the box and move on to something else.
That's why purpose isn't always the best motivator of people. It's so long-term that it's tough for people to grasp. It’s too big, too bold, or too ethereal.
The purpose is fundamental, but it's generic. That's why growing churches communicate a second thing…mission.
Your mission is what you’re trying to do NOW.
Your mission isn't about WHY…it's about NOW. It's about what's next. It's all about, “here's what our church is doing in this next season and how it's going to look.”
And your church needs a current mission that will push you on toward your ultimate purpose.
We’re all about keeping it simple and practical for you, so even if you adopt different terms, you need to communicate two things.
The one never-changing, never-accomplished, deep sense of why we call “purpose.”
The one time-sensitive, going to check it off the box, looks like a rallying cry we call “mission.”
Casting vision is just talking about the future, so you can use purpose AND mission to cast vision for the future. One is short term. One is eternal.
Every ministry, program, staff member, and department in your church needs to be involved and on board with your purpose and mission. You should have everything from a clear mission statement and a financial plan to make it happen.
Too many churches create a short-term mission that only involves a small group of people, then wonder why the whole church isn't moving in the same direction. Your mission still needs to be big and bold and involve everyone.
We've seen hundreds of churches lead their church to growth through clarifying a vision for the future that gets people involved. This is so important.
We walk through purpose, mission, and vision to help you create and articulate a strategy. Then, we help you get clear on your church's values and distinctive traits. And we work on aligning ministries and programs to all of this.
This single course results in all of the important stuff in your church written down on just two pages.
Just like culture is one of the most significant growth barriers facing churches, shifting that culture from an inward focus to an outward focus can lead to growth.
Simply stated, your church needs to focus on who is NOT there, not just who is there.
Friendliness here is not the measuring stick.
There are a ton of inward-focused churches that are very friendly. They are just friendly with each other.
I compare this to a family reunion. If you're a part of the family, it's a very friendly event. But if it's someone else's family, and you just stumbled in, you probably feel like an outsider.
This culture shift is a difficult change for many churches, and it must happen tactfully, because the people who are there are volunteering and giving, literally paying the bills and funding all ministry. It might not be wise just to run them off.
But leading your church to adopt an outsider-first approach is a great step toward healthy church growth. It looks different in all churches, but it could mean…
You are intentionally designing your church services with outsiders in mind.
You offer programs and ministries to meet the real needs of your current community, not just continue to provide legacy programs that worked 15 years ago.
You are changing your website to be the front door for new people rather than a place for members to download a calendar of events.
You are shifting resources from programs inside the church to supporting programs and organizations that serve your community.
You are running all of your language, announcements, and communications through a “new people” filter.
You stop programming that meets the needs of those already connected and starting programming designed to attract and get new people.
You are listening to the voices of new people rather than merely relying on the most familiar voices who always speak up.
You shift your attendance from a church event and repurpose that time to be involved with a community organization.
These changes are hard and will likely require a ton of patience.
All churches drift inward without the intentional effort to keep an outward focus on those who are far from God. – Dan Reiland
Being more outward focused has the potential to change your church for the better, but be warned…you'll likely create some waves along the way. That's why it's critical to be a part of a community that can give you great advice on all the tactical issues that will come to the surface.
Creating an outward-focused church culture takes disciplined communication and requires a spirit of prayer.
Pastor Joby Martin from The Church of Eleven22 in Jacksonville, Florida continually talks about the idea of “one more,” reminding the congregation that evangelism is personal.
This rallying cry intends to spark care and concern within the church for one person outside of the church. They periodically organize and publicize “one more” weekends with a clear Gospel invitation.
The initiative, made sticky with consistent terminology and strategy, is a way to create an inviting culture.
Pastor Jeff Bogue from Grace Church in Akron, Ohio adopts a similar prayer strategy with a large initiative to challenge the church to “pray for our three.”
He teaches people to pray for three friends, neighbors, and co-workers and that God would give them a “no-brainer” moment to extend an invitation or share their faith.
Both of these churches are leading their church to pray for an investment in members of the community.
Persona: who are you trying to reach?
Warning…this growth driver isn’t going to sound very spiritual, but it’s one of the most powerful on the list.
I want to challenge you to develop a PERSONA, a description of the symbolic person in your community you are trying to reach.
The business community calls this the target customer. Your church doesn't have customers, but the idea is still sound.
It’s a strange concept in the church because Christianity, The Gospel, the Bible, Jesus…they are for EVERYONE. It feels weird to say your church is targeting a specific person. It feels mean because, in clarifying who you are trying to reach, you're hinting that you're not trying to reach another group of people. And that feels un-Christian.
But if your church tries to reach everyone, it could be that you end up reaching no one.
When you step back and think about this, honestly, your church is likely positioned to reach a particular segment of the community.
I'm merely suggesting you recognize, clarify, and align with this.
Spiritually speaking, your church is a church, but your church is not THE church. There are other churches in town. That's part of the beauty of the Kingdom…it's not all on your shoulders.
When you get real about who you’re trying to reach, you can align your programs, ministries, and communication to this.
You’ll be more effective.
Think about big companies like Walmart. As big and ubiquitous as they are, they are not targeting everybody. They gear their messaging, store layout, and strategy to reach a specific segment of the population. Target sells similar products, but they are going after a different segment. They have a different target customer.
Walmart and Target are open to everyone, but they know that they are most likely to reach a particular type of customer and focus their resources in that direction.
Yes, anyone is welcome. Anyone can attend. But you can't create programs and ministries for every need in your city…it would be a waste of resources to try. You choose to focus.
A.G. Lafley, author of Playing to Win, says it this way: “You can't win the whole world or please everybody. Trying to be all things to all people is a recipe for failure. You have to strategically narrow the field to the geographies, demographics, and channels where your company is most competitive and can get the best possible results.”
If you want to know more about your community and use that knowledge to develop a persona, I highly recommend a tool called Gloo Insights.
This tool will give you a ton of demographic and psychographic information on your community. You can build a robust dataset and begin to understand your community. In addition to all the usual stuff, Gloo’s data engine can help you identify people who are likely to have a marriage in need or have a propensity for addiction.
The data is anonymized, so it’s not creepy, but you can use this to tailor programming or even run marketing campaigns.
Tailor Your Messaging to Who You Are Trying to Reach
When you know exactly who you're trying to reach, you can make your messaging match.
I read a statistic that said the average young adult today will take more than 25,000 selfies in their lifetime. That's a lot of duck faces and Clarendon filters.
The selfie might be a sign of the times, but it’s an example of how people of all ages like to see themselves in photos. A picture of the Grand Canyon will never be as popular as a picture of you at the Grand Canyon.
Too many churches have the camera focused on them—talking about their services, their ministries, and their events. It’s a selfie approach to communication. Instead, flip the camera around and start talking about people.
This subtle concept can be tough to grasp, so here's an example. We've all seen churches describe themselves as “a friendly church” to invite the community. But here's the thing.
People aren’t looking for a friendly church. They are looking for friends.
See the difference? The “friendly church” descriptor is about you. And more and more, people don't connect with that description. What they are looking for is friends.
So when you talk about your church, as uncomfortable as it might be, make sure you're talking about what it means to people's real lives. Don't just describe the programs and ministries; explain how those programs and ministries benefit and connect people.
People's first communication means you don't only describe the dates and speakers for youth camp. It means telling parents that this is the best chance for their rising high schoolers to make Christian friends who will be a positive influence over the next few years.
People's first communication means you don't describe how Financial Peace University works; it means you talk about what will happen in people's lives after they go through the program.
People's first communication means you don't just post pictures of your band or your sermon series; you post pictures of people having fun, praying, or singing. You put other people—not your church—front and center.
Keystone Ministries as Growth Engines
Have you ever seen a plate spinner?
Before America’s Got Talent, this was a popular trick at variety shows and county fairs. A guy would start out spinning one plate on a stick. Then he would add another, and another, until dozens were turning at the same time.
As one would slow down and begin to wobble, he would run across the stage to give it another spin. Of course, another spinning plate would require his attention, until it all became too much to manage, and everything came crashing down.
Plate spinners are a strong and sad metaphor for how hundreds of churches operate.
Ironically, many churches face this crisis of overload at the point when people are at their highest stage of involvement. Like the plate spinner, things come crashing down just as people are at their busiest.
Busyness is a burden for many churches.
And if you're too busy, there are some big-time consequences.
Consequence #1: Your volunteers will be spread too thin. The nursery workers you need on Sunday morning might already be serving on Sunday night. The high school students gathering for a second Bible study are your elementary volunteers. The men meeting for breakfast at 6 AM on Tuesday are also your parking team at 8 AM on Sunday. It's not that any of these things are bad things, but good things will keep your best people from serving the more essential things.
Consequence #2: Your own sanity is at risk. A busy church calendar leads to a busy life. It quickly becomes too much to think about, too much to attend, and too little time for healthy relationships. If you're too busy, running around from one program to another, you're functioning in a way that's not healthy for your mind, body, or soul.
Consequence #3: You settle for average. When you have a lot of ministries and programs, there's the risk that all of them will be average and none of them will be excellent. Diverting resources from something central to your strategy or deploying people in an area where they are not gifted is not good leadership. An opportunity is not an obligation.
Consequence #4: Messages get mixed, which means people do NOTHING. If you have too much to talk about in this weekend’s announcements, that’s not a Sunday service problem. That’s a church problem. If your handout has ten ways to get connected and seven opportunities to learn more and three next steps, that’s not offering something for everything – that's trying to be all things to all people, which rarely works. If you attempt to communicate “five important things to know,” people hear ZERO things.
Consequence #5: You can’t help but equate activity with effectiveness. If your church calendar is crowded with opportunities for people to do stuff, you can ironically communicate that the Christian life is about church activity. People can get so busy DOING church that they have no time to BE the church.
If your church is struggling with busyness, the biggest temptation you face is just to do nothing. Pastors say things like, “We're just in a busy season right now” or talk about what they will do “when things calm down.”
But come on…there might be a short reprieve in the schedule, but the “busy season” is a myth. The busyness isn't because of a season; it's the result of intentional or unintentional decisions.
1. Commit to simplify.
When Steve Jobs famously returned to Apple in 1997, one of his first goals was to streamline the overcomplicated product lineup. He realized that all of the products in the pipeline weren't necessary and cut it by 70%.
So he cut the product line down to just four key things. In retrospect, it was a brilliant move, but at the time, it affected people's products and people's jobs.
The result was that a company a quarter away from bankruptcy became a company with a $300 million profit.
There are dozens of stories like this. New leaders step into new roles and create focus by subtracting, not adding. Whether it's a major corporation, a small business, a non-profit, or a church, when new leaders step in, they usually trim first.
If a new leader would make the decision, why not lead the discussion NOW?
Take a look at all of your programs and ministries and ask which ones are driving growth. You can even implement these 5 programs that are completely inexpensive. Evaluate them based on effectiveness against the stated purpose, not whether or not someone “likes” them or if people simply show up.
2. Put your best resources on your most significant opportunities.
If you were to list all the programs, ministries, and events in your church, and then had to circle the five non-negotiable ones that would radically alter your DNA if they went away, you'd end up with a list of what we call “Keystone Ministries.” And you'll want to align these 3 teams to those ministries.
Keystone Ministries are the growth drivers in your church. They are the programs that attract new people and the ministries that help a lot of people grow in their faith. They are core, and if they went away, your church would be fundamentally different.
They are more critical than other ministries and programs.
Even now, you know there are programs and ministries in your church that don't matter that much. If they went away, a few people might ask questions, but your fundamental ministry would not be changed.
So instead of spreading your focus equally among things that work and things that don’t work, zoom in on what does work.
Give those Keystone Ministries an unfair advantage.
Stop announcing the random, one-off things that don't help you accomplish your mission, and get serious about telling stories about the core.
Stop asking volunteers to serve in areas that are off-mission just because they exist and need people to function. Put your best people on your greatest opportunities.
Stop wasting money on ministries that used to work and deploy more financial resources on the Keystone Ministries.
Give ministries that are more important an unfair amount of time, money, and people. Instead of scattering your focus, zoom in on the core.
3. Shut down the non-core.
As you focus more resources, more people, and more communication on what matters most, you’ll have to pull that focus from somewhere.
You can't manufacture more. You have to redeploy the resources you already have. There isn't a list of amazing people waiting to serve or a secret bank account with extra funds…you're going to have to get the people and money from existing things.
Doing this is a stewardship moment and a chance to put your best resources on your best opportunities.
The temptation is to say, “This small thing over here…it's not costing much of anything…it's not a huge time commitment or a big expense…let’s just leave it alone.”
That’s certainly an option.
But those little things that don't take much time or money add up. They cost you more than you realize.
I’ve talked to pastors who insist sideways things aren’t the issue, but still devote hours every month to trouble-shooting and discussing. Those are hours that could go toward critical, on-mission endeavors. And by allowing off-focus things to continue, you signal to your leaders and congregation that your mission and strategy is up for grabs.
Stopping programs and ministries that are not on-mission might seem like a dramatic solution to the busyness of your church, but it might be the only thing that makes a measurable difference.
You'll likely need someone to talk you through some of this. That's where your Church Fuel ministry coach (available to all members at no extra cost) can be a tremendous resource.
You need to talk to someone with no emotional connection to your church…someone who knows your strategy but not all of your people…someone who can give you Biblical and practical advice on how to proceed.
Pouring money and people into things just because other churches are doing it isn't the right way to grow your church. It's the way to be stressed and broke.
What ministry in your church needs an unreasonable amount of resources? Maybe you're like my pastor friend and want to stake your claim on serving the community. Perhaps, you're in an area with young families and need to invest heavily in children's ministry. When you figure out your kingdom concept, don't try to fit it in—double down on it.
When you join Church Fuel and build your Two Page Plan, you’ll identify your top five keystone ministries.
You don't have to treat all your ministries and programs the same. That's poor leadership.
Focus on engagement, not just attendance.
Over the last few years, there's been a significant downward trend in church attendance. People are attending church less often.
This decline in church attendance isn't just because of the rise of the “nones” (those who claim no religious affiliation). Even those who say faith is an integral part of their life are attending less and less. People who are committed to your church are physically in the building less often than in previous decades. We discussed this topic in-depth on this podcast with Justin Trapp.
Whether there's a lower value perception or people are busier pastors and church leaders must face this new reality.
There are things you can to do increase attendance, but perhaps a better path might be to not just focus on physical attendance but overall engagement.
Carey Nieuwhof, quoted above, says that while, in the past, attendance has been the first step to engagement, in the future, it is engagement that will drive attendance.
In your church, engagement might take a variety of forms.
It could be volunteering.
It could mean connecting in a small group.
It could be stepping into leadership.
It might mean giving regularly.
No matter how you define “engaged,” it's important to highlight these next steps and make them evident in your church. Attendance alone shouldn't be the barometer for growth. Instead, take a look at how people are engaging.
North Point Community Church in Atlanta spent some time developing a model and looking at these numbers, specifically around three key actions that they challenge people to take (give, serve, be in a group).
54% of people who did one of the three activities were attending one year later.
97% of people who did two of the three were involved a year later.
That’s a significant difference.
These numbers show that engagement can drive attendance, not just the other way around.
People are more satisfied with their church experience when they are contributing rather than merely consuming.
That’s why focusing on engagement, not just attendance, can be a driver of growth.
There’s this little BBQ joint near me.
It’s a hole in the wall place, frequented by locals and regulars who know a thing or two about low-and-slow BBQ.
The food is fantastic.
The service is fast.
The sweet tea even tastes better. And a big part of me absolutely, positively wants NOBODY else to know about it. Because if more and more people start going there, it will probably change.
They might change the menu to accommodate different tastes. Or I might have to park farther away or wait longer for a table. This place is great because it’s not crowded. And if other people discovered the greatness, I might stop going.
That's precisely how some people view your church.
They like the preaching, the music, the people, and their favorite seat.
See, while leaders love progress, people like stability.
A large group of people in your church like their church the way it is right now. They don't want it to grow.
They are proud members of the ninety-nine, not vocally upset that you are going after the one, but quietly saying, “What about me?” The ninety-nine resists change, hoping all that vision-casting and forward-thinking wears off soon.
So, what do you do when your church needs to change, but the people in the church resist change? What do you do when you believe the church should grow but the people in the church resist growth?
Here are six thoughts to consider.
1. Choose to be positive.
We all carefully construct the world around us to suit our preferences and desires. Both Millennials and Boomers like things the way they like them. Anytime something pushes up against our preferences and expectations, we push back.
Growth is hard because change is hard. And the very thing you want to change FROM is the thing someone fought FOR in the past.
Choose to believe people who are resisting growth are not against people, the Gospel, the church, or you.
They just like things the way they are.
Positivity in the face of resistance is hard, but it's best to deliver a message of hope with patience.
2. Be a pastor and a prophet.
Leading your church to growth will require courageous conversations and courageous decisions.
You know that.
You already feel that.
But depending on your personality, you’ll default to one of two positions.
The prophet points to the future.
The pastor looks to the people.
If your church is going to grow (and grow healthy), you need both of these voices of leadership. People need to hear a prophet's voice, clearly articulating the WHY behind the mission and vision of where your church is going.
But if your church is resisting change, they may need a pastor to help guide and shepherd them through transition. This kind of immense patience isn't always easy for a visionary leader.
You need to continually cast vision and clarify the current mission, but do it with the heart of a pastor.
3. Build a coalition.
I'm not saying this should be the case or that it's the best model for leadership. I'm just calling out what exists in reality.
Every church has power brokers.
It could be people in official leadership roles, or it could be influential or long-time members.
But if you want to move your church in any given direction, there are people you need to get on your side. They need to believe in you, not just the cause. They need to know the details, have a say in the decision, and know their part in the process.
If you want to start a second service, you need influential representatives from every ministry involved in the decision.
If you are changing the org chart or the structure of the church, you need influential leaders with relational equity to “sell” the change to people who have reservations.
If you are making a bold move that will disrupt the status quo, you need tough leaders who will stand with you and say, “This is our decision.”
Many church growth initiatives fail because there was not enough private buy-in before there was a public campaign.
The more significant the change you're trying to make, the more people and the more time you need.
4. Talk about what is NOT changing.
The Church has been around for more than 2,000 years and has gone through many cultural changes. But through all of that, the Great Commission and the Great Commandant have remained the north star.
Amid your vision casting, remind people what is NOT changing. Reassure people that some things will stay the same forever.
No matter what kind of change your church needs, remind people that the Gospel will never change.
Your tactics will come and go, but your purpose will stay the same.
Your programs may change with the times, but your mission takes precedence.
Reminding people what will never change will comfort those who are worried about “losing their church.”
5. Get outside help.
Once a quarter, I participate in a strategy meeting for a local non-profit. It's an all-day meeting focused on reviewing the mission, setting quarterly goals, and breaking those goals into measurable, accountable tasks.
The non-profit's executive team participates in the meeting, but they bring in an outside facilitator to run the agenda. To be fair, this facilitator touches base in between meetings and runs those meetings according to a system.
Even though there are people qualified to run the show, and the agenda is the same nearly every time, they have an outside facilitator each time.
It’s not free.
It's a sizeable investment.
But as a participant in this meeting, I can honestly say it's worth every penny. A highly engaged, but unemotionally invested outsider can bring perspective to an organization that you will never get otherwise.
Despite the expense, if you want to lead your church through a growth barrier, get some outside perspective.
6. Draw a line in the sand.
It's crucial to believe the best about people.
It's vital that you act with patience, like a loving shepherd who cares about people.
It's important to get the right people on your side, including strategic advisors with an outside perspective.
With all of that said, there will still come a time when you have to make a decision.
At some point, you have to stop talking and start doing.
It might be time to make a decision and live with the consequences.
If you want to dive more into this growth mindset, check out The Senior Pastor's Guide to Breaking Barriers. Just fill out the form below, and we'll send you the PDF.