Church Models vs. Best Practices

I used to go to Church of the Resurrection’s Leadership Institute regularly. It was a great way to pick up on best practices, new innovations, and connect with other colleagues from across the connection. I have also been to other church growth model conferences including Catalyst, Intuitive Leadership, and Willow Creek. Most of these conferences follow the same blueprint:

  1. Bring in headline speakers to talk about some topic related to church growth.
  2. Bring in auxiliary speakers to have break out sessions on some topic related to church growth.
  3. Bring in a headline worship leader for worship sandwiched in-between sessions on some topic related to church growth.

Now the effectiveness of these conferences is mixed. Some are great events that fill you up with a lot of information some of which might actually be directly useful to your local context. Others are fun but not really informative. Yet others you wind up wondering why you paid money and came to this event.

What I have learned after serving several different size churches and communities in a wide array of neighborhoods, is that there is no one size fits all model for church growth. The model that works at the very large church in white suburbia doesn’t work for an inner city church in a declining small city. I have served churches with huge budgets for everything from new custom printed t-shirts every three months to the latest and greatest giveaways for visitors. I have served churches where every cent mattered.

Most of the church growth conferences that I have attended tend to relate to churches with big budgets. They push models of growth that rely heavily on being staff driven. When I have talked to church planters from other denominations they have said there is no way to plant a church without a paid full-time church staff. In other words they are not sending a single circuit rider, they are sending a circuit rider plus a small platoon with them.

What does this mean for those of us who don’t serve in places where there is full-time staff? It means that the church growth model that you hear talked about most of the time will not work unless you have the resources and support to fully commit to it. It means that the church growth model promoted at most of the conferences won’t work unless you have the personality and the charisma to fully promote it. It means unless you have a full staff many of the topics they talk about probably won’t help you. By and large the church growth conferences are not aimed at small to medium sized churches. They are specifically targeted to large to very large congregations. Even within our own United Methodist denominational offerings we tend to speak to churches who have paid professional staffs.

There is a huge gap in our reality. The vast majority of churches in The United Methodist Church have fewer than 100 people worshipping on Sunday morning. Most of these churches have volunteer accompanists, volunteer music leaders, volunteer children’s ministers, and volunteer youth directors. A lot of these churches are staffed by part time pastors or they are located on a charge with other small churches.

So what can we do for churches outside of the bubble? I think the one thing that always benefited me the most in whatever context that I was serving in was an emphasis on best practices not models. Here are some of the best practices that I have learned from serving in a wide variety of settings:

  • Relationships are the best evangelism tool you have. Church growth conferences will tell you programming is the best evangelism tool you have. Lots of programing. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday Night, Bible Studies, Easter Egg Hunts, Trunk or Treats, Fall Festivals, Concerts, Bike giveaways, Christmas Events, and Summer Events. The more outreach events the better! The truth of the matter is that you will only see a limited return on your investment in these type of events. They require enormous amounts of personnel and resources to put on. The best investment you can make at any size church is an investment in the people around you. I cannot tell you how many times people in my congregations have invited their friends to come to church because of our relationship. I want to build relationships in my church and in my community. Even if the person doesn’t come right away to my church, they know me as the pastor of that church and that I care for them. This will give you a much better return on your investment than another event.
  • Over communication is best. I don’t do this nearly enough. In fact sometimes I suck at it. You can never announce/talk about/promote something TOO much. If you have mailed, advertised, put in your bulletin and newsletter, talked about, emailed, announced, texted, posted, Facebooked, Tweeted, and Instagrammed something, the law of over communication states that someone will inevitably say they didn’t know anything about it. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  • Good authentic worship is best.  What I have learned in different settings from contemporary to traditional is that people don’t care about the genre as much as they care about the quality. If you are a traditional worship driven church be the best traditional worship style church in the area. Work on it every week to make it better. If you do contemporary worship you should be dedicated each week to making it as good as it can get. One of the traits that I have picked up over the years is that I can tell when something is off about worship. It throws me off. I can fully experience worship in contemporary and traditional settings, but I cannot fully experience worship

What are some best practices that you would recommend?

One comment

  1. Stephen, you hit three of my top best practices. I have learned that the most important, at least for myself, is SELF-CARE!! If I am NOT taking care of myself, then I do not engage in positive relationship building, effective and multiple communication through all the available channels, and worship suffers! I have found this to be true across all sizes of churches. Thanks for your thoughts.

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