The way churches are growing is changing rapidly.
Peoples’ reasons for visiting a church, becoming members, and engaging with that church’s events and ministries are changing as fast as the internet can change them.
Religious nones are growing. The demography of the United States is shifting very quickly. Reaching people in your community and persuading them to walk into the front doors of your church and plug into your community is not as simple as building a good reputation with the locals and praying for the best.
Now, church planters and their networks are utilizing advanced insights from startup culture, consumer psychology, and organizational growth models to make their growth as rapid, predictable, and scientific as possible.
In an era when these tactics are becoming stock and trade for new church planters, new initiatives need to think more creatively, do more research, and establish a more optimized growth strategy than what would have worked even in the early 2000s.
1. Build your church’s digital infrastructure.
You need a church management software for your organization. The days of excel are looking more and more like the days of pen and paper. Don’t haggle together 10 different pieces of software to manage your church. There are many weaknesses to this approach, foremost of which is the fact that all that manual data entry can’t be analyzed. How will you use Google Docs, Excel, or some other software not designed specifically for churches to get a real-time sense of the health of your church?
Enter: Tithe.ly ChMS. This is a data-rich, highly usable tool for churches to manage their members and extract critical data related to attendance, giving, participation, volunteer work, and children’s check-in. Use technology that enables your church to scale upward, not technology that requires more manual labor from you or your church staff as you grow.
This is a key decision when implementing a growth mindset in your church leadership culture. Digital is the future, and mobile is even more the future. It’s no coincidence that Tithe.ly’s ChMS system syncs perfectly with a fully custom app for your church that members can use to register for events, tithe digitally, take sermon notes, and much more.
The first thing you need to do if you want to lead a church that still exists in 100 years is get Tithe.ly ChMS.
2. Go all-in on localized digital advertising.
Google currently offers a $10,000 per month ad credit for qualifying non-profits. Use it. Create engaging ads for people searching “churches near me” in your area. Harness the power of big tech to get people walking in through the doors of your church.
There is an entire industry right now devoted to helping churches get the greatest number of visitors from church Facebook ads. Tap into these tools and see them for the investment they really are. Don’t let your church growth suffer because of the shallow learning curve that digital marketing tools require. Your church will grow. Your giving will grow. The cost is small—and failing to use these tools is even more mind-boggling when Google is giving away $10,000 in monthly ad credit.
Apply for it right now, and do what you need to do to qualify.
3. Don’t be afraid to think like a marketer.
People tend not to like marketers. They don’t like the idea of being pushed into a buying decision. But that’s just it—it’s not that they don’t like marketers; they don’t like bad marketers. If a marketer is coming off as “pushy,” then that person is a bad marketer.
Let’s look at another side of marketing.
The feeling you get when you look at a beautiful Christmas tree in a mall plaza.
The gratitude you feel when you see an ad that meets your needs perfectly.
The experience of watching a new movie trailer that you’ve been waiting for for years.
This is all good marketing. Marketing isn’t about pushing people to do things they don’t want to do. Marketing is about getting the right tools in the hands of the right people.
As a pastor, you need to aspire to be a good marketer. Brand your church. Use the latest digital tools to build your email list, get out in front of people, and become a recognized entity in your community. Even better: become the go-to resource in your community for people looking for a church home.
4. Don’t be afraid to think like a salesman.
On top of marketing is sales. This is a one-on-one, boots-on-the-ground mindset. You don’t see any conversation as wasted. You see everyone in need of church, because everyone is in need of the gospel.
If you really believe in the mission and vision of your church—and you should if you’re a church leader—then you should be selling that to the pain points of your community. You should be seeking to get as much face time as possible with people outside your church. Every moment you spend in your office sending in-house emails is a lost opportunity to grow your church.
If you’re a pastor, the growth and size of your church fall back on you. The most direct way to take ownership of that is, once you’ve got all your marketing and branding ducks in a row, to get hustling on the sales side of your church. Get as many legitimate one-on-one conversations with people as possible.
Then, build relationships. Invest in your community. And then, most of the people you serve won’t even need to be invited. But when you do invite them, the decision will be a no-brainer for them. But that moment of invitation can never meaningfully happen if you aren’t building social capital in your community to add relational credibility which earns you the right to invite.
5. Understand what “industry” you’re really in.
Andy Stanley once accurately said that, in one sense, churches are in the “events industry.” He’s right about that. If the production value of your Sunday Service is an afterthought for you as a pastor, you are handicapping your growth. The higher your production quality, the better your initial “product offering” in the minds of visitors.
More than that, the quality of your weekly event will be taken as indicative of how you conduct the rest of your business as a church. A spy novel I was reading recently featured an undercover agent who was trained with a strict set of rules for life that guided his lifestyle and every mission he went on: “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
How you “do” your church service—as an event—will serve as a broadcast signal for every visitor there the level professionalism your church leadership team brings to the table. For this reason, your event deserves detailed planning, thought, and a substantial portion of your church budget.
6. Double down on the felt need your church is meeting.
Articulate this felt need. Have the elevator pitch for your church ready to go. Make it as deep and compelling and suited to your local community as possible.
7. Treat other churches as co-laborers, not competition.
You will get more people walking through your door by getting to know other church leadership teams in your area than you will by isolating yourself.
Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing force that you could have working for your church. Maybe the members of the other churches don’t come to your church on Sunday, but they participate in your service projects on weekdays.
Maybe those members don’t become your members, but their kids join and become members as they grow up.
Maybe those members don’t become your members … and maybe they do.
It’s always better to be a known quantity than an unknown quantity.
Double down on inter-church partnerships, and you will see growth happen like it was magic. Develop a reputation for a connector and a collaborator. Meet the needs of other pastors in your area, and you’ll have a deep network of friends who will send many people to your church with a high commendation.
Other pastors will tell you about all the store owners, business people, powerful families, needy families, charities, and community politics—and more importantly, how they affect your church. By developing deep, abiding, positive relationships with other pastors in your area, you knock 20 years off your learning curve planting in your community. You couldn’t ask for a better marketing infrastructure in place in your local community.
If you follow these principles, you will soon break out of a “surviving” mindset as a church and soon breakthrough to a “thriving” season that enables you to think realistically and optimistically about meaningful church growth—in whatever categories make sense for your particular church.
Remember these seven rules, and start working through how you might implement them with your church leadership team:
- Build your church’s digital infrastructure
- Go all-in on localized digital advertising.
- Don’t be afraid to think like a marketer.
- Don’t be afraid to think like a salesman.
- Understand what “industry” you’re really in.
- Double down on the felt need your church is meeting.
- Treat other churches as co-laborers, not competition.