Almost any time I mention numbers related to church life, I anticipate some responses about the value of numbers and congregations. In the 1980s, this type of discussion came primarily from more liberal churches that weren’t growing.
Some of these leaders felt that declining membership and attendance were likely a sign of health. The members who really cared about the church were the ones who remained. They could make the biggest difference without the more nominal members remaining as obstacles.
How much time does it take for a visitor to decide whether or not they will return to your church? Experts pose differing numbers on this.
Some say as quickly as 90 seconds. Others say three minutes. Still others say they take as long as 12 minutes to decide. Whoever is right, making a good first impression is imperative if you are going to retain first-time visitors. Doing this well will change as your church grows.
Churches with attendance under 150 can make a friendly first impression by stationing two or three outgoing volunteers at their front doors. In this size church, newcomers are able to look around the crowd and find the “people like me” pretty quickly. “People like me” is key to assimilating newcomers in smaller churches.
When I wrote The Purpose Driven Church, I predicted that church health—not church growth—would be the primary concern of the 21st Century church. I believe that prediction is proving itself true.
The New Testament says a lot about the health of the church. Consider just a few verses:
“As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing. …” (Ephesians 4:16b, NLT)
“The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.” (2 Corinthians 2:9, Msg)
My wife, Joyce, and I planted our local church 29 years ago, Jan. 29, 1984, in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, N.Y. We were not sent out with any money and had only a handful of people who volunteered to serve with us. The following is based on all the mistakes I have made as a church planter, and the lessons I wish someone had coached me through.
1. Be sent from your local church. Unfortunately, many send themselves and just “went” instead of being “sent.” The Bible teaches us that we should not preach unless we are “sent” (see Romans 10:15).
This month, I’ve been looking at multiple tools for looking at how people experience your church. Hopefully, these tools are helpful to you as you consider how you interact with people.
However, I think it is important to end the month of church health with the ultimate check up:
Does God show up?
When I first came to pastoral ministries, I was unfamiliar with the weekly rehash of Sunday morning. The pastor would start the conversation: “How did Sunday go?” For me, the only real question was this:
Did God show up?
It is 5:30pm. Sam comes through the door, intent on surprising his wife Sarah. He finds her stirring spaghetti with one child wrapped around her leg, and the other hollering from the bathroom.
Knowing he only has seconds before she is off to help the bathroom child, he whips out his surprise:
“Look what I brought you!” He announces, as he displays a dozen roses.
Sarah glances his direction, while picking up the Klingon on her leg. “Hmmm. Thanks. Can you take out the garbage?”
Not exactly the scenario Sam was looking for.
Gary Chapman tells us how to fix this disconnect in the Five Love Languages. Sam can learn to speak Sarah’s love language in a short amount of time, and those momentary interactions will deepen their relationship instead of leaving them both wanting.