Church growth strategies are the death rattle of a church that has lost its way.
The problem with many strategies is to be found in the fact that they involve making a conscious decision to do, or use, something to bring about a desired outcome. One of the things my management and Industrial Engineering training taught me was that whilst it is possible to learn how to cluck and purchase a chicken suit: Unless you can learn to lay eggs, you'll never really be a chicken!
And that, people, is the problem with so many of our churches (and other institution and clubs): Looking and sounding like that which you wish to be is useless if it isn't what you really are! Being 'authentic' is the only way because people see through the posing and the masks we all wear.
Yesterday I found myself engaged with by a cleric who was making grumpy noises about the 20th September and the planning required for this year's 'Back to Church Sunday' (B2CS) - although they referred to it as, That 'back to church thingy!'
I listened as they moaned about having to organise special stuff for the day and how the 'members'* are so keen to have it but struggle to think of new and excitingly attractive things to put on as they seek to 'bring people back' to Church.
Because this is perhaps some people's only church growth strategy I thought I'd interrupt websites for an hour or so (but part the third will be here soon) and reiterate a few points regarding 'bringing people back'. So here we go again (hold tight):
How can you bring people back to a place they have never been to before?
What we are really talking about in the effectively post-Christian age (second generation post-christian where I am!) is bring them in for the first time. The problem is that the 'BACK' bit is a something of a red herring and perhaps it's should be called 'Bring them to church for the first time' Sunday!
The second problem is that whilst it is brilliant to lay on barbecues and bands and other great attractions., this is a bit like:
We need to make sure that the situation above never becomes reality!
We need to have some integrity in the way that we present ourselves and in the way that we 'do' our church services. Yet when I made this point to the colleague who was moaning they just moaned louder about the people that they called Church and the unattractive services that they put on.
The answer is simple:
a. Remedy the naff services - gas the choir, shoot the music team - exile the organist - learn to preach - right the wrongs - cure the ills - rejoice in the changes!
b. Get rid of 'welcomers' (because all too often they ain't at all welcoming) and build a congregation who are not just welcoming but the sort of people who will bring people in as well. This is what brings people back on the second week!
Not the false stuff
Jesus calls us to be authentic and real people: That's what those outside would like to find when they come in to our buildings.
And if they do - the tend to stay.
I'd like to recommend a 'Season of Invitation' as something that those who would wish to see their church engaged in bringing people might consider. This offering from B2CS tells us that it takes a few throws before the new people begin to stick and so it works on a series of engagements that build relationship and help people to be comfortable (just make sure that you're bringing them in from your own patch rather than those of of others ;-) ).
* Anglicans don't have members, we leave that to the other churches. We have 'parishioners (they live in our patch what we call a parish). and we have communicants (those what take communion) - simple innit? So why do we so often talk about our members then?