Christmas and Easter. These two church holidays usually see an increase in attendance. Ours is by a factor of three. Such C & E Christians typically don’t show up at weekly services.
What is your attitude toward such Christians whose church life is so shallow? One counter-productive approach is to scold them for not being coming to church more often. At the opposite extreme is drawing special attention to individual visitors, who usually prefer initially to keep some distance. I learned from my church planting days to be cautious about contacting visitors right away and waited until after their second visit.
The best attitude is to see C & E’s as a very valuable recruitment opportunity to draw them into a healthier and more rewarding church life beneficial to them.
Years ago, I was the Director of Admissions at Washington University. I was sent to turn a sleepy office for admitting or rejecting applicants into a recruitment office that increases the number of applicants. Today almost all colleges run intense and sophisticated recruitment operations seen as vital to their college’s financial future. The pressure for enrolling freshmen is usually very high.
The concept of “recruiting” members is probably offensive to traditional churches. In an ideal world, new members would come on their own to be fed by God’s Word. The reality is that fewer people in our society are now interested in Christian churches and for those who are there is increasing competition from other congregations in the community.
Here is what I learned about recruiting students. I think it applies also to mission-oriented churches that want to reach out and include others from their community.
The basic strategy can be visualized as a funnel with a wide top and a small bottom of those who actually become participants. The goal is to have as many as seven touches that progressively move potential applicants to the bottom of the funnel as applicants on the way to becoming enrolled. C & E Christians are at a level near the desirable bottom of the funnel. They are very valuable contacts.
The first and easiest step is to buy the names and addresses of high school juniors and seniors who are likely to go to college. We used to buy 100,000 from the Scholastic Aptitude Testing Service (SAT). The equivalent for churches is to buy the names and addresses of those newly moved into the community.
Another step further down the funnel is to send a series of mailing that feature the church’s name and what it offers. Further down the funnel is to have members make contact, like colleges that involve professors and alumni. The newest church version for such a touch is to invite members to put out a yard sign with the church’s name.
The best recruitment efforts, however, will not yield much if visitors do not have a good experience in their contact with that congregation. Who determines what is a good church experience? The visitor, of course.
When my family and I moved to a different city, we became consumers and narrowed down our choices to two congregations. One was too far away. The one we settled on turned out very well for our teens, with the special attention they received from a good youth leader we helped add to the small staff. That church life set them on a path toward a life-long commitment to their faith and to their congregations.
What’s the key factor that makes a congregation stand out and attract visitors? I think it is the quality of their Christ-centered community life. Does it reflect a healthy church? Will I easily make friends? Will I be respected for who I am and what my background is? That’s the outcome to seek.
Size need not be an important factor in a congregation’s community life. In fact, bigger congregations face a tougher challenge. Small congregations can excel in offering community life that engages those who seek a closer relationship with God through their relationship with other believers.
After these recruitment efforts are done as well as possible, the rest is up to the Holy Spirit.
What do you think are the key factors that make a congregation attractive to visitors?