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?
Lee Larsen says
This is why we have been doing monthly P.A.C.K. (Planned Acts of Christian Kindness) Outreach Events out in busy public places in our community for over 25 years. Through simple practical acts of kindness and our Connect Card it is easy for everyone (including guys and youth!) to bring the love & grace of Jesus to life in the hearts of so many. Who can resist a cold bottle of water on a hot day or that hot chocolate while waiting for the floats to come past during the “Holiday” Parade? A perfect opportunity for the card message to remind them that Jesus is the one reaching out to them and that is truly what this festivities are all about. Initially let the Card do all the talking while you just show the love, eventually the growing Spirit within you will provide you with more and more of what you need to be a better witness for Jesus. Serve all others out of thankfulness and appreciation for what God has done. no matter what the recipients may outwardly look like. and watch how the Spirit opens the heart in miraculous ways! Faith & Kingdom building for sure! PACK is now at work in 114 countries and growing daily. The program is totally FREE with no catch. http://www.acts18.org
David Luecke says
Hi, Lee. Yes, PAKT is a great witness, along with welcoming C and E Christians.
Frank Janzow says
I love that you are talking about developing an outreach strategy of love and service toward the “C & E” attenders. I think most congregations, while planning for extra seating and bulletins etc for them, have no real plan for connecting these folks, and so just hope some of these occasional attenders may return.
A couple of simple ideas come to mind. First, I typically launched a sermon series on Christmas and Easter, ones that dealt with real, common need people feel, with practical spiritual helps promised as the series unfolds. If the festival sermon speaks to real, felt needs based on the gospel, and the invites everyone to participate, there will be some of the “visitors” who take you up on it. A follow up mailing outlining the series would be a helpful support.
Second, I feel it’s helpful for the preacher to understand the different motivations that bring occasional worshipers out for holiday worship – some are searching for answers to life questions like strife in relationships, vocational quandaries, a sickness in the family or in themselves, financial stresses, loneliness, guilt over moral failures, fear of death, and so forth. Others are only there because of family pressure. Still others because it’s their tradition. And some are simply new to the area and looking for a church home, or are unhappy in their congregation and looking for a new one. My practice has been to welcome everyone early in the sermon, and name some of different reasons they might be there, welcoming everyone.
I know some pastors for various reasons preach shorter messages on “holiday” worship times, thinking that’s appealing. I take the other view. It’s the one time you have to influence so many of these folks. On the theory that little sermons have little impact, I think Christmas and Easter should be high impact, full on messages that address real life needs, with good news encouragement, some scripture teaching, and some challenges that offer practical steps people can take to develop their faith and new life in Christ. These are some ways to love the C & E folks and welcome them into a fuller faith community way of life.
I love your funnel image!n
David Luecke says
Hi, Frank. You have a great attitude and I agree with everything you say.
Michael J Zehnder says
Right on! It’s silly, shortsided, lazy and and uncaring about people’s earthly journeys and after-life ramifications not to apply simple, logical “marketing” principles to “make disciples of all nations.” Equally important is to prepare and train members to receive visitors with a friendly and warm reception. Nothing worse than to visit a church with sourfaced bulletin distributors/ushers and sit in a pew/chair where no one ever turns around to say, “Hi. Welcome! Great to have you here!”. Might be worth a whole ‘nother article on how to prepare members to warmly/discreetly welcome visitors.
David Luecke says
If “Zehdner” is a typo for Zehnder, I am guessing you are Mark Zehnder’s son. I have seen you new series of books about outreach and think they are great. I admire Mark highly. Best wishes on your efforts.
Michael J Zehnder says
Nope. Just me, Mike, former minister of music with Norb Oesch at St John’s in Orange. Also worked with Dave Anderson at fellowship ministries and I did a worship consultation at your church years ago. 🙂
Joel Dieterichs says
Thank you, good missionary, for your reflection on how to approach our guests for the highest of our holy days! I have shared it with out outreach team and we will discuss. I’ve learned the same things over 16 years of experience in 4 different cities and suburbs: Springfield, IL, Denver, CO, Colorado Springs, CO, and now here in Cleveland.
May I ask: what written materials do you find valuable for first-time guests to take home, read, or sign? At an Episcopal Church once, I saw computer terminals where members and friends could walk up and watch an introductory video and sign up for teams such as Altar Guild or Trustees. Have you ever tried that at Royal Redeemer? If so, how did it go? Thank you so much for offering your insights on your blog and have a blessed Christmas!
David Luecke says
Hi, Joel. We provide a gift bag of something valuable, like a mug, and then introductory material about the church. We push this every Sunday and have the bags easily available. As your neighbor, I would be glad to come and talk to leaders.
Julia Borjeson says
I believe being non-judgemental, loving, and accepting of anyone’s personal choices on how often they attend church is a good start. An even better start may be to be non-judgemental in your letter to Pastor’s about the “C+E” Christians! Calling this category of Church-goers “shallow” in their church life is following the traditional mentality of judgement and ridicule for not following certain expectations of the Church. Change needs to start at the top. Invitations and ongoing connection to all members reminds them that our doors are open and our hearts and minds are open too! We as a congregation, the Body of Christ, through prayer, modeling, and discipleship opportunities are following the steps of Jesus. We must have faith in God that he is doing his part by opening the hearts of those we connect with!
David Luecke says
Great application. I am sorry if “shallow” offended you and I seemed grumpy. That’s an insider’s view. I do a whole thing on stages of faith and advancing to higher levels through the Spirit’s work. Accept people where they are and offer opportunities for the Spirit to work on them. Also remember that all who confess Christ as savior are saved for eternity. “Progress” consists of helping them appreciate this relationship here and now.
Pr. Steve Shipman says
In my experience in 50 years of parish ministry, C & E Christians don’t exist any more. It’s maybe 20 or 30 years since (at least in my part of the world) I began to notice that the big spikes on Christmas and Easter attendance were getting a lot smaller. We live in a world where people don’t even feel the need to worship on those days. When I hear people talk today about C & E Christians, they are a couple decades behind the times, at least where I am. We are in a society that has become largely secular, and no longer feels guilty about it.
David Luecke says
Hi, Steve. In my part of the world C &E do exist. Our attendance on those special days is usually three times normal attendance. We are clearly know in the community, and we make it easy for members to reach out to others they know with special invitations.