Growing the Congregation

One of the concerns of any congregations such as Leopold (a smallish, ageing group), is how to get bigger and younger. As I have written elsewhere, these are goals that are met as side effects of being the church; i.e., if characteristics of the realm of God are manifest in the lives of church members, others will be attracted to them.  But given that God’s realm is not often visible in most churches, there may need to be a Plan B.

Nevertheless, one thing about intentionally growing the church is clear: most new people are brought into the church by a friend or relative, and hence part of a ready-made personal relationship.  The biggest reason why people continue going to a given church, even through bad music and pathetic preaching,  is close the personal relationships they have with other members of the congregation.

Note that I am not talking about the reasons one goes to church, but the reason one starts attending.  There are other, more important, benefits associated with church attendance, for one can find good personal relationships in many places, but people have to be introduced to them first.  If the church is going to grow in numbers, it will happen because the members bring others in the door, and if the others find it of value, they will stay long enough to establish the relationships that will keep them.

It all sounds easy, but it doesn’t happen often; the members seldom think of bringing their friends to church. Perhaps this is because the members are not excited by what they get from being part of the church.  Maybe they don’t even know why they go; it simply has been a part of their lives ever since their parents took them.

The solution to the problem of growing Leopold congregation will not be in finding a minister who is good at evangelism or new areas ministry or working with young people, although these can help.  Nor will it be found in changing the nature of the service of bringing in a rock band with modern music. The Leopold congregation will start to grow when each member identifies what is exciting or life-giving or otherwise joyful and fulfilling about being part of the church, and becomes enthusiastic about sharing the experience with friends.

As I have written elsewhere, bringing newcomers is most easily accomplished through small groups. A church service is an alien environment for many people, and it takes courage to cross the threshold; whereas a small home group is little different to any social gathering.  There are fewer strangers to confront, and sharing food and drink is conducive to the formation of fellowship.  Furthermore, a good small group is more likely than Sunday worship to exhibit the real church, and manifest some of the characteristics of the Realm of God.

I believe the common phrase used for something like this is: ‘It’s not rocket science.’  Quite the contrary, it is what has been bringing people into the church for 2000 years. 

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