The rural United Methodist church had seen its attendance drop from a high of 110 five years ago to around 50 today. Even though the church is off the beaten path, it has a lot going for it. It’s had the same pastor for over 20 years. Its members have invested in their facility, adding a family life center not long ago. The congregation has a good representation of all ages. The Sunday worship service is led by an excellent praise band. The church has a healthy family feel, attractive to those looking for a smaller church.
The church is known in its community for two primary reasons–its Vacation Bible School which attracts 35 children each summer, and monthly community dinners that attract hundreds of people. They do food well!
“What do we need to do to grow?” the Staff-Parish Relations Committee chair asked me. I replied, “You’re doing so much right. All you need to do is to connect the dots.” This church is like so many. They have done an excellent job creating connecting points with their community, but they haven’t done so well at building relationships with those God brings to them. They haven’t connected the points, the dots.
Doing so isn’t so difficult. It doesn’t require adding more programs, ministries, or staff. It doesn’t require much additional time either. For this church, it is simply making sure that they identify those unchurch persons God is bringing them, getting their names and contact information. This can easily happen through cards filled out for registration at VBS and for door prizes provided at each community meal.
Once it has their names and connect information, the church needs to invite them to its next special event–next month’s community meal, the mid-week kids club that’s starting at the end of summer, Trunk-or-Treat, etc. They also assign each unchurched family to a family in the church that agrees to contact them each month, offering to pray for them.
The initial contact might sound like this, “We’re so glad you attended our dinner last Saturday. We hope you enjoyed it. We noticed on your door-prize card that you don’t have a church home. Well, know that we’d love to have you visit us this Sunday. Also, we’re a church that believes in prayer. How can we pray for you and your family this month?”
Next month’s follow-up call might go like this, “We’ve been praying for you and your family this past month. How are things going with the prayer concern that you shared? How can we pray for you and your family this coming month?” If you have another community meal or other special event invite them to join you.
If a church does these simple things, the dots will be connected and many of the unchurched people God has brought to your church will eventually consider your church as their church–even if they don’t regularly attend Sunday mornings.
So, what does your church need to do to connect the dots?
— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development