Sermon @ San Diego First UMC 080617 – “Be Wise – Watch” (starts at 35:00)
I recently visited a church where I had an opportunity to share how the Cal-Pac Conference of the UMC is really doing in growth. After sharing, the woman looked at me and said, “that cannot be right, I heard (unnamed person) say the no one new comes to church and that the UMC would be gone in the next decade.” So, what are the facts?
This is the last post in our series on Bishop Grant’s challenge from 2016 Annual Conference. Our Bishop challenged us to grow our churches by 10% in worship and by 10 people in professions of faith/baptisms. I’d like to end by sharing some facts and invite us to embrace a growth mindset.
Does it surprise you to know that 81.6% of Cal Pac Churches received new members in 2014-16? That is 293 of 359 churches. Let that sink in – almost 82% of our churches received new members.
Overall, we added 3,428 members but lost 5,470 (death, removal from charge conference, corrections from last years numbers, transfers). For us to have grown in membership as a Conference, we would need to add 20 new members per growing church.
Are there churches that experienced net growth? Net growth is more new members than deaths/transfers? Yes. We have found that 113 churches had a net gain in membership between 2014-16. Read the list.
What about worship attendance? Are there churches that increased in worship attendance? Yes. 114 churches had an increase in worship attendance in Cal-Pac between 2014-16. Read the list.
Basically 1/3 of our churches had net increases in worship attendance and in new members.
(Note: the pastors listed are those appointed July 1, 2016 and may not be the pastors who were appointed to the church during 2014-16.)
Here is the breakdown of percentage of churches that increased worship attendance between 2014-2016.
East District – 30%, Hawaii District – 45%, North District – 28%,
South District – 23%, West District – 38%
One last fact –
“California’s population on July 1, 2016 was 39.4 million. The state is poised to reach a population of 40 million by the year 2018, 45 million by 2035, and 50 million during 2055. Between 2016 and 2060, the state is projected to grow by 30 percent: from 39.4 million to 51.1 million (0.6 percent annually), adding over 11.7 million people (more than the 2016 population of Ohio).” The people are coming and it is a time of great opportunity for the church.
So, what do we believe about the church’s future? Do we tell ourselves the church cannot grow? Do we believe it?
What if we looked at the facts, the possibilities and the opportunities?
What if we embraced our history as a movement begun in a time of church decline?
I believe that some of our churches will close but that for many of us, growth is still possible.
So, what is your plan for growth? I hope these 9 posts have encouraged you to dream about your church’s future and have given you some practical ideas.
Let me leave you with a great opportunity to learn about growth:
Come to our Midsize Church Growth Conference (open to any size church). Local and inexpensive ($25) – this will inspire you and your church!
Visiting a church for the first time can be a challenge. Sadly, sometimes the challenge is just locating correct information about the church. Case in point: One Saturday night I searched for the Facebook page of a local UMC only to find that the posts were 6 months old & nowhere could I find the church’s address or worship times. Eventually I did track things down but the lack of social media was hurting this congregation.
This summer we are focusing on the Bishop’s challenge to grow our worship attendance by 10% and to increase baptisms and professions of faith. So far we have covered:
Today, I want to talk about using Facebook and other social media as a tool of church growth.
Of course, the big question I get when I urge churches to use social media is WHY? Why take the time to do this? The simple answer is: this where the people are. (By the way – Did you know that if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest? )
Do you use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? Have you ventured into Snapchat or do you share a video or written blog? Do you podcast or livestream? If not, you are missing out on reaching people and sharing God’s love.
So how can you begin (or increase) your use of these tools? Let’s focus on social media today – here are a couple of simple best practices for churches.
- Post regularly – at least 3 times a week. Here is how it could look: Monday: A photo from Sunday turned into a meme (use a quote from Sunday’s sermon, scripture or music). Wednesday: Post a prayer or scripture text for the upcoming week – use video. Saturday: Post an article that provokes conversation especially if it is part of Sunday’s message or it is topical. Remember: share things that are helpful to others not just info about the church’s activities.
- Photos rule the day – Photos grab your attention, so use them!
- Videos also rule the day – Create short 30 second videos of the children’s ministry, a spoken prayer, fellowship time.
- Create a team – 5-7 people who will post, like and share what the church posts. Let these folks also be administrators on the page so the job doesn’t fall to one person.
- Use social media to get feedback from church attenders: Use social media to engage with others.
- Pastors: Invite people to connect with you about your sermon on social media to continue to the conversation. Article: 7 Ideas
But what if you don’t run your church’s page? How can you help?
- Check in on Sunday mornings or during other times you are at the church. This can open a door for your friends to ask you about church.
- Repost what your church is posting. Share and invite others.
- Share your photos, videos, memes and reflections from Sunday.
- Serve on your social media team – this is a huge help!
Action: Update your social media as you get ready for the fall.
Want to learn more?
A friend who is a retired UMC clergy person shared with me how hard it was for him and his wife to find a new church home. They had moved into a new community and visited the five UM churches driving distance from their house. At each one they filled out the registration pad leaving their name, address, email and phone number. They marked “visitor” and on several marked “would like a visit from the pastor.” How many of those five churches responded? None. Not one.
When I am asked about church decline and the reasons for it, I share what hurts me to say: A big issue is our lack of friendliness to newcomers. Churches often feel they are friendly but the reality is very different. How do I know this? Because I visit churches and I talk to people I send to churches to visit. Sure, we say hello and hand a newcomer a bulletin. But for the rest – the follow-up, the invites to our gatherings, an invite to fellowship or lunch? We don’t do that. And this is a big issue.
Today we continue our summer series where I’m sharing a list of 9 ideas for pastors and laity as we live into Bishop Grant’s challenge to increase worship attendance and professions of faith. Here are earlier posts: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, 6
Today I want to focus on, What is our WEEKLY plan to follow-up with visitors, those attending less than weekly, and those who were weekly but have had a change of attendance?
You need a plan and the simpler the better. Here are a couple of ideas to try – (summer is a great time to update your welcome plans for visitors).
Idea #1 – Use cards or registration sheets to track attendance. Sheets are given to the pastor or another key leader Sunday and calls are made Sunday from 4-6 PM. Calls are made to all first time visitors, newer people, guests of members who attended and members and regular attenders who the pastor either didn’t have time to connect with or who seems like someone who would appreciate a call. Patterns are noticed – who is missing? Calls are short and friendly. Notes are taken and shared with the rest of staff/key leaders.
If the pastor isn’t the right person for this in your community, find out who is. If Sundays from 4-6 PM don’t work, pick a time that does. If no one answers, leave a message. If email (and not a phone number) is given, email instead.
Idea #2 – Use cards or registration sheet to track attendance. Office Administrator creates a simple report each Monday morning listing attendance, visitors, offering, etc. Staff meet Monday at 11 AM and go over the list of visitors, sharing information. Each staff person calls a couple of people right after the staff meeting – both newcomers and regulars, and those who we haven’t seen in a while. A Google Doc is shared between the staff and notes are left taken and shared so everyone knows the calls have been made.
Please do not send a form letter to a newcomer. This is a terrible practice, left over from a time when we didn’t need to cultivate visitors. Today we do. Today people are looking for a more authentic connection – through voice, text or email.
I find most pastors and leaders believe they do not have the time to do this. But the 1-2 hours you spend will make a difference both in newcomers returning and in regulars attending more often. And, while it is hard to start it, you will be glad you did.
Test it out – Try if for 6 months. Spend one hour each week calling everyone who leaves a phone number and see what you find. Thank them for their visit. Ask how you might pray for them this week. Invite them back.
Action – Put together a plan to call everyone who visits and leaves a phone number. Send an email or personal note if they leave addresses. Make notes about what you learn.
Action – Evaluate your numbers with your new system. How did calling people and connecting more intentionally work for you?
One disheartening trend is that people attend worship less often. In today’s world, worship can be one of Sunday’s many opportunities. As life has become busier, as people are caring for children and parents, as children’s sports become a regular part of Sunday and as people are just plan exhausted, they attend worship less often. Not everyone (in fact some trends show some attending more often) but many.
One example: Mike and Jennifer and their three boys did attend worship weekly till Jennifer’s Mom went to a nursing home in a neighboring community. Now, two Sunday a month the family drives to a town 30 miles away and spends the morning with her. This means that 10 fewer people attend each month.
If Mike and Jennifer’s church had 100 people (adults and children) each week, it would now have an average worship attendance of 97.5 (down from 100). It doesn’t sound like much of a difference but if 5 families of 5 did this, attendance would decrease by 50 people each month and worship attendance would move from a monthly average of 100 to 87.5. Remember, no one left the church – they just attended less often, and worship went down 12%.
Today we continue our summer series where I’m sharing a list of 9 ideas for pastors and laity as we live into Bishop Grant’s challenge to increase worship attendance and professions of faith. Here are earlier posts: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5
Today I want to talk about understanding worship attendance decline by doing the math (#1) and asking some questions (#2) & designing a strategy (#3).
So let’s start with the math. We first need to do some counting to see where we are with attendance. Don’t guess, gather data.
How do you get this information? Your church may already gather this information. But if not, here are two ways to get started.
1. Train the ushers to do a weekly count which includes:
- Number of adults
- Number of youth and children
- Number of visitors
2. Invite people to sign a book (or a card) to register their weekly attendance.
- One best practices in churches under 200 is to have a 2 people sit in the back with a sheet listing everyone who is a church regular. As each person arrives they are silently checked off. Note: two people do this so no one is overlooked (churches often have 2 doors and distractions happen). This works best in churches where people won’t register their attendance.
Start with gathering data. Guesswork or speculation is often inaccurate.
Second, learn why attendance had declined. Is Sunday attendance down because of folks like Mike and Jennifer or is it down because 10 families have moved over to another church? Is it down because you no longer invite others to worship or because the saints of the church have gone to their eternal reward? The why matters because it will help you know how to respond.
Do your data gathering for several months (September-mid December). Then sit down and ask:
- How often do people attend? Weekly? Or less than weekly? Chart it out.
- Do we know why people who attend less than weekly do so? Have we asked?
- What tools might we give people who attend less than weekly to keep them growing spiritually? (For example, could we send an email to Mike and Jennifer with a link to the sermon and a connection to both what happened in Sunday School and an invite to place Mom on the prayer chain?)
- Consider how many visitors you are seeing. Figures differ across the country, but many churches see 1-5 new people at each worship service each week. One rule of thumb is: your average worship attendance will equal the number of first time visitors you will see in a year (so if your average is 100 in worship, you will see 100 visitors over the year).
- Ask, What is our WEEKLY plan to follow-up with visitors, those attending less than weekly, and those who were weekly but have had a change of attendance? (More on this in my next post.)
Third, what is your plan? Your plan will be specific to your church but here are some articles to help:
Action – Put together a team of 3 people to do research on attendance.
Action – Put together a plan for growth. Make sure it is grounded in prayer.
Sign up for The Creative Worship Conference – $25 for a day of ideas you can use in your local church (West District) – Registration closes soon.
One weeknight after 9/11 I was part of a candlelight walk around the neighbor where the church I attended was located. I will always remember the people who came out of their houses as we journeyed with candles and prayers of peace for our world. Getting out of the building matters.
This summer I am sharing a list of 9 ideas for pastors and laity as we live into Bishop Grant’s challenge to increase worship attendance and professions of faith. Here are earlier posts: #1, #2, #3, #4
Today, I want to build on yesterday’s getting out of the building post with our 5th idea – – Getting Out of the Building, part 2.
Let’s be honest – We are often very building centric. Our buildings are a point of pride, history and community. Buildings matter. But in today’s world just opening the doors will not bring new people in to the building. We need to go outside.
So how do we begin?
- Schedule less meetings in the building– when was the last time your Ad Council or other church committee, met off your campus? What park, coffee shop or off-site location might be fun to meet at?
- Join Meet-up. People often feel they cannot invite people to church because all their friends are already at church. If this is you, you may wonder how do you get more friends. Meet-up, connecting with families in your neighbor or connecting with new people through your kids and grandkids is a great way to make new friends. Connecting with people outside the church will also help you understand why people don’t attend church and what people who don’t attend might want in a church.
- Connect with a local school, Fire or Police Department, retirement home or social services. How can the church help? Can you send volunteers to tutor? Can you provide breakfast for the kids in your community who are home during the summer? Can you co-sponsor a local movie night with the city? What needs can you meet?
- What local events, parades, farmer’s markets and other community events can your church be part of? Get out there and meet some new people. Set up a bubble blowing booth. Give out free water. Play bingo and offer small prizes. Have fun!
Action: Take the above four actions and pick one per quarter to try as a church. Have fun and make the bigger events all-church events. Looking for more ideas? Try these.
Action: Want to offer a worship experience for today’s people? Come to our Messy Church Nation Conference.
What are you doing to get out of the building? Post your ideas on our Facebook page.
When I was in my 20’s my husband and I moved into a new community. It was the 4th of July weekend and the little town had a parade. As I sat on the curb, drinking my lemonade, the “float” for the local United Methodist Church went by. I watched as they laughed, smiled and waved their “God loves everyone” flags. That church became my home church.
This summer I am sharing a list of 9 ideas for Cal-Pac pastors and laity as we live into Bishop Grant’s challenge to increase worship attendance and professions of faith. Here are earlier posts: #1, #2, #3
Today I want to talk about #4 – Get Out of the Building
On Sundays I visit our churches and honestly, many of them look closed (even on Sundays). How do we (1) share what is going on inside our churches with the outside and (2) get out of the building and meet some new people. Let’s talk about the first one today.
Here are some simple ways to let the community around your church know things are happening in your church.
- Open the Doors – If your church has two sets of doors, open them both – open them wide. No door should stay closed. No one should have to pull open a door on Sunday morning.
- Put your coffee time before and after worship and put it OUT FRONT. Buy some simple green grass carpet if this means you will be in the parking lot and pull some easy to move tables and chairs out front. Set up a table for coffee (these make it simple). Play music, have fun. Invite those who come by to have coffee with you.
- Do an assessment of your church landscaping. Is it clean? Are the plants alive? How old is your sign (nothing says “1950’s is going on here!” more than a sign from the 1950’s)? If it looks ill-kept and old-fashioned people will drive by.
- You website is a door to your church. Have you updated it? Do it now.
Would you like to know what visitors think? A mystery visitor can visit your church and send you a report (contact NReilley@calpacumc.org).
Action: Take a photo of your open doors and/or your coffee hour in front of the church and post it our New Ministries Facebook Page. We’d love to see them!!!
Action: Sign up for our upcoming Creative Worship Conference (8/26/17) and get creative!
This summer I am sharing a list of 9 ideas for Cal-Pac pastors and laity as we live into Bishop Grant’s challenge to increase worship attendance and professions of faith. Here are earlier posts: #1, #2
Today I want to talk about #3 – Sharing with Others about Your Community of Faith.
A bit of background first…..My main work in the Cal-Pac Conference is working with the Bishop and Cabinet in starting new faith communities. We began in 2013 with a goal to begin 62 new faith communities by 2024. So far (as of July 1, 2017) 26 new faith communities have begun. It is exciting work and the best part are the stories of people who have recently found our churches. The story I most often hear is how this new faith community connected them to a loving God and that this has changed everything. New faith communities are making a huge difference in people’s lives.
Interesting, I have noticed two types of new start – those where the congregation invites their friends and those where they don’t. Sometimes a new faith community maybe mistakenly believe this is the pastor’s work or they don’t realize the importance of it. Being a church where everyone invites is an early (and key) indicator of future vitality.
But inviting isn’t just for new faith communities, it is for us all.
Rev. Dan Dick wrote an article about inviting that I often share. He writes, “An example: two churches just eight miles apart. Both, experienced membership decline from the 1990s through 2007 — older people died or moved away, no new young families, giving decreased and both congregations supplemented their finances through fund-raising dinners. In 2007, the respective attendance of the two congregations was 67 and 63. Congregation A looked to the pastor and the Annual Conference for assistance and direction, wanting help “attracting young families and growing the church.” Congregation B recognized that they had very little to attract new people and that they weren’t doing anything proactive to reach out. A core group of 21 members made a commitment to invite at least one friend, neighbor, family member, or colleague to a small group, a work project, a fellowship event, or worship each week. 2011 – Congregation A, 41 in worship and on the verge of closure; Congregation B, 121 in worship and beginning a capital campaign to renovate and expand.
In over 200 years, one key of evangelism has remained constant: personal invitation is the key to growth.
Inviting others into a relationship with God through the church is key to reaching new people. But the reality is very few people in our churches (pastors and laity) invite.
So why is it important to move through our own discomfort and invite others? Two reasons jump out at me these days:
First, people need God. Back to my experience with new church starts – many of the new people reached are hearing (often for the first time), that there is a loving God who cares for them. This might surprise you, but it is true. People in today’s world are often unaware of God’s great love in Jesus Christ and we have the opportunity to share it with them.
Second, life’s ups and downs open people up to God. Moving into a new community, marriage, the birth of a new baby, divorce, job loss, middle age, college, the death of a loved one, are all times when we look up from our lives and wonder about the bigger picture. How could we not? Look around in your life – who is going through a time where they are asking questions, looking for purpose or seeking community?
People are searching for hope, for meaning, and to lighten the burden they carry. Having a loving faith community of prayer, Bible study, worship and serving others makes a huge difference. This is why we invite.
So how do you invite?
- Start with prayer – Ask God to open your eyes to the needs of people around you, the needs that only God can fill. Let that be your daily meditation. This orientation to others and their needs is important. Look around you.
- Second, make a list of people who are going through change in life or through a difficult time. Pray for them and extend yourself for them. Ask yourself, what has been life-giving that I might share (a book, coffee, dinner and conversation, Bible study, retreat, worship)?
- Then, think of what you might say. This can be a bit of a challenge since no one want to sound canned or rehearsed, but the truth is many of us need a bit of help on knowing what we might say- we get nervous and we don’t want to be too heavy handed.
My experience with inviting has been it is in the context of people I know (family, neighborhood, work, etc) and it comes up in the course of conversation. Something like, “Sounds like a lot is going on for you. What helps me is connecting with God. I am part of a great church & next week we start a new focus on dealing with stress. I don’t want to overstep our relationship but I’d love to invite you to come.” Then, be quiet and let them speak.
- Next – Know that at first you will be uncomfortable, but the more you invite the more comfortable you will get. One reason we don’t ask is because it is uncomfortable and hard, but the more you do it, the easier it will get. So begin now.
- Spend some time as a church talking about how you are inviting.
- What is needed to help you invite others?
- Commit to this important work of sharing Jesus.
Side note: I’d love to connect with a church that would test out what Dan Dick wrote about (see above). Is there a church out there where 21 people would commit to weekly inviting? If so, I’d love to work with you. (NReilley@calpacumc.org)
Rev Dr Amy Butler, had a wonderful recent post on the church – she writes,
“Why, you might be wondering, is it even worth our time to think about what we do and who we are here, as the church?
“Some would say that church is becoming less and less important in our increasingly secular society. One in five Americans would call themselves a “none,” meaning they answer “none” on surveys asking for religious affiliation. But incredible sociologist of religion from Boston University, Nancy Ammerman, begs to differ. She says that, even with these shifts in culture, the health of local congregations is more important than ever.”