Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a workshop led by Dr. Gary McIntosh that was based on his book What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Indispensable Rules of Thumb for Leading Your Church. The workshop was sponsored by the Center for Congregations which always offers excellent events such as this one. McIntosh obviously couldn't cover all 101 rules found in the book, but he did discuss four or five in this workshop. One that I found especially interesting was that a church needs the same number of guests from a 20 miles radius of the church each year as it has in average worship attendance. This was a ratio I had not previously seen, but his explanation made sense.
According to McIntosh, a church will lose approximately ten percent of its members each year. Some of this loss will be due to death, some because of people moving away, and some will occur as people leave the church for various other reasons.
If a church wants to grow it needs to have the same number of guests as its average attendance and keep 15 percent of those guests. Here's how the math plays out. If a church has 100 people attending its services, and it loses 10 percent, at the end of the year it will be down to 90 people. If it has 100 guests and is able to retain 15 percent of them it will have the 90 people plus the 15 new people who were retained equaling 105 people attending at the end of the year. (100-10=90; 90+15=105)
This places a premium on attracting first-time guests and finding ways to encourage them to return a second or third time which dramatically increases the likelihood of keeping them as regular attendees of the church. The book describes some ways a church can go about this in a very focused and intentional manner.
I've known very few churches, regardless of size, that didn't claim they wanted to grow. However, most of them had no system in place that would promote growth. Many of them open their doors each week hoping that this will be the week that new people will come. Without hope it's difficult to do anything worthwhile, but hope is not a strategy. Churches need a plan for how they are going to reach out to their community, help people connect to their church, offer great hospitality to those who do come, and follow-up with their guests. Along with a strategy for how to do each of these things, people in the church need to be trained in each of these areas. If a church is not committed to developing and working a strategy and training people for how to implement that strategy it should not be surprised if it doesn't grow.
I really enjoyed the workshop, and I'm looking forward to reading the book. It looks like it's filled with information that will be very helpful to a pastor and other church leaders.