Often, in church leadership, it’s easy to think growth can’t really happen unless you spend money on new initiatives.
And that leaves a lot of church leaders stuck. Why? Because the vast majority of churches are underfunded, not over-funded.
Faced with a lack of resources, too many church leaders throw in the towel and believe growth isn’t possible.
But that’s a fallacy.
Vision always precedes resources. If you’re waiting for people and money to show up so you can get on with your mission, you’ll wait forever.
So how do you start growing your church now, even with no room in the budget?
Here are 14 ways.
This article was updated and republished on June 27th, 2023.
1. Be More Passionate
It’s shocking to me how little passion many church leaders exude.
We have the most amazing mission on planet Earth. And we have a generation of young adults in front of us who want to give their lives to a cause that’s bigger than themselves.
Yet it’s easy to believe that the only way to reach the next generation is by spending money on lights, gear, and sound. That’s simply not true.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are characteristics that separate great leaders from others.
You don’t need a polished church to reach the next generation nearly as much as you need a church passionate about your mission. Because when it comes to reaching the next generation, passion beats polish every time.
2. Cut the Weird
Christians can be socially weird.
Too often, we use unnecessarily weird language – like this:
Why not just talk at church like you talk at the office or a football game or on a Saturday by the pool? (Actually, if you talk like that normally, you probably don’t get invited out too often.)
Here’s what’s actually at stake: if someone has to learn code to join your church, you likely won’t have many people joining your church.
Our challenge is to reduce the human barriers that keep people from Jesus, not to erect new ones.
And, no, being weird does not mean you’re being faithful. It just means you’re being weird.
3. Expand Your Vision
Vision is a leader’s best friend, and it’s free.
After two decades of leading and communicating in the local church, I’m convinced it’s impossible to overstate or overestimate the vision of the church.
If you don’t dream big dreams for your church, who will?
If you don’t communicate a big vision for your church, who will?
Vision is a key strategy for church growth.
4. Encourage People to Love Your Mission, not Your Methods
The reason change is so difficult in many churches is that members fall in love with methods, not with the mission.
A method is a way of doing things: programs the church runs, the style of music, the architecture of a building or facility, a staffing or church leadership structure.
Those are all simply methods that can and should change with every generation or more frequently.
The mission is what you’re doing (like reaching people with the love and hope of Jesus), and it never changes.
The more you focus on the mission, the easier it is to change the methods.
A positive, welcoming, and charismatic church is far more likely to grow than one that isn’t.
5. Express Yourself
I know “smile more” sounds trivial. But just look around you. Hardly anyone smiles.
If the Gospel is good news, you would never know it from looking at most Christians.
I have to remind myself when I communicate to smile more. It’s not my natural facial expression.
A smile can make a huge difference in almost any relationship.
So smile more and remind your people to smile more. Honestly, this makes a huge difference in how people perceive you.
6. Stop Fighting
I have no statistics on this, but my guess is in-fighting has killed more churches than moral failure has.
Christians, it’s hard to convince the world that God loves it when we constantly fight with each other.
If your church is fighting, there should be no mystery as to why it isn’t growing.
7. Create a Welcoming Environment
I’ve never heard of a church whose members claimed they were unfriendly.
In fact, most church members are stumped as to why people don’t like their church because they are so “friendly.”
But being a “friendly” church can often mean you’re friendly to each other, not to guests.
Make sure guests feel genuinely appreciated, welcomed and that their questions are answered. This does NOT mean making them stand up in the service or other socially awkward things like that (see point 2 above).
It does mean treating guests the way they want to be treated.
And if you’re friendly to guests, they’ll remember.
And if they’re unchurched, welcoming them can play a major role in your church growth strategy. Why? Because unchurched people are pretty social, and if they like how they’re treated at your church, they’re more likely to invite a friend next time.
8. Treat Your Volunteers Better
Many leaders fall into the trap of thinking that great leadership comes only when you can hire a great staff.
You have a great team – they’re called your volunteers. And you can pay them in non-financial currencies.
If you create a healthy volunteer culture, you’ll be amazed at how well they serve.
No matter how big you get as a church, you’ll never have enough money to hire all the staff you want. And you’ll always need a growing group of passionate, committed, aligned volunteers.
I coach you through finding, recruiting, and keeping an engaged volunteer core in The Art of Church Growth – my online course that takes you step-by-step through pivotal decisions, conversations, and strategies that lead to growth.
The bottom line? Passionate volunteers create a passionate church.
9. Invite Someone
So there’s this thing out there called personally inviting a friend. Ever heard of it?
Okay, maybe that was a little sarcastic. But I’m amazed by how often most of us neglect personally inviting our unchurched friends to church.
Many actually say yes when asked.
If everyone invited one person next weekend, think of what might happen.
Church leaders: Encourage people to invite friends – and start by inviting someone yourself!
10. Become Friends With People Who Aren’t Christians
Last time I checked, friendship was free too. That’s a good thing.
The sad reality is that many Christians don’t know any non-Christians, which is why point 9 is impossible for so many.
Be a friend.
Hang out with that guy at work. Throw a party for the neighbors in your backyard. Talk to the other parents at your child’s school.
Get out of the Christian bubble and into the world Jesus died for.
If you’re at church seven nights a week, you can’t be friends with non-Christians. So cut a few nights and go live the mission.
That’s why our church has almost no programming on weeknights other than small groups. We want our people to love the community.
The only way you can love a community is to be in the community.
You can’t love people you don’t know.
11. Don’t Be Boring Online
Live-streaming is a great start. But even then, you’re only tapping into about 1% of your potential online.
Take a minute to scroll through the social media feeds, websites, and newsletters of other churches and non-profits.
What do you notice?
What are they doing that keeps you engaged?
Here’s my bet: you didn’t find any that are only streaming events.
I believe the online world is the biggest front door the church has ever seen. Suddenly, we’re all connected.
I would encourage every church that wants to grow to get online as quickly as it can.
- Everyone you want to reach is online
- Sharing is easy (and authentic)
- More often than not, it’s the “first-step” people take before attending in person (when was the last time you went to a new restaurant without checking it out online?)
12. Preach Shorter, and Less Often
Hear me out on this one.
People, habits, and attention spans are changing. Staying up to date with preaching and communication trends will help ensure you get your message out there.
I’ve resisted this trend for a long time. I’m naturally a long-form speaker. And I believe something special happens (or at least can happen) when you preach the Word of God.
But there’s no question that people’s attention spans have shrunk.
You don’t want people looking at the clock wondering how much longer your sermon will go.
You do want people to think, “Wait, that’s it? Isn’t there more?” when you finish up your sermon. Preaching shorter will help with that immensely.
On a similar note, my good friend Jeff Henderson has some challenging but convincing advice on how often a preacher should preach.
To determine how many times you should preach in a year, ask yourself (and perhaps others) this question:
How many great sermons can you preach in one calendar year? Is it 10? Is it 25? Is it 35? And the reality is it’s probably less than we think, and it’s probably less than we’re currently doing.
We’re human, which means that quantity and quality ultimately compete.
This isn’t about you, so share the spotlight. It will do you and your church more good than you realize.
And, of course, writing a great sermon helps as well.
13. Create a Great Church Culture
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but creating an amazing church culture is key if you want more people to attend your church.
When you build a church culture that people love, people will want to invite their friends (see point 9 above).
Nothing kills growth faster than a toxic church culture.
I’ve interacted with many church leaders (and readers of this blog), and the sad reality is that there is no shortage of toxic church culture stories and experiences.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it certainly isn’t always that way.
Leaders are the architects of culture, meaning you create a culture whether you intend to or not.
Make it a healthy one, and people will come.
14. Have a Bias for What’s Possible
Churches that grow are churches that default toward what is possible when it comes to opportunity.
Not sure what I mean?
Study the opposite. You’ve seen it or lived it far too often.
Someone comes up with a bright idea, and the group listening almost immediately comes up with 21 reasons why the idea can’t happen.
- “We’re too small.”
- “We don’t have the budget.”
- “Our team can’t pull that off.”
- “That will never work.”
- “So and so tried it.….”
That’s what kills vision and growth.
One of the best church growth strategies is to bring a new idea – people will default to how to make the idea happen. Their bias is always toward what is possible. And if it seems impossible, they will brainstorm until they figure out how to make it happen.