Every year Outreach magazine takes time to celebrate and learn from growing churches and large churches. As a longtime pastor, I have learned that some types of growth are better than others. Let’s dig into four kinds of good growth.
1. “I’m exploring faith and want to know more about Jesus.” When the Spirit of God brings people to your church who are spiritually curious and trying to understand the Christian faith, this is an amazing blessing. When a person is hungering to know more about Jesus and his people, it is an absolute honor to welcome them. We live in an increasingly post-Christian time when spiritual curiosity is on the rise. Churches that embrace and include spiritual explorers will grow as these people step inside, see the Holy Spirit alive in ordinary believers and meet the one true Savior.
Welcome these people right where they are. Don’t expect them to think, speak or behave like the initiated in your church. A welcoming and safe environment where questions can be asked and conversation sparked is a gift to these people. Listen to their stories. Ask good questions. Offer one-on-one discipleship and mentoring. Invite them into a small group. Help them learn about and encounter Jesus in worship.
When you have nonbelievers coming to your church who are spiritually hungry, this is a joy and one of the best kinds of growth you can experience. I believe God is looking for church communities that will love lost and wandering sheep right where they are and lead them to the heart of Jesus. Show these people grace. Teach them the truth. And share the good news of Jesus clearly, consistently and organically.
Helpful Tools: Consider starting a small group or class for people who come to your church with authentic spiritual curiosity. You don’t have to create this from the ground up. Alpha, Explore God, Q-Place and Gary Poole’s seeker-small-group resources are all great starting points.
2. “We are committed believers who are new in the area.” In our increasingly mobile culture, people are moving to new communities on a regular basis. Even mature and committed Christians who have been longtime church attendees can feel intimidated and a bit anxious when looking for a new church family. When God draws committed Christians to your church who have recently relocated, rejoice and invite them into the family.
Help them discover their gifts and find their place to serve. Connect them in a small community as well as in the larger body. Be sure you have room in small groups where they can attend and build relationships. Often these folks will be ready to jump in with both feet. Sometimes they will take their time. Be patient and help them build relationships.
Helpful Tools: Some years ago, my wife Sherry and I wrote Finding a Church You Can Love and Loving the Church You Found to help people find a good church and engage and serve the community of believers. This small book is still in print and a great gift to give first-time visitors and those who are leaving your area and who need to find a church wherever they land next.
If you don’t have a way to help new residents discover your church, look into the great tools created by Outreach magazine’s parent company, Outreach Inc., at Outreach.com/new-mover-program.
3. “I’m in the area for a short time and want to get connected in the life of the church.” I presently minister in an area with two military schools and a number of colleges. We have learned that embracing these folks, engaging them in fellowship and service, and making space for them to be full members of the church family is a staggering gift to the church and to them. Not every community has the same level of member mobility that we experience, but most areas have groups of people who long for a sense of meaningful connection for the limited time they will be there.
Do all you can to help these people fast-track into the life of the church, and be sure to intentionally bless them as they transition out. Let them serve and fully engage while they are in your area. Use language like, “We know some of you are only here for a season, but we want to help make it one of the best seasons of your life.” At any given time, our church can have three or more military spouses on our staff serving with excellence and passion. We know they will only be with us for 18–24 months, but they bring amazing gifts to our team. Be sure to make the front door of your church community as big as possible.
Helpful Tools: We do a sending Sunday every quarter when we bless and pray for those who are transitioning out of our area. We have even made a “sending coin” that we give the people who are leaving.
4. “We were part of our church for a very long time, but felt led to find a new church where we can serve and engage.” These precious people often come with heavy hearts, and have been serving diligently and passionately for many years. They love the church, and there is a measure of sadness because the church they love has closed, is about to close, or has embraced unbiblical beliefs and practices.
When these people show up on your church doorstep, welcome them with grace and give them time to heal. Don’t lean hard on them to start serving. Let each person decide when they are ready to jump in. I have met people who taught Sunday school without a break for over a decade because no one else was willing or available. They might need to breathe deep, receive from your church, and be filled up. These people are often humble servants and generous to a fault. Let them sit in worship services and receive from the Holy Spirit. Invite them to be in a small group rather than hosting and leading one. Bless them as they are part of the church family without loading them down with responsibilities and flooding them with questions when they walk onto the campus. With time, they will be ready to serve, and will bring wonderful and finely honed gifts to the life of your church.
Helpful Tools: Be sure your church has a good database and follow-up program. In a church of 200 or 2,000, people can get lost. If a new family arrives and they need time to simply be part of the church, set up a system in which someone checks in on them every few months to see how they are doing and discerns when they are ready to take the next step.
When your church grows with these kinds of people, it is usually healthy and beautiful.