Years ago, the brilliant church analyst Lyle Schaller noted,
“… dozens of surveys have demonstrated that rapidly growing congregations tend to be churches with long pastorates, and stable or declining congregations tend to have short pastorates.”
I absolutely believe that.
The same argument could be made for other staff positions.
In other words, the longer you stay at the church you serve, the better chance it has to (1) grow numerically year after year and (2) deepen its impact in the community.
You and I both know it takes years to dig a deep evangelistic foundation:
• Years to get to know community influencers
• Years to initiate and develop building project plans
• Years to get good at the craft of preaching
• Years to learn how to lead a staff well
• And years to figure out who you are as a leader and put together a “system” to lead from your strengths
What’s rarely noted, however, is that staying in one church for more than five to thirty years—while essential for long-term growth—also brings a unique set of challenges that can actually curtail growth if we’re not aware of two hidden dynamics.
HIDDEN DYNAMICS AFFECTING ATTENDANCE:
1. A mindset that assumes our “church” from 60 months ago still exists
The first hidden dynamic is something that exists solely in our minds. It’s how we view our churches.
We have a memory bank FULL of people, issues, battles, successes, lessons from years past. But NOBODY who has become a part of our church community recently has ANY of these memories.
I have a friend who got involved in our church four years ago and is completely sold out to our mission. When we have conversations about why we do what we do I find myself continually filling him in on what transpired the 14 years he wasn’t here.
He, on the other hand, continually reminds me that that church no longer exists and the dynamics that led to where we are today shouldn’t play such a large role in future decision making.
“You never step into the same river twice” is just as true for the church world as it is for the natural one.
The problem is this is a difficult mental shift to continually make yourself aware of, and even harder to change.
2. The “20 Percent Churn Rate” factor
The second hidden dynamic has nothing to do with you whatsoever. It’s going to happen at your church whether you’re the pastor or not.
And that’s the “churn rate” that’s devastating your church’s growth right now.
“Churn rate” refers to the percentage of people who turnover at your church each year because they’ve died, moved or flaked out over some issue.
Here’s a question I want you to ask yourself: What percentage of your people are leaving your church year after year?
Many senior pastors I coach are surprised to discover that across the board nationally, the “churn rate” for outreach-focused churches like ours hovers right at 20 percent each year.
The practical implications of this are staggering.
If we do nothing for the next five years, our churches will all but disappear. We’ll be out of business. 20 percent of our people will leave year after year until we have virtually nothing left.
There’s good news and bad news about “churn rate.”
The good news is those of you who are staying “even” in attendance, or experiencing a slight decline, you are ACTUALLY growing and reaching people. If you grew by 15 percent last year, but had a 20 percent churn rate, you will have technically “grown” but still dropped five percent compared to last year.
That’s the good news. Sort of.
The bad news is obvious: to grow by 10 percent in 2019 you will actually need to grow by 30 percent (30 percent–20 percent churn rate equals 10 percent net growth).
I can personally tell you that that kind of growth simply will not happen by accident or with minimal effort and planning.
To experience 10 percent net attendance growth a year we must replant the churches we lead every single year.
I used to tell senior pastors that I coach that they had to completely replant their congregation every five years.
I no longer believe that.
The churn rate is too pervasive, rapid and devastating.
To create impact, we must strike fast and often.
Here’s how …
10 STEPS TO REPLANT YOUR CHURCH IN 2019
When I’m talking about “replanting” your church what I’m referring to is assuming the position of a church planter and imagining that you’ve been given a chance to plant a brand-new church in the same community you’re in now, in the same building and with the same staff and people.
If you were given that opportunity, what would you do differently?
More importantly, how would you collect the information about what you specifically need to address and then put together an executable plan for making changes happen?
Every church will be different, but what I’ve listed below are 10 steps that we’ll be taking between now and January 2019 to “replant” the church I serve:
1. Make January 13, 2019 (the second Sunday in January every year) your church’s official “relaunch” date.
2. Order a Ministry Area Profile report from the Percept group. This will give you an exhaustive demographic analysis of the people who live in a 10-mile radius of your community.
3. Conduct a congregational email survey on surveymonkey.com to collect input on things that are going well, things you need to address and the next staff position you should hire.
4. Once you send your survey follow up it up two weeks later with a survey specific to each of your five core ministry areas (worship, kids, students, adults, operations/finance). Larger churches will have more focused ministry areas to survey. You’ll ask the exact same questions, but make them specific to each area (ex. “Please list four things that are going really well in our children’s classes right now).
5. By July 1, select 10-12 volunteers from each ministry area and give them (a) the Percept study (b) the results from the congregational study and (c) the results from their department’s survey (ex. kids’ volunteers get the kids’ survey). Give these volunteer leaders until August 1st to email you (meaning you, the senior pastor specifically) with a list of their top 10 issues that they think their department needs to address (with staff) in a planning session to improve and grow their ministry area.
6. Beginning September 10th to October 12th, assemble your staff and the 10–12 volunteers from each department for concentrated behind the scenes planning sessions. Your goal is to come out of these planning sessions with two things in hand:
• Five church-wide BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) for 2019
• Five departmental BHAG’s for each of your five core ministry areas (worship, kids, students, adults, operations/finance)
7. In November hold five separate vision-casting/rallying meetings (with staff and all of the volunteers who participated, and with all of the volunteers from each area (ex. You’ll have one kids’ meeting with you, staff, volunteer leaders who participated in the July–October planning, and invite EVERY single volunteer in the kids’ ministry to participate). Do that with each of your five core areas. Make sure the volunteer leaders from each area that were brought into the planning sessions help present each area’s BHAG’s and facilitate the discussion.
8. Based on the congregational and departmental BHAG’s, go off as a staff and create your 2019 church-wide calendar and 2019 departmental calendars with all sermon series, outreach events, marketing, etc. Plan out every single thing that needs to happen in 2019 (that never seems to get off the ground because you always put off planning it until the last minute). Then let your mission, BHAG’s and calendar drive your leadership conversations and decisions accordingly.
9. On Sunday, January 6, 2019, hold a “Vision Sunday” in your services where you share church-wide and departmental BHAG’s. Go heavy on vision, sharing stories of life-change, etc. End with an extended time of prayer as together you seek God’s face to make these BHAG’s happen throughout the year.
10. Make the following Sunday, January 13, 2019, the first day of your new re-launch, just like you would on the opening day of a new church. Put the same amount of time, promotion and energy into that “kick-off Sunday” as you currently put into Easter and Christmas Eve.
Brian Jones is a church planter, author and the founding and senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia. This article was originally published on SeniorPastorCentral.com.