This is Part 5 of a blog series on Creating Continuous Growth in Your Church.
Every church leader facing a growth barrier desperately wants to break through, because every church leader, including me, desires a growing, thriving church. Not because church attendance is the only measure of success, but because increasing attendance is proof that people are being reached.
Here is a question I’ve begun to ask: What if instead of just breaking through a specific barrier we were able to barrier-proof our church? Pause for a moment and imagine never hitting a growth barrier again.
I believe barrier-proofing is possible for every church in any denomination, and that’s exactly what we are going to evaluate in this blog series.
I have uncovered 6 specific ingredients to create continuous growth in your church. In this post, we are going to look at the fourth ingredient:
Ingredient 4: PRIORITIZING STEPS OVER EVENTS AND PROGRAMS
The concept of “thinking steps, not programs” is ingrained in our ministry model. By nature we try to define where people are, where we want them to be, and how we can get them there. Programs and events don’t effectively achieve this goal. Easy, obvious, and logical steps, however, do.
As a church location of North Point Ministries, this serves as one of our Seven Practices of Effective Ministry. A simple Google search will provide you with more than enough information on this ministry model practice. In this post, I want to instead discuss why this approach is critical to barrier-proofing the church.
In watching our ministry model first hand for a decade, I’ve identified at least 3 reasons prioritizing steps over programs serves as a continuous growth ingredient for the church:
1. Steps connect people.
We all desire community. It’s one of the most driving forces in our life. Think about why we do everything we do—really. Why would a parent be so committed to travel baseball or competitive cheerleading? It’s exhausting for everyone in the family. Virtually none of these kids will ever be paid for their skill. Why do we do it—really? I believe it’s because of the community surrounding the sport. What about the exercise craze of CrossFit. From my perspective, most of the facilities operate out of grungy buildings. The people I know who participate aren’t all bikini-body ready—some, but not all. The giant fitness gym down the street offers way more in the way of classes, exercise options, and even pools. Why do people choose CrossFit (and post every WOD on social media)? Community.
In a church, events and programs connect insiders, but steps assimilate outsiders. Events and programs are great for insiders, but at best they only introduce our church to outsiders. Growing our church must happen from outside the church, therefore living as an event driven church will not fully connect the unchurched, it will only highlight the church.
2. Steps grow people.
Event driven ministry is random, producing random results. Most church programs are designed to meet needs, not move people down a spiritual path. Of course, some programs do grow people spiritually, but when the program ends, where does that leave everyone? When the church softball season is over, what’s next? Most likely another event or program. When “Friend Day” comes and goes, what’s next?
Events and programs will attract people and might grow people, but the growth is sporadic and random. Steps, on the other hand, provide a continuous growth opportunity because it moves people continually.
3. Steps simplify the experience.
When people enter any establishment for the first time, they attempt to decipher the purpose of the organization and decide if they will benefit from engaging. This is true for restaurants, retails stores, and churches.
In our case as the church, people from the outside will try to understand why we exist and how they might engage. Again, events and programs do little to fuel this type of engagement, and they certainly fail to answer the questions rattling around the mind of an outsider.
Steps toward a clearly defined win illuminate for outsiders why we are here, what we hope for them, and how they can easily participate. Think of it like rungs on a ladder. From the outside, everyone can see the top of the ladder and knows what rungs are available to begin their climb. Steps narrow the focus and simplify the engagement experience.
For a church to grow, new people must stick. Events are attractional, but steps are sticky, because events are environment driven while steps are relationally built. When it comes to the church, people go where they grow, and prioritizing steps to a defined win grows people and grows churches.
No surprise — if you are a church of events and programs, you can (and I believe should) make the shift to steps. There’s no doubt this is part of a long-term continuous growth strategy. As a bonus, here are 6 questions to help you make the move and define the steps:
1. Where do you want people to be over time (What is the win)?
This can’t be a feeling or, in the case of the church, a spiritual achievement of sorts. That’s more mission and vision. By win, we are speaking to a specific step you want for everyone over time. At Watermarke, it’s group engagement. That’s our win: Moving people from rows to long-term circles. It’s specific, narrow, and achieves what we want for everyone.
2. Where are people at currently?
Knowing where you want people to be is just the beginning. To move them there, we need to identify where they are at now. For us, that’s pretty simple: In rows on Sunday morning. That is everyone’s initial step into our church.
Most new people are unchurched and investigating. That’s good to know, because it gives us a starting point for creating steps.
3. In the gap between where people are at and where you want them to be, what steps can be implemented to move them there?
Don’t think about programs or events. Instead, think of steps that sequentially can move people across the gap. Consider easy, obvious, and logical steps from a current state to the win.
4. What current programs can function as a step?
Now that you’ve identified the steps, evaluate your current program offerings. It’s likely some of what you are already doing fit within the steps framework.
5. What current events or programs will create competition for your win?
But not all programs and events will fit as a step to the win. Some, if kept, will create sideways energy. Worse, some programs will create competition for the step you’ve defined as the win.
As an example, we do not offer men’s ministry or women’s ministry at our church. We’ve never had a softball team. Why? Because that would too easily compete with our one win—community groups (or circles). If it doesn’t create a direct step to the win, we don’t do it. And it fit creates competition for the win, we don’t do it, either.
6. Who is going to be frustrated by these changes?
It’s always good to consider the unintended consequences of any decision. Moving to a model of steps will no doubt cause something to change, and change is typically not welcome by everyone. It’s always great to get ahead of the frustration by creating energy about the change, and in the church, there is no energy better to rally around than reaching new people.
Remember, this alone is not enough to permanently remove barriers and create continuous growth in a church, but it is an integral ingredient. If nothing else, attracting people without a plan to connect them and move them forward is a recipe for stagnation.