Getting Visitors

Getting visitors does not guarantee that your church will grow. However, I guarantee that your church won’t grow without getting visitors. I agree with those who argue that the “Attractional” model of church growth is no longer the best model in our largely post-Christiandom culture, and that we must take on a more “Missional” model where we go out into our surrounding communities to connect with non-believers. Once you connect with them, you still, eventually, have to invite them to something. You still must bring them into the church where, in community, they will be transformed to be like Christ. So inviting people to church remains an essential component to church growth.

Yet, even with all the preaching, teaching, poking, prodding, and even sometimes guilting that church people receive about inviting others to church, most of the time they don’t. In my opinion, many Christian’s reasons for not inviting people to church can be summed up as immaturity in Christ or selfishness. I’ve seen this often in my work in church revitalization. However, even mature selfless believers who care deeply about the salvation of those near and far, still don’t invite much. My contention is that it is often due to fear. One way to help people overcome their fear of inviting is by creating fun events for them to invite people to. Here’s an example from my own experience as a rector.

After years of being in rented spaces, we bought and moved into our own facility. Although for years we had done a Halloween alternative event like so many churches do, we discovered that a church just down the street had been doing one for 20 years and it was huge. We quickly decided not to bother competing and let them have that one! No one around was doing any kind of fun event around Christmas so we decided to try something then. We created a Christmas Carnival with a Chili Cook-off. We held the first one on a Saturday and frankly it was not successful from a purely human standpoint. No one invited anyone and the attendance was poor. We only had one unchurched mother with her two children come because she read the sign in front of the church.

It turned out that this mother was an active drug addict who had bad experiences with church in the past however she really loved chili. She decided she could put up with church people long enough to get some free chili and then get out. While there, she saw the brochures for Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered, 12 step ministry that our church offered. While eating her second bowl of chili she commented that she needed recovery and maybe it wasn’t an accident she came. Maybe indeed! Well she was invited to come to church and of course Celebrate Recovery. She ended up first coming to a Wednesday night Bible Study and brought her husband. I was teaching on Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” After a small group discussion on this verse she admitted that being poor in spirit described her and we prayed with her to repent and believe in Jesus to become a Christian – to enter the kingdom of heaven. She and the family all came to worship the next Sunday and the husband became a believer that day! The whole family came to believe and were all baptized together. Their lives where radically transformed. She started inviting all sorts of people to church, to come and see what Jesus can do! Their changed lives were leading to more changed lives!

Well that whole story was just to tell you this: this same woman came to me and suggested that since she came because of chili, maybe we should do a Sundae Sunday where we give away free ice cream sundaes! Great idea! We discovered that the third Sunday of every July is National Ice Cream Day thanks to President Ronald Reagan. So, on that day we planned to give everyone a free sundae after the church service and included a 15’ banana split for the kids. And of course, we asked church members to invite unchurched people to come. And guess what? They did! We had our third largest attendance in Sunday worship that year in the middle of July! The only bigger days were Easter and Mother’s Day. We had many new young families visit – for ice cream – but heard the Gospel proclaimed and had a good experience with church people. We added members as a result. More lives were transformed. Now, not all who came joined, but some did! As I started this article saying, getting visitors won’t guarantee your church will grow but I guarantee it won’t grow without getting visitors.

So, one fun event that seemed like a complete failure led to another fun event that was a huge success in getting people to invite. Since National Ice Cream Day is July 15th this year, it’s probably too late to do a Sundae Sunday on that day. But you could do it later in the summer! It will still be hot and people will still like ice cream. Or you could try it next summer. Or don’t do that at all and come up with your own creative idea that will work in your area. What could that be? What fun event could you do that would help bring down the fear for people to invite? Don’t be afraid to try different things. Some will work, some won’t, but nothing will if you don’t try.

eldridgeThe Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching at the American Anglican Council.

Moving Forward

Do you have a vision you want to see come into reality this year? Has God put a new strategy or program or change on your heart that you want to enact this year? Desiring to have a healthy, Great Commission fulfilling church, you no doubt do! 

However, I’ve learned that having a God-given vision and bringing that vision into reality are often two different things. There are often obstacles that get in the way of taking action.  I’ve known many church leaders over the years who had great visions for greater ministry but couldn’t make those visions a reality. The challenge of starting something new when it means there will be change can be overwhelming. Change can mean loss, loss means pain, and if the potential pain is too scary, the vision never gets a chance.

 My wife travels a lot for her job. In her travels, she must deal with challenges like delayed or cancelled flights. She learned from her boss in those times to just keep moving forward. Whatever obstacle comes up to prevent her reaching her destination she just keeps moving forward. Like, go to the gate anyway and talk (nicely) to the agent, or make the call to the airline, or get a seat on the next flight – any flight – that will work, or whatever the next step is, take it! Eventually, even though it’s a struggle, the destination is reached. Stopping forward movement seldom gets you where you’re going.

 The same idea holds true when putting a vision into reality. Obstacles and opposition will come up. I can’t count the number of vestry meetings where a new vision was shared that someone didn’t immediately bring up “insurance liability” as a reason not to do it! Or bring up the cost, or say “it’s not the way we’ve always done it,” or “Mr. or Mrs. So and So won’t like it,” or any number of reasons why not to do it. Some of the reasons were legitimate problems. However, letting problems stop the forward movement of a God-given vision is not honoring to God and won’t lead to health and growth in the church.

 My parents started feeding me John Maxwell books when I was in college so I picked up a lot of leadership principles from him in my early ministry. A quote I read from one of his books was, “Problems are just obstacles to be overcome.” As a new rector in the early stages of bringing revitalization to a congregation, I printed that quote and taped it to the wall by my desk.  When the fear that the problems produced in me would start to overwhelm, I’d read the quote and remember this is just another obstacle to overcome and keep moving forward.

I remember well when I knew the Lord was directing me to add a new service on Sunday morning. It meant having to change an existing service to an earlier time. I was going to make the change in the new year. As the new year began and it was getting closer to enacting the vision, the Junior Warden came to me and said, “Some people are talking… and if you make this change half the congregation might leave because the service has always been at this time!” I was too new to know to ask him, “What people exactly?” I remained calm on the outside, but inside I was scared to death! I was called to help grow the church, not run half the people off. Yet I was convinced it was what God wanted to be done in this new year. So, I took the step forward on faith that even if half the people left, God would build it back up. We changed the service time, added the new service and I can’t think of even one person who left. And we grew! It would have been so easy to let fear prevent the vision from becoming a reality. 

I read another article recently about this idea that referenced Ecclesiastes 11:4 which says, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.” (NLT) It’s so true. You’ll never have the perfect, problem free, environment to enact a new vision. The important thing is with faith, to take the next step, and then the next and so on. Keep moving forward and the vision, even if a struggle, will come to reality.

To keep moving forward takes courage. As you know, courage is not the absence of fear. It’s moving forward, in Christ, despite the fear.

So, what vision has God put on your heart for this new year? By faith, don’t let the obstacles and opposition prevent you from taking action. Take the next step, keep moving forward, and see that vision become a reality this year!

Mark Eldridge




The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching at the American Anglican Council.

Turbocharging Needed – Bishop Daniel Martins

SpringfiledHere is a partial quote from a recent presentation given by Bishop Daniel Martins of the Diocese of Springfield.

“So, we’re doing some good things, I think. We’re pointed in the right direction. But here’s the problem: It’s not happening fast enough. Even though we’re headed in the right direction, if we don’t pick up the tempo, and pick it up pretty drastically, we’re going to be overtaken by two tidal waves—one a demographic tidal wave, because our median age keeps getting older and older, and the other a cultural tidal wave, because the days when Christianity enjoys any sort of privileged position in our society are fading into memory very, very quickly, almost as we speak. We need a steroid shot. We need to turbo-charge our efforts.

Where There is No Vision the People Perish…

Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)
VisionOver the last week, Michael Davis and I have had some fascinating and illuminating discussions about dreams, visions and passion. I’d like to (briefly!) summarize what I have learned from those discussions.

There is a fundamental difference between a dream and a vision. Quoting from the iconic movie Cinderella “A dream is a wish your heart makes”. Dreams are wonderful, but they may last only through the evening, or for a few days, or even for a lifetime. As long as we don’t commit resources to our dreams, they will remain forever within our hopes and desires . . . and our heads. However, when a dream becomes fueled by the passion that moves us from an internal focus to an external focus, that dream will become a vision, a vision where we are eager to sacrifice time, talent and treasure in order to make that vision a reality.

What is the source of the passion that allows us to sacrificially work on a vision? More specifically, what is the source of the passion that allows us to work on a vision that will give glory to God? That passion comes from God, and is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our churches. When our individual passions and our community’s passions align with the passion and mission of God (look to Matt. 22:37-40 and Matt. 28:18-20 for succinct descriptions of that mission), the Holy Spirit will empower us to be carried out into the world with a power far beyond anything that we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).

It is helping others discover the vision and passion that God has placed into the lives of individual Christians and Church communities that has me excited to be working with Evans/Davis. How do we align those visions with the vision that God has for our church? How do we discover the passion that God gives us so that we will eagerly sacrifice time, talent and treasure in order to make that vision a reality? How do we set hearts on fire for Christ? That is what Evans/Davis is committed to, and it is clearly my commitment as well.
David Bailey+