The best way your church will break through growth barriers is to do so quickly. I hear from pastors all the time who want to break through specific attendance barriers, whether it’s 100, 150, 250, or even 1,000. Churches rarely break those kinds of barriers through gradual growth.
When I started Saddleback, I thought that’s what would happen. I figured I’d add a few people each week and eventually we’d get to 20,000. In fact, I can show you a chart I created that showed how we could grow from just Kay and me to 20,000 in 40 years by simply adding two people a year.
But it just doesn’t work like that.
At Saddleback, we grew to about 15 people in the first 12 weeks of the little Bible study I hosted in our apartment. Then, as we approached Easter Sunday in 1980, we prayed, we planned, and we advertised. We managed to get 205 people to show up. Yes, not all of them returned the next week, but we still grew more in the weeks following Easter than we would have in two years by just adding two a week.
People came back after the big day, and they’ve continued to come back after our big days. That’s why Saddleback has grown throughout the years.
So why will people come back to your church after Easter or any other big day?
Here are five key reasons.
1. You’ve shown them you love them.
People will return when they know you care about them. In our culture today, people are getting more and more skeptical of Christianity. People aren’t listening to the Good News like they used to. Too many people have formed bad opinions of the church. How do you cut through that noise with people who visit your church? Show them you care. They will listen to what you say if they like what they see in you. We earn the right to share the Good News by being the Good News. Greet them. Remember as many names as you can. Don’t forget about touch, either. For many people, the only loving touch they’ll get all week is a hug at your church.
2. You have collected contact information.
At Saddleback, we do this through our commitment cards. These cards allow guests to respond to the message and include a place where they can give us their contact information. We use the information they provide to follow up about baptism, small groups, ministry opportunities, and so on. You can’t follow up with guests unless you have a way to engage them after the service. If you don’t have some sort of way to collect contact information during your worship services, you’re missing the opportunity to follow up.
3. You’ve reached out to them after they attended.
It’s not enough to just have contact information. You need to use it! You usually have just a few days to get a letter out, so it’s good to have it ready before Easter. Hopefully, you also have plenty of help lined up to get the letters out to your guests. Depending upon how many people attend Easter, addressing and mailing letters can be a big task. It’s usually one of our key volunteer opportunities we promote at Saddleback before Easter because we’ll need those volunteers after the big day. By the way, a few years back I wrote an article about how to write your Easter follow-up letter. Keep it warm and personal (not like how you wrote your seminary papers), and use the letter to help people get connected to next week’s sermon, small groups, membership class, ministries, and so on.
4. You’ve got them in a small group or connected them to a ministry.
People come back when they make a friend and get a responsibility. It’s hard to feel connected in any group bigger than about 20, so you need to get guests involved in smaller groups. You’ll want to have a list readily available of open small groups (with directions to finding them if the groups are off campus). Include some information about small groups in your follow-up letter, too. Ministries also help people get connected with your church. People don’t need much experience at your church to pass out bulletins or hand someone a donut. Have a list ready for guests of volunteer opportunities anyone can do.
5. You have a system in place to assimilate people into the life of the church.
Without a doubt, this is the most important part of retaining your guests for the long term. You need a system for getting people more and more involved in your church. That’s what the Purpose Driven Church system is all about. It’s not about growth; it’s about health. It’s about systematically moving people from your community to the crowd to the congregation to the committed to the core. Saddleback has grown throughout the years because we don’t lose people along their spiritual journey, thanks to having a system like this in place. Getting people through the front door of your church on Easter is just the first step. Next, work to get them to come back so you can get them connected.