Three ministries I met with recently asked the same question: “How do we grow?”
One was a conference where the average age has kept creeping upward, and a sea of gray hair dominated the audience. Yet, for the first time they were experimenting with running a retreat for preteens simultaneously.
One was a small church where the youngest people were in their early 60s, but they were asking how they needed to change to connect with the younger generations.
One was a kids’ club with eight very well cared for kids.
I can hear you asking already: “Is it about the numbers?” Yes and no.
We cannot underestimate the value of pouring into a few lives extremely well. It isn’t all about the numbers; it’s what you are doing with those numbers. How are you being faithful with what God has given you?
And yet, it is a good desire to want to see more people come to your church or ministry, especially if your desire is for those people to know the God who loves them, journeys with them and has a mission for them.
It’s growth for a reason. It’s not flashy growth or gimmicks to get growth. It’s multiplying what is good and trusting God for the growth.
Each number, each life, matters to God and to us. So we should be multiplying.
Faithfulness also looks like following God to find lost sheep. Faithfulness looks like making changes to remove barriers from new people, new generations coming to Christ. Faithfulness looks like doing everything you can for the sake of the gospel and trusting God for the growth.
We are called to reach the people around us. We are called to pass on the faith to the next generations. We are called to share the Gospel and make disciples.
How do you grow? How do you reach new people? Here are six suggestions:
1. Change something.
If you want to reach people you are not currently reaching, you’ve got to do something different. You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.
What has become a barrier to this generation, particularly the young generation, connecting with your church or ministry? Where can you change to create greater relevance to everyday people in your community?
2. Build a new bridge.
Where can your church or ministry build a new bridge into your community? Are their existing connections from church members to schools, boards, city councils, camps, people groups, sports teams, food banks?
How could you be a support, resource or blessing to these connections? How can you build a bridge so that a new pocket in your community could see your faith in action? Is it time to build a new bridge with another church?
3. Equip people to live out their faith.
Have clear applications from sermons or studies that help people connect Sunday to the rest of the week. Help people know how to line up every area of their lives with the ways of Jesus and call them to live that out daily.
Make it clear that belief in Jesus leads to changed living in all areas of life. Your community will notice changed lives.
4. Try a new experiment.
Try involving the church in the community parade, sitting around round tables on a Sunday, having a free barbecue in the park, having a grandparent / grandchild day, having a party for the new people in your area.
Experiments give us permission to try and assess the results later.
5. Have a crystal-clear passion for a cause.
We live in a world where people are keenly aware of the struggles and challenges of those in our community and world. We’re often overwhelmed in discerning what to respond to and how to respond well.
Give people a cause to focus on and an avenue to help. Let your church or ministry be known for making a difference in one area, and invite others to join you in that cause, even before they know what they believe about Jesus.
6. Invite everyone to join God in changing their neighborhoods.
Everyone is a minister. Train people to show and tell faith in the places where they live, work, study and play.
Your greatest evangelism tool will not be a program or Sunday morning. It will be people in your congregation showing and telling the gospel to others they know.
Your greatest advertisement will be the people in your ministry telling the story of what a difference the ministry has made in their lives.
Equip people to share, in relevant and personal ways, with those they are already connected with in their daily lives.
Get people out of the four walls of your church and help them to see that they are all ministers and ministry happens through them every day.
Christianity was never meant to be contained within walls. It is a movement – an unstoppable, ever-growing, life-changing movement. Invite people to be part of the movement, with God, every day.
RenÃ©e Embree is director of Youth and Family Ministries with the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches in Canada and the director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry Studies at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia. A longer version of this article first appeared on her blog, One Neighborhood, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @r_embree.