If there was room for a longer title of this forum, it would be entitled Starting and Strengthening Churches, for surely our denomination needs to focus on both planting new churches and encouraging established churches. Recently the Church Multiplication Initiative (www.cmi21.com), a collaborative effort of the CRC and RCA to expand our Reformed Witness, studied the strongest of our churches — those who have grown by at least 20% (in attendance and/or membership) from 2007-2012.
As we all know, this five-year span has not been easy in North America, with the downturn of the economy directly affecting our churches and their members. And yet, in the midst of this crisis, there were 42 CRC churches and over 30 RCA churches (exact number not available) who showed significant growth.
The CMI Implementation Team wanted to discover the factors that contributed to this growth, and what other churches in our two denominations could learn from their growth. Interviews with most of the growing church pastors revealed 10 growth factors. Some of them are simply good reminders, while others may surprise you as they surprised us.
The church is well-connected to the community, and they are accepting of people from all walks of life, which is reflected in their worship services.
The churches were driven for a vision to reach people outside of the church. Almost every pastor spoke of their community involvement, such as in the local public schools, food pantries, or weekly service projects. Being involved in the community put them in touch with people who were different than the people who typically attended the local CRC church. These churches had to adapt and learn to authentically welcome people from different walks of life. Being truly welcoming encouraged many of these churches to change or adapt their worship style. Although the churches interviewed worshipped in a variety of ways, they described their worship services as accessible, personable, and welcoming.
The church brought in strong pastoral leadership.
Many of the pastors interviewed said their churches were stagnant or in decline before they arrived, but that their arrival brought with it a season of growth. The hiring of a new pastor doesn’t seem to tell the whole story, however. The qualities and skills of the pastoral leader were also important. A number of these pastors had previous experience and/or education in the business and marketing world. They brought these insights into the church system to help the church grow. Almost all of the pastors interviewed talked about having a strong vision for the growth of the church.
The church building has recently been built, updated, or remodeled.
A surprising number of growing churches point to a building renovation as a key factor in the recent growth of their church. Other churches found or built permanent space after worshipping in temporary facilities or expanded their educational/social space to accommodate a growing congregation. In most situations, the building renovation began as a result of asking how their facility welcomed visitors, or how their building could better meet community needs.
The church is located in an area of growth or is not located near another CRC/Reformed worshipping community.
Location played an important role in the growth of many of these churches. Some of them were located in cities that saw a lot of growth, and by adapting to the changing demographics around them they were able to see that growth within their church. Other growing churches are located in areas where they are the only CRC or Reformed or Protestant option. When people moved to the area and looked for a CRC church, the churches naturally grew.
The church focuses on developing strong relationships.
Many of the churches, especially those who five years ago were less than 100 people, said that strong relationships were key to their growth. A number of pastors said the church was “like a surrogate family” to those who attended. Many of these same pastors expressed concern that their growing church would not be able to maintain this level of deep relationships, and they wondered how that would impact their growth.
These are just 5 of the 10 growth factors revealed through this research. What do you think: which of these factors can be duplicated in other churches? How? Are there ways the denomination can come alongside churches to encourage growth? The next five growth factors will be revealed in next week’s blog.