I have been blogging about the three dynamics that Lyle Schaller taught me that affect 80% of the growth potential of a church. So far I have discussed the size of a church and who the pastor is. The third dynamic has to do with the facilities. Let me explore this.
First, you cannot put 1000 people on one acre of land! People need space and they will normally create space around them. If this space gets crowded than people become uncomfortable. This leads to what folks call the “80% Rule.” This rule points out that if you are over 80% full in your Church building, Parish Hall, Christian Education space, or parking lot on a typical Sunday than you are overfull. This means that you are discouraging two kinds of people from attending your church. The first are newcomers and the second are less active members.
If you are over 80% full in these areas on a normal Sunday than you are way over full on special Sundays and this is a problem that will inhibit growth. Many pastors are unaware of their present realities because we are in church during services. You may want to arrange to exit the service, walk down the hallway and visit the parking lot.
Unfortunately, many Episcopal churches were built before the automobile became the principle mode of transportation. I have visited many town congregations that have only a few off street parkingslots. When I point this out, the answer is often, “Well, our members know to get here early and where to park.” Unfortunately, new people do not. Of course, the condition of the facilities matters too. When I went to the Cathedral in Dallas, the Parish Hall was dirty and constantly in disarray. The worse areas were the nursery, Christian Education, and office area. They looked like they had never been updated after construction in 1922. It is important to remember that long-term members become accustomed to the facility, but new people notice this immediately. The old adage that you only have one chance to make a first impression is true. Some areas such as nurseries and restrooms should be in tip top condition. I am also surprised at how cluttered the entrances to Churches and parish halls are in many churches.
While talking about space, I would like to mention what I call the “50%” rule which deals specifically with declining congregations. Here is the rule; if you are less than half full in your worship area then you better tell folks why and what you are doing about it right up front, probably in the bulletin. When a newcomer attends a church that is 50% or less full, their first question will be “I wonder what happened?”
The Diocese of Texas convinced a few churches to take out pews and put in a temporary walls. This allows a congregation to place the fellowship or coffee hour just outside the main doors to the sanctuary. This is a very good thing. Having newcomers and guest have to pass through the fellowship area as they leave church creates a very positive feeling.
Three dynamics will affect 80% of the growth potential of a congregation. Review these three last blogs and ask yourselves “Realistically, what is the growth potential of our congregation?”
1. What size is your congregation and how long has it been this way?
2. Who is your pastor and what does she or he know about growing a Church?
3. What are the space limitations of your facilities?
Of course, congregational development is not always about growth, but discipleship and newcomer ministry is a significant part of the healthy development of a congregation.