Thursday, November 5, 2009

Where to Begin

If you are looking at the health and vitality of your congregation, start at THE FRONT DOOR. For me, the front door means the way that people connect and enter your congregation. When I make a presentation based on my 5 Keys book and I have limited time, I focus on the front door because this area is relevant to every congregation.

There are essentially three tasks at the front door of your church. They are:
Inviting People
Welcoming them when they arrive
Assimilating them into the congregation

Most congregations want to start with one of the first two above. I recommend that you start with the third; assimilation.. There are two critical reasons for this.

First, most Episcopal congregations get only around 35% of their members present on an average Sunday. This is higher for smaller churches and drops for larger churches. Since the 35% attending are mostly the same each week, this means that about 2/3rds of the congregation remains largely inactive. The third that attend regularly are predictably made up of leaders, members of organizations or ministries, their relatives, and just plain loyal worshippers. You start by looking at assimilation because you have a number of “members” who are not active. (BTW, you can immediately increase your attendance if you recruit these into active ministry.)

Second, before you invite folks, you will want to have a clear path for them to follow into membership. It helps to have leaders and/or staff review the path to membership and to plan it out in a logical way into your congregation. Remember, the more secular our culture, the less visitors know about membership of a church. In addition, the Episcopal Church isn’t very clear about membership these days. How does one become a “member” of a church anyway?

Actually, I would recommend that your church look at two paths involving assimilation. Path one is how a person becomes a member of the church. Churches that can answer this question in one or two sentences have a real advantage. Path two is the path to Discipleship. This is our planned way to lead a non or nominal Christian into a vibrant and living relationship with Christ as one of his disciples. Churches that can answer this question in a systematic and planned way are often very dynamic congregations.

Does your church have a clear path to active membership? Do you have a path to discipleship?


  1. A question about 35%...

    What I have noticed in a couple of parishes is that there is an even stranger mix. It's almost like 60-75% of the congregation will come in a given semester, but that is made of:

    10-15% who are always there every time the door opens
    25% who come on a bi- or tri- weekly basis (so, only have of this second group will be there on any given Sunday)
    25% who come around once a month (so, only a 1/4 of this group will be there any given Sunday)
    10-15% who come 1-2x a semester.

    So, what happens is every other week you have a very different congregation, and it is almost like ministering to two separate congregations on a bi-weekly basis.

    Now, this is my anecdotal observations, and is in no way empirically substantiable...

    Does your experience or study say anything about this phenomenon?

  2. I just find that the consistent core is usually higher than the percentages you are sharing. You could be right for the congregations you have observed.