[dc]H[/dc]Heal the sick, raise the dead and fill the pews - preferably with young families who'll bring some vitality and energy to this place.
That's the interim pastor's call, isn't it? But it's a trap, a real Catch-22. The reality is that aging congregations trapped in a death spiral generally don't want to make the changes needed. They're just like the church in the old joke about praising the Lord in a liturgical church.
One Sunday a visitor showed up in a church being led by an interim minister. The church was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. That made it all the more obvious when this visitor shouted out "Praise the Lord!" When something the pastor said excited him.
One of the regular attenders leaned forward and tapped the man on the shoulder and whispered, "We don't praise the Lord around here."
Someone seated nearby heard this exchange and they said, "Yes we do. It's on page 15 of the Lectionary."
Part of the interim pastor's job is to give client churches a stiff dose of reality: steadfast refusal to allow changes that inject spiritual vitality traps the church in a death spiral. Unless the interim can break this deadlock the church's future prospects are bleak indeed.
This is where the Faith Communities Today Project comes in. They have produced a very helpful tool, Insights Into: Attracting and Keeping Members Every interim pastor should keep on file. The rich content - data, graphs, analysis and recommendations - make this a helpful teaching tool for churches in transition. In this article I want to hit some of the highlights of the report, but I urge you to download it and keep it handy. Chance are you'll need it.
The report covers factors that help churches attract and retain visitors, factors that inhibit visitor attraction and retention and a few other subjects. Here we'll focus on those factors that promote an increase in church visitors and visitor retention.
By the Numbers
The report begins with a bit of common sense. It notes that increased Sunday morning attendance depends upon a combination of three factors:
- Increasing the number of church visitors
- Increasing visitor retention
- Increasing attendance frequency
Each of these three elements is determined in part by factors within the congregation's control and by those over which it has no control. But those uncontrollable elements, when seen as an opportunity rather than a challenge, can be bent to serve the purpose of shoring up sagging attendance records.
Increasing church visitor traffic
The study found that two items - both within the church's control - have significant bearing on church visitor flow into the church on Sundays: (1) vitality and (2) intentionality.
Churches characterized as "spiritually vital" by their members are far more likely to report increased visitor attendance than those churches characterized by "feelings of reverence." The members of spiritually vital churches do a much better job of inviting new people to worship services, of inviting new people to a members' class and of offering new people opportunities to partricipate in community service projects. In addition, they are more active in contacting formerly active attenders who have dropped out.
Churches located in newer suburbs or in urban locales undergoing re-gentrification have an easier time attracting church visitors. The obvious reason for this is location, location, location.
But intentionality plays a significant role in this ease of attracting the church visitor. New churches must be deliberate about their mission and have plans developed to help achieve that mission. Pastors and church leaders who are intentional about the ministry ignite passion in the congregation; the members are motivated to focus their own activities on these goals.
Churches intentional about attracting church visitors attract church visitors!
The FACT Report will reward you for the time you take to read and assimilate the information therein. In addition to the data I've touched on here, the report discusses findings about visitor retention, volunteerism and concludes with a number of cogent suggestions that an interim pastor can follow to help a transition church resolve its problems in these areas.