Let’s be honest: Church growth, at least the way it’s often talked about, can be a bit of a misleading phrase. Often, the issue is not with getting new visitors. Many churches see plenty of new visitors. But do those visitors come back? Do they join a small group? Do they start giving?
Most churches want to not only get new people to show up, they want to be there for those new people in meaningful ways. They don’t just want to grow attendance, they want to grow participation.
And for many churches nationwide, this goal requires a marketing plan
But does every church need one?
Here’s What The Numbers Say
We partnered with Barna Group, a market research firm specializing in studying the
religious beliefs and behavior of Americans to design and run a survey on church participation and growth. We specifically wanted to see what factors fuel substantial growth and what part marketing had to play in overall growth.
What we found was while every church’s participation scorecard is a little bit different, we were able to see strong correlations between a church’s growth and their attitude towards inviting new attendees and members to participate.
The healthiest churches are the ones that nurture people to the right next step, no matter where they’re starting from. The ministries that have a plan in place to nurture their members are the churches that experience the most participation.
While only 25% of church staff have a formal marketing plan, a larger church is more than three times as likely to have one than a smaller church. There is a clear correlation between the reported attendance growth and having a plan in place to reach those people in the first place.
But what about word of mouth and more traditional strategies? Great question.
We found that word of mouth is still king and every church should bake a strong invitational plan into its marketing strategy. Those strategies shouldn’t go away. But the traditional pattern of launching marketing tactics only around events like Easter and Christmas is no longer enough. Today’s churchgoers are not only tech-savvy but also expect high-level communication from their church year-round.
While many churches experience some success with “as-needed” traditional strategies, with the use of print advertising 25% more common among smaller churches, true growth was evident among churches systematically adopting more modern techniques.
We found that certain dedicated activities like free/organic social media, hiring new staff members, expanding or starting new small groups, and updating the church’s website had an exceptionally positive effect on growth.
What about your church?
Now…I know what a lot of you are thinking: That’s great, and I know we need a plan in place, but I don’t know where to start, and I definitely don’t have time. We don’t have the resources to adopt a fancy marketing plan, there’s too much to do already.
At the end of the day, the churches we talked to that had a plan in place to nurture their community members were the ones that saw the most success by their own standards.
Again, it’s easy to get caught up in the cul-de-sac of correlation vs causation. In fact, that was a lot of our motivation to look into this in the first place—to get actual numbers from actual pastors and ministry staff. Some of it confirmed what we knew: Social media is important, marketing strategy is on the rise, and word-of-mouth is king when it comes to new visitors. Some of it blew the roof off of our expectations: Pastors as a whole are optimistic about their church’s future and the future growth of their church.
But the central theme we saw throughout the responses—positive and negative—was this: The churches with a plan in place to move their community members to further participation were the ones that saw the increase in participation. Which leads us to the most important question we can ask:
Does your church have that plan in place?
The churches we spoke to that we’re seeing the most participation were the ones with a plan in place to nurture their members by asking them to take the right next steps at the right time, resulting in increased participation.
If you’re ready to find out how your church can do the same, we’ve put together the full research and findings around church growth in one free resource, the 2019 Church Growth Report. You can download your free copy here: