People should not be leaving our churches because they are not compelling. Nothing and no one is more compelling than Jesus.
It only took 3 generations for weekly church attendance to slide from 50% of Americans to 25% according to Pew Research. From half to a quarter. There are lots of reasons for this and many things we could point to that might explain why people just are not coming like they used to.
But there’s another data point that we need to keep in mind while we’re wondering why people aren’t showing up. LifeWay reported in their study that most unbelievers would actually come to church with their friend at least once if they were invited. In fact, one of the churches we work with saw that 80% of their first time guests came from personal invitations. That’s a huge number that came because of people making invitations!
So even though weekly church attendance has drastically declined, people are still willing to come if they are invited. This of course begs the question: why aren’t people inviting their friends to church?
In our new online Leading An Unstuck Church Course, Tony Morgan says the main reason people are not inviting others to church is because our services are not compelling.
For people to want to invite their friends, they need something compelling to invite them to.
You might be asking, okay, so how do I make my services more compelling?
Great question. There are probably lots of things that could make services more compelling. But it all comes down to the same mindset.
We need to plan our services with both believers and unbelievers in mind.
If we want unbelievers to come and be compelled enough to come back, we need to plan on them being there and make their believing friends comfortable with inviting them.
The active word is plan.
Without planning on unbelievers being present, we will keep doing what we’ve always done or just throw some stuff together haphazardly without thinking through the needs and thoughts of unbelievers.
There are 6 steps to planning compelling services.
If you follow this plan, you will be on your way to creating compelling services that have people inviting others again and compel people to stay.
The Leading An Unstuck Church online course covers all of these steps in detail, but I want to talk about one that might be the easiest to overlook—the last one. The post-service evaluation.
Why A Post-Service Evaluation?
Thomas Edison famously said about inventing the lightbulb, “I’ve tried everything. I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work!” Results always come from trying and tweaking. In a lot of churches, even trying new things can be difficult. However, some of the resistance to trying new things could come from the perception that the status quo is being threatened.
Which—in some ways—it needs to be. After all, we’re trying to reach unbelievers, not just keep believers.
But I wonder how many churches would be open to trying new things if we, who are pushing for change, decided to start with incremental changes and opened the changes up for evaluation and feedback? How much more compelling would our services be if we allowed people with different backgrounds and perspectives to speak into it? How many more people could we reach if we let people speak into it who are more similar to the people we are trying to reach than we are?
This is why a post-service evaluation is critical. It allows you to decide together the things that are not working and need to be cut versus the things that are working and need to be added and supported.
So how would this realistically be implemented? Here are three suggestions that could make your post-service evaluations effective:
1. Make it Monthly
I know your services are weekly, but I suggest making your post-service evaluation monthly. This allows for a couple of things. First, it keeps everyone from feeling overloaded from having the same meeting over and over again. When the same thing is happening week after week, it could start to feel like Groundhog Day.
Making it monthly allows your service—and any changes you make— to breathe a little. It’s nearly impossible to determine the failure or success of something after one week. Evaluating it after a month will allow you to see how it is fairing and whether you should allow the change to continue on to the next evaluation or if it should be cut ASAP.
2. Listen to Both Diverse and Specific Voices
The voices that you allow into the meeting should be both diverse and specific. Here is what I mean by that.
The voices you allow in should be diverse, as in, not the exact same people every single time and not people who are all alike. The goal is for your church to be welcoming to all, not just to some. It order to do that, you need to hear from all kinds of people to see how your services are being perceived. Having a diverse set of voices allows you to see your service through the eyes and ears of people who are not like you and will not see it the same way. This kind of feedback will be invaluable for you as you plan your services.
At the same time, it’s important to have voices that represent the specific target of people you are trying to reach. Not at the exclusion of everyone else of course, but someone in particular that they want their church to minister to. Someone who represents that group of people should always be in this meeting. Their input will help you make sure you are on the right track and make the adjustments you need to make in order to make that demographic feel right at home.
3. Make Decision Rights Clear
One of the tricky things in these situations is deciding who gets to make the final decisions on what changes and what stays the same. Making decision rights clear at the outset is extremely important. Otherwise, expectations will be muddied and no decisions will ever get made.
There should be three levels of input in this type of meeting: Vote, Voice, and View.
There should be people there who are simply viewing the ins and outs of planning a service. This is a great opportunity for leadership development, particularly those who wish to go into ministry themselves. It allows them to “see how the sausage is made” so to speak and get a peak behind the curtain into the life and systems of a church. They are not there to give any input. They are there to watch and learn.
These are the people you have invited to speak directly into the service. Their voice is valued and everything they say is taken seriously. They have been invited because you want to hear what their experience is like. They do not get to make any final decisions on what happens in the service, but they get to greatly influence it because they represent the people you are trying to reach.
Once all has been heard, these are the people who will make the decisions. They will vote on what changes and what stays the same. This should be the fewest amount of people and are the leaders of the church or specific ministries affected by the decisions. Their job is to listen to the feedback, discuss, and make the call.
Being intentional about reaching the lost means being intentional about our weekend services. And being intentional about our weekend services means constantly evaluating it, tweaking it, and doing everything we can to make it better so we can reach as many people as possible. After all, people should not be leaving our churches because they are not compelling. Nothing and no one is more compelling than Jesus. Let’s do our best to communicate that through how we worship him every Sunday.
We believe in making church services more compelling so that we can reach more people.
This and more is discussed in our Leading An Unstuck Church Course.
We analyzed our data from work with hundreds of churches and found 12 core issues were responsible for getting most churches stuck. So, we put together lessons, exercises and discussions around these issues. Check out the details here.