How Community of Hope Focuses on the Outsider: Fast-Growing UMC Churches (Part 3)


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For the last few weeks, I’ve been talking to churches who are experiencing strong growth despite 1) the overall decline of their denomination, and 2) the trend of lower frequency of church attendance, even by committed Christians.

This topic was spurred by the 2016 edition of top 25 fastest growing large United Methodist churches in the U.S. Four of the churches on this list have worked with my team at The Unstuck Group, so I’m interviewing the senior pastors on why they believe their churches are growing despite a even during a season of decline in the UMC.

Read Part 1 | Part 2

Here’s the third interview in this series:

Community of Hope UMC in Loxahatchee Groves, Florida
Pastor Dale Locke

Community of Hope UMC


TONY: I’m hearing from pastors all across the country that even committed Christians are attending worship less frequently and it’s impacting their average worship attendance. Why do you believe your church is still seeing strong growth?

DALE: A few things come to my mind here:

  1. We constantly review what we do to evaluate its effectiveness and its ability to connect. Part of leadership is doing more of what is right, and less of what doesn’t connect. We work hard at this in our RAD (Review, Adjust, and Do) Meeting each week.
  2. We place a strong emphasis on small groups. Currently, we have over 1100 people in groups. This is a value that runs through everything we do.
  3. We place a strong emphasis on what we call “explore” groups, which are pre-Christian groups where people can remove barriers to belief. We take this very seriously and create atmospheres where it’s ok to share your struggles and doubts. We get a lot of traction with this, as it seems most churches create an atmosphere where it’s not ok to ask questions. This is harder to do than most think, but worth the effort!

TONY: How would you encourage pastors who are experiencing a trend of lower average worship attendance?

DALE: I’d say:

  1. How willing are you to get in a room with leaders and evaluate what is working, missing, confusing, or broken?
  2. Ask all your leaders to think like an outsider to your church. Assume they are not hostile to spiritual things, just disinterested…what might you do to interest them?

TONY: What other church trends are you sensing pastors should be paying attention to?

DALE: I’m convinced most churches are not looking at and carefully evaluating their culture and atmosphere.

Too often, wrong assumptions are made here that the atmospheric quality of a church is ok for outsiders, when in fact it’s just not true. We are currently writing curriculum for a course that we will ask all leaders to take that speaks to this issue, and equips everyone in key positions to help us protect the right atmosphere.

We no longer take this for granted. I believe that to do so in the future, as culture continues to shift and as people become more polarized by their definitions, will be a major issue.

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