Every quarter, my team at The Unstuck Group compiles the data collected using our Vital Signs Assessment tool to produce a report that monitors trends in churches in the United States and around the world. This data covers key ministry areas like reach, connection, staffing and leadership, finances and overall health.
As I analyzed the data for our Q2 2022 edition of the report, some churches stood out to me—specifically for their healthy growth results in those key areas over the last 12 months.
I reached out to these churches to get their insights and best practices, and included abbreviated versions of their responses throughout the report. Because I think this is helpful, practical wisdom for other church leaders to hear, I’m sharing all of the responses in their entirety here:
Grove Church in San Diego, CA
You’ve experienced solid attendance growth even though you have a relatively lean staff. Do you think there’s a correlation between maintaining a lean staff and the health of your church?
Pastor John Hoffman: Absolutely—we expect everyone in the church to embrace the mission to reach and grow more people for Jesus. If you’re not interested in this mission, you probably won’t stick around long.
How does maintaining a lean staff change how you approach hiring?
John: Like the Marine’s “every Marine a rifleman” policy, we expect every staff member to model ministry. We don’t hire people to do ministry, we hire people to empower others to do ministry. We expect our leaders to lead teams of leaders.
Quest Church in Grovetown, GA
Do you think there’s a correlation between your intentionality about connecting with new people and the attendance growth you’ve experienced in the last year?
Pastor John Kenney: Yes—because we know that in order to grow we must have more guests in a year than our average attendance for that same year. Coming out of COVID, we have intentionally put strategies in place to ensure increased attendance. These strategies include seeing our online presence as a front door into our church and inviting present attendees to invite their friends and family to in-person services.
What are you learning about how to engage with new people who were previously not connected to your church?
John: We are learning to connect people’s hunger for purpose and meaning with the power of the personal invitation. Following COVID, so many people seem hungry for more purpose and meaning in life. We have seen our attendees inviting their friends, family, and neighbors at rates we didn’t see before COVID. We use digital and other marketing strategies as well, but the personal invite is now our number one way people connect with our church.
Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park, IL
What are you doing to help so many follow Jesus and go public with their faith?
Pastor Tim Harlow: We just baptized 250 people in one weekend on Palm Sunday. For one thing, we emphasize and celebrate baptism. Most of the people who go public with their faith at Parkview do it because of a personal relationship with someone, or a group of someones, who point them in that direction. We have seen great results from the “Rooted” discipleship journey, originally from Mariners Church.
Given what we’ve experienced in the last couple of years, is it easier or harder to point people to a relationship with Jesus in today’s culture?
Tim: Yes 🙂 I believe it’s easier in ways that reflect the beginning of the church in the first place. In the past few years at least, life has been harder on us than most of us have experienced, possibly ever. The harder the journey, the more we need a compass. However, Parkview is in the same boat as most larger churches in that we don’t have as many people coming to our physical worship services as we did before the pandemic—and who knows if we ever will. However, what really matters is that there are more “new” people coming than ever before, and hopeless people need Jesus like crazy.
At the same time, it’s harder because of the way politics and nationalist Christianity has confused and divided so many people. I wish we could all just focus on the selfless humility of our Savior, and stay off of social media, but I’m not discouraged by it. I love it when people from both the left and right can find commonality and peace and love in a local church. I fight hard to keep that the case. But I’m not going to lie: It’s a difficult journey.
Victory Hill Church in Scottsville, KY
What is your church doing to reach so many young families with kids?
Pastor Chad Hunt: There are two primary reasons we’re seeing this growth. First, when I became the new Senior Pastor, I gathered the team and killed everything that did not speak to or appeal to our mission field: 25-35 year old families with children who are not familiar with faith or church. They are spiritually curious and looking for purpose and cause. The question “Does this make sense to our mission field?” has become the new driver for how our weekend experience is wired, language, marketing, social media, etc. And the follow up question is always: “What’s in it for them?”
Second, we became super intentional about shifting our church to an invite culture. We actually launched an invite culture strategy directly tied to our mission that has paid dividends in return. Our invite strategy was more than asking our people to invite—we also resourced our kids to be bringers of their friends. The best part is, both adults and kids are bringing their friends and they are making decisions to follow Jesus.
Do you think this focus on reaching young families is a factor in the attendance growth that you’ve experienced in the last year?
Chad: Yes, reaching young families has moved the needle significantly. Of course, this isn’t a new concept—The Unstuck Group has been saying this for a long time, and the concept of reaching young families goes back even further than us. Charles Spurgeon said,
“The church needs young blood in its veins. Our strength for holding the faith may lie in experienced saints but our zeal for propagating it must be found in the young.”
Expectation Church in Fairfax, VA
What are you doing to encourage more people to connect to a small group?
Groups Director Sarah Custodio: The best strategy we’ve found is to offer small groups in seasons. This keeps groups fresh and allows members to keep meeting new people—and for new guests to be able to jump in without feeling like they’re intruding on an already close-knit group.
We also focus heavily on the leaders of our small groups and their development. We empower our leaders to make decisions on location, time, topic of study, etc. And the more variety of groups available, the more we see sign up. We even have groups that focus more on connection/relationships since we find that many new church members aren’t ready or willing to sit around and study scripture—they are looking to just spend time with other Christians and see what it’s all about.
What impact, if any, do you sense that group connections have on Sunday attendance?
Sarah: I can’t answer this better than the way one of our members did: “Going to church weekly becomes a bigger and bigger reunion as you attend more and more groups.” We find that people WANT to come to church when they’re in groups because they want another connection point with the people they’re building relationships with. Also, all of our small group leaders are required to be serving in the church—so we are creating a culture of showing up and engaging in the church from the top down.
MCI Canada in Montreal, Quebec
How have you developed such a strong serving culture at MCI?
Executive Pastor Benjamin Carbone: We strongly believe that every believer is called to minister, therefore everyone can contribute in some capacity to fulfilling our mission as a church. This has been accomplished through entrusting high capacity leadership to volunteers. We also seek to intentionally create space to celebrate people and their accomplishments with teams of volunteers. We realize that the more we take the time to honor and celebrate people, the more engaged and enthusiastic they are to contribute.
You have a very lean staffing model. Does that commitment to lean staffing encourage stronger volunteer engagement?
Benjamin: 100%. We’ve realized how intentional and patient we need to be when it comes to hiring because we need the right person, at the right place, at the right time. Going through the Unstuck Process helped us to see our staffing priorities even more clearly. We’re also slow to hire, because we also don’t want hiring to discourage volunteer engagement. We’ve seen times when hiring someone could be perceived as a “replacement” of the volunteers needed, so we make sure that the message is clear: When someone is hired, it’s as a leader (most of the time, a leader of leaders) and that they are there to serve the team.