What Keeps Your Congregation Coming Back?
By: Sherri Gragg
Which of the following has the greatest power to not only draw people, particularly millennials, to your church but also keep them coming back Sunday after Sunday?
A vibrant children’s ministry…
Engaging programing for students and adults…
The answer is: None of the above.
According to a recent Gallup poll, “Sermons that teach about Scripture,” are more important to your congregants than anything else. This holds especially true for millennials, four out of ten of whom go home and power up Google to fact-check their pastors’ sermons. (Barna Group, 2013) “They don’t want stories,” said the Rev. Lawrence Young, pastor of Klein UMC Spring. “They want to know if the word of God can be trusted.”
After two decades during which vast waves of American churches have invested heavily in branding, contemporary worship, and highly developed children’s ministries, the results of the Gallup poll are somewhat surprising. The Gallup results indicate that Scripture-rich sermons are far more important to today’s churchgoers than any other factor, including children’s programming, social activities, and service in the community. Not only do 82 percent of Protestants list the sermon as the primary reason they go to church, but 80 percent of them are hungry for “sermons that connect faith to everyday life.” (The Hottest Thing at Church Is Not Your Pastor or Worship Leader, Kate Shellnutt, April 18, 2017.)
Pray, Prep…then Preach
It is a responsibility pastors like the Rev. Irv White, Ashford UMC, take deadly seriously. White is a first-time senior pastor of an incredibly diverse congregation. Ashford UMC is a multi-generational church representing 19 different nationalities. White, like Young, is careful to protect his preparation time, study extensively, and cover every word in prayer. “I take it very, very seriously,” White said, “I have conversations with the Lord all of the time telling him I don’t want to misrepresent him.”
Both pastors also emphasize the importance of their own spiritual self-care as a key component in empowering them to faithfully present the Gospel Sunday after Sunday. Without the cultivation of a pastor’s own faith, Young attests, the message he or she delivers on Sunday morning will fail to ring true. “The Gospel that you want to send,” he said, “the word you want to preach, the Christian principles you want people to take hold of, make it yours first. It is our relationship with God that keeps us supplied and gives us the energy to go on.”
A Sure Thing
White and Young find comfort in the immutability of the Gospel they proclaim, trusting that as they pray, prepare, and preach, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to ensure God’s word meets their congregation with life-changing power. “My words do not heal, do not restore, do not deliver,” White said, “It is God’s word that does that. It is my job to communicate God’s word. The restorative power is in the word of God.”