Thumbs Up for Initiative
Retired postal worker, and longtime member of Fair Haven UMC, Gene Gregory struck out on his own last October, to conduct an informal survey to learn how other churches are growing their congregations in an environment of general decline. Notes Gene, “Rather than complaining, I decided that I could do something nice for the church by doing a survey about ways to revitalize congregations.”
When Gene started calling Methodist churches, he was shocked at how readily leaders shared answers to his questions, and how enthusiastic they were to help other churches in any way. “By the end of the survey, I had documented information on 107 churches and personally visited over 30 of them,” reports Gene, who took his father Gene, Sr. along with him. “I learned that most of us face similar challenges but that we love the idea of learning from each other.” Once Gene documented information on attendance, and types of worship services and programs, he summarized his findings in a 20-page report, giving his personal perspective. The report, available here , (14MB PDF) also includes information on how churches handle blended or joint services on holidays and other occasions.
“It may not seem to make sense, but this has shown me that one person definitely can do things that make a difference,” he says. “Successful and growing churches are more than happy to help others. I encourage leaders to step out and ask for help and watch for the kinship that follows, because all of us are seeking the same thing: healthy congregations.”
Here are some of Gene’s survey highlights:
Tip 1- Make your church inviting from the outside in.
“First impressions really matter. When you go to a church year after year, you don’t see what a visitor will notice. By visiting so many churches in person, I realized that my church needed some attention to the exterior. I came back and volunteered to help deal with the dead trees, 3-ft weeds in the parking lot and piles of leaves in the flower beds,” he says. He collected bids from tree trimming companies, and worked with the day school to improve drainage problems and plant flowering bushes – simple steps that made a noticeable impact. “As soon as some positive changes were made, people noticed the difference and the day school manager even noticed an increase in inquiries from new students! I found when churches leverage church schools to the full extent, they are usually successful in building a bridge to young families and relationships that also bring people to the church.” Adds Gene, “Children are the heartbeat of the church of tomorrow, essential to our future.”
Tip #2: Find areas where your church can enhance the personal touch.
“Ask yourself what you can do to sincerely express God’s love in a deeper way. For example, one of the churches I researched is connecting in an added way through their Food Pantry. They require recipients to attend a short worship service before receiving their food. People from the community have started realizing what a church family feels like, and what all they do together – particularly in times of need,” he says. While many churches offer ESL, some offer a meal and worship service and others use Bible literature for the English lessons. “Many cultures feel welcome to attend and be a part of the community,” he adds. “I discovered another church is having astronomical success by hosting a health fair and having members interact in the lives of those who attend. This, alone, has generated 50 new members!”
Tip #3: Seek out success stories for inspiration and insight.
The pastors and leaders who freely shared their challenges and successes with him, welcome inquiries from others. He encourages leaders to access these specialists:
· Use of phone tree technology and radio broadcasts for communication:
Dr. McGee, Trinity UMC 713-528-2356
· Day school integration with the church: Reverend Frank Coates, St. Matthews UMC at 713-697-0671
· Community Health fair: Reverend Bryan Dalco, Trinity East UMC at 713-659-7190
· Leveraging multi-cultural opportunities: Bethany UMC (20% attendance increase from ESL class participants), First Filipino UMC (free lunch before class and multiple dialects) and Westchase UMC (On Thursday and Sunday morning the service is in Spanish; on Sunday afternoon – Vietnamese; Sunday evening – Chinese, and Saturday- Ethiopian
· After school programs: Reverend Deborah, Deer Park UMC at 281-930-1300
“What a blessing this survey project turned out to be,” adds Gene. “The hardest part will be to figure out what might best improve the attendance and membership of another church, but all of the churches that I visited left me feeling loved by Christ.”
View the PDF of the report (14MB)