Mary Deckert

Mary Deckert has over 40 years’ experience in multiple communications and strategic functions including leadership, marketing, crisis management, creative and problem-solving roles in government and business (both private and public sectors); for-profit and ... read more

8 Things that will drive future church growth

Before we dive in, I want to make something super clear: One thing that will never change is our need for God to work in people’s hearts!

All the gimmicks, gizmos, and prevailing trends aside, it all comes down to that simple truth. Patrick Bradley from Passion for Planting puts it this way, “If you want to pursue Godly vision, you need to spend undistracted time seeking His direction. Godly visions arise from time spent in prayer and scripture listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd.”

We couldn’t agree more. The battle is definitely won in prayer.

Anytime you undertake an initiative, it all begins with deep, continued, intercessory prayer. If you don’t know where God is leading you, you’ll become easily distracted and discouraged.

So it should go without saying that we assume you’re already praying, preaching the Word, and are dedicated to seeking God’s direction.

Assuming that’s all set, here are some practical tips to help you grow your church.

1. Prayer Ads

“Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” – Luke 14:23

Prayer ads are the most cost-effective way we’ve found to:

  • grow your church
  • attract new families
  • reach your entire city
  • effectively use social media as a ministry tool
  • and experience healthy, sustainable church growth without throwing your money away on ineffective and outdated methods like door-knocking and direct mail

This isn’t marketing, it’s ministry. The goal of prayer ads is NOT to get people to your church, but to reach people where they’re at and to do real ministry.

The goal of each ad campaign should be to get 1,000 prayer requests. The overflow of doing ministry is that some will visit your church, typically 10%, but many will not.  You need to be OK with that.

That means you may pray for hundreds of people and less than a handful may visit your church – that’s the point!

Prayer ads will continue to evolve. Right now it makes sense to do it on social media like Facebook or Instagram, but that could and likely will change.

What will never change is the need for prayer. Become known as the church that prays – for anyone anywhere.

For more detailed help in setting up and effectively managing a prayer ad campaign, check out the CMU Prayer Ads Course or Prayer Ads Playbook. Or, if you’re not part of CMU Grow, find out more about how you can create healthy church growth.

2. Hosted Well, Connected Quick – Plan Your Visit

Future church growth will be built on a strong visitor connection system where every visitor to a church is hosted well before, during, and after their visit. We call it Plan Your Visit.

We recognize that PYV has been pigeonholed into one thing – a button on your website that gets people to click.

It’s actually something entirely different.

You don’t do Plan Your Visit to get people to come to church, you do Plan Your Visit to get them connected and shorten the assimilation process at your church; often in weeks instead of months or even years!

Plan Your Visit is an assimilation system that gets people connected so that they can grow in their faith. It is one of the most underutilized tools in church growth.

Here’s why:

When done well, it brings in new visitors and lowers barriers, especially for the unchurched. But when it comes to getting visitors to stay, it works better than anything else. We’ve found that eight of 10 people who come through an intentional Plan Your Visit system will join a church within 3 weeks! 

At its core, Plan Your Visit is not a button or App you put on your website, it’s a ministry that’s an extension of your Guest Services.

Plan Your Visit helps your church gets new visitors each and every week – and helps those visitors become connected, active members of your congregation.

Why is it such a strong tool? It allows people to schedule an appointment to visit your church ahead of time, and eases anxiety and the awkwardness of attending church for the first time in years – or even a lifetime.

Through Plan Your Visit, people make connections with an actual person on their first visit to church – that makes a HUGE difference. There’s someone waiting at the front door for them, they experience a friendly and welcoming environment, and they’re hosted and introduced to others.

Bottom line?  They feel like family and the church feels like “home.”

Experience has proven time and again that the number one thing that keeps people coming back is a friend connection – over great music, an outstanding children’s ministry, or even phenomenal preaching. Help people make a friend and you’ll create regular attenders every time.

That’s the power of Plan Your Visit – it gets people connected and speeds up the assimilation process!

However, you need to implement the whole system for it to work – it needs to be an intentional pathway. For more help implementing Plan Your Visit for your church, check out CMU’s Plan Your Visit course or the Plan Your Visit Boot Camp. Or, if you’re not part of CMU Grow, find out more about how you can create healthy church growth by developing an Automatic Invite System™ to bring new visitors to your church each and every week. You can also check out Chris Abbott’s video, Invite System for Smaller Churches.

3. Wholeheartedly Commit to Community

According to Brandon Kelly from Rookie Preacher, “No one can do community like the local church. The future church will leverage this and create spaces for people to gather who are un-churched, de-churched, members of other churches, and members of their church.”

This may seem elemental, but you were called to a specific community, so embrace that calling and become wholeheartedly committed to them.

What do we mean by that? Find a way to touch the hearts and lives of those in your community, and do it consistently, the big and small steps that people will remember.

For example, one church decided to “adopt” a public elementary school in their community and made a concerted effort to shower the teachers and staff with love and attention. They called it “Fill the Fridge” and all they did was figure out the staff’s favorite snacks and drinks and then fill the teacher’s lounge with those snacks every month. They leave a note on the fridge door saying, “We love and appreciate what you do, enjoy a snack on us. From Pastor Bill and your friends at Community Church.”

If this excites you, start small – with just one school. We recommend an elementary school. Many churches are trying to reach young families with young children. There’s no better investment than to focus on the next-gen leaders/influencers who are underpaid and overworked.

This is truly a minimal time/money investment – $50-$100/month will cover the cost and there are probably people willing to sponsor the effort and write a check every month to cover it.

If this idea doesn’t suit your culture or community, come up with another idea for a consistent touchpoint campaign.

Rich Birch from ChurchPlants says there are several things that will still be true 10 years from now in church ministry, no matter what the future holds.

Pick one of them that fits with your church calling and your community and dig wholeheartedly into that:

  • Parents will still worry about their kids: What can your church do to help build a ministry to families that will attract and impact them for years to come?
  • The next generation will matter more: If we don’t build our churches for the next generation, we will become obsolete and literally die off.
  • Marriages will still be struggling: What ministries and systems can you put in place to help people not just survive their marriages but thrive in them?
  • The Bible will still need explanation: Our task is to offer clear and compelling explanations of the Bible and its relevance for us today – make it understandable for today and the future!
  • The poor will still be among us: How are you working to build a ministry that actually tackles poverty in a measured and systematic way?
  • Gathering together will still matter: How are you investing in your gathered experiences to improve their effectiveness with your community? Is your church gathering place a critical asset in your community?
  • The world will be smaller: How can you develop ministries that help people live with this global reality brought on by technological advancements? Our churches are local, but can we do something to help people live a global life?

For a complete look at Rookie Preacher’s future predictions, check out,  Future Church: 10 Predictions for the Next 10 Years

The whole idea is to open a door to develop relationships with key influencers in your community and become so critical to the health of your community that you would be sorely missed if your church moves or closes.

4. Identity Messaging

There is a lot of talk these days – inside and outside the church – about “branding,” or having an identity that draws people to you and what you have to offer. And there is some truth to that. Messaging is important.

But it honestly is much simpler for most churches – just lean into who you are and what you believe.

That’s it.

Talk about who you are and you will attract the right people, those who will thrive in what your church is uniquely called by God to do. Some of that will flow out of the outreach efforts talked about previously.

Don’t do a generic version that doesn’t work, saying something like, “We preach the Bible.” Don’t water down who you are either or try to be the same as the church down the street.

You have a unique calling and God will direct those to your church to whom you are called to minister if you’re just open and consistent in presenting who you are. Perhaps more importantly, you will repel the wrong people – those who would not do well and would eventually leave anyway.

We call this “Identity Messaging.”

For example, say, “If you’re looking for a church where everybody knows your name, where you can shake the hand of the Pastor every week, where they notice when you’re gone and call to find out if you’re OK, where you’re not lost in the crowd, City Church is for you.” Be specific about who you are and speak to those you’re drawn to serve directly.

One church we know is called to focus on those age 65 and older – honestly! And they do it quite well. They have valets who park cars for the elderly and a separate area of the church, a lobby, where you have to be 55 years of age or older just to get in. And man do they come, typically an hour before service and oftentimes stay after as well, just to hang out in the community. This church has discovered how to use the wisdom and influence these senior citizens have accumulated to reach the next generation by utilizing their skills and experience in vital ministries!

FamilyLife Founder Dennis Rainey puts it this way, “It’s time for a new order of gallant, life-seasoned men who courageously arise, strip away the encumbrances of materialism, and do battle on behalf of the souls of their children, grandchildren, communities, and nation.”

Wouldn’t you love to have that army in your church? For more insight into how to minister to this target audience, check out the article by FamilyLife founder Dennis Rainey, Over 65? Many of Your Best Days are Ahead of You.

5. Stay in Touch

If there is one good thing we learned during 2020 it’s that personal touches really do matter. And they don’t take that much time and effort either. One of the simplest, cheapest, and most effective ways to drive growth at your church is to implement a systematic way to stay in touch with everyone in your church database.

We’re not talking about email or other automatic contacts, but a personal “pick up the phone and call” through the entire church database once each quarter. Bring in an army of volunteers, and give them a script and a piece of the database list they can check off as they work through it.

It shouldn’t take more than a minute or two for each call because the vast majority of people won’t answer the phone, so they’ll be leaving a voicemail message. But the people who have touched your church in any way will be impressed by the personal connection. And you’ll have a few opportunities to pray with and minister to people who do bother to answer the phone or call or text you back.

Here’s a simple script to use. “Hey, (first name), what’s up? This is Chris from City Church. Just checking in to see how things are going. Is there anything I can pray for you this week? You can call or text me at (phone number), Will I see you this Sunday?”

An added benefit is that you engage your volunteers by activating them, and that’s critical for your volunteers.

6. Build A Visitor Growth Engine™

We’ve learned a lot working with over 50,000 churches and one of the most compelling lessons was discovering 90% of churches that feel stuck are trying to grow without a foundation.

They don’t have a system – and building without a foundation will only lead to frustration.

As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”

Building a foundation will move you from frustration to fruit – honestly, when you build a solid foundation and system everything becomes way more effective at a fraction of the cost!

When you build a solid engine for growth, it will slowly gain momentum and continue to get the word out about your church with little effort from you. It will bring in new families consistently over several years – we shoot for at least one new family each and every week.

The compound effect of the Visitor Growth Engine™ that CMU offers will gain steam and momentum over the years. For example, five years after setting up the CMU Visitor Growth Engine™ at his church, Chris Abbott got a notification that 46,000 people had visited the church’s website the past month! He hadn’t been doing any maintenance over that period of time, just set up a solid foundation. The compound effect still continues to grow several years later. And the church has consistently been attracting new visitors virtually every week for several years.

For more detailed help in setting up a Visitor Growth Engine that works, check out the CMU Visitor Growth Engine™ course. Or, if you’re not part of CMU Grow, find out more about how you can create healthy church growth by developing systems to bring new visitors to your church each and every week.

7. Marketing Plus 4 Weeks

Getting people to show up is only the beginning of the battle – getting them to come back is where we can develop real relationships and change lives!

So develop a mindset that focuses on the next four weeks after that initial visit – what does it look like for new visitors from day one and the next four weeks and how can you encourage them to come back?

So while it may sound like we’re focused on getting new visitors each and every week – and we are – the true focus is on that initial visit plus one month.

The only thing better than a first-time visitor is a second-time visitor, then third-time, then a fourth. Those visitors then become the consistent core of your church!

For more detailed help in getting visitors to return, check out CMU’s Guest Follow-Up Course or read 8 Ways to Get People to Stay at Your Church.

8. Entrepreneur Outreach

Some of the most influential people in your city are local business owners. Entrepreneur outreach can be a church growth engine if you utilize it well. Not only will they volunteer and financially support your ministries, but they have significant leadership skills you’d be wise to plug into your church to help lead staff and volunteers alike.

Once a month, do something for the business owners in your community. Offer a free class on Facebook ads for business owners, or drop off a box of donuts or other treats. Show them you have a heart for entrepreneurs by telling them, “Hey, we appreciate you so much for everything you do and what you do for the local economy. Being a business owner is not easy. How can we pray for you?”

Several churches that have developed entrepreneur outreach programs are amazed at the business owners’ desire to network with other Christian business leaders. Whatever you do, make sure they get as much as they give to kingdom purposes.

To see what one church does to go “all in” for entrepreneurs, check out Gateway Church’s Business Leaders Ministry.

Please don’t misunderstand these suggestions – we are NOT telling you to just add a few new programs or ministries or complicate the systems you already have in place. Quite the contrary. In our playbook, simplicity is the key to success. Other leading church experts agree – future growth means simplistic focus.

Carey Nieuwhof points out that while churches may be focused on families, some churches offer so many programs for families that families don’t have the chance to be families. He explains, “Churches that focus their energies on the few things the church can uniquely do best will emerge as the most effective churches moving forward. Simplified churches will complement people’s witness, not compete with people’s witness.” For more insights, read his article, 10 Predictions About the Future Church and Shifting Attendance Patterns

Brandon Kelly agrees simplicity is the key to future church growth. “The more a church will offer in the way of programming and events, the less engagement that church will have. In thriving churches, the mission and vision will be so crystal clear that the church can decide what it is willing to say no to. Busy churches will continue to be plateauing churches; laser-focused churches will continue to be thriving churches. How we make disciples through programs must simplify. Less is more. Every time.”

Additional Information

We certainly don’t have all the answers for church growth, we just know what’s worked for the churches we help. But we’re always looking for additional insights into the future of churches and offer these resources if you’re as geeky as we are about church growth.

CMU Resources

Other Pertinent Resources