God wants His church to grow. As a matter of fact, it’s natural for the church to grow. After all, it’s the body of Christ, and bodies grow. Paul compares the church to a temple being built. That rises in growth as well.
But the reality is that churches encounter growth barriers. Some are external. A small population is an external growth barrier. So is a demographic shift, as we have in the San Gabriel Valley. A large population who are not conversant in English and who are culturally less inclined toward the Christian faith are external barriers.
There are also internal growth barriers. As challenging as external barriers may be, internal barriers are harder. The most basic internal growth barrier a church has is indifference to lost people. The second is a general spiritual coolness. Next is a focus on tradition and structure as opposed to a focus on the future and the lost. Rick Warren has often been quoted on this point: “A church can structure for control or for growth, but not both.”
The Big Day strategy is useless unless it challenges God’s people to come face to face with their own internal growth barriers. It won’t work unless you are bothered that the people next door are hell-bound. It won’t work unless you are passionate in your devotion to God, and that gets expressed in your prayer time and in the time you spend in God’s word and in God’s worship. It won’t work if we’re obsessed with forms and structures and procedures. It won’t work if we think that following Jesus is a matter of being nice. It’s not. It’s a matter of being obsessed with Him, and taking up your cross daily and following Him. It means blood, sweat and tears for the Kingdom of God. It means an obsession with a bloody cross and an empty tomb. It means that down to the soles of our feet we care that people are lost and hell-bound and are convinced that God has made us ambassadors for Christ, urging lost people to be reconciled to God. It means that we truly love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.
A way to break growth barriers
So did you get that? This isn’t a gimmick; it’s a way of releasing a passion. If there’s no passion, the Big Day is a waste of time. If there’s no passion for Jesus and for lost people, do the community a favor and shut the doors of the church.
That having been said, what is a Big Day?
The Big Day is an all out push toward a single Sunday to break a growth barrier, reach new people and set an attendance record.
God is into “Big Days”! Day one of creation was a Big Day! So was the day of the crossing of the Red Sea, the birth of Jesus, the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. Pentecost was the first Big Day of the church. And guess what? We’re looking forward to the second coming—now that’s a Big Day!
Natural Growth Level Barriers
Students of church life have observed that there are predictable numerical growth barriers that churches have to deal with to get beyond and reach the next level. The reason for these numerical growth barriers is complex and has to do with the natural cohesiveness of different group sizes as well as room size, available seating and available parking. Our church has been stuck bumping up against the 250 barrier for a few years. To compound the complexity, we have two worship services which each have their own growth barrier issues.
The following growth barriers have long been recognized: 65, 125, 250, 500, 750, and 1000. The 8 AM worship service has hung around 50 and the 10:30 at around 160 (the remainder are children). The good news is that the 10:30 service is well past the 125 barrier; the bad news is that the 8 AM is right at a growth barrier, and that together, both services are stuck just below the 250 barrier.
But there is more good news: we have the structures in place for a church nearly twice our size. One principle of growing churches is to structure for a ministry larger than they currently have. By this, I mean we have plenty of discipleship pathways and programmed next step opportunities and we have sufficient staff.
The short-term challenge is to enable the 8 AM worship service to get comfortably past the 65 level (to average at around 100) and to get the 10:30 worship to close in on 200 on a regular basis. That gets the whole church up around 300 and past the 250 barrier.
The purpose of a Big Day is to specifically target a growth barrier that ushers in a new period in the development of the church.
The objective is to see a 20-40% increase in one day, with the recognition that most of the newcomers, sadly, will not stick. But, praise God, some will. Let’s calculate out how this could work.
Let’s do a scenario for the first Big Day, February 14. Since it will be the first one, let’s try for a 20% increase that day:
8 AM: from 50 to 60
10:30 AM: from 160 to 192
Total: From 210 (adults) to 252 (adults) (include children and the total is around 275)
Of course, there will be significant attrition. Users of the Big Day Strategy say that adding 10% is a big success, but we probably need several runs to get to that level. So let’s assume that we retain just 5%. That represents about 15 new worshippers who stay from that day’s efforts: about 3 in the 8 AM and 12 in the 10:30 AM. It is likely that neither each individual service nor the entire church breaks clean through a barrier the first time out.
Our second Big Day push is the very best opportunity of the year: Easter Sunday. This time, let’s project that we do somewhat better, going from 20% to 25% increase that day.
8 AM: 53 to 66
10:30 AM: 172 to 215
Total: from 225 to 281 (include children and the total is around 310)
Again, assume attrition, but at a slightly better rate where we retain 7%. That represents about 20 new worshippers who stay—about 5 in the 8 AM and 15 in the 10:30 AM. That brings total worship to about 245 (excluding children; with them the total is about 270).
Now apply the same formula to the Fall Big Day, in October. Since October is not as “hot” as Easter, but it will be the third time in a year we’ve done it, let’s project a return at the same rate as Easter:
8 AM: 58 to 73
10:30 AM: 187 to 234
Total: from 245 to 307 (include children and the total is around 330).
This time, let’s project keeping a full 10% increase (we should be getting better at it by now). That’s about 25 people. That pushes total attendance to 270 (64 at 8 AM and 206 at 10:30 AM; include children and it’s right around 300). That gets the 8 AM right on the cusp of the 65 barrier, brings the whole church well over the 250 barrier and the 10:30 still has plenty of room before it another natural barrier.
Why do a Big Day?
- A Big Day is a tremendous act of unselfishness. It focuses on the community to reach lost people. Three Big Days will require a major, selfless effort all year long.
- It ticks off the devil! There is an old southern saying: “If you never meet the devil head-on, you may be traveling in the same direction.” Unfortunately, the Big Day has also had the effect of ticking off some church members who become distressed at the effort and the change needed to carry off the Big Days.
- It builds momentum in the church. I have to admit, by temperament, I’m an incrementalist—somebody who’s most comfortable boiling frogs than slaughtering sacred cows! The Big Day, when successful changes the formula in the church dramatically (think Pentecost!) It suddenly creates momentum and morale. As many organizations have discovered, there’s almost nothing as powerful as momentum when it’s swinging your way—and there’s nothing as terrifying as momentum when it’s running against you.
- It attracts attention. We’ll be using mailers and other outreach tools (see more on that below under promotion) to attract attention.
- It builds “buzz” in the community. You can’t beat buzz! That’s when people just start talking: “That’s a good church…something is happening there…they’re always doing something special.” Hey, I’m happy to say that when I go to community meetings like the Chamber of Commerce, I hear this kind of chatter now. It can only get better!
- It helps grow the people in our church. As somebody who’s always thinking discipleship, this one gets my attention. Outreach, done right, has a purifying and stretching effect on the persons involved. It means I gain new skills in sharing my faith, in inviting others, in prayer for others, in follow-up, and in incorporating newcomers. All of these are good for the already here!
- It increases the attendance and commitment of the marginal people in the church. This is a very important part of what a Big Day does. Have you ever said on an Easter, “I wish it could be like this all the time”? Sure. Now, did you notice that on Easter, most of the increased attendance isn’t from people who’ve never been there before—it’s from having everybody who ever attends there all at the same time? One of the central objectives of a Big Day is to transform marginal attenders into regular attenders, which of course boosts overall attendance and changes the lives of the marginally committed toward being deeply committed.
The Financial Investment
How much will it cost? I recently read a shocking figure: the average American church will spend $600 in ministry for each new member it gains. But think for a second. That’s not expensive; that’s an investment. Seriously—if we spend $600 for a new member who then gives just $12 per week, we get that back in a year. “It costs too much” can’t be considered a serious objection. Money is not the limiting factor—faith, ideas and effort is. I will factor in costs in the section below on promotion.
A step-by-step process
- Decide to do a Big Day—that God wants us to do it
It will be high cost. It will test all of us. We need to make an informed decision and to count the cost.
- Determine the dates to do the Big Day
Experience has shown that the three best days to do Big Days are Easter, early February (after the Super Bowl) and about a month after school starts.
- Pick the sermon series for the big day
These are not focused on building believers so much as communicating “We believe that God has a solution for the issues in your life.”
For February, I have chosen the theme of “From Stress to Rest.”
For Easter, I have chosen the theme of “Easter Changes Everything” which gives us a pretty broad scope to choose from. But the idea communicated would be along the lines of, “The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to you to deal with the problem of…”
For Fall, I have not settled on theme yet; we may use a “campaign” that spurs personal growth along the lines of Forty Days of Purpose (a new campaign from Saddleback is “Life’s Healing Choices”, and I’m intrigued by that). Another concept I’m considering is “Revolution: How You Can Change the World.”
In each instance, we’ll start a series on a Big Day, and challenge the people there to be there for the whole series. This is also essential. Always start a compelling series on the Big Day as a means of making a case for returning—and developing a habit of worship attendance that wasn’t there before.
- Develop a good Big Day plan
To do this right requires a lead-up of at least three months.
The four Ps of the Big Day Plan:
One: Prayer. A few days before the Big Day we should have a 24 hour of period of continuous prayer. I’m going to ask our leaders to pray and fast that day as well. (Some people should not fast due to health issues such as diabetes, and that’s understandable.)
Colossians 4:2-4 says,
2Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
Prayer moves God, dispatches angels, scatters demons and heightens our own alertness.
Over a hundred years ago, Charles Spurgeon said, “The condition of the church may be accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the pray meeting a grace-o-meter, and from it we may judge the amount of divine working among people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he be not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.”
Two: Promotion. Last Easter we sent out 14,000 Impact Cards via Outreach.com and saw a jump of first-time people for Easter. Three people have become regular attenders from that mailing. This year, let’s try newspaper cards for the Wednesday before Easter, and the Wednesdays before the two other. The advantage here is two-fold: cost and language.
The cost of the Easter mailing last year was over $3,400. The cost of having similar cards placed in newspapers covering a much larger area would be about $1,300; just under $1,000 for the cost of the cards (included printed back) and $300 (that’s 10,000 newspapers at $30 per thousand, which is the minimum placement for the Pasadena Star) for the cost of having them placed in the newspaper. This would cover every Pasadena Star delivered in Temple City, Arcadia, Bradbury, Monrovia, Sierra Madre, San Marino, El Monte, Rosemead and the eastern part of Alhambra. If we did this three times in 2010, that comes out to roughly $3,900, just $500 over the cost of last year’s big Easter mailer.
The problem with using direct mail in our area is the high portion of the population who don’t speak English as their first language, or who speak very little English at all. Using the newspaper gets around this problem. People who take the Pasadena Star are obviously conversant in English.
Also, any advertiser will tell you that consistent repetition is an important part of promotion. People rarely respond to an ad the first time they hear it. Doing newspaper inserts three times in eight months compounds the impact.
To encourage the marginal people of our own church, we should call the whole church directory the week before the Big Day to give everyone a special invitation and encouragement to be there. We should have each Sunday School and Growth Group teachers call the whole roster of the class or group the same week with the same invitation. We should have youth workers call not only students, but their parents that week as well.
Three: Personal evangelism. We would use all the tools in our arsenal: servant evangelism (like water bottle giveaways, free gift-wrapping, etc.) to promote the Big Days. We would also announce the Big Day well in advance and distribute My Connection Commitment Cards a few weeks before each Big Day and give people time to fill them out during worship.
It’s essential that pastors and board members take ownership in this and make a commitment to invite people in their oikos (network of relationships). No one in leadership can be exempt. When Jesus called His first disciples to follow Him, He told them that they would be fishers of men (Luke 5:10). Interesting—Jesus never called anyone to be keeper of the aquarium!
Evangelism is one of the stated values of our church. All our leaders need to live by the values we profess, or they should not be regarded as leaders. This pertains to all the pastors and staff, the board, teachers and others who are involved in leadership. As someone put it, “If you’re not fishing, then you’re not following!”
Four: Preservation. This is where the Connection Card and the first-time guest gift come in, as well as the whole connection (assimilation) system. To go into detail on all the things we do for connection goes beyond the scope this report. The key thing here is to brace for a higher volume than usual and to have plenty of materials on hand for guests.
- Set a goal for the Big Day
We’ve discussed that above. What I didn’t say before is that we should go public with the attendance goal for the day so as to generate enthusiasm for the attendance goal to create focus and to give us a reason for celebration. Not only that, the attendance should be counted on the spot so we can tell the people that day (especially if we hit or surpass the goal!)
- Preach on the Big day the week before the Big day
I plan to set aside the entire message two weeks before Easter for this very purpose. (I would do it the week before, but that’s when we do the Palm Sunday musical.) This is a day to cast vision. This is a day to focus of prayer for the spiritually needy. This is the day when we’d give out the Impact cards for people to use to invite others as well as the My Connection Commitment cards as a pray and invite reminder for themselves. This is a high challenge day. Everybody walks out knowing that a BIG DAY is coming. Then that week, we’ll follow up with people who made a commitment to invite (via their Next Step) by multiple means (letters, emails, etc.) The staff and the board would get their reminder as well.
- Conduct the Big Day
OK, the main event comes. One thing to keep in mind: get ready for a satanic attack! The devil’s irritated, and this is the day the sound system won’t work, or the kids are sick and so on. That’s why you pray, pray, pray!
Also, this is a good day to offer snacks on the courtyard, to have parking directors in the lot and to have up additional parking signs to direct people to the two other lots we have available to us.
- Follow-up on the Big Day
We’ll debrief the Big Day as a staff and report that to the board, asking for their insights as well. Then we’ll improve, and get moving on the next Big Day. And we’ll celebrate!