We asked Tim Ahlman, senior pastor at Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran Church in Gilbert, Arizona, to share with us his thoughts on how to increase church attendance and membership—check out his insight below.
Is church attendance and membership dwindling? If so, why?
The macro Christian church—both Catholic and Protestant traditions together—is losing traction. Smaller churches are getting smaller, and larger churches are getting larger, but the net result is a decrease in weekly church attendance.
Consistent average attendance for someone who says they are engaged in a church body is attending a weekend worship service roughly once every three weeks. In previous generations, engaged members of the church body would attend far more regularly.
But today, there are so many other things competing for people’s attention. Additionally, churchgoers want to know that a particular church will meet their needs:
- Is the church making a difference in the community?
- Are they going to meet my ministry needs?
- Do they care about societal ills?
- Will the church be judgmental and focused only on filling its pockets?
- Will the church have the things my family and I need?
Today, if the programs for a smaller church are not what people think they should be, they will go elsewhere.
Our congregation has experienced pretty rapid growth—we’ve gone from about 450 people at Sunday worship to over 1,000 in about three years’ time. We feel that God is helping us look outside of ourselves and is leading us into creative ways to engage our community.
How did Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran increase church attendance and membership with the internet’s help?
Our culture is so visual. Spoken word is one thing, but to see people share their testimony and message in real time is very compelling. Therefore, video has been a major part of our ministry. Two years ago, we came up with our “3E” church mission and our tagline “Experience, Empower, Expand—Join the Journey.” We wanted to get that message out through in-service and online videos, so we invested in a professional videographer. He produced about 10 really compelling videos for us, which had great results.
It’s critical to meet people where they’re at, and our congregation lives on social media. Two years ago, we weren’t engaged consistently and intentionally on social media—but today, we utilize it frequently. Our primary social outlet is Facebook, but we’re beginning to put more effort into Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. All of our sermons, special videos, event information, and weekly announcements are shared across social media platforms.
If we just post a video on our website, it doesn’t have near the amount of views as when we promote it on social media. Facebook and other social platforms allow individuals to have a digital conversation with me or other church leaders, which is great for community engagement.
We’re not yet doing live streaming—but it’s something we’re in the process of setting up in the next couple of months. We see live streaming as a way for our church body to stay connected to the message from afar as well as an evangelical tool to reach members of the community who are disenfranchised from church.
Being in Arizona, some of our congregants are “snowbirds,” or winter visitors. They love staying connected with us and worshiping with us from their summer homes, so live streaming will be an ideal option for them. Millennials and community members outside of the church body are also more likely to engage with us online and check out the vibe of the church before attending physically. We see it as a huge value-add.
What advice would you offer other churches that are looking to increase church membership and attendance?
If you want to increase your church attendance or church membership using the internet, you have to start somewhere. Sometimes I think church leaders don’t think incrementally enough! If you’re not doing anything online, ask tech-savvy members for their help. If you want to reach youth and millennials, ask them where they’re hanging out online and then as a church leader, meet them there.
We started out simply putting our videos on YouTube—then we progressively started doing more and more. It doesn’t mean your first foray into using the internet to increase church attendance has to be live streaming—just think incrementally. If pastors and leaders of other churches would just start sharing their messages via social media and video—even prior to having the resources to do anything dramatic—it will really set the stage. So just start doing it!
Even if live streaming sounds daunting to you, consider looking into it. Stretch is very cost effective—even for smaller congregations—which means churches of all sizes can start soon.