by Bill Tenny-Brittian
Managing Editor – The Effective Church Group
The other day my firm was invited to create a proposal to lead a church consultation for a congregation in the southwest US. It was a healthy congregation, a trait we don’t see very often these days, and it was averaging over 300 in weekly worship. The leaders said the congregation was committed to launching a growth strategy that would take them to over 800 in weekly, in-person worship within five years.
The congregation has a lot going for it. They have a solid mission and a crystal-clear vision. They aren’t conflict free, but there was no evidence of deeply-seated, unresolved issues that so often plague churches that are in decline or sitting on a plateau. Their leadership already understood the power of mission-alignment and they at least claimed to be ready to make the changes necessary to achieve their goal.
Our job was to provide a strategy, tactics, and a working plan that would take them into their preferred future. Growth like that doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, for most churches, it never happens at all for all sorts of reasons.
But we’ve been at this since the 1980s and there are time-proven tools we’ve used with hundreds of congregations over those years and although “the times have changed,” the basic strategies for sustainable growth have not. From the earliest days of the church – from the days of Jesus himself – it’s always been about relationships. The tactics change as our culture changes, but the strategy of building relationships remains the gold-standard for growing a church. Always has, always will.
With that said, there are two foundational steps our firm, and I suspect virtually every church consulting firm, takes before it starts building recommendations.
First, the consultant must get to know the “who” of the congregation. How many? How old? How many generations? What are their worship and marketing and consumerism and faith practices and relational proclivities? What are their hopes and dreams? And a host of other questions to help us “get to know” the who of the congregation.
Second, we have to get to know the “who” of the targeted ministry area. Sometimes church folks think what we’re looking for here are the demographics of the community, but what we need is much deeper than that. It’s not enough to know that 54 percent of the church’s target community are Baby Boomers and that the Digital Generation isn’t getting married until they’re twenty-seven (for those who are getting married at all!). Boomer and Gen-Xers and Millennials and Gen-Zers and Digitals are all over the map. Some are educated, others not so much. The racial and ethnic makeup is important too. But even with all that, we wouldn’t really “know” the community. We could make some guesses about what maybe, perhaps, possibly, might be important and attractive to the Boomers in the community (if that was the congregation’s most likely target audience), but they’d be wild guesses that like as not would completely miss the mark.
That’s one of the reasons we turned to FaithX to help with our proposal. FaithX does more – much more – than just demographics. Their process includes what I have always called “psycho-graphics,” that is, the psychological behaviors of the target audience that we’re trying to reach. FaithX’s Neighborhood Missional Intelligence Report includes a user-friendly interface and reports that tell us almost everything we need to know about what it would take for the congregation to build meaningful relationships with their neighbors. For instance, it gives us insights into their biggest challenges, how they spend their money, and how much disposable income they have (as opposed to just how much they make). All these data-points and more provide us with the information we need to find the bridge-points between the congregational members and the community. And once we know the bridge-points, we can begin to recommend tactics that will help the congregation build relationships with their neighbors through ministry programs, fellowship opportunities, relevant teaching series, and so much more.
In the end, it’s still about relationships, but FaithX helps us understand what it will take to build life-transforming relationships between the church and the community.