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11 Ways To Stop Church Growth

Empty Church

It’s that Southern-Hemisphere time of year again when people get a chance to travel around and see what other churches are doing. Here are 11 actual, tried-and-tested, assured ways that actual churches are using to ensure that their ageing, shrinking club does not have visitors or new people:

1. Don’t have a website. Websites now are easy to produce, simple to maintain, and free. A facebook page can function as an excellent church website (congratulations Taupo Anglican Parish).

2. If you have a website make sure it looks like a 1970s video game. Better still – don’t update it. If it looks like it is regularly updated, that’s extra helpful if information is actually incorrect. If you have any images, make them last-millenium, poorly pixilated, tacky clip art. Photos should be of few people, old, and only of one gender. Current clergy and leaders should not be identifiable by visitors.
2a. Do not provide a map or an address of your church – if they are there, make them nearly impossible to find
2b. Do not include times of services. If they are there, make sure they are the wrong times, the times you used to meet, or the times you meet when it is not January
2c. Do not provide contact information. Phone numbers should be of clergy who left long ago.
2d. Do not have village, city, town, region, and suburb information on your website, nor denomination – no way that a google search of a visitor would locate your site
2d. Do not have a diocesan website that provides information geographically or in the way that visitors might be able to find a church service
2e. As most people now access the web from phones, websites should be very mobile unfriendly

3. On church answerphone messages do not put service times. If you put service times, make sure they are wrong

4. Do not have a notice board by your church building.

5. If you have a notice board make it unreadable from the road. Put a message about Jesus or a quote from the Bible, but no service times or contact information.
5a. If you put service times, make sure they are wrong, or the times that you meet when it is not January.
5b. If there is a contact phone number make sure it is is out of date, or the person is on holiday and does not answer the phone.

6. Meet in a place different to where you normally meet without putting this on your website or church notice board
6a. Meet at a different time to where you normally meet without putting this on your website or church notice board
6b. Meet one week in one place, and next week in a completely different place without telling people. Those in the club all know that is what you do.

7. Do not have anyone greeting or welcoming at the church door before the service. Especially if where the service is being held is unclear. It is also good not to use the obvious main door, and to keep this locked.

8. In major holiday and tourism destinations, do not put information in camp grounds, motels, hotels, or tourist offices (congratulations Waiapu Cathedral on your attractive, two-sided, third-of-an-A4 card giving all the information one needs – found in a busy tourist spot)

9. Do not have a New Year celebration. Take no account that people make New Year’s resolutions and attempt to make a fresh start, and that for many this may include spirituality, community, service, and a search for meaning.

10. Do not have an advertisement or presence in local newspapers.
10a. Do not have a presence on local radio
10b. certainly do not advertise on TV, or at the cinema

11. A bonus to make visitors feel extra unwelcome in your club, do not explain unusual practices your church has. Do not even provide a written explanation.

All of the above examples are taken from real events in the last three weeks.

Can you add further helpful suggestions?

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16 Responses to 11 Ways To Stop Church Growth

  1. Don’t speak to anyone who looks like they may be visiting or haven’t been around in a long time. Be especially sure to ignore them during the passing of the peace. And certainly don’t invite them to the fellowship hall/undercroft for refreshments and conversation when the service is over!

    • Thanks, Br David. I once attended a service where the post-service cuppa was mentioned, but no indication where it was. I assumed it was in the adjoining hall, but, entering there, found myself in a completely different community – it was rented out by another Christian community entirely. The cuppa for our service was in a separate room out in the back of this hall. Those in the second Christian community, in the hall, also did not have the nous to indicate where a clearly-floundering visitor might go. Blessings.

  2. You actually do not have to do any of the above if you follow the example of one parish that was in my Archdeaconry. What you do is have piece of timber that blends into the local roadside planting with the church name on it done especially so it blends in perfectly with the timber. Add absolutely nothing else – like nothing – and then wonder why three people turned up at church – including the musician the clergy and a warden – as far as I am aware this church notice has not changed. this is the very very best way to stop church growth.

  3. I especially like it when a parish assumes that theirs is the only church on the planet called “All Saints’ Church” or “Holy Trinity” or “St John’s,” and provide no other identifier on their Facebook or website–not a town, state, province or county; and certainly not a diocese. I used to work in a diocesan office in the US. People from parishes around the diocese would call announcing, “This is Ms Smith from St John’s Church,” evidently assuming that theirs was the only St John’s church among the 120 parishes in the diocese. They did, sometimes, however, help me out by calling and saying, “This is Ms Smith from St John’s Episcopal Church.” But still no other identifier – and this was even true in the Cathedral city where we had four St John’s Churches.

  4. Have an explicit dress code (yes, I’ve seen these!)

    Have an implicit dress code [Ala John Lennon’s famous exhortation to a command performance crowd: “Those of you in the cheap seats, clap. The rest of you, just rattle your jewelry”]

  5. The lay leaders in my first parish had learned much of this art, but added the twist of not opening the church front door on Sunday. You had to go around to the side, through the kitchen, to get into the church. No notice or sign telling this, of course. I did change this, and began opening the front door. When complaints were raised that it was soooo cooold (it really wasn’t as there was a separate narthex and doors into the nave), I told the members that this was why God invented wool. (Thanks to NZ, by the way!)

    Also: don’t mow the lawn or tend the grounds so that the building looks abandoned.

  6. Be extremely welcoming and accommodating to visitors when handing them their books at the door, telling them they can sit absolutely wherever they feel most comfortable, and once they’re settled come over and tell them they’re sitting in the churchwarden’s pew and will have to move.

  7. Many of these comments are on the ball. Another reason for some of those who would come not coming(admittedly still a minority of the many who still identify as C.of E. or Anglican) is rightly providing Holy Communion but providing only Holy Communion, calling it the “Eucharist” and adding a lot of ceremonial, or providing only sermon-centred dogmatic fundamentalism. There are certainly those who appreciate and value one of those alternatives, but nothing else is on offer in the centre our large city of Sydney for those who would appreciate a simple, reverent, moderate, “open”, Anglican liturgy.

  8. Anoither way, Bosco, to prevent Church growth is to tell prospective customers that they are not wanted – their behaviour is simply not good enough. This seems to be the way for some Evangelcial Churches.

    Good to see you at Mass yesterday, in a church that does not turn people away, on account of………. you name it.

  9. Another one: don’t include an email address anywhere. Definitely not a general parish one, or one for each clergy member. Make sure people need to try the (out-of-date) phone number within your (unpublished) office hours to get any information or ask questions.

    • Great point, @mellowdramatic. Please can you use your ordinary name on this site – it helps the positive culture here. And: it has happened to me several times when I have used an email supplied – don’t reply. Blessings.

  10. a few more from real life:
    1. Keep the church locked all day every day, and especially directly before and after Christmas -except for one hour on Sundays.
    2. Tell a ten-year-old child reader who, shiny-eyed and bushy-tailed asks whether he can do a reading again: “not before the next family service”.
    3. Have a double-sermon for Family/ All-age Services: one for children (min 10 mins), followed by one for adults (at least another 15mins.
    4. Ditch the choir and servers for the family service – the only service when there is no Sunday school, and child servers and choristers stay throughout the service
    5. Believe that doing away with hymn books and using a screen improves the choice of music. Make sure you chose the most obscure and dreary version if there is more than one tune. Make absolutely sure that the words flash up well after the music. Use different words on screen, pewsheets and books.
    6. Have a single person do OT, Ps, NT as well as the intercessions.
    7. Let a child read the OT, preferably about the Sin of Sodom and men offering their virgin daughters to be raped, then dump the Epistle, and have the priest/ an adult proclaim the Gospel
    8. Thrust the readings at someone 5 minutes before the start of the service – particularly a child
    9. Import a retired cleric on Holy Family Sunday, and make sure the Incumbent is away from Christmas Day lunch time for at least two Sundays
    10. Give children adult prayers to read
    11. Give the “Youth” reader’s slot to an 20+-y-o church leader’s child

    All from the same church – Electoral roll: 60, congregation 39 + 2 families.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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