Strategy & Marketing

Tips for Reverse Church Growth

This is a great reminder for pastors and church leaders, so I brought this post back from the archives.  A few years ago, my friend, Broadway actor Fred Applegate, (the middle guy in the photo) sent me these sure-fire tips for REVERSE church growth after traveling around the country and visiting quite a few houses of worship:

— Be patiently condescending to everyone.

— Listen to people while giving them the clear impression that you are being generous with your time.

— Greet people after the service by shaking their hand while looking at the person behind them. (A gentle “keep moving” push on the elbow gives everyone a warm feeling as well.)

— Never treat anyone as a peer, unless they have a lot of money.

— Make sure everyone knows that the most important ministry is giving money to the church.

— Create an environment in which social justice work and service to the needy are tolerated as long as they don’t become too disruptive to the real mission of the church, which is: getting bigger and more self-important.

— And remember: A church can’t grow without lots of money: theology can be tidied up later, after the pastors media room is completed.

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  1. It’s very sad that all these things occur way to frequently, and give a lot of people a negative view of worship and religion in general. I turned away from the church for years, because of unfriendly judgmental attitudes, and sermons lasting weeks-only on the importance of money. It is so detrimental to turn people away from God! Especially those broken and hurting who need our support, and encouragement the most! I might have been able to avoid a heartbreaking divorce, if my family had found and been involved in a good church earlier. I wouldn’t trade the church I go to now for anything. Wish I had sought them out and found them sooner.

  2. ** Inform members that reaching out to help others will
    ensure that they themselves get blessed, so that the whole purpose of helping others is downsized to self-interest

    **Have your entourage in front of and behind you to make sure everybody knows how “important” you are as the pastor and so no church members except, of course, the ones who give the most money or are well known, can get close
    enough to talk to you or shake your hand

    **Keep yourself uninvolved, aloof and distant from church members. Never allow yourself to feel any empathy.

    **Make sure your members form cliques in which none but a few “select” individuals are invited into.

    **Scream at and scold people during your sermons so they will feel thoroughly intimidated.

    **Repeatedly hawk your latest books and CD sets on-and-off throughout the church service and remind the congregation and visitors that they can buy them at the display tables in the lobby following the conclusion of the service. If you have guest speakers, let them hawk their latest books and CDs as well.

    **Push political candidates and political agendas during service times instead of preaching the Word.

    **Namedrop well-known preachers and televangelists you have associated with during your sermons so that everybody knows you’re “in with the biggies”.

    **Preach as though you’re perfect and have never fallen short, failed or had spiritual challenges.

    **Abandon members who don’t get “fixed” fast enough, not seeing them as a work in progress.

    **Make sure that the time for praying for those who need healing, encouragement, etc. is rushed through, with a quick, impersonal, generic prayer so you can make that afternoon buffet before the line gets too long.

    **Forget to remind your congregation and visitors that Jesus loves them.

  3. **When making lunch plans after church, DON’T invite the visitors to join you and your friends at the nearby restaurant.

    **Don’t scrape snow off the sidewalk to the front door of the church building.

    **Use code words in sermons to criticize other churches and doctrines.  Sometimes visitors understand your inside language and know they’re being subtly criticzed.

    **Have the guests fill out a Visitor’s Card, but never contact them.  Do call them 6 months later when you’re having a “revival”.

    **Invite guests/visitors to another meeting and then ignore them.

    **Have the ushers pass out ear plugs for those who complain the music is too loud.

    **Don’t invite guests to the small home meetings in their neighborhood.  It’s up to the guest to find about the meetings and invite themselves.

    **Visitation ministry to the sick and shut-ins is not a part of the ministry staff responsibilty.  If  one of the little people in the church has a heart for that ministry, they’re allowed to carry it out, with no official church support.

    **Don’t help the little old lady with her walker trying to open doors (front door, ladies room, etc.)  

    **Emphasize you are a family church.  Singles and elderly are peripheal.

    **Youth oriented.  Older members just need to get it over it, but are welcome to continue tithing.

    I really wanted to attend your church, but you ignored me.


  4. Don’t forget to remind the congregation (and the visitors) how fast we are growing and how important we are in the community.

    When you speak to the Pastor (if you can get anywhere near him), be sure to use his title. Otherwise he or one of his assistants will gently correct you. Don’t be embarrassed, after a few visits you’ll learn how we do things at our church.

    Show lots of videos about all those cool (and important) things we are doing in the community.

    Be sure to buy our pastors new book. It’s on Amazon so it MUST be great.

    Did we mention that our services are “experiences”? We got vision, passion, we got the Pastor on our Jumbotron video screens at 16 remote campuses.

  5. On a more positive note, about a month ago I visited a church while traveling.  The congregation was rather small, and the pastor came up to me before the service, greeted me, and explained that I was welcome to commune even though I was not a member of that denomination.  In the receiving line after the service, the pastor asked the woman in front of me if she would escort me to their fellowship/snack time.  That was the nicest and best thing he could have done.  I was suddenly enveloped into the fold, if you will, and it was a very nice experience.  I probably would not have stayed if the pastor (or someone else) had not made a connection with me.  Before the end of the fellowship time, the pastor came and sat next to me and made pleasant conversation even though he was probably in pain, since he was wearing some kind of medical device due to a health issue he was going through.  While listening to him converse with two other visitors, I connected with those visitors; we went out for lunch and have since corresponded.

    I would highly recommend this kind of “personal touch” – hard to find in mega-churches, but not impossible.  It only takes a few moments of kindness to connect a visitor with a congregation…but you do need to identify who they are.


  6. Ouch! I know I’ve been guilty of looking around for anyone else (more important) to talk to, while trying to appear engaged in polite conversation.

    Then I realize how that must look to the other person, so I try to keep my wandering eyes home.

  7. As one who recently moved to a new area and visited 14 churches (a painful process), may I add a few:

    1) Allow someone tone deaf to lead worship. Make sure the mic is turned way up.

    2) Keep visitors guessing. By not having good directional signs for where children’s church, the bathrooms, etc are; and having members ignore the obvious wandering, you can make sure these newbies don’t get inside in time to get “your seat.”

    3) Sing songs that only your congregation knows with no words on the screen. The longer the better.

    4) Explain that the reason that the church is so cold is that the offering last week didn’t cover the fuel bill, and then ask them to “do better.”

    5) Have the pastor ride in and out on a golf cart, so no one can get more than a wave from him.

    6) Tell stories of how God has blessed you after you gave — and create the impression of a much bigger miracle than what God actually did (don’t worry, only a few know better)

  8. My wife and I have been looking for a church to attend after 30+ years at the same church. I can relate to all of the statements. One church in particular was very cold and unfriendly. I usually go to a mens ministry if one is coming up and I have been treated as though I am transparent.

    The company I work for has been using the model presented by Dennis Snow and Teri Yanovitch’s book “Unleashing Excellence” to improve customer service. When I visit a church I have realized that what I am seeing through my “lens” is that “everything speaks.” “Everything Speaks” includes anything and everything that detracts from your visit. It is amazing when you write those things down just what they include. It also includes everything that attracts you to return. Is it unfare to expect to be treated with excellence? Not at all. It is unfortunate that many churches have an “us four and no more” attitude. Then they wonder why nobody is coming(or they come but never return).

  9. Mary,  those were great additions to the list.  I’m just sorry you had to experience them in real life.  I hope you were able to finally find a church that fits you!

  10. It only happened once, but it was memorable: Have several members rush up to first-time visitors after the service and ask if they will help lead a particular ministry. Then ask them why visitors never return a second time.

  11. Yep, this is a hard word (in a good way).  It really is true that atmosphere is one of the most important things a church can have, and all these points (as well as Mary’s bonus content) are sure-fire ways to create a hostile atmophere for everyone who comes to your church.  But, for me, the hardest part of this list is, along with osborn4, I’ve been guilty of some of these. 


    Plus, this really makes me think about all the ways I’ve failed to give my best in church.  Most the errors I’m not guilty of are pretty easy to look down on and laugh at those who think a tone-deaf worship leader is a good idea.  But, can I really claim I’m innocent of doing something that drives visitors away?  If we got honest input from visitors (especially unchurched visitors), would they point out things we all do that are just as obviously ridiculous, but that we never notice?

  12. Isn’t the reason why this topic is so intriguing to us because churches here in America have ceased to function in the capacity Jesus originally intended for them to? Not every church; just those for whom the shoe best fits…

    A church today is more of a business, operating as a corporate tax shelter for ambitious men and women who see an opportunity to exploit the spiritual hunger in peoples’ hearts for personal wealth. I’m not against ministers prospering for their work. But there is way too much excess. Whatever happened to moderation?!

    Too many so-called pastors lack a pastor’s heart. Many of them aren’t ‘godly’ men at all: they’re more like ‘gaudy’ men with their Trump Tower penthouses, beach homes in Malibu, Eurocopters and Gulfstream jets, Rolls Royces and his and her matching Bentleys, multiple divorces, baby mommas and secret child support coming out of church funds…I could go on but I’m starting to depress myself here.

    It’s time for a MAJOR church revolution here in the States!

  13. alot of gripping and I smell a familiar scent that is common in the present day church. Could it be the whole American Church deal needs some freshening up?

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