Nelson Searcy’s new book for Evangelical churches on achieving rapid growth should be of interest to any Latter-day Saint. One of the stated purposes of our church has always been to “Proclaim the Gospel”. In order to effectively do this, one basic necessity is getting people to come to church. And that is what Searcy’s book is all about. In a very simple and deliberate fashion, Searcy reviews some of the things that have worked for his 8 year-old 1,200 member congregation in Manhattan, as well as in other “mega” churches like Mark Warren’s Saddleback Church. I found his suggestions simple and obvious, as in “that obviously would be good to do”.
There is one potential objection within evangelism to church growth tactics like the ones Searcy employs. It is that the gross number of Christians in the US
is not increasing with these efforts. Churches are just poaching from one another. However, the LDS church is somewhat immune to this concern, in that our church sets itself apart from other Christian communities and protects itself from poaching due to it’s geographic constraints on local congregations.
On the LDS side of things, I think it is worth noting how much the church is already doing right, based on the book’s recommendations. We already:
1. Encourage the members to invite people to church
2. Have simple but high quality invitations to come to church for the members (Pass Along Cards)
3. Promote the church through public service, which Searcy calls servant Evangelism (Church Welfare)
4. Have a strong online presence
5. Advertise on TV and Radio for the Church
6. Encourage members to write a list of people to work with and pray for opportunities to preach
7. Have church leaders tell their own stories of evangelism and encourage members to share theirs (missionary moments)
8. Have members trained in how to share the Gospel
9. Have classes are taught on evangelism (member missionary class)
10. Set goals (Searcy notes some churches find goal setting non-churchy)
11. Having simple reading materials to help members doctrinally assimilate
The main idea Searcy had which the Church is not currently doing but could easily start at the Ward level with no cost is called a “Big Day”. The main idea of Searcy’s book is to promote specific special Sunday services throughout the year with the push on each big day to increase the congregation’s size. Rather than continually asking members to bring investigators every week, a certain day is set aside when the best speakers are assigned, the best teachers will teach, etc. And this day is promoted for 6-8 weeks to members and through other means as the day to bring new people to church. While the main big day Searcy mentions as an ideal opportunity is Easter, and this is problematic for the Church because we lose Easter to General Conference, which is hard to invite people to as it is watched from home. However, other events present themselves, such as Christmas and a Back-to-School service. Basically, in the Evangelical mindset, Searcy recommends kicking of a series of sermons on the Event day, where all focus is getting members to church for the beginning of the series and the series acts as a retention tool. I do not know if Bishopric’s could coordinate sermons into series in our church, but I do think we could effectively have “big day” type events, and these would help get more people to church. One reason for this is underscored by Searcy- urgency. Quoting Stephen Covey (Mormonism FTW!), Searcy notes that while it would be nice if people put effort into important things, we all tend to focus on what is urgent. By attaching a specific date to when to invite people to church, we would give our member missionaries an incentive to invite people to church as well as a deadline. Also, by setting up a big day event, we can look at current events and trends and promote our topic for that day to people as a lure. Searcy uses the example of promoting a series on “financial peace” during the recession.
In order to maximize effectiveness of these big day type events, the Church may want to consider forking over a little money to promote these events, or at least to promote the local church rather than the church “at large” having pass along cards with a map and directions to the local chapel would be a great start. Other suggestions Searcy offers are Direct Mail campaigns (to communities where other churches aren’t already flooding the mailbox, Searcy notes), billboard advertising, and “Servant Evangelism”. Searcy defines servant evangelism as doing a church service project focused on doing something simple to get people to take an advertisement to go to church. Some of these ideas seem to work better in places like Manahattan (where Searcy’s church is) where people are out. These are ideas like giving out water bottles on a hot day, or handing out granola bars with an advertisement for the church. One idea I found intriguing was the concept of a “Gas Buy Down” where the church would go to a gas station and, set up advertising and pay some difference in the cost of gas for everyone who bought gas there that day. (for example, maybe buying down the cost of gas to be $1.00 per gallon cheaper) While I don’t believe any ward would have the resources to pull this off, I can very well imagine the publicity it could generate.
One point I especially liked from this book was Searcy’s recommendation that we let people belong before they believe. Those converts I’ve known who have sucessfully converted to the Gospel and stayed have generally had a strong sense of belonging and acceptance from the Church. Often I think we as members resist allowing missionary-found investigators into our lives (because let’s face it, these people can be pretty crazy. This would be my one nit to pick with the book. How do we make sure we are attracting the people who would add to the church, as opposed to those who simply come for a hand out. Alas, this problem is not solved here). Searcy recommends one simple suggestion here to foster a sense of belonging and points toward his other book, Fusion.(which I will review later, once I’ve read it) Anyway, his suggestion here is to get the address and email of the visitor to church and to e-mail them the day they come to church thanking them for attending and then mailing them an additional thank you and an invitation to come again before the next Sunday service. Though it sound simple enough, I think it is a very nice touch.
All in all, I thought there was a lot in this book the Church could pick up on and effectively borrow in our effort to convert souls unto Christ. I’d definitely highly recommend it to any missionary-minded Bishop, Relief Society President, Ward Mission Leader, or Mission President.