Review:Ignite, How to Spur Immediate Growth in Your Church

February 8, 2010    By: Matt W. @ 7:32 am   Category: Life

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.

19 Comments »

  1. We do this in the UK, in some of the Wards I have been in. It is sometimes called a Restoration Sunday where the speakers and messages and classe are all geared toward people having a good first experience.

    Moreover, I agree about getting people to beloing before they believe. In the UK people tend to keep Church and everything else separate. If we were better at intergrating our friends or acquaintances with the other people we know from church we would not have to work as hard for gospel conversations to come up and more than that it leaves it with the people to express that interest.

    Comment by Rico — February 8, 2010 @ 9:26 am

  2. Yes, we had a “Big Day” Sunday not too long ago in which we advertised to members that the messages would be relevant to an investigator (I’d hate to invite someone to church on the week they are trying to get everyone to subscribe to church magazines). I am not sure if it turned out more people or was viewed as successful by the leadership, I’ll try to remember to ask.

    If I visited a church and they asked for my email address I’d be annoyed. If they started sending me email addresses I would rue the day I ever stepped foot in their building.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 8, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  3. Rico: Do you feel “Restoration Sundays” are successful? Have they made a difference over the “status quo” in your experience?

    As for belonging before believing, I think this is one reason why places like Utah have very high baptism rates.

    Jacob: Good point on the e-mail addresses. It’s definitely something to consider. I too would probably be skeptical If I was just visiting a church and they started spamming me. I do think it is a good idea to have some means of following up with people interested in coming to church. Perhaps a phone call would be a better/more acceptable method? (Harder to automate though)

    Comment by Matt W. — February 8, 2010 @ 10:47 am

  4. When I visited Philadelphia this summer, I visited a modern Mennonite church service — something along the lines of a mega-church, compared to anything LDS I’ve seen other than general conference. I filled out the visitors’ roll just to see what would happen, including mailing but not email address.

    Within a week of getting home, I received a thank you card from the minister — printed text, but signed by hand. The note card had a very nice sketch of the building, which ensured that I would keep the card, and the text was very friendly but not overbearing in the way it thanked me for coming, hoped I had found something of value, and invited me to return.

    Very, very effective, from my point of view. Had I lived in the neighborhood and been even halfheartedly looking for a new church community, that card, added to the service itself, could easily have sealed the deal.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — February 8, 2010 @ 11:51 am

  5. Many churches around here have “Big Days” periodically. Fathers Day is a day of big recruiting for one particular church. After church services they hold a barbecue complete with a mechanical bull and a raffle for a grill and lazy boy recliner.

    For the youth “Big Day” events they offer a big screen TV and gift cards to the individuals that bring the most friends to the event. I need to suggest to the ward mission leader that we sponsor similar events. I’m sure it would really help missionary work.

    Comment by rk — February 8, 2010 @ 12:19 pm

  6. Ardis: Awesome example! We’ll have to see what Jacob says to that.

    rk- ouch! But there does have to be some difference between giving motivating opportunities, and doing over the top “sales competitions”. Searcy doesn’t mention any of the types of shenanigans you speak of in his book.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 8, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

  7. For me, snail mail is different than email. A hand-signed thank you card wouldn’t worry me in the same way email would. Email is just so cheap that it invites spam abuse so I tend to gaurd my email address like my social security number.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 8, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

  8. Just occurs to me that it is better for us to ask for home address anyway because we can tell the person we love to have them visit any meetinghouse but if they want to go to the church service with the people in their neighborhood it is held in X building at Y time.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 8, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

  9. So maybe the best approach then is to have some sort of log in the foyer for names and addresses of visitors to the Ward.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 8, 2010 @ 7:30 pm

  10. I just pulled out the thank you card. it says: “May 18, 2009 / Dear Ardis, / Thanks for being a part of our worship service at Franconia on Sunday. We pray that the service was a blessing to your life. We invite you to worship with us whenever you can. / May God’s grace and peace be yours. Sincerely, / Pastor Steve Landis” (signed “Steve”)

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — February 8, 2010 @ 7:53 pm

  11. #3 – yes, I think they worked. At the very least people actually brought their friends, which is fairly rare as it is. The wards (active) size has increased 25% in the last 3 years, which is not bad. I think people like them as well, because it makes Church a little different. Often they would cancel sunday school and P./RS (keep primary – because kids just get in the way) and have an open house for an hour followed by some food.

    #10 – I attended a Evangelical meeting the other week, the asked people to stand if you had not been there before and then invited the congregation to welcome you. I was reaching over rows to shake peoples hands (i felt a little uncomfortable but it felt good). They also gave a small package with a dvd, a thank you card and a feedback form with other information about different services. They then emailed me and and sent me a letter thanking me for attending. Other Churches do a much better job of this kind of thing.

    However, in my experience or Church structure invites a different type of response from attendees. Most other Churches you just sit in the hall and then it ends. We move between classes and invite response. Moreover, the lay clergy means we are all really busy and this presents new challenges with trying to help people feel welcome and comfortable.

    Comment by Rico — February 9, 2010 @ 4:23 am

  12. Sounds great, deceive the investigators with a ‘big day’. What happens when they come back next week and it is the same basic/boring routine?

    Comment by ed42 — February 9, 2010 @ 11:13 pm

  13. Ardis: I love it, I will steel it and suggest it to the Ward Mission Leader.

    Rico: WE do welcoming during priesthood/relief society in our ward (and most wards I’ve been in) this evangelical welcoming obviously impressed you. What made it more impactful than ours.

    ed: It is not deception, as I am not at all suggesting we change the routine of church. (Though Rico did propose such, but his alternative was to explain the basic routine.). I think it is just a matter of a ward deciding to put all it’s best people to speak on a single sunday, assigned to topics they are known to have a talent in and skill for. Perhaps this should be done every sunday, but I think it is not sustainable to demand “top talent” every sunday from a volunteer church.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 10, 2010 @ 7:32 am

  14. It was genuine and involved physical contact. People moved to shake my hand before the meeting went on. Our meeting-houses are more sparsely populated and I see alot of people sitting on their own.

    ed: I am not sure it is deceptive. It is merely making an effort to think about the ways the Church (through its structure) might create unintended barriers to how people respond to the Church. Then it is an effort to remove as many of these as possible.

    I agree that there does not need to be a complete reformulation of Church but just approach it through how someone else experiences their first experience.

    In the same way, I would never invite someone to a Fast and Testimony meeting for someone’s first week, because it is an experience familiar to Mormons but not to non-Mormons. I don’t think this is deceptive.

    Comment by Rico — February 10, 2010 @ 9:31 am

  15. ed42,

    No one is suggesting we deceive a visitor with a “big day,” that’s ridiculous. The point is to create a good first impression by making sure that the topic is relevant. It’s not like we bringing in a band and catering on the “big day.” What, you think first impressions make no difference?

    Comment by Jacob J — February 10, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  16. No, guys, ed’s totally right. We deceive them once, and they’re obligated to keep coming back for the rest of their lives, right? Because once a church gets its hooks in you (apparently, by getting you to come back a second time), you can never get them out.

    Comment by Sam B. — February 10, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

  17. Just have more kids.

    Comment by Sonny — February 11, 2010 @ 6:02 am

  18. When I was a kid, we had Third on the Third. The goal was for 1/3 of the congregation to be visitors on the 3rd Sunday of each month. The Sacrament speakers were designed to present something that would appeal to this audience. There were snacks in the gym afterward. People would stay and mingle. At one point, there were over 10 missionaries assigned to the ward, and the ward doubled and split in a few years.

    Comment by Mike S — February 12, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  19. I think the Church can do so much more to invite non-members to our holiday services. What would be nice is to have a low key stake level Christmas Eve Service where people can come hear the Christmas Story and sing some Christmas Carols. Same approach for a Easter Sunrise Service.

    So many non-members would be more willing to check out a church meeting on the holidays (and it’s a easier “sell” too) than other days. Plus it helps the PR that we are in fact a Christian Church.

    Comment by Matt C. — February 25, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

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