Strategies of Christian evangelism
September 6, 2015 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Help me research the practical methods and strategies employed by contemporary Evangelical Christian groups to increase church attendance, recruit and retain members, promote programs and events, etc.

I'm looking for the actual resources evangelicals use to train everyone from church leaders down to church committees and individual congregants in efforts to grow their congregations, identify opportunities for growth, solicit support for a cause, communicate what they're about, etc. I'm really only concerned with these efforts on a local level—an individual congregation or city/county—not about state- or national-level denominational concerns, or attempts to influence politics or legislation at that level.

I'm being deliberately vague with details, but if it matters, I want to borrow their better methods and strategies for my own (secular) purposes, as opposed to mounting an opposition campaign or exposé with my research. So the higher the effectiveness-to-potentially-unethical ratio of your recommendations, the better.
posted by Rykey to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The phrase you want to use in your search is "church growth." You can get a feel for the current conversation here, here, or here, and 1.5 bajillion other places. Most of the research-based marketing-type strategies will be found under that term. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas once said something like 'The one thing the church growth movement has taught us is that you can grow a big church whether or not God exists." That was his (typical) snarky way of slagging the reliance on secular research rather than theological paradigms, but it's also a sort of backward endorsement of your project. Natural Church Development is one system that I used at a church that grew from 400 to 500 in about two years (after having been in a decline for 20 years). I'm honestly not convinced NCD was the reason we started growing again, but it gave the congregation some common language for discussing the few barriers to growth I already knew I wanted to tackle.

The "seeker sensitive" model pioneered by Willow Creek was popular for a long time, but has met with increasing resistance as their is evidence that it leaves a back door open almost as wide as the front door. (People come to church for a while, but they don't stay.)

The new hotness, at least in my circles, is the Missional model, which rejects the marketing strategies of the church growth/seeker sensitive stuff in favor of (in short) becoming a healthy church that is a presence in your neighborhood and fostering deeper relationships as you encourage people to model their lives on the ministry of Christ. That's less likely, I suspect, to be helpful for your purposes, but if you want to look into that, Guder's The Missional Church is a good place to start.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:51 AM on September 6, 2015 [9 favorites]

For other views of church growth look at examples from the Emerging church movement, Fresh Expressions and the New Monastics.

A less savory approach is Missionary Dating.
posted by SyraCarol at 2:12 PM on September 6, 2015

AKA "flirt to convert"
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:31 PM on September 6, 2015

I think a principle that carries over well from evangelism to other forms of non-profit, cause-oriented, or political activity is the idea of encouraging and perhaps even incentivizing current members/believers/adherents to be vocal about their participation and belief in whatever the cause is.

Related to Pater's links - the best long-term approach for doing that, IMO, is to be a healthy organization, which is a pretty broad instruction, to be sure -- I was a member of a quite dysfunctional church and I got to where I didn't even want to admit to being part of it. I will now speak more about the church I'm a part of on social media. Some key ideas I see over and over again in these kind of discussions are worthwhile here:

- empower the members at large to look for growth. It's not the job of the leaders. There's a fine line between doing this in a healthy way vs. being a guilt trip (carrot v. stick - praise those who bring visitors, not scold those who aren't)

- open discussions about being welcoming to newcomers. Maybe some head-on discussion about how the organization looks from the outside in, what it's like to be a newcomer. This video from 2008 nails it with a comparison "What if Starbucks marketed like a Church." Churches do NOT have a monopoly on treating newcomers like this!

- open discussions about how the organization may change if, God forbid, the effort is actually successful. IOW, the price of growth is change.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:48 PM on September 6, 2015

See Michael Green's Evangelism Through the Local Church. It's just what you want.

Look also for: Becky Pippert (Out of the Saltshaker), Bill Bright (CCC guy), and books on IVP. See also Paul Little, How to Give Away Your Faith.
posted by persona au gratin at 2:01 AM on September 7, 2015

Seconding the missional model - although it may not get you big, quick increases in numbers, it does offer a really solid base from which you can grow, and it emphasises growing and discipling leaders. The 3D movements tools and techniques are being used to great effect in the church circles I move in. The books by Mike Breen (the founder) are worth a read - especially Building a Discipling Culture.
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 5:02 AM on September 7, 2015

Response by poster: Great suggestions so far, and just what I'm looking for. Thanks!
posted by Rykey at 2:23 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

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