Introduction Have You Ever Seen A Pigeon Walk?
By Gary McIntosh and Glen Martin
Have you ever wondered why a pigeon walks so funny? According to an interesting article in the Detroit Free Press, a pigeon walks the way it does so it can see where it’s going. Since a pigeon can’t adjust its focus as it moves, it actually has to bring its head to a complete stop between steps in order to refocus. This is the way it walks: head forward, stop; head back, stop. Don’t laugh that’s how it goes!
As church leaders, we often have the same problem as the pigeon we have a hard time seeing while we’re moving. We need to stop between steps to refocus on where we are in relation to the world and the will of God.
How Do Churches Grow?
In simple terms, there are only two ways to grow a church: we must bring people in the “front door,” and we must keep people from going out the “back door.”
The front door is the way people come into a church. Traffic flows through the front door in three ways. One way is what we call “biological growth.” This form of growth is merely the children of church members growing up, receiving Christ, and joining a church. In North America biological growth normally equals 2.5 percent of a church’s worship attendance. Another way people church is through “transfer.” As people come into a move, face job relocation, or become disheartened with their current church, they transfer membership. Transfer growth represents 8 percent of a church’s worship attendance. The third way people flow into a church is through “conversion.” As people hear the gospel and respond in personal faith, they need a church home. Con-version growth normally equals 5 percent of a church’s worship attendance (see fig. 1).
For example, during one year a church with two hundred in worship attendance will likely see five people join through “biological” growth, sixteen people through “transfer” growth, and ten people through “conversion” growth, for a total of thirty-one people. These three paths into a church are always open, but there are also ways out of a church.
The “back door” is the way people leave a church. Traffic flows out of a church’s back door in three ways. The first way is through death. Each year many of God’s saints are called home to be with the Lord. A church typically loses to death I to 2 percent of its total worship attendance each year. A second way people leave a church is through “transfer.” As people transfer into one church, they are also transferring out of another. In general, a church loses 2 to 3 percent of its worship attendance through this means. A third way out is through “reversion.” People slowly drift away from a church with-out uniting with .another one. In North America “reversion” accounts for 2 to 6 percent of a church’s losses in worship attendance (see fig. 2).
For example, a church with two hundred in worship attendance will likely lose four people through death, six people through “transfer,” and up to twelve people through “reversion,” for a total of twenty-two.
In order to find them and keep them, we need to stop, refocus our direction, then move ahead. Having spent many hours working in local churches, evaluating their strengths and their weaknesses, I have come to the conclusion that there are two key questions upon which we must focus.
Question #1: How can we develop strategies that will bring more people in our front door?
Question #2: How can we develop strategies that will keep people from leaving through our back door?
This book focuses on ten strategies. Five strategies will answer the first question and enable a church to reach new people for Christ. The other five strategies will answer the second question and enable a church to assimilate new members.
Five Strategies For Finding Them
Casey Stengel once said, “It’s easy to get good players. Getting em to play together, that’s the hard part.” What is true in baseball is also true in the ministry of the local church. At least five key players or strategies must be united and balanced in a local church to achieve effective evangelism.
Evangelism Strategy 1: Be Present In Your Community
The Salvation Army has made it clear that they want to be present in times of crisis. They want to be the extension of the loving Savior’s hand into the community. They are an army that has taken to heart the words of Christ when He said, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me” (Matt. 25:35-36). Like the Salvation Army, a local church must be willing to establish a presence in its community. Church leaders must answer the question, “Who are we helping?”
Evangelism Strategy 2: Proclaim The Gospel
Campus Crusade for Christ’s burden is proclaiming Christ. Dr. Bill Bright’s focus, passed down to his staff, is vividly portrayed in the way he signs his letters: “Yours for fulfilling the Great Commission in this generation, Bill.” Like Campus Crusade for Christ, a local church must have effective ways to communicate the gospel to lost people. Church leaders must answer the question, “How are we helping people to hear the good news?”
Evangelism Strategy 3: Persuade People To Accept Christ
Billy Graham focuses on another form of reaching our world persuasion. His life has been dedicated to sharing the news of salvation with millions of people and creating within his listeners the desire to respond. His ministry is similar to that of the apostle Paul, who knew the fear of the Lord and persuaded people. Like Billy Graham, a local church must have effective ways to help people accept Christ. Church leaders must answer the question, “How are we helping people make decisions for Christ?”
Evangelism Strategy 4: Help People Progress In The Christian Life
The Navigators have helped us see the need for discipleship, or what we call “progression evangelism.”
You can lead a soul to Christ in from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, but it takes from 20 weeks to a couple of years to get him on the road to maturity, victorious over the sins and recurring problems that come along
Navigators have the progression of the saint as their dream. They see the call to “make disciples” as their scriptural focus, and have designed follow-up programs and materials to accomplish just that. Like the Navigators, a local church must have effective ways to disciple new converts. Church leaders must answer the question, “How are we helping people continue in their faith?”
Evangelism Strategy 5: Help People Produce New Believers
All of these ingredients are vital to the growth of a church, and this fifth ingredient is necessary to balance our evangelistic strategy. We call it “production evangelism.” This component of evangelism takes to heart the need to train church members so that they become witnesses for Christ. We must answer, “How are we helping people learn to share their faith?”
Chapters 1 through 5 of this book focus on this issue of balancing evangelism. Each chapter allows you to evaluate your church in each crucial area. Next, an evaluation chapter helps you develop a balanced strategy of evangelism in your church.
Five Strategies For Keeping Them
Just as people enter the church and become responsible members, others walk out of the “back door” disillusioned or hurt. When an equal number of people are coming in and going out, the church appears to be growing when it has actually plateaued.
Like the five strategies for balanced evangelism, there are also five strategies which enable a church to have an effective assimilation strategy.
Assimilation Strategy 1: Help People Develop Friendships
While I was on a tour of the giant California sequoias, a guide pointed to one of these great trees and mentioned that it has roots that grow barely below the surface. Sequoia trees only grow in groves, and their roots inter-twine under the surface of the earth. When the strong winds come, they hold each other up. In a sense, people are like the giant sequoias. Family, friends, neighbors, the church body, and other groups are reinforcing. When the strong winds of life blow, these people serve as reinforcement to hold each other up. Church leaders must answer the question, “How are we helping our people develop friendships?”
Assimilation Strategy 2: Help People Become Involved
Everyone yearns to feel secure and significant. While friendships provide security, appropriate responsibility provides a sense of significance. New people want to be valued for their contribution as well as loved. Effective assimilation occurs only when people take on a specific position, designated function, or a new responsibility. People who feel good about the contributions they are making are less likely to drop out. Church leaders must answer the question, “How are we helping our people to use their gifts and talents?”
Assimilation Strategy 3: Help People Belong
In the early church, the quality of the Christians’ relationships in the group setting was the measure of their Christian authenticity. Scripture records that the first disciples met in large groups for public worship and in small groups for fellowship. It was in the small groups that people found a strong sense of bonding that resulted in effective ministry. Relating to small groups, as well as to large crowds, was the key to communicating the gospel and generating enthusiasm. Church leaders must answer the question, “How are we helping our people find a place to belong?”
Assimilation Strategy 4: Help People Work Together
Good group morale is an elusive goal. Effective assimilation takes place when the church learns how to get people to work together and for each other. Not only does good esprit de corps enable people to get more accomplished in less time, it also draws in new people. Since many visitors and new members find it difficult to identify with the vision, leadership, or values of a church, leaders must develop a plan of orientation that will create ownership in a church’s ministry. They must answer the question, “How are we helping our people identify with our values and goals?”
Assimilation Strategy 5: Help People Grow In Their Faith
Living in Southern California gives us opportunity to drive to the beach and take an occasional reflective stroll along the shore. When there has been a storm out in the Pacific and the winds are up, I most enjoy watching the sea gulls gracefully riding the currents as they flee turbulent weather offshore. Many of the people in our churches are fleeing storms. They are looking for cur-rents of grace that will both lift them up and cause them to move forward once again. Church leaders must answer the question, “How are we helping our people face the realities of life?”
How does your church measure up? Chapters 6 through 10 will focus on this issue of balancing assimilation. Each of these chapters will help you evaluate your own church in one crucial area. Last, an evaluation chapter will provide a way to help you develop a balanced strategy of assimilation in your church.
So, have you ever seen a pigeon walking? Let’s begin walking like pigeons as we examine our own churches and plan effective strategies to find new people and keep them. Are you ready? Head forward, stop; head back, stop. Don’t laugh that’s how it goes!
This article Have You Ever Seen A Pigeon Walking? written by Gary McIntosh and Glen Martin is excerpted from Finding Them, Keeping Them: Effective Strategies For Evangelism And Assimilation In The Local Church written by Gary McIntosh and Glen Martin.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.