Here’s a question: What do you do when your church is growing?
Your service is filling up and the energy and momentum feel great - It’s actually getting hard to find a seat or a parking spot.
This is awesome. God is moving.
So, what do you do?
High-five each other and keep watching as the service fills up?
There is a tipping point in church services where too full is a bad thing.
The environmental energy turns from positive to negative when people encounter frustrations parking, finding a seat or dropping off their children in your kid’s ministry.
Research shows that when your church service is beyond 80% full, you have a problem.
It’s time to act if you want to keep the momentum moving in the right direction.
If you don’t, there’s a good chance the momentum will swing in the wrong direction.
I want to talk about what to do when your church service is 80% full or beyond.
But before we do, there are a few important questions to ask:
- How full is your church service? Don’t guess here! Facts are your friends. Good data enables us to make good decisions. If you don’t know the answer to this question, track your attendance over the next few months and run it against your seating capacity.
- Where are your pinch points? It’s possible that your adult church service is 60% full and your kid's ministry is 95% full. It’s also possible that your adult service and your kid's ministry have plenty of capacity but your parking lot is so full that people are circling your lot for ten minutes every week getting more and more frustrated before they give up and head home.
- How clear are your values? Any steps of expansion will place stress on your organizational values and culture. I would discourage any expansion model if the people of your church (staff especially!) aren’t united around a crystal-clear set of organizational values.
Now, if you are 80% full in your adult services, here are a few suggested expansion ideas.
My goal here is to help generate good conversation about the best next steps.
Add an Identical Service at a Different Time Slot
Personally, I think this expansion step is the simplest and most strategic. Why? You’re simply duplicating what you already do. You’re not adding anything you aren’t already good at. Also, you can promote an engagement model of “attend one and serve at one.” We have found this to be very successful.
With that said, the weaknesses of adding another service are increased workload for your staff and you will now need a bunch of new volunteers. We all know that recruiting volunteers is a daunting task.
Launch a Video Venue On-Site
A similar idea to launching an identical live service is to launch a simultaneous video service.
This can include live and video elements.
For example, when we do this, everything is live and in person, except the sermon, which is live but on video.
The benefits of a video venue or service…
- If you have a great preacher, he or she can simply be broadcast to the other venue.
- When you add a video venue in your current available space, you can continue to use your existing parking and kid's ministry. This is a great idea if your only pinch point is the adult service.
A few drawbacks…
- Not everyone wants to watch elements of a worship service on a screen. This could be especially problematic if you are struggling in the area of authenticity and warmth.
- There is a financial cost to purchase, maintain and use the technology to pull off quality video services.
Expand Your Current Building or Purchase a New Building
Sometimes the most strategic expansion plan is to add-on to your current building.
This makes a lot of sense if you are in a great location or if you are only experiencing a pinch point in one area.
For example, perhaps the smartest thing you can do is expand your kid's ministry space.
There are a few reasons why this might not be a good idea.
It will be expensive!
Perhaps your congregation wouldn’t respond well to a capital campaign?
Also, perhaps your building isn’t in great shape or isn’t in a strategic location.
Maybe it would be a better idea to purchase or build a new location in a better location?
Again, with this idea...Big $$$, and debt will limit your opportunities in the future.
Personally, I’d be asking, how many identical services can we run without overloading our staff and volunteers?
A Different Type of Service
Many churches, including the one I used to work at, have pursued this model of expansion.
The idea is to launch a different type of service at the same time as your current service, or even at a different time.
Usually, it is a service with a different worship style.
Personally, I am not a big fan of this model because it can really place stress on your church’s values and culture.
If one service becomes really popular, the other often suffers in attendance.
There is likely conflict ahead in this scenario.
With that said, this model can also be highly successful in terms of attracting a new demographic.
For example, if you launch an identical service in a different language, you have created an opportunity to reach a new group of people in your area.
Also, perhaps your church is older and you know you need to grow younger.
And yet, all your financial support comes from older people who are adamant about their preferred worship style.
You know where this is going.
All I’m saying is that sometimes this model works but often it leads to real challenges.
Launch a Satellite Campus
As you know, many churches are launching satellite campuses right now.
If you’re unfamiliar with this model, the idea is to launch a campus, near or far that has the exact DNA as your current church.
Often the entire service is on video, except for a host pastor, or perhaps the worship.
This model can be effective because you can expand your geographical reach if you are mostly using video, and limit your staff requirements.
You also have options in terms of how extensive your ministry offerings will be.
You could focus on a younger demographic and forgo kid's ministry entirely.
Or, if the satellite campus is close enough to your main campus, you can push attenders of the satellite campus to engage with the main campus’s auxiliary ministries (students, men’s, women’s, etc.)
If you are considering this approach, my opinion is that relationships are critical.
You will likely need a point person who is very relational and pastoral.
Also, it is fairly easy to experience divergence in terms of value and culture with this model.
Lastly, many people seem to be open to the preaching on a screen, but worship is another matter.
This is the expansion model of my church.
The early days were especially challenging as we figured out reporting structures and debated what elements of the satellite had to be identical to the main campus and what elements could be unique.
It has been a challenge but we’ve seen a lot of growth through this model.
Launch a Live Campus
Other churches prefer to launch a completely live campus.
For this model, see everything I said above and add live preaching to the experience.
This is obviously a very expensive choice.
You have a huge initial price tag in purchasing or building a full campus, as well as a substantial ongoing expense.
Also, it can be very difficult to backfill the staff you must send to a new campus to launch it effectively.
I highly discourage hiring brand new staff to launch a campus.
Your values and culture will go right out the window.
If you have the financial and staff resources to pull this off, it can be highly successful.
And if you have a solid team of preachers, this can be a fantastic model.
I much prefer rotating preachers or one dedicated live preacher to each campus over building a series of satellite campuses around a rockstar preacher.
As we are seeing across our country, attempting to replace a rockstar preacher at retirement is incredibly challenging.
Plant a Church
Many believe that the best expansion strategy is not to become a larger and larger church but rather to multiply and plant new churches in new areas.
What I love about this model is that it requires many people to band together, use their gifts and rely on God to build something together.
An experience like this can grow people’s faith in incredible ways.
Also, many people don’t want to be part of a megachurch.
They love the feel of a smaller or medium size church.
There are many pros to this model: expanded reach, true multiplication and a short-term financial commitment.
However, the cons can be a challenge: You will lose some of your most dedicated and gifted people.
If you don’t have a good system of developing and discipling people in your church, it can take a very long time to rebuild your volunteer and leadership core.
Also, there tends to be a high initial cost when you plant another church.
Ok...that was a long post, but I hope it was helpful.
Perhaps you are in that 80% full range right now, attempting to figure out the best next steps.
I pray this post generates helpful conversation.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out in the comments below if you have questions or ideas about expansion and church growth.