How to increase church membership: A pastor's checklist

September 15, 2023

Choosing to become a church member signifies a commitment to a local body of Christ. It shows that an individual has embraced the church’s vision, values how that church operates, and wants to be part of something significant. The challenge for leaders today on how to increase church membership is creating or maintaining a church culture that values creating deep roots. 

Unfortunately, church membership is in decline. A 2020 Gallup study found the number of people belonging to a church fell to under 50% for the first time in history. This change is partially due to the overall decline in religious affiliation as well as a drop in the value placed on church membership by younger generations. 

Additionally, as society becomes more mobile, it’s common for families to move multiple times in their lifetimes. Church leaders will see more families move in and out of their areas than previous generations. Developing disciples requires time, consistency, and relationships. Those elements are only available to someone committed to growing deeper roots in a church community. 

Trying to quickly integrate new attendees while also developing long-term disciples creates unique challenges for church leaders:

  • How do we engage new attendees and families quickly?
  • What motivates someone to become a member of our church?
  • Have we made church membership part of the culture of our church?
  • What can we do to encourage church attendance?

Another study of U.S. adults identified several critical factors for why people attend church. Those factors included:

  • Sermon content
  • Spiritual programs for children and teens
  • Outreach and volunteer opportunities
  • Dynamic leaders

Pastors and church leaders can leverage this information to attract new attendees and determine how to foster a culture of church membership. This checklist aims to help pastors and church leaders see what’s already working and where there’s room for improvement.

A pastor’s membership growth checklist

1. Develop a compelling mission statement

Someone who is already a Christian and has attended a few services might be interested in joining a church. However, they often need a compelling reason to commit to a specific church community. 

One way to ensure you’re effectively communicating the unique culture and values of your church is through a mission statement. A clear and concise mission statement communicated through various methods will help new attendees learn about your church. If you don’t have a mission statement or have had one for a long time, ensure it accurately reflects your church’s heart and goals.

Once you have a mission statement ready, share it on your church’s social media channels, weekly email newsletter, church bulletin, and announce it from the pulpit. Talk with small group leaders and have them discuss it at their next meetings. Start weaving key elements of the mission statement into sermons and other venues. 

Set a goal to ensure that anyone who attends the church for a few months can name at least a few parts of the mission statement if asked.

2. Create a clear membership pathway

The lack of clear steps to membership can create an unnecessary barrier for people joining your church. How would a new visitor know they can become a member, and where should they start? Connect with newer members and find out how they learned about the process. Did they have to seek it out, or did they hear it presented several times? 

Discuss the membership pathway with staff and volunteers to ensure they know and can communicate it clearly. Create a graphic or a short list to depict how to become a church member. Does that involve meeting with the pastor or other leader? Do they need to sign up for a membership class? What does that process look like, and where does one begin? Make that pathway crystal clear so it’s easy to get started. 

3. Organize special events to attract unchurched people

Plan and promote a few special events each year that focus on attracting people from the community who aren’t part of a church. Events could include:

  • An Easter egg hunt at a local park
  • A back-to-school outreach
  • A unique Vacation Bible School program

Another way to reach people around your church is to participate in community events. Many towns host Christmas parades, summer farmers’ markets, charity races, and job fairs. Find opportunities for your church to support these events. Perhaps there are opportunities for church volunteers to serve at public events, like handing out water at a race or setting up a booth for shade at a summer event.

Your people are the face of your church, and their smiles and testimonies are often the most effective forms of free advertising. Whenever these opportunities arise, prepare them to share information about the church. Hand out cards that include the website and physical address of the church. Start conversations, ask questions, and invite people to weekly services and other upcoming events.

As people visit your church, inquire how they heard about it. Their input will help you determine which events are the most successful at spreading the word about the church. Update the events you host or participate in based on that input.

Thriving Church ebook with Carey Nieuwhof

4. Provide mentorship & leadership development programs

Invest in the longevity of your church by building a solid leadership pipeline. Offer mentorship and leadership classes to members as a way to help them grow personally and professionally. As they complete these classes, provide opportunities for them to lead within the church. 

Developing new leaders accomplishes a few key goals:

  • Providing leadership programs demonstrates that your church cares about individuals in all aspects of their lives. When people see that church leaders are willing to put the time and effort into helping them grow, they’re more likely to commit to that church community.
  • Good leaders raise up more leaders. As they complete these programs and begin to take on leadership responsibilities at the church, you’ll have a pipeline of solid leaders you can count on.
  • If local businesses and city officials notice church members who are also excellent leaders, they might be more willing to partner with the church on community efforts in the future.

5. Optimize the church service experience

Before someone even considers becoming a church member, you’ll need to ensure they have a positive experience during weekly services. Find out what kind of first impression your church makes by talking with a few newer attendees. 

  • What was their initial impression of your church?
  • Did they receive a friendly welcome from door greeters?
  • If they have children, was the check-in process quick and simple for their family? 
  • Did their kids have positive things to say about the children’s ministry?
  • Were they told how to get involved in a small group or Sunday school class?

Take the data they provide and pivot as needed so your church gives a great first impression.

6. Improve church facilities & amenities

If a first-time visitor pulls into the church parking lot and finds large potholes, overgrown weeds in the sidewalk, or unsightly litter, they likely won’t return. Likewise, you’ll have better success retaining church members when the church building and campus are well-maintained and updated. 

Perform a church facility health assessment by walking around the campus and noting anything that looks dated or needs repair: 

  • Examine interior walkways for chipped tiles or frayed carpets. 
  • Check walls for scuff marks, water damage, or cracks. 
  • Confirm that handicapped parking spaces are well-marked and that entrances are accessible.
  • Walk through the nursery and children’s classrooms. Do they look clean, safe, and inviting to small children? Will parents feel safe leaving their kids in these areas?
  • Consider the signage throughout the building. Is the main entrance easy to locate? Can visiting parents find the children’s check-in area without help? Could a visitor quickly find a restroom? 

Also, consider adding amenities such as playground equipment or designated spaces for various activities. Work to create a space that meets the needs of different age groups within the congregation. These steps will attract people to the church beyond weekly services and help establish the church as a central hub for the community.

7. Enhance church technology to connect & engage

Most people will search for a church online before visiting in person. When people today want to find a church, they search for things like “churches near me” or “popular churches in [city name].” An informative and user-friendly website with updated church information can help your church be more discoverable. 

Visitors and faithful attendees value technology for keeping them updated, connected, and engaged. Make sure your church’s online presence offers gospel-centered resources to help people grow in their spiritual journey. For example, Subsplash church apps create a hub for your church to share your church videos and live streams, foster communication, and encourage active participation. 

Your online tools should also help you stay in touch with members throughout the week. With Subsplash, you can combine your email, text messages, and group messaging to personalize your communications, such as updates, newsletters, and prayer requests. Leverage social media platforms to share content and engage with the online community.

Additionally, you can utilize online small group tools to help people locate and sign up for a small group. Another way to serve potential new members is to livestream church services so they can stay connected even if they can’t attend in person.

8. Foster a fun & positive church culture

A church community should be a welcoming and accepting environment where believers can grow in their Christian faith, develop strong relationships, and share in life’s victories and challenges. Collaborate with key church leaders and volunteers on how to build real relationships and help church members connect with each other. 

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Develop or enhance a small group program.
  • Celebrate volunteers and communicate your appreciation for their hard work.
  • Commemorate milestones in the church’s history and in your community.
  • Offer monthly times for baby dedications and pray for the parents.
  • Throw parties for Pastor Appreciation Day and other important dates for your church.

9. Develop outreach programs & service projects

Most people want to serve a common cause alongside other like-minded individuals. Establish outreach efforts like a soup kitchen, food pantry, after-school tutoring, or other program where church volunteers can serve others. 

These volunteer opportunities can foster deeper relationships among church members and position the church as a servant within the community.

10. Tell a compelling story

Pastors, teachers, and parents can all attest to the power of a compelling story. Stories capture our attention and help us see the potential we may otherwise overlook. 

Encourage your leadership and current members to share testimonies of what compelled them to join the church and how that decision has impacted their lives. Record these as video testimonials and play them during a church service, or post clips on social media. These authentic narratives can inspire newcomers to commit to the church.

Remember why church growth is important

We hope this list inspires you with new ways to attract people to your church and to commit to it through church membership. As you decide what to do next, take this one step at a time. Implement an idea, measure the results, and talk with various people within your community to see how you can improve. 

Increasing church membership isn’t a task to check off and never revisit. The effort to increase church membership is ongoing and will require constant evaluation and adaptation to meet the changing needs of the congregation. Don’t let that dissuade you, though. Remember Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” 

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Deborah Ike, Guest author

Deborah Ike is a wife, home-schooling mama, and writer. With over 20 years of experience in business consulting and ministry, she writes to provide insights and tips to church leaders. She specializes in church business administration topics. 

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