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Rethinking Membership Development

Church Wellness

A day did exist when a church could grow and thrive by opening its doors on Sunday and welcoming whoever arrived. Knowing how to welcome regulars and visitors was as much evangelism as a congregation needed to do.

That day ended long ago. Nowadays, most churches don’t have enough visitors to offset the inevitable attrition that happens when people die, move out of town, or lose interest. And “regular attendance” now means one or two Sundays a month, not three or four.

To some extent, this is a “Sunday problem.” People are busy on Sundays and no longer see Sunday morning as “church time.” The smart church is learning how to offer worship at other times of the week.

To some extent, this is a “worship problem.” More and more people find worship too passive, too audience-focused, too busy, and, to be honest, too boring. The smart congregation is learning how to offer more than worship. Those offerings can include small groups, mission teams, online studies, retreats, social/fellowship events like church suppers, and single-generation ministries.

And to some extent, this is a “marketing problem.” Most churches are functionally invisible. Other than owning well-maintained property, it isn’t clear from the outside what a congregation actually does. Non-churchgoers aren’t motivated to inquire. Attending church once was normative among all age groups; now it is unusual among the young and middle-aged. They don’t wake up Sunday morning and wonder where to go to church.

You can see why just opening the door on Sunday isn’t accomplishing much. People need to be led, invited, informed, gathered, and sold. It’s more of a marketing and sales issue than theological. If you have something to offer, you can’t just display it. You have to “sell” it. Many longtime church folks recoil at the language of marketing, as if somehow the tools of marketing and sales were impure. They need to get over that attitude.

Here are four stages of an effective development program. I will unpack these in upcoming issues of this Church Wellness Report.


These are people whose lives you touch. Their children attend your preschool, they shop at your annual fair, they play softball on your field, they attend dance classes in your basement, they know the pastor from community activities.


These are touches who have expressed an interest in something your church is doing. They are open to knowing more about you.


These are prospects who have expressed a solid interest in “buying your product.” They have attended an inquirers’ class, or requested a meeting with the pastor, or signed on to a mission team.


These are leads who have affiliated. I hesitate to use the term “member,” because affiliating with a church in 2015 might not entail formal rituals of joining.

It takes thousands of touches to yield a few hundred prospects, and several hundred prospects to yield several dozen leads, and maybe 100 leads to yield fifty new constituents. Ask any salesperson how many cold calls, emails, followups, visits and meals it takes to make a sale.

Watch for more in coming issues.

About the Author Tom Ehrich

Tom is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns. His website is Church Wellness – Morning Walk Media

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