Regular participation in visitation was a strong positive predictor of growth. Leaders who regularly visit those outside the church—whether that’s follow-ups with visitors or absentees, or even door-to-door visitation—are 78% more likely to have groups that are growing, compared with those who never or almost never ”pound the pavement.”
There’s a lesson in this finding that you won’t read in a lot of church-growth books today. Try this: Stop by your average Christian bookstore. Go to the section for pastors and leaders, and peruse some of the titles. Chances are you’ll come away with the idea that you have to be innovative, missional, purpose-driven, hip or cool or with-it or different to grow a church. If you’re a pastor you might think, “My church is never going to be any of those things. Can we still be effective? Can a ‘normal’ (and a bit old-fashioned) church like ours still be effective and useful to God in today’s world?”
I have a friend who’s a pastor in El Paso, Texas. He has enjoyed remarkable growth in his church, doubling twice in about five years. I asked him how he did it. Because I’ve been to many church-growth conferences and read more than my share of current church-growth books, I poked him a bit, asking specific questions about his ministry.
“Do you have a hot band?” I probed.
“What?” He acted like he didn’t understand the question, so I asked again.
“No, we don’t have a hot band. Our music is completely traditional.” Now, there’s language you don’t hear much anymore. Almost everyone describes their music as blended, contemporary, or in a few cases, edgy. My friend used the word without apology: “Our music is completely traditional.” But he didn’t stop there. “Yeah, it’s not only traditional, it’s bad traditional.”
“Yeah, bad, like, bad. The piano isn’t in tune and the people don’t play very well. The singers don’t sing very well. Nothing is done very well. It’s bad.”
“How in the world did you double your church, then?”
“Well, here‘s how I did it. On day one, I went to work. I showed up at my office at 9.00 a.m., set down my keys and walked right back out the front door to the house next door. I knocked on the door and no one was home. I went to the next door. No one was home. I went to the next door. An elderly gentleman answers the door. I introduced myself. ‘I’m Pastor Jim from the church next door. I just wanted to stop by and introduce myself and…’ About this time he slammed the door in my face.”
“I went to the next house and the next and the next. A lot of people weren’t home. I kept notes on that so I could go back. A few people were rude. A lot didn’t seem too interested. Around house number 30, I started getting a better response. People seemed open. The lady there had a mom who was in the hospital. She asked if I could go by and see her. I did. One thing led to another and they later started coming to church.
“Around house number 50, I really hit the jackpot. The people I met at this point were totally interested. I was able to share Christ with them and they placed their faith in Jesus. I baptized them that weekend. They have been faithful members ever since.
“I kept this up four days a week for about half a day each day. Five years later I’m still doing it. Soon I got other people to come with me. The church grew. We added staff. One of my requirements for staff is that they must be willing to spend half their time knocking on doors. That’s how we doubled the church twice in the last five years.”
Is this the only way to grow a church? Absolutely not! I think one of the smartest things that Rick Warren ever said was, “It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.”
Visitation isn’t for everybody. It’s certainly not the only way to grow a group or a church. In fact, it’s worth remembering that we’re wrapping up a section called “Things That Matter Some.”
We’re about to get into things that matter a lot. Pound for pound, we have methods that more positively and consistently predict growth than visitation. But if you love to visit people and you’re good at it, don’t let anyone discourage you. Don’t let anyone tell you that your way is old-fashioned and that it can’t work anymore.
This principle applies to more than just visitation. There are lots of methods that have been discarded because some pundit decided they were old-fashioned and didn’t work anymore, and so we quit doing them. But here’s the real reason many methods don’t work: We don’t work them.
To paraphrase the words of Michael Gerber in The E-Myth, “Visitation doesn’t work. Seeker services don’t work. Purpose-driven churches don’t work. Giving Friday nights to Jesus doesn’t work. Small groups don’t work. Do you know what works? People work. People work through visitation and seeker services and small groups and all the rest.”
Visitation is not the only way to grow a group, nor is it even necessarily the best way, but it is a good way. If you’re positively disposed to do visitation, do it with all your heart.
Now, let’s move to those things that mattered a lot.
Josh Hunt. (2010). Make Your Group Grow.
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