The Law of Prime Time

How one church started 10 groups overnight

How another church tripled in ten years

What they have in common.

Nothing is important until the pastor says it is important. I started to type, "Nothing is important until the pastor thinks it is important." That is not right. Nothing is important until the pastor says, and says and says and says it is important.

It is the law of prime time. If you want to get anything to be a part of the culture of the church, you have to get it to prime time. Prime time, in church life, is Sunday morning. You have to get it to Sunday morning, and you have to get the pastor to say it is important. Whether it is prayer ministry, missions, evangelism or doubling groups, if you really want it to happen, you have to get it to prime time. Nothing is important until the pastor says it is important.

I have the privilege of being in a lot of fine churches. Over half the churches I am in are growing, many of them growing rapidly. We know that roughly 80% of the churches in America are plateaued or declining. But, most of the churches that I am in are growing.

I was in two such churches recently. They are very different stories, but they have one thing in common. See if you can find what it is.

How one church tripled in 10 years.

Immanuel Baptist, Tallahassee is an amazing turn-around story. Not only because they have tripled in the last decade, but also because this story is so doable You can do this! We might not can all be New Life, but many of us can do this.

First, let's look at the bottom line. I retrieved this information directly off the Uniform Church Letter (or whatever they call that now; old terminology dies slowly) Here is the 20 year growth picture:

Before I get into how they did this, any guesses as to what the prominent thoughts of the pastor are these days? Do you think it is, "Boy have we done a great job! Let's kick back and rest. Too bad everyone is not growing like we are."


The dominant thought on Pastor Rich Kincl's mind is, "Why has the growth slowed, and what do we need to do to turn in around?" I tried to persuade them that the slower growth they are experiencing now is nothing to be ashamed of and not to feel too badly about it. I don't think he bought it.

"How did you do it?" I asked. "How did you do what 99% of the churches in this country are not able to do?" As expected, Rich had a ready and simple answer. It contains three parts:

  • Dynamic worship
  • Life-changing Bible study
  • Intentional outreach

The staff of Immanuel Baptist

I thought I had an idea of what he meant by Dynamic worship and life-changing Bible study, so I asked how the outreach worked. (Before you gloss over the first two points and assume your worship is great and your Bible Study is great, see my article on The No Good Dog Food Company.

I asked about how the outreach worked. Again, they had a quick reply. "We have a nine-step strategy." It all has to do with how they treat guests. Let's get started.

  1. Deacon contact--Sunday afternoon phone call.
  2. Letter from the pastor--sent Monday.
  3. Letter to the Sunday School workers--sent Monday. (I asked about emailing these; they said that is in progress.)
  4. Personal notes from Sunday School workers and staff.
  5. Church-wide outreach. Monday night visitation.
  6. Ministerial staff assignments. Assigned on Monday. They go over each name in staff meeting. They sent me the working copy of the document they go over week by week. It is 56 pages long! That takes, "Know well the condition of your flock" to a new level.
  7. Pastor's assignments. The pastor personally calls every visitor every week.
  8. Staff visitation. Monday night also. All staff are required to be involved. Other visits made through the week as well.
  9. Wednesday evening cards. Little yellow cards. They take prospects to adult worship and hand them out. People are asked to call each week.

The thing I noticed about this list is although the call it outreach, and in a way it is, it is not going out into the community. It is taking really good care of the visitors we have. In my book, You Can Double, I have a section on reaching the reachable. The most reachable people in town are the people who visit your worship service. Most churches can grow just by taking really good care of their visitors. And, this approach does have a positive approach on evangelistic growth, not just transfer growth. Look at what happened to the baptism numbers as Immanuel started this approach.

One issue that was raised over this lunch meeting was tracking people the first time they hit four absences in a row. This is a good thing to watch if you suspect you have a back door problem. I read somewhere that if we catch them after four consecutive absences, we have a real good chance to get them back. If we wait 6 months, our chances drop substantially.  Besides, it is just the Christian thing to do to keep up with the flock God has entrusted to us.

Databases help us do this. I asked about this and they said their database was smart enough to generate a weekly list of people who hit four absences on this week. "What do we do with the list?" someone asked. Before I could make something up to answer, Pastor Rich responded, "Give it to me. I will call them."

This is the point I want to make in this week's article: Note the pastor's personal involvement in this process. The pastor was the first one to volunteer to make some calls. The pastor made calls every week. The pastor hands out yellow slips on Wednesday night. Personally. The pastor did not ask anyone to do what he did not do. The pastor embodied the vision. Whatever the pastor says is important is important. It is the law of prime time.

(For details on how to do this kind of analysis at your church, see this:

How one church birthed 10 groups all at once

Canopy Roads is a 10 year old Willowcreek-style Southern Baptist Church. Their services are very contemporary, seeker-driven, Willowcreekish. They have not seen the growth that Willowcreek has, but they have grown consistently over the past ten years. They have built a building and have laid a foundation for many years of effective ministry. The chart below displays their small group attendance. Worship attendance would be about twice these numbers.

Recently they went through the 40 Days of Community, the follow up to the 40 Days of Purpose campaign. (Aside: I asked Pastor Matt how the 40 Days of Community Compared to 40 Days of Purpose. Often, the sequel is not as good as the original. "If 40 Days of Purpose was a 10, what was 40 Days of Community?" "11!" was his hasty reply) See

The 40 Day Campaign includes a video based small group component. Rather than just be content with letting the existing groups go through the material, they decided to take this opportunity to start a bunch of new groups. They asked people to volunteer to do a home group once a week for 40 days. They provided a video based curriculum so that all people had to do is what group leaders do at Saddleback:

  • Heart for people
  • Open their homes
  • Serve refreshments
  • Turn on the Television

They didn't ask people to teach for the rest of their lives--just once a week for 40 days. They didn't ask them to do lengthy preparation--just turn on the television. They got 10 volunteers and started 10 new groups overnight. Most of them are continuing beyond the 40 days as ongoing groups. (I read on Saddleback's web page that they started 900 new groups in a similar way!)

Key point here: the pastor led this effort from the pulpit. Its the law of Prime Time. Nothing is important until the pastor says it is important.

What they have in common

Canopy Roads and Immanuel have little in common besides both being Baptists and both being in Tallahassee, FL. But, they have this in common. They are led by a leader who knows the law of Prime Time. Nothing is important until the pastor says it is important. Nothing is important until the pastor says it from the pulpit on Sunday morning. That is the law of prime time.

Perhaps you are intrigued, as I am with the possibility of doubling groups. A group of 10 can reach 1000 by doubling every 18 months. It is happening in Church Planting Movements all around the world. It is happening in Atlanta. It is happening in Bogotá. If it ever happens in your town, it will happen in cooperation with the law of prime time. The pastor must say it on Sunday morning. Nothing is important until the pastor says it is important. Sunday morning is PRIME TIME.