The Law of Prime Time
How one church
started 10 groups overnight
church tripled in ten years
What they have
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
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
- Dynamic worship
- Life-changing Bible study
- Intentional outreach
The staff of Immanuel
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.
- Deacon contact--Sunday afternoon phone
- Letter from the pastor--sent Monday.
- Letter to the Sunday School workers--sent
Monday. (I asked about emailing these; they said that is in
- Personal notes from Sunday School workers
- Church-wide outreach. Monday night
- 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.
- Pastor's assignments. The pastor
personally calls every visitor every week.
- Staff visitation. Monday night also. All
staff are required to be involved. Other visits made through the
week as well.
- 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
(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
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
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
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
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
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.