3 Lessons This Church is Learning About Growth

We were singing a hymn during the service on Sunday when all of the sudden, we hear a trombone bellowing above us as if welcoming royalty from on high. I turned expecting to see Queen Elizabeth II walking into the church. Then I looked up to see Rev. Caleb Lines, Senior Pastor of University Christian Church, announcing himself to us as the prophet Isaiah. I laughed. "This guy is crazy," I thought. He had my attention.

University Christian Church is a Disciples of Christ congregation in San Diego, CA. Like many mainline churches, they have struggled to maintain their budget and membership over the years. They have had their fair share of conflict, people moving, the neighborhood transitioning.  Right now they are in a season of growth and working with the Center for Progressive Renewal to design their strategic plan. During this process, the leaders at University Christian Church have learned three things about growing their congregation that might benefit you:

  1. Growth is a BYPRODUCT of a vibrant, relevant mission.  Growth is never the point. People don't come just because they want to celebrate the number of people sitting in the pews. They come to church because they want to know God in a way that changes their lives and also to serve others in making the world a better place. When they know God and can serve their neighbors, they tell their friends.
  2. Sunday morning is important, but it's not the only time YOU count. Sunday morning seems to be the only time most churches count people as being part of the church. Some people can't come on Sunday morning or don't want to. But they are just as involved in the Thursday night small group or the Saturday homeless breakfast. They don't count less just because they don't show up for one hour on a Sunday. If you are going measure, be sure you are measuring the full participation of all of your people. You will be amazed at how large your congregation really is and the difference you make.  
  3. When people come for the first time, give them a job and a friend. People come to church because someone invited them or because they found you online. They come back because you introduced them to someone (gave them a friend), and you helped them connect to meaningful ministry that they can do the next Sunday (gave them a job). If your church has a mission or ministry that needs volunteers (serving breakfast to the homeless, working at a food pantry, etc) these are the best places to get new people involved. They want to feel like they are making the world better because they are a part of your church.

University Christian Church has a lot of people visit the church. With a young, trombone playing pastor who also wears bowties, it's amazing that they don't flood through the doors (smile). But they have learned that getting people to come back is harder than you would think. This congregation's gift is that they have fun trying. Check them out when you have a chance. They are a really great church!