The X Factor in Declining Churches
What characteristic do growing churches have in common? The answer might surprise you.
More than 15 years ago, I led a major research project on the characteristics of the most evangelistic churches in my denomination. My team was able to identify 576 churches that represented the top 5 percent of all churches in conversion growth.
From that point, we were able to identify nine correlated characteristics of churches that were evangelistic versus those that were not.
Some of the correlated factors were surprising; others were not.
There was one factor, however, that was a bit surprising to me: The evangelistic churches were more likely to have a traditional outreach program.
The Nature of These Outreach Programs
Even back in 1995, traditional outreach programs were in decline. There were two types that were more popular than others.
In one approach, church members would visit someone who visited the prior Sunday. Typically these visits were “cold calls,” in that the church members showed up in the visitors’ homes unannounced and unexpected.
The second more common approach was a memorized evangelistic visit, sometimes derogatorily called a “canned” evangelism program.
Again, the church members would often visit in the home without an invitation. One of the church members would be responsible for delivering a memorized Gospel presentation.
Culture Changed and Outreach Programs Declined
For better or worse, our culture has changed. Most people today really do not want someone showing up in their homes unexpectedly.
As less families and individuals were willing to receive these unexpected guests, the excitement of the outreach programs declined. They were deemed ineffective, probably rightly so.
Eventually most churches abandoned the traditional outreach approach.