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Growing Plans: Strategies to Increase Your Church's Membership [Secure eReader]
eBook by Lyle E. Schaller & William Easum

eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Five different strategies for increasing the size of the congregation are developed by Lyle E. Schaller--with applications to small, middle-sized, and larger churches. Schaller also includes comments on the formulation of a workable denominational strategy for church growth. No church exists in complete isolations from all other churches, notes Schaller, "although thousands of congregations appear not to believe it." Effectively using an informative case-history approach to outlining church-growth strategies, Schaller works from several basic assumptions. Visitation evangelism is the ideal method of obtaining new members, he says, but it is not always appropriate. He warns of the tendency of long-established congregations to attract "new" members from other churches ... "the circulation of the saints." Schaller also assumes that every church's approach to growth will rest on a foundation of its values, goals, dreams, prejudices, assumptions, interpretations of reality, theological perspectives, and understanding of the biblical imperative. It is good, says Schaller, for Christians to be members of congregations; it is good for congregations to receive new members; and it is good for denominations to grow in numbers.

eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: January 2004


The twenty-five-year history of the Church Growth Movement has produced scores, perhaps even hundreds, of different models and strategies for evangelism. This book does not represent an attempt to review, summarize, or evaluate that growing body of church growth models. That task must be left to a more ambitious analyst with another set of goals.

Despite this plethora of creative ideas and programs, the best single approach still is the old-fashioned system of personal visitation. This system affirms the value of face-to-face relationships and requires the pastor and lay volunteers to call, on a regular basis, on individuals and families who do not have an active relationship with any worshiping congregation. Some experienced practitioners of this approach contend that a minimum of six visits must be made, perhaps a month or two apart, before any decision can be made on whether or not that person's name should be retained on the list of prospective new members. Experience suggests that ten thousand such calls, some made by the pastor and others by carefully trained lay people, will result in one hundred to 200 new members' uniting with the congregation. If all of the calling is done by the pastor and/or a trained lay parish visitor and is directed at the first residents of new single-family homes, the response rate may be a little higher. If the calling is done entirely by laity who do not live in the community where the church building is, and if there are significant language, racial, or socio-economic class differences between the callers and the persons visited, the response rate may be somewhat lower.

This endorsement of visitation evangelism is offered partly to affirm that approach, but primarily to introduce the first of the seven basic assumptions on which this book is based. The first assumption is that there are some congregations that cannot enlist the necessary number of volunteers who possess the appropriate gifts and commitment for this approach to evangelism. This shortage tends to be especially prevalent among long-established congregations in which most of the people who might volunteer for this approach have been members of the congregation for at least a dozen years, and there has been a change of pastors since they united with that church. The most effective lay volunteers for visitation evangelism come in disproportionately large numbers from among those who have been members for less than three years, and who have joined since the arrival of the present minister.

A corollary to this first assumption, and one that many lay readers may find difficult to accept, is that there are some pastors who are very interested in church growth, but who are less than enthusiastic about visitation evangelism.

The last comment on visitation evangelism is that, despite the basic value of the approach, there are many congregations for which it is not the appropriate strategy.

The second major assumption on which this book is based is that no two congregations are identical, and the most significant single factor in identifying the differences among congregations is size. That assumption is the primary reason for suggesting that (a) every congregation would be well advised to tailor its church growth strategy to maximize its resources, assets, and strengths, including the unique gifts and talents of its pastor, and (b) a strategy that may be effective for one size church may not be appropriate for a different size congregation. The bulk of this book is devoted to describing three different strategies, one for small membership churches, one for middle-sized congregations, and one for large churches.

The third assumption is one that should not need to be defended, but thousands of congregations appear not to believe it: No congregation exists in complete isolation from all other churches. The fact that that assumption is not universally accepted is a major theme in the epistles of Paul. The reality of this assumption, however, should be apparent to every denominationally related congregation on the North American continent. The actions, policies, publications, guidelines, and priorities of the denomination affect the evangelistic outreach of every congregation in the denominational family. This is most apparent, of course, in the more "connectional" denominations; such as Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Catholic, and since 1962 or 1969, the three largest Lutheran bodies.

This third assumption provides the rationale for including in a brief last chapter several short comments about the formulation of a denominational strategy for church growth.

The policies, programs, and priorities of the denomination in the allocation of financial resources, in ministerial placement, in new church development, in the priorities placed on the time and energy of denominational staff, in the content of denominational periodicals, in the expectations placed on pastors and congregations, in the curriculum in the theological seminaries, in the emphasis placed on evangelism, and the components of that denominational strategy for church growth will affect the evangelistic outreach of most congregations in the denominational family.

The fourth assumption is based on two generalizations. First, church growth strategies in long-established congregations tend to be most effective in attracting people with an active church relationship. The long-established churches tend to be heavily involved in a game that has been described as "the circulation of the saints." By contrast, the Lutheran Church in America, the Reformed Church in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Conference, and a score of other smaller denominations have demonstrated that it is possible to develop a model for new church development in which two-thirds to four-fifths of the members of a new mission will be adults who, previous to joining that new congregation, were not active in the life of any worshiping congregation.

In the formulation of a denominational strategy for reaching the unchurched, the organization of new congregations should be the number-one priority, but only one component of such a strategy. Therefore, a brief chapter is included in this volume that raises and discusses some of the issues that are a part of the process of formulating a denominational strategy for new church development.

A fifth assumption that informs this book (but is especially influential in the last three chapters) is drawn from the economist's perspective on financial subsidies. In general, that which is subsidized increases in number, that which is taxed decreases in number. An example of this is the denominational policy that expects large congregations to subsidize small-membership churches. The predictable response is an increase in the number of small-membership churches and a decrease in the number of large congregations. The position taken in this book is that long-term denominational financial subsidies weaken new missions and churches of all sizes.

Sixth, every approach to church growth rests on a foundation of values, goals, dreams, prejudices, assumptions, interpretations of reality, theological perspectives, and understandings of the biblical imperative.

A basic assumption on which this book rests has three facets: (a) it is good for individual Christians to be a part of a worshiping congregation -- the hermit Christian is a contradiction in terms, (b) it is good for congregations to receive new members into their fellowship -- they enrich the life and ministry of that congregation, and (c) denominations tend to be healthier, to place a greater" emphasis on mission and ministry, to be more open to new ideas, to be more responsive to change, and to be less oriented toward institutional survival goals when they are experiencing numerical growth. New members bring a breath of fresh air to congregations and to denominational gatherings. In brief, not only is there no automatic conflict between numerical growth and faithfulness and obedience to the claims of the gospel, but numerical growth and faithfulness tend to go together. Numerical decline and a subversion of the goals of the churches also tend to go hand-in-hand in both congregations and denominational agencies.

Finally, I assume that every reader will disagree with some of the statements made in this book. That is normal and predictable behavior. It also is good! Some will disagree with a specific assumption or statement. Others will disagree with the general approach offered in one or more chapters. When that happens, it suggests a thoughtful reader has encountered a provocative sentence. The intent here is to be provocative, not definitive, in the discussion of various strategies.

These are some of the major assumptions that the five strategies suggested in this book are based on. For those who want to pursue the question of assumptions first, a dozen other assumptions about church growth are presented in the final chapter.

Copyright © 1983 by Abingdon Press

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