15 Proven Ideas to Increase Church Attendance

St. Charles Church crowd from overhead
St. Charles Church, Arlington (by Mark Alves)

I was itching to share these ideas with a blogger who sent out a pitch on Help A Reporter Out asking for ways to increase church attendance. So many ideas came to mind that I recited them into my phone and hoped for the best with Siri’s voice recognition and the Notes app. The reporter wanted only a maximum of two per submission and I had already come up with fourteen off the top of my head.

After picking two interesting ones, I emailed them to the writer with an offer to provide more.

Later that day came the HARO rejection message. The author wasn’t interested, but thanks for playing.

I was briefly crestfallen, but then decided to turn this list into a blog post. Let me know what you think.

How to Increase Church Membership Ideas

1. By far the best way to get more people to attend church is to get existing churchgoers to invite friends and neighbors.
You can support this by producing a little card or magnet with your church time etc. and address on it, and to give instructions and guidance to equip your members on how to invite new members.

2. Offer an additional, more convenient time.
My former parish added a Sunday evening service with the intention of freeing up parking spaces during Sunday mornings. What happened instead was that the Sunday evening time slot attracted a new group of attendees, especially young adults, who weren’t previously attending that church. When trying to increase your church attendance, sometimes more is more.

3. Sponsor cultural events such as movies, discussions, dances and concerts.
Attract the neighborhood to participate in non-threatening, fun events at your church, such as the Arlington Forum sponsored by St. Charles Catholic Church in Arlington, Va. Your neighbors will come for the entertainment and some will come back on Sundays.

4. Offer a music-free option Mass or service to attract a different crowd that might be interested in a more contemplative atmosphere.

5. Advertise on Facebook, particularly events related to the holidays such as Advent, Christmas and Easter. Also consider Ash Wednesday, which is usually the busiest day traffic-wise for church websites. (And a personal favorite of mine)

6. Create a what-to-expect video so newcomers know what they’re getting into.
This might include a few shots of the inside of the church, how the entrance procession works, how the service looks, and how newcomers are treated (are they singled out and made to stand at the end?) so people know what to expect. You don’t want the fear of the unknown to keep them from coming.

7. Be visible in the neighborhood.
This could be an outdoor Marian procession in May or sponsoring a booth at the neighborhood fair. Get noticed and then get attention.

Palm Sunday procession, Clarendon to St. Charles Church (by Mark Alves)
Palm Sunday procession, Clarendon to St. Charles Church (by Mark Alves)

8. Offer babysitting or childcare.
My first two boys are 18 months apart so when they were babies, sometimes Sundays meant my wife and I played divide and conquer. We’d go to Mass in solo shifts while the other watched the kids at home and then we’d swap. That’s not a great long-term solution and it doesn’t work for single parents. Offer a hand and let those young parents know they are welcome.

9. Better homilies and sermons.
You might think worshiping the Creator of the Universe is enough of a draw, but a personalized message explaining how the Gospel applies to our lives today will get people to return.

10. Better music.
Singing is praying twice. Good music is welcoming thrice.

11. Train your ushers to offer an appropriate welcome.
For more guidance, see Don’t Act Like a New York Waiter and 21 Other Things Church Ushers Should Never Do.

12. A small-group program to gently welcome back fallen-away churchgoers, such as Landings.
Give those who have had a poor experience in the past opportunity to be heard and to have sympathetic companions on the journey back home.

13. Newcomer dinners.
These monthly or so gatherings are an opportunity for guests to meet other established parishioners and fellow newcomers in a relaxed setting. Building this fellowship makes it easier for newcomers to return next Sunday knowing they’ll see some familiar faces.

14. Establish affinity groups such as for young adults, new moms, or even different sports.
Give people a way to feel like they can connect with a particular group and they will come back.

15. Transform your ministries fair into a community expo for volunteers.

Examples of Ministry Fairs
Examples of Ministry Fairs

Many churches sponsor a ministries fair, which is an open house for their current members to learn about volunteer opportunities at the church. (Ministry fair booth ideas) That’s great if you want your current attendees to participate more, but what if you want to increase church attendance? You need to introduce more people to your church. Transforming your ministries fair into a community volunteer fair for the whole neighborhood can attract newcomers who might be turned off by the term ministry, but are interested in getting involved locally. In addition to sponsoring booths for volunteer opportunities directly relate to your church, also include information about volunteer opportunities in the community, such as homeless shelters, food assistance centers and tutoring. Invite outside groups that are looking for volunteers to participate. You’ll attract a larger pool of volunteers and some of those committed visitors will turn into regular attendees. (See also The Ministry Fair Alternative)


Looking back, many of these suggestions involve attracting newcomers. It turns out increasing attendance is often a function of attracting new comers. And many of these ideas will help you increase community in a way that attracts newcomers and inspires your current membership.

Have you tried any of these techniques at your church? Share what you might think could work or drop in a new suggestion below.




Should Churches Participate in April Fool’s Day?

Toyota, in the guise of a baptismal font recall, was the target of my church’s annual April Fool’s Day stunts. (I’ve covered some of these parodies before.) April Fool’s Day usually falls during Lent and in 2010 it was on Holy Thursday. Is it appropriate for a church to celebrate April Fool’s Day during Lent?

Baptismal Font with Unintended Acceleration from StCharlesChurch.org
Baptismal Font with Unintended Acceleration from StCharlesChurch.org


Our goals:

  • Increase traffic to the site.
  • Show that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.
  • Give members of the community a reason to share the church’s web address with others. It’s difficult for some to overtly evangelize, but sharing a link to a funny site makes it a lot easier.

We’ve met all of those goals the past several years.

At the same time, we’ve focused on spoofs and parodies rather than outright tricks that could legitimately fool someone. You don’t want newcomers showing up for a non-existent event because they weren’t in on the joke, especially during Lent. It’s a balancing act, but based on the traffic and feedback it’s been worth it for us.

Would your church consider putting on a stunt for April Fool’s Day?

Should You Have a Second Collection for Religious Education?

By jmacphoto.com on Flickr
By jmacphoto.com on Flickr

My church has a second collection this time of year. It’s for the religious education Sunday school program.  And it bugs me:

  • I already gladly pay a fee for each of my kids to participate in religious education classes after Mass.
  • Not all are served by the current education program. If you don’t sign up right away, you are relegated to the “study at home” program, also known as Here’s The Book And Good Luck.
  • Isn’t religious education an essential, baseline service that should come out of the first collection?

When something irks me like this, sometimes it helps to have a different perspective so help me out. How does it work at your church? Do you think the arrangement is fair?

What To Do When Your Priest Doesn’t Show Up For Mass

My church canceled 6 PM Mass the other night because the designated priest didn’t show up. Could that ever happen at your church? Probably not, but just in case here are some tips on handling an MIA priest.

  1. Establish a cut-off time for going to Plan B. If your priest isn’t there 10 minutes (or whatever window you set) before Mass, start looking at alternatives. In my situation, the scheduled priest was typically late so no one suspected a problem until it was, well, too late.
  2. Know where to look. The contact numbers for the priests should be available in the sacristy. If the priests live nearby, those addresses should be on hand, too. If substitute priests from another parish or mission are potentially available, add them to the list.
  3. Spell out the steps needed to perform a Communion service without Liturgy of the Eucharist. Your sacristan can provide this information. If you can’t have a full Mass, use the lectors and eucharistic ministers on hand to conduct a prayer service.
  4. Know where to find a copy of the bishop’s homily. If you go forward without a priest, you can still have a homily read. In my parish, the bishop’s weekly homily appears in the local diocesan newspaper and online.
  5. Identify the Mass times of other local churches. If you can’t offer your own Mass, let your parishioners know about alternatives.
  6. If a decision is made to cancel Mass before it’s started, send out a message to your Twitter account for quick notification. Consider sending a message to your emergency list as well.
  7. Apologize. A discussion on Facebook was how I found out that the last Mass of the day was canceled at my church. The next day on the subway, I ran into more people who were talking about the situation. Armed with these anecdotes, I encouraged my pastor to issue a statement about the situation. Don’t way until people are talking about the situation—because you know they will—to address the problem.

Has anything like this ever happened at your church? How did you respond?

Best Sources for Church Communications Technology Ideas?

Photo by RandomFactor on Flickr
Photo by RandomFactor (Flickr)

While discussing some of my favorite sources for information about church communications technology with Rex Hammock, I came up with this list based on my iGoogle church tech tab and Twitter feed. Thought I’d share it with you guys and then ask you what I should add to the list.

[Update: July 20, 2009 — OpenSourceCatholic.com looks like it’s going to turn into another great source. Check it out.]

[Update: October 3, 2009 — ProductiveCatholic.com “is designed to give Catholics tools and ideas on how to optimize their time and money in order to focus on their life’s purpose: to worship God and help others.” Try out the site, get fired up and make a difference.]

I’d like to build out this list. What are your go-to sources for finding inspiration about churches using communications technology in bold ways?

7 Rules for Working With Church Creative Types

There's no "art" in WordArtDo you have any designers volunteering at your church? I unwittingly set one up for failure by not spelling out the only two approaches that can lead to success. Make sure whoever is working with your creative talent reads Seth Godin’sA Clean Sheet of Paper” post before the next assignment comes up (and follow these rules below). He totally nails the unfair situation that volunteer artists often find themselves in of trying to guess what the church leaders want without any real guidance.

If you don’t spell out a strategic vision for the assignment and offer some guidelines then Seth correctly states that “you have an obligation to use what you get, because your choice was hiring this person, not in judging the work you got when you didn’t have the insight to give them clear direction in the first place.”

The Set Up
I brought in a new volunteer who was a professional graphic designer for what seemed like the perfect first assignment: coming up with a logo for a series of new events that would take place over 10 months. No legacy issues, the design didn’t have to last forever and it was a quick turnaround. Just go to this meeting, find out what they want and crank out a great logo.

A few weeks later I received an email with the new logo. But it wasn’t a PSD, EPS or even a JPG. It was a Word document with an image consisting of WordArt text and a Microsoft drawing object.

Maybe it was just a draft I thought. No, the committee decided they didn’t like the professional’s first draft so they literally took matters into their own hands without getting back to her.

At this point I had one understandably upset designer and a low resolution graphic that wasn’t going to show up well on a website or on a sweatshirt. Fortunately, another friend who’s an artist reverse engineered the WordArt into something scalable. It wasn’t easy, but we did it and learned some lessons along the way.

Here are some guidelines to follow so this doesn’t happen to you.

Rules for Working with Church Creative Types

  1. Explain in writing the purpose of the design, how it fits into your church’s strategy, the goals for the project and what you hope to communicate.
  2. Figure out ahead of time what you want. Find examples from other churches or even other industries that catch your eye. Identify some that you hate. Provide these up front.
  3. Agree on the review and submission process up front. Are you getting three comps and two rounds of edits? Who has a say? This should be as small a group as possible. Their evaluation should be in light of the first two points.
  4. Be honest. Does the pastor have veto power? Don’t waste the designer’s time with the committee if the decision-making power doesn’t truly reside there.
  5. Agree on a timetable up front for deliverables and decisions.
  6. Keep the right perspective. Your logo is ultimately serving a higher purpose. It’s not an end in itself.
  7. Determine ahead of time who “owns” the final product, whether a creative commons license or copyright is appropriate, and how you’ll attribute credit.

You’ve probably run into these challenges. So what works at your church? Share your tips in the comments.

You’re Only As Good As Your Most Outdated Web Page

By PlayingWithPSP on Flickr
By PlayingWithBrushes via Flickr

Someone stopped me at my church’s Volunteer Fair today to ask, “Is the parish web site up to date? Are you having a hard time keeping it accurate?”

In my mind I checked off the many updates we recently completed, but quickly surmised that such a list would be devoid of relevance to the questioner. If you’re asked this question, know that the person is focused on a particular omission.

It didn’t matter that she hadn’t even visited the site herself. A fellow volunteer had complained to her—with justification—about finding outdated information regarding our elementary school’s Oktoberfest fundraiser. In her mind, the entire site’s reputation was shot based on this second-hand account.

Oh, I could have explained that the school hadn’t emailed me this year’s update, or that the information should actually reside on the school’s site instead of the church’s site, or that the site had 100 other features that were timely, or that my dog ate my server. Do you think such explanations are going to change your visitors’ opinions of your site? Nope. [Full disclosure: I don’t have a dog.]

Tomorrow I’ll track down the Oktoberfest organizer at day two of the Fair so that I can get the latest facts and begin to make amends.

I was fortunate to attend an unrelated event where I could receive this feedback. Will you have the same luck? Is there an old page out there that’s the weakest link for your site’s reputation?