Small churches are the backbone of America. They dot the landscape of this great nation and bring spiritual guidance and direction to the hearts of small towns everywhere. These churches are essential, but they often struggle. For some, finances are short due to low attendance or giving so pastors have to work second jobs and buildings fall into disrepair. Bottom line? These churches need to grow to thrive and meet the needs of their people more effectively.
Even if the towns are small, there are always more people who can attend services and become a part of the church’s life. God wants to reach into people’s lives, and he wants to use small churches to meet people right where they live. Building relationships will be the key to adding to the attendance rolls. Pastors in small towns can visit many of the residents personally. They can invite people to weekly worship services. They can get to know residents on an intimate level. However, sometimes it takes something extra special to get non-attenders to make their way through the church’s doors.
That’s when it’s time for some special community-wide events.
Small churches can invest in their community’s life by discerning what the community needs most and working to meet those needs. It might be physical needs or a boost to the town’s morale. Meeting the community’s emotional needs helps local people have the strength and stamina they need to make it through challenging times. Assure members of the community that the church will be there, struggling alongside them every step of the way.
Here are some excellent entry-level community events your church can host right away to help bring people into your church and grow your attendance this year.
Food and Clothing Drives
Many people are generous with their time or resources when they know someone else is in need. Your church can host a food and clothing drive to help local people in need or people in a place where tragedy has struck. Set up collection booths at local grocery stores, libraries, or health clinics — anywhere people visit or gather. Find volunteers within your congregation to collect the goods from the booths, sort the food and clothing, and prepare them for distribution. Make sure that those donating the items know your church is the one organizing this event. At every collection booth, have information about your worship service times and other programming that might be of interest to them. Have colorful, attention-grabbing flyers with clear contact information for them to take.
Barbecues and Potlucks
When the good weather arrives, throw open the church’s front lawn or the parking lot and get out the barbecues! Have a pig roast or grill some burgers and hot dogs. Invite the whole town to the event and feed people well! Set up games for the kids and decorate with balloons and streamers. Use this as a chance to begin building relationships with people you’ve never met or to deepen relationships with those you’ve only an acquaintance. Make sure all the church leaders are there and identifiable. Be friendly, welcoming, and accepting to all. Be intentional about inviting people to weekly worship services and other programming. Make this barbecue an event to reach out into the community and to see church attendance grow. We all want to see more people in God’s Kingdom because they came and heard the Gospel!
Why not take over the whole town? Get permission from the local city council to host a city-wide street fair. Have all kinds of booths and let people participate, displaying their handicrafts and other kinds of talents. Bring in face painters, musicians, games for children, and lots of tasty food. Make sure to have your church staff members hosting booths and building relationships with people in the community. Have one booth dedicated to answering questions about your church and Jesus. Make an intentional effort to bring spiritual conversations into the fun of the day. Bring the community together and point them to Jesus. Ensure people know you are open and welcoming to them if they want to attend a weekly worship service.
Similar to the street fairs, when the weather turns cold and the snow comes, celebrate winter with a carnival! Heat the hot chocolate and serve the caramel apples. Decorate the Christmas trees and build a big bonfire. Invite everyone in town to come to the Winter Carnival. This can be another great time to rally the whole town around a fun event where the ultimate goal is building relationships. Church leaders can spend time with people, point them to Jesus, and invite them to church services. Yes, church growth can happen because someone played a crazy winter carnival game. Make it happen this winter!
One of the best and most natural times to invite people to come to church is during the holidays. Christmas and Easter are the most-attended church services all year. Be purposeful in your holiday service planning. Throw the church doors open to as many people as you can. Be intentionally welcoming and accepting to all who enter. Create opportunities for them to return. Make it a place they want to be every week, not just two times a year. Provide childcare. Get to know visitors personally. Treat everyone who comes as a valued guest. Make them feel seen, heard, and understood. When people feel valued and known, they are more likely to return with enthusiasm.
Small town churches are some of the most important churches in this nation. They also need to grow, though, to be effective and expand their impact on God’s Kingdom. With intentionally implementing strategies and with purposefully building relationships, small town churches can see their attendance grow as they point people to Jesus and show them they genuinely care.