7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To

commitPeople who don’t go to church, don’t want to go to church. They’re not rolling out of bed late on Sunday morning wishing they had somewhere else to be.

In fact, a growing number of people who do go to church don’t want to go, either. If we don’t give them something worth committing to, they’ll be gone soon.

As I mentioned in my last post, People Aren’t As Loyal to Their Church Anymore – Good For Them, it’s not that people are less capable of making commitments than they used to be. They just commit differently. But too many churches haven’t caught up to that reality.

So how do we get people to commit to the church we pastor? Especially when our church is small and struggling?

I don’t have all the answers, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned a handful of principles over three decades of ministry that have helped our church become a place people are excited to be committed to.

These steps won’t cost you any extra money and very little extra time – the extra time because of the learning curve. It’s not about adding to your already limited schedule and overtaxed budget. It’s not about doing things bigger. It’s about focusing on doing church better. Working smarter, not harder. 


Where Our Focus Needs to Be

But first, despite the title of this post, the challenge before us isn’t about getting people to go to church.

It’s about inspiring people to commit to

  • Jesus
  • Genuine relationships with God’s people
  • Ministry to those in need

If your focus is trying to get people to commit to your Sunday service schedule, your denominational preference, maintaining your church building or anything like that, you might as well stop reading right now. In fact, you might as well close your church right now.

The days of people going to church for anything less than a genuine relationship with Jesus are over. Yes, there’s still a residue of those people, but they’re dying out – literally. And they won’t be replaced by a new group. Nor should they be.

But if you want people in your church because you have a passion to help them connect with Jesus and God’s family, read on.


1. Stand For Something That Matters

If people continue to go to church it won’t be because they feel a sense of loyalty to tradition. And it won’t be because they want to be entertained. They have better entertainment than we can ever compete with on the phone in their pocket.

The only thing that will get them out of their house and into our churches is if we give them a cause worth dying – and living – for.

It starts with a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus. But it doesn’t end there. The church down the street has a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus, too.

It’s about knowing why your church exists. Why did God put you where you are? What would be missing if your church wasn’t there any more?

If you don’t know why your church exists, find out. Because if your church isn’t doing something of value, people won’t come. And they shouldn’t.


2. Be Genuine

Once you know who you are and what you’re called to do and be, then do that and be that!

People are far less naïve than they used to be. A teenager can spot bad CGI in a movie that would have blown their minds a few years ago. And they can spot phoniness in people even quicker.

This is especially important for leaders because we have a culture in which respect for leadership is lower than it has been in a loooong time – and mostly for good reasons.

Respect doesn’t come with the position of pastor any more. In fact, it’s more likely to be viewed with skepticism than honor. That skepticism will only be overcome by practicing what we preach.


3. Be Good at What You Do

Giving people something worth committing to isn’t a matter of competing with the big church down the street. It’s not about offering nicer facilities, bigger events or even better preaching. It’s about discovering what God has called you and your church to be great at, then being great at that.

Excellence isn’t limited to churches with big budgets.

There’s no excuse for shoddiness. It costs no more time or money to do it right. It just takes a full commitment.


4. Don’t Just Talk – Hang Out and Listen

No one wants a relationship in which one side does all the talking. We have TV and movies for that.

But even TV and movies are giving way to social media. One of the best parts about watching a show that has some social media buzz, is chatting about it on Twitter and Facebook as it airs.

People want to engage with others, not just sit passively while someone else talks.

Sadly, the church does not have a reputation of being open to dialog – or to hard questions. And definitely not to criticism. No, you don’t have to turn your sermon into a discussion group (although, some churches do that with great success), but there needs to be an easy and obvious way for people to engage, dialog, chat, hang out and feel like their life and their opinion matters.

And pastors, especially pastors of Small Churches, need to be engaged in those conversations. Listening, participating and learning, not just teaching.


5. Get to Know People Outside the Church Walls

Do you know who lives in your community? The kinds of music they listen to? The financial and moral challenges they deal with? The dreams they have for the future? Have you actually met any of them?

Or do you only know the people in your church?

Don’t get me wrong. We need to know our congregation well. But knowing them doesn’t mean we have a clue about the rest of the people in our neighborhood.

You see, church people are different. I wish I could state with some certainty that they’re different because they’re more moral, more compassionate, more giving and more loving. I hope they are. But I don’t know if they are. Experience tells me it’s maybe a 50/50 chance that they are – on a good day.

About the only near-certainty I have about the people in most of our churches is that they’re a lot more … churchy.

If we want to pastor a church worth committing to, we have to know more than just churchy people.


6. Keep Learning and Getting Better

I learned a lot in Bible College. But aside from basic theological and hermeneutical principles, almost none of it applies any more.

In fact, I communicate, minister and lead much differently today than I did just 10 years ago. And I expect to change at least as much in the next 5 years as I did in the last 10. People won’t commit to doing ministry the way it was done a decade or more ago.

I now have over 30 years of ministry experience in addition to my formal ministry training. But that experience matters less today than it ever has. If I’m not constantly learning, listening and growing, I’ll fall behind very quickly.

But that shouldn’t intimidate us. Learning and growing is Discipleship 101. It’s central to being a follower of Jesus, let alone a church leader.


7. Offer People a Challenge Worthy of Their Time and Talents

In a recent post, 6 Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers, Carey Nieuwhof encourages pastors that we’re more likely to get and keep what he calls high-capacity volunteers if we give them a worthy challenge. He’s right.

Look at the ministry of Jesus. He never made discipleship easy. He always inspired them to a bigger commitment by calling them to a greater challenge.

Too many pastors limit the expectations they have for their members to sitting in a pew and filling gaps in existing ministries. We think we can’t ask more of them because … well … they’re not even doing that! But a lot of our church members might be like some of the more active kids in school. They’re falling behind the class, not because they’re slow, but because they’re bored.

So they go to a church where they’re challenged and their gifts are used. Or they’ve given up on church entirely.

If you ask small, you’ll get a small commitment. Ask large and your joy might just be full.


There’s a lot more that could be added to this list. That’s where you come in.


So what do you think? What does it mean to be a church people want to commit to?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Commit photo from Ky • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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7 thoughts on “7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To”

  1. Thanks once again for a great perspective my friend!
    This and your last article are very eye opening and extremely relevant.
    It is somewhat odd and challenging to see how people commit today compared to just a few years ago. It is also exhaustingly challenging in the small church setting, but it can be done!

  2. Great article Karl – thanks for making a point to say it can be done with little money and few people.

    In my experience (which is limited I realize…but it is my reality) I have found that people want to help or participate in ministries being led by someone else. This has been a big reason we’ve had families leave our church. They want activities or ministries – but they want them already off the ground, already running with someone else leading so that their role is simply to help or assist.

    Our church is so small that for a need to be met, an activity to be scheduled or a ministry to be run – the people themselves will have to do the organizing, implementing and leading – and they’d rather not. So they go to a bigger church where someone else is already in leadership and they can just “help.”

    I was at one of these churches (that several of our folks have left to go to) I was called to come and get some food from their food ministry. When I arrived the food was set out, but no one was there to direct me. I ran into the pastor’s wife and asked her what I should do. She apologized and said she didn’t know anything about it, someone else was in charge of the food distribution. I was amazed. Here was a pastor’s wife and she DIDN’T know what as going on because SOMEONE ELSE was leading and heading up that ministry. Amazing. That never happens to me. 🙂

    The people that have left our church to attend that church for the most part are doing just that – participating in ministries already active and they can just assist. In our church, they’d have to lead. So they leave.

    Leaders are not as plentiful as some people assert – at least not in my experience…and not just in the church…in every aspect. My son’s Cub Scouts was cancelled because there was no one to volunteer out of the families of 10 boys. No volunteer – no club. No one wanted to commit.

    The small church who is short on leadership really struggles and is usually caught up in the proverbial “Catch 22” – people leave because of no meaningful activity or ministry…but they don’t want to lead the ministry or activity so they leave- so there is even less people or money for ministries and activities – so more people leave…and it just goes on and on.

    1. Patsy Bunn Collins

      I am having the same problem as Cindy King. Everyone want’s to be a follower not a Leader. They want all these activities and etc. but they don’t want to lead. I had one family to come that really knew how to get things done, unfortunately they also wanted to take over the church.My older members did not like them. They left and my church has very little help now . Almost at the end of my ROPE !

  3. Lots of very useful thoughts here – thanks once again for your ministry, which has helped me repeatedly.

    I do have to differ with point 3, though: “There’s no excuse for shoddiness. It costs no more time or money to do it right. It just takes a full commitment.”. I just don’t think that’s true at all. It most definitely costs more time (and usually money) to do something “right”. And it doesn’t mean I’m not fully committed. When I as the pastor am also the repairman, the music leader, and half a dozen other things, I just don’t have the time for some of the real important things – but I can’t let the less important things just not happen. I’m glad Jesus loves me and trusts me to handle the situation the best I can….

    1. I hear what you’re saying, Hugh. And there’s no question that some things take extra time and money to do well (more on that in a moment). But in this instance, the excellence I was referring to in the 7 points I used aren’t a matter of more time, except for the learning curve I mentioned. And none of them necessarily costs more money. When I said there’s no excuse for shoddiness, I used that word on purpose. Shoddy is a synonym for intentional carelessness. It certainly doesn’t take more money or time to do things without being careless. That’s more about attitude than anything.

      And I’m glad you put “right” in quotes, because I think our different definitions of that word (along with “excellence”, maybe) is the crux of this.

      Because this blog is for Small Churches, I tend to write about ways to improve the church that don’t cost extra money or time. I’m fully aware, as you pointed out, that lack of time and money has nothing to do with the pastor’s level of commitment. One of the mistakes we tend to make as Small Church pastors is to say “I don’t have as much time or money as the big church pastor or the full-time pastor, therefore I can’t do ministry as well.” Yes, it’s true we can’t have as nice facilities or Sunday School curriculum. But those aren’t the basis of good ministry or doing things “right”. There are a lot of churches with huge budgets, great buildings and well-crafted programs that aren’t doing great ministry because they’re coasting and careless.

      Like I said in the post, excellence (properly defined) isn’t limited to churches with big budgets. While a Small Church pastor may not have the time to go to conferences or research a sermon as much as we’d like, it doesn’t take any more time or money to have integrity, be genuine, be more relational, challenge people in discipleship and the other points I outline. That’s the “doing things right” I was referring to.

      I understand the frustrations you’ve mentioned. I’ve had to unplug my share of toilets and I know how frustrating it is when that takes time away from sermon prep, etc. But you definitely have the passion to do excellent ministry. And no doubt you’re doing it – probably better than you give yourself credit for.

    2. Hugh, I encourage you to read the post about delegating and considering eliminating some of the things you’re doing. My own belief is that a few things done with excellence are generally better than a lot of things done with mediocrity. I do know that some things are so important that they have to be done even if they can’t be done really well, but in my experience there are very few of those things.

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