The “front door” of your church is closing! The “front door” is the traditional way that a church connects with potential new members—through a visit to a worship service or to some other church event. Over the past 20 years, both the number of church visitors and the percentage of visitors to total attendance has been declining. Churches that depend on their front doors to connect with new people in the future simply will not grow.
Your Church Needs Side Doors
If you want to see your church not just survive but thrive, I suggest that you build some new doors—“side doors”— that will provide new ways to connect with people in your community.
A “side door” is a church-sponsored program, group, or activity in which a non-member can become involved and develop strong friendships with people in your church. A side door provides a place where your church members and non-members can develop relationships around something they share in common. Research clearly shows that it is “friendships with Christians” that accounts for over 80% of the people who come to Christ and the church.[i]
Here are just a few examples of churches that have developed side doors — for people who:
ride motorcycles • have children in the military • own RVs • are recent widowers • are newlyweds • enjoy reading books • are unemployed • suffer from chronic pain • have husbands in jail • are nominal Jews • have spouses who are not believers • are fishermen • are single mothers • want to get in better physical condition • wish to help homeless families • play softball • are interested in end-times • have a bed-ridden parent • are raising grandchildren • are moms with teenage daughters • need help managing their finances • enjoy scrap-booking • are children in blended families • have children with a learning disability • are married to men who travel frequently • enjoy radio controlled airplanes • are pregnant • are affected by homosexuality • struggle with chemical dependency • are empty-nesters • enjoy camping • are divorced with no children • have a family member diagnosed with cancer • are single dads • enjoy SCUBA diving • are hearing-impaired
And that’s just a start! In these examples (and there are hundreds more), the side doors enable members and non-members to develop friendships around their common interests.
Researcher Dr. Gary McIntosh observes that about 10% of the churches in the United States offer side doors in which “…most people who connected with the church made their first contact through a ministry other than the worship service.[ii]” We also know that only about 14% of churches in the U.S. are growing in worship attendance. I believe there is a strong correlation between “side-door churches” and growing churches.
When commenting on his growing congregation, Rev. Craig Williford says, “Our weekend services are vital. But the side door ministries produce more evangelism and bring far more new people into our church.[iii]”
How can you build new side doors in your church—new groups, new classes, new activities where members and non-members can make friends? Here’s how to get started:
- Find issues of passion in your members. Everyone cares deeply about something or, more likely, several things. Passion generally falls into one of two categories: recreational or developmental. The first, recreational, relates to how people like to spend their free time, and may range from raising artichokes to studying zoology. The second, developmental, relates to major life issues such as health, finances, relationships, or employment.
- Hold an “exploratory” meeting. If you find three or more people who share a particular interest, invite them to a brainstorming session to discuss whether your church might want to start a new ministry for people who share that passion. Put an announcement in the church bulletin and invite any interested members to the meeting. (Explain that participants are not being asked to “sign up” for the project, just to share their ideas and brainstorm possibilities.) Gather the group, perhaps over a meal, and explore the idea of starting such a ministry. Explain that a primary goal of the new ministry would be to build friendships with non-members through connecting around that common interest. If there is any enthusiasm for the idea, take the next step:
- Research other churches. Chances are good there are churches that have already developed a creative ministry in the area you are considering. If the brainstorming group (described above) is interested and willing, ask a few individuals to search the Internet for other churches that have a similar ministry.
- Dream. Ask yourselves the question, “What might such a ministry look like in our church five years from today?” If there is a spark of enthusiasm that might catch hold of a group of dreamers in your church, take the next step:
- Form a “Ministry Planning Team”. If you find at least three people who are willing to take the next steps in creating a new (side-door) ministry, download a copy of the free “Side Door Planning Guide” – available at wesleyan.org/sidedoor – and follow the directions in this 52-page guide.
Side doors are a great way for smaller churches to connect with new people. You don’t need a big building, a loud band, or master orator to build a successful side door. All you need are people who like to be with people they like to be with—namely, people with whom they share things in common. Take the first step (above) and see what happens. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
For more information, get the book Side Door by Charles Arn.
[i] See The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples by Charles Arn (Baker Books, 1998).
[ii] Gary McIntosh. Beyond the First Visit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006, p. 22.
[iii] Denver Seminary Magazine: Fall 2004. Sep 15, 2004. Emergent Dialogue.