Creating A Sticky Church


Recently a church called me asking about how they could get more people attending their church. That is quite a loaded question. Most church leaders I know would love to have that answer. I would too! But we still need to look for an answer.

The most common difficulty I encounter in these conversations is what I ran into with this one: the question these church leaders were really were asking was, “Can we keep doing what we are doing now but have new people join us?” Obviously, the answer is no! We can’t keep doing the same thing but expect different results.

At that point I guided the discussion toward three ideas I thought they could work on. I think these ideas might be helpful to you too (and here’s an early PS, these three ideas are not women’s roles, instrumental worship, and social justice, just in case you were wondering).

I started the next part of the conversation with a question, “How sticky do you think your church is?” I got the idea of “sticky church” from the book of the same name by Larry Osborne. My conversation partners came back with their own question, “What do you mean by ‘sticky church?’” Here’s what I said.

  1. A sticky church is a community of relationships that people want to be part of.
  2. People in a sticky church like to talk about their church and invite people to go with them to its activities.

That’s it, just those two things. So, if the members of a church are not regularly talking about their church with their friends and relationships and naturally inviting them to the various activities of their church, and when visitors who do come don’t come back or stick around long, it’s not a sticky church.

So how does one create stickiness in their church? There are many activities that a church can do. But I think the best way to get at this is to look at the people who are not in our churches. What will attract and motivate them to become part of church, something they have already disconnected from and said they don’t want to be a part of?

People stick at a church because of three deeply felt needs, and in this order:

  1. Relationships and the feeling of belonging to a community of people. People in America are lonely! Do a Google search on “loneliness in America .” You’ll find articles by NPR, the New York Times, Forbes magazine, Fortune magazine, and others. One word that keeps coming up in these article headlines is “epidemic.” Here’s what USA TODAY printed, “Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation has been an underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and societal health. Our relationships are a source of healing and well-being hiding in plain sight – one that can help us live healthier, more fulfilled, and more productive lives, . . . Given the significant health consequences of loneliness and isolation, we must prioritize building social connection . . . .

People want to feel connected; they want to feel known. It is too easy to feel like a stranger in a crowd. When you think of being a sticky church you need to think first about do you intentionally develop a sense of belonging to the people of God In your church? How do you welcome people? How do you get to know people? How do people become “part of you?”

  • An experience of God that inspires and encourages them. People used to want to know about truth. They were asking, “What is true?” Our churches were quite well equipped to help people answer this question. When I was at Harding University, I took part in several campaigns that were called Back to the Bible campaigns. We would go into a town to knock doors, inviting people to Bible studies or to a gospel meeting, all based around the theme Back to the Bible. In fact, that’s what our name tags said on them, Back to the Bible. And it worked reasonably well!

People are not so much interested in the truth question today. Today, they are more attuned to how things make them feel. When people come into our gatherings they’re typically not coming because they want to know something about God. They want to experience God. Our church gatherings, particularly our worship experiences, need to provide people an experience of God. Visitors and members alike need to feel God’s presence. They need to see His activity and how He engages in people’s lives real time. When people experience the presence and power of God their lives will change. Our business is to provide them those opportunities.

  • A feeling of significance that they feel good about. There is one line in the movie, The Help, that almost everyone remembers. It is when the nanny Aibileen Clack, played by Viola Davis, tells baby Mae Mobley, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” People want, they need to feel important. They want to know their life, their existence, is worth something. People want to be part of something that intrinsically helps them feel meaningful.

Perhaps the most significant way churches can portray meaningfulness is by serving our communities. We are often not very attuned to service, except as a summer event or a teen activity. We are much more focused on our worship, our Bible classes, our programs. While these items are important, people around us are more attuned to whether we do good or not. Alongside our attendance and giving records we should keep track of how we serve people in our community. When we invite others to join us in these human acts of kindness, we provide them a conduit through which they can experience personal meaningfulness.

There you have it, three ways to grow stickiness in your church. Help people: 1) find belonging, 2) experience God, and 3) serve in meaningful ways. When you cultivate these three deeply felt needs people will be much more likely to join with your church and stick.


Stan Granberg, PhD

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