How to Create Effective On-Ramps for Church Engagement


Struggling to increase church participation? Discover why traditional engagement methods aren't working and how you can create easy, effective on-ramps to grow engagement.

Please…Just Get Involved!

Every pastor recognizes the necessity of local church participation and engagement.

Practicality speaking, churches cannot function without adequate funding or volunteers.

More importantly, participating in the life and mission of a local church is an integral part of discipleship. I’ve suggested before that church engagement alone doesn’t equate to discipleship, and while I stand by that, I also believe discipleship should involve church engagement.

Getting people to engage is critical to Christianity, the church, and their life.

Vision and “Need” Isn’t Enough

While everything above is true, this vision has proven insufficient to involve most disengaged people.

People have always been somewhat afraid of commitment, but that fear is on steroids today.

Go back 20 years; some vision from the pulpit and a clear ask was all you needed. Today, vision and an ask net basically nothing. It feels like we were once shooting fish in a barrel, and now we’re staring at an empty pond.

Yet, there are loads of people in every church choosing to remain disengaged. Or so it seems.

What if all of these non-participants are willing to engage, but we’ve not offered them the right step?

Lowering The Engagement Bar

Over the last three years of coaching churches, I’ve found that people are still willing to engage at the same rate as before, but not at the same level.

Let me explain through an example.

Go back 20 or so years. It was pretty standard for pastors to ask people in the audience to consider joining a serving team. This request netted a large number of potential participants. Some of these people selected not to move forward into service, but many did. And these roles were significant. People were willing and able to go from sitting in a row to serving every week.

I cannot imagine this scenario playing out today.

Why? Going from sitting in a row once or twice a month for an hour to serving every week for multiple hours is too great a leap. That “step” isn’t a step for most people today. To them, it looks like the Grand Canyon.

The solution isn’t to blame people or force old methods down their throats. The solution is to lower the bar by creating a more incremental and achievable step.

Incremental Steps of Faith

The key word for today’s engagement model is “incremental.” People today need an increasing number of smaller steps to engage in their local church.

Think of these as on-ramps to the interstate of involvement. If we want people to drive down the expressway of engagement, we must offer enough on-ramps. When we consider the average church attendance pattern and the necessity for smaller steps, we arrive at a better solution.

Today’s typical disengaged church attendee needs a one-moment ask as their first step. Whether for giving or serving (or groups, etc.), offering these people an easy opportunity to help for a moment is the on-ramp they need.

A Giving Example…

Several churches in my growing coaching community use this strategy to cultivate generosity. I recently visited Beachside Community Church in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and watched this strategy in action.

Jonathan, the lead pastor, stepped onto the stage after the worship set and, with great enthusiasm, said:

“I’m so glad you are all here to celebrate and experience our FOR Sunday. Because we are ‘FOR our community, every fourth Sunday we ask our church to support a worthy organization in the community. Last month we asked you to give and serve with the Hope Shelter, and you came through for them in a huge way.”

Jonathan shared the serving numbers and giving amount for the Hope Shelter. They raised over $4,000 and served 40 or so total hours with this organization. After this celebration, Jonathan made the ask for this month:

“Today, we have an opportunity to do more good in our community and help another great organization go further, faster. Give a Kid a Chance is an organization focused on helping students in impoverished areas go to college and grow educationally. Our goal is to provide one or two fully scholarships for these kids and have several of you participate as a mentor. To investigate serving opportunities, you can use the QR code on the seat back. Our generosity goal is 100% participation. You can give a few dollars or a few thousand dollars.”

Now, here is where the magic happens. Remember, this is an on-ramp for people, so they need to take the first step.

“What we love about these FOR Sunday’s is that every penny you give FOR the community goes straight out the door into the community. We even cover the administrative costs and credit card fees! I know many of you have been burned by generosity in the past or struggle to trust the church with your money. I get that. If you give to this FOR opportunity today, we don’t keep or use a single penny. I hope you will go our website or use the QR code on the seatback to give. “

Another church in our growing community did this for the first time a few weeks ago, and 11 people who had never given to their church gave to a community organization through their church.

This type of on-ramp requires some follow-up and nurturing for givers, but it works. Why? It’s an easy step for anyone to take.

The same method works for engaging people to serve. Find individual moments where people who don’t yet volunteer can give an hour. Invite them specifically and create an incredible serving moment for them. It doesn’t feel like much, but it’s a step in the right direction. One that they can and will more likely take.

A Final Thought…

Engagement doesn’t replace a holistic discipleship pathway, but participation is part of a growing faith relationship with Jesus. We owe it to our church to create sufficient on-ramps to participation.

Let me know if I can help you think through these new, incremental steps to discipleship.