Maximize Your Best Resources

by Bobby Gruenewald

"Ninety percent of the people who visit a church for the first time go because a friend invited them."  Have you heard a stat like this before? Ninety percent of the people who visit a church for the first time go because a friend invited them. The number varies depending on who you're talking to, but the implication is always the same: Personal invitations are the most effective way to get new people to try your church.

If invitations from a friend do the job best, why do so many of us send mailers or direct social media advertising to people who've never been to our church? When we want to reach new people, it seems like we should direct our outreach to new people, doesn't it? But there's not much evidence to suggest that really works.  Let's add another layer of information to the question: the frequency of church attendance. In our experience and that of the churches we've talked to, average church attendance for many people is about once every three to four weeks.

In a September 2013 Pew Research report about church attendance, 37 percent of people surveyed said they attend weekly, and 33 percent answered that they attend monthly or yearly. The 33 percent who attend monthly or yearly likely still consider themselves regular churchgoers.

So, we've got two ideas working in tandem:

  1. The most effective way to get people to try a new church is to be invited by someone they know.
  2. People who do go to church attend infrequently.

If our most effective resource to get new people connected to our church is there only every few weeks, how will that affect their frequency of inviting others to church?

Outreach Through Inreach
Our team looked at these two concepts and decided to experiment. What if we focused our promotional efforts on people who've already visited? It seemed contrary to our instincts as a church since we place such a high value on evangelism. It felt like inreach instead of outreach. But our hunch was this: The more frequently people come to church, the more likely they would be to invite others.

We began to change what we communicated and who we communicated to. Before, we'd try to reach people who'd never visited, introducing them to and encouraging them to give us a try. Instead, we started concentrating on people who were already part of our database, letting them know this weekend is not only a great weekend to come to church, it's a great weekend to bring someone you know.

Following this change in approach, our attendance grew significantly. Of course, many factors affect growth, but we did notice a direct correlation between changing our approach and seeing steady, consistent attendance growth. Whether it's an outpouring of the personal development people experience when they are in church more frequently, or a matter of being physically present more often, we believe the frequency of attendance affects a person's outreach to friends and family.

Here's How We Do It
These days, we promote every weekend on all fronts to people who are connected to Our Senior Pastor, Craig Groeschel, shoots videos about the upcoming series to share with our church. We send direct mail pieces to the addresses of people who have already attended We target Facebook advertising to people who have liked our Facebook page and are living within a certain geographic range of our campus. We continue to send our email communication to people who have already attended our church.

We've found there's a greater sense of anticipation as people see in multiple places what's coming up at church. As we give them a reason to show up this weekend, we're not only seeing an increase in the frequency of their attendance, but we're also seeing many new families visit. The more excited people get, the more they bring others along. And we provide plenty of tools and encouragement to make it easy for attendees to invite people to church.

This approach is also a more efficient use of resources because you're communicating to a narrower group of people that is proportional to the size of your church. For example, it's more affordable for a smaller church to communicate with the people in their database than to do a mailer to everyone in several ZIP codes.

And finally, when you're communicating to people who've already visited, you don't have to jump the hurdle of introducing yourself in every piece of communication. Since your readers have a general sense of who you are, communication can be more concise and effective.

I understand outreach is more than a basic formula. It's a multifaceted effort encompassing many touch points of interaction. But whether or not you try an approach like this, I encourage you to challenge your assumptions about reaching new people, and to not be afraid to try something different. When we take risks to make simple changes and measure the results, we're often surprised by what God reveals.


  • YouVersion's Bible App and Hundreds of versions and languages for smartphones, tablets and computers, with Bible Plans to encourage daily engagement (
  • YouVersion's Bible App for Kids: Interactive Bible stories to help kids fall in love with God's Word (
  • Church Online Platform: Free tool to help churches launch an online ministry (
  • Open: Download resources at no cost—videos, artwork, leadership tools, children's and youth curriculum and more (
  • Church Metrics: Web-based application that helps churches track attendance, giving, salvations and baptisms (

Copyright © 2014 by Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For more on the essentials of Catholic evangelization view Go and Make Disciples at USCCB.

For more ways to implement this plan in the parish view:

For more information contact:
Dennis Mahaney
Office of Parish Life
795 Main St.
Buffalo, NY 14203