A New Vision, A New Voice ~ The North Texas Conference
What NTC’s Fastest-Growing Churches Get Right
Read the simple things they do that could build membership at your church.
If you compared the practices of First UMC McKinney and Korean Central UMC, listed in the top 25 fastest-growing United Methodist churches in the U.S., you might slap your head and say, “Of course! That’s how they do it.”
Both are large churches that excel at making members feel part of a small group. Both offer contemporary services as well as traditional. Both take extra steps to welcome visitors and then follow up, shepherding many into membership.
Broadly, says the Rev. Tommy Brummet of First UMC McKinney, it’s expressing God’s love. “From the moment someone encounters First McKinney, we want them to know that they are beloved children of the living God,” he said.
So here are tips that might work for your congregation.
Busy Parking Lot
First McKinney benefits from being in a high-growth area, but that doesn’t automatically translate into a growing church. The Rev. Doug Fox, leader of the Wellspring Contemporary Service, says having a parking lot filled with cars reflects an active, exciting church to passers-by. The cars may belong to parents coming and going to the church’s HOPE Preschool or people attending one of the Bible studies that the church hosts five nights a week. First McKinney also has allowed other groups to park in its lot for events, and that builds a reputation for community spirit and friendliness.
Welcoming and Following-Up
At Korean Central in Irving, there are a Welcome Committee and a Barnabas Group that extend greetings and follow up with visitors. Pastor Sung Chul Lee recognizes visitors in the service, and the church always has a meal afterward. There the Welcome Committee ensures visitors get a warm reception as both guests and members learn more about each other. For visitors who express an interest in joining, the Barnabas Group takes over, arranging meetings with the senior pastor and other staffers, and guiding newcomers wherever their interests lie, such as Bible study or choir.
At First McKinney, smiles greet visitors from the start. Guests are walked to the Sunday School class, the nursery or wherever they want to go instead of being left to wander. They fill out their status on the registration pads but, in a twist from many churches, aren’t asked to raise their hands during worship. But whether in the traditional or contemporary service, Rev. Brummet and other church leaders make a point to greet guests.
Afterward, if the guest lives in McKinney, Allen or Melissa, a volunteer or staffer delivers a gift bag that contains a candy-filled mug and brochures — “nothing too slick,” Fox says — with church info. For guests at his contemporary service, Rev. Fox includes a handwritten note. Visitors also get emails.
For those who decide to become members, First McKinney has Join the Church Sundays. Because many newcomers find it awkward to stand up in front of the sanctuary as they formalize their membership, they can instead spend the hour talking with the pastor, going through a welcome packet, asking questions and having their photos made. “It feels more natural,” Rev. Fox says.
Big Group/Small Group
One of the big drivers of growth at Korean Central has been the Friday Night Prayer Meeting, which averages 300 in attendance. Pastor Lee conducts a general session, including a praise band, for about 30 minutes. Then worshippers break into 12 intercessory prayer groups, each with a different topic such as world peace and children’s education.
Korean Central takes the big group/small group a step further. Its congregation is divided into 13 large groups, determined by geographical area. Each group supports one or two missionaries. But these groups break down even further into small cells of a handful of people. These cells meet once or twice a month for a worship service, meal and the sharing of “the story of each other’s life. This opens our hearts for others and to be able to reach someone in need,” says member Myung Park.
And don’t think Korean Central is for just speakers of Korean and English. The church also serves Hispanic, Japanese and Nepali worshippers.
Almost all of the top 25 growth churches have contemporary services, and none were fully traditional, the survey by church growth expert Len Wilson found. First McKinney has seen a 300% increase in attendance at its contemporary services since 2008. “The thing about a contemporary service is to embrace it very openly,” Rev. Fox says. It’s better to have a “let’s go for it mentality rather than sneak it in.” A contemporary service shows that the church is “looking for ways to bring in new people and is not stagnant.”
And don’t expect a young/old divide between the traditional and contemporary, he said. Some millennials are drifting to the traditional services, while some boomers prefer the guitars and drums of contemporary worship music. In one case, a wife sings in the traditional choir while her husband heads to Wellspring.
Korean Central is no exception on offering a range of services. Of its four Sunday worship times, the early service is traditional, the second more contemporary, the third is mixed and the fourth is fully contemporary, Park says.
First McKinney’s Rev. Fox says a good website is the first step. Each group is able to update its own information without going through an administrator. First McKinney does not intentionally go out to evangelize, but finds it happens naturally. Its Hands ‘N Hammers home repair program led to working with Habitat for Humanity. Probably 300-400 members mentor Caldwell Elementary students (now part of Bishop Michael McKee’s One + One initiative), garden, do workroom tasks to aid teachers, and run the Caldwell Jubilee, providing students new backpacks, clothes and shoes for back to school.
Korean Central redefined itself as a missional church.
“This new term changed our position in Christ,” Park says. “All of us were called out by Christ to participate in God’s mission. Wherever we are and whatever we do, we are His missionaries to our family, our neighbor, to our co-workers, or to our community. Not only live like a missionary, but also live as a missionary.”
Korean Central does math tutoring at Kirkwood UMC in Irving, with some of the Korean Central youth helping out. It also holds garage sales to raise money to aid the needy in the community. It has partnered with the Irving Police Department for 20 years in awarding scholarships to the children of officers each year.