From 1,000 to 2,000 in 1,000 Days: Key Metrics for Explosive Church Growth

Today, we’re diving into the mechanics of rapid church growth, specifically how a church can potentially double in size—from 1,000 to 2,000 members—in just 1,000 days. If you’ve been pondering how to expand your congregation effectively and sustainably, this is the episode for you.

The Balance of Growth

Rapid church growth is exhilarating but maintaining a balance so your team can sustain the momentum is crucial. Imagine welcoming 500 new attendees in a single weekend! Such growth spikes can be overwhelming and highlight the need for a well-oiled operational system to handle new faces without compromising the community spirit.

Understanding Attrition

Every church experiences some level of attrition, typically around 15% annually. This includes members who pass away, move away, or leave due to dissatisfaction. Knowing this number is vital because it sets the baseline for the growth needed just to maintain current numbers, let alone grow.

The Power of Documented First-Time Guests

A pivotal metric for growth is tracking documented first-time guests. Aiming for about 3% (or 30 new guests each week for a church of 1,000) sets a solid foundation for potential growth. This approach keeps the community dynamic and engaging, encouraging regular attendees to invite others and thus, organically grow the congregation.

Focusing on Guest Retention

Once guests visit, the next challenge is retention. Thriving churches tend to keep about 26% of their first-time guests. This means if you’re meeting your target of 30 new guests weekly, you aim to integrate around seven to eight of those into your church community permanently.

Strategic Integration

To handle this influx, churches need to think strategically about integrating these individuals. This might involve launching new small groups or volunteer opportunities, creating enough space and engagement points to turn newcomers into regular members.

Sustainable Growth Over Time

By adhering to these metrics—3% new guests weekly, managing a 15% attrition rate, and retaining 26% of newcomers—a church can aim to grow by 26% annually. This growth rate, compounded over three years, means doubling in size, reaching that 2,000 member milestone within 1,000 days.

Actionable Steps

For church leaders looking to harness these principles, it starts with fostering an inviting culture and ensuring each service is an opportunity for members to bring someone new. Moreover, setting up systems to capture and follow up with first-time guests efficiently can help maintain this growth trajectory.

Growing your church isn’t just about numbers; it’s about creating a welcoming community that continually reaches out and retains new members. If your church is on the brink of expansion and you’re aiming for explosive growth, focusing on these key metrics will provide a clear and structured path to achieve your goals.

For further guidance and personalized coaching to implement these strategies, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our team is eager to support your journey of significantly impacting your community and helping more people connect with your church family.

Episode Transcript

Well, happy Wednesday, everybody. Welcome to the UnSeminary Podcast. Today, we’re talking about from 1,000 to 2,000 in 1,000 days, key metrics for explosive church growth.

You know, friends, what I want to do is kind of look up under the hood and help you understand what are some of the mechanics, the kind of growth mechanics, metrics, numbers, digits that you should be thinking about when you think about growing your church. You know, there are some kind of key numbers, benchmarks that we come across time and again, and I want to expose those to you, to talk you through those, really as a target for your church to be looking at. Now, I’m talking about today, thinking about a church of 1,000. I’m going to use that as an example, but these numbers scale up and down, but that’s an important metric because, you know, it kind of helps us, it’s a round number, let’s be honest. It’s an easy number to kind of get your head around, but the same numbers work if your church is smaller or larger.

You know, there’s really an interesting balance I found in church growth over the years. Really, we want to grow fast enough to make a difference in our community. You want that excitement of like, man, amazing things are happening, but not so fast that your team can’t keep up. I remember years ago, 20 years ago, we had a single Sunday where we had 500 new people show up at our church. We were about maybe 1,000, just over 1,000 at the time. So it was like a 50% bump in a single weekend. Wowzers, it was, you know, it was crazy.

And, you know, although it’s the kind of thing, like everybody says, they would love something like that to happen. It was a ton of work and, you know, we ended up scrambling to try to follow up. We had to scale up groups quickly. We had to scale teams quickly. And you know, the thing about those 500 people, they came literally on the launch of a series and they did not go away. And, you know, although you might, you know, that could happen to your church and it does happen from time to time. Really, I think we should be aiming for something that’s more sustainable, that’s more on pace over an extended period of time.

I have friends of mine, they joke about how the fact that they’re the slowest growing church in America, you know, which is kind of funny. They’ve been growing basically 10% a year, but really since the 90s. And now this church that started as a few hundred people is now pushing three, 4,000 people because they’ve had consistent growth over an extended period of time. And so the question is, could we find some metrics? Could we find some numbers up under the hood based on actual real world experience that we should be thinking about for our church if we’re looking at growing? And so that’s what I want to unpack for you today.

So the first number I want us to understand is really this attrition number. So every church has some sort of attrition. That means, you know, every year there’s a certain percentage of people who go away for whatever reason. You know, they leave and they don’t come back. Now I’ve seen this time and again. There’s a real sticky persistent benchmark here of 15% that lots of churches across the country, they have a 15% shrinkage rate that, you know, they really can’t do anything about. It’s not that there’s something negative happening at their church. 5% of their church just frankly passes every year. There’s a certain percentage of people in every community that just die. There’s 5% that move away. This would be like they moved to a new town. They moved to a new city, you know, job move, that sort of thing. And then there’s 5% that get upset, frankly, for one reason or another. I remember early on, one of my early mentors in ministry talked about if 10% of the people in your church aren’t threatening to leave because they’re upset about something, you’re probably not doing anything right. And I think there’s some truth to that. You know, there are a percentage of people every year that leave and so that just are not happy with what’s happening. In fact, just this week I was talking to a pastor and he was talking about how last weekend they rolled out a vision talk at their church. He was kind of talking about redefining again. Why do we exist as a church? And he said, you know, he got some hate mail for that, but he was like, hey, that’s good. That’s a good part of life. We want that. That’s a critical piece.

So the first thing is to understand that your church does have an attrition number. Now for today’s calculation, we’re gonna set that at 15%. Now that might be more, it might be less. The important thing for us to understand on the attrition number is we have to grow faster than the attrition number just to kind of tread water. So if you, you know, a church would have to grow by 15% if you’ve got a 15% attrition number just to kind of stay the same. And so we’ve got to get, you know, terminal velocity to kind of get out of the pressure of that.

So how do we do that? So one of the key numbers that I talk about all the time, we talk about in our coaching. We work through whether it’s in, you know, my books, you know, Unlocking Your Church’s Invite Culture. We talk about it in our group coaching, the Church Growth Incubator, one-on-one coaching is documented first-time guests. This is a critical number. Recently, we had Paul Alexander. He’s executive pastor at Sun Valley Church, giant church making huge difference. And he talked about the same thing. I asked him what’s a key metric that he looks at across his locations. And he said, documented first-time guests. Now, I like to talk about that as documented first-time guests on a weekly basis. And that number in our calculation today is 3%. So on a church of a thousand people, that means weekend, week out, you should be seeing 30 people. Now, in other contexts, I talk about how a benchmark is 2%. And this is true. Your church, if you’re at 2% a week, that’s kind of like table stakes. You need to, you know, if you’re not there, you need to be investing, doubling down on increasing your invite culture. If you’re not seeing, so in this case, if you’re a church of a thousand people and you’re not seeing 20 a week, weekend, week out, I would say there’s something wrong with your invite culture. We’re not seeing enough guests. Now, what that means is over a year at 3%, you’re gonna see 1,500 first-time guests come to your church. At 2%, which would be the absolute lowest benchmark, the kind of table stakes, it would be a thousand. It would be mirrored. And that’s how our good friend, Tony Morgan talks about it with the Unstuck Group. They talk about, hey, you should have the same number of guests in a year that you have on average in an average weekend attendance at your church. I like talking about this number as average documented first-time guests on a weekly basis because I think it focuses our system better.

So in today’s example, a church of a thousand people, they should say 3%. Again, where this is, we’re aiming towards doubling every thousand days or every three years. So if you see 3% average, that means every week, you’re gonna see 30 first-time guests. And the question is, what can we do to actually integrate or to respond to 30 guests? What can we do to try to get 30 guests connected to our church? If I think 1,500, that would be the annual number. That’s like an overwhelming number. The problem with thinking about it at an annual basis is like, I’m not sure how we follow up with 1,500 people, but can I get my team to think about 30 on a weekly basis? Man, I totally can. We can associate, get our heads around, how can we see 30? The other thing, the other reason why I like talking about it weekly, so 3%, again, that’s the number we’re shooting for here to try to get to this doubling every thousand days. The reason why I like talking about it on a weekly basis as well, rather than annual, is because we should be really forcing, driving invite every week, week in, week out. Every week at your church needs to be the kind of thing that people will wanna invite their friends to. And the problem I see about talking about it at an annual number is we’ll often think like, well, Easter or Christmas or Mother’s Day, we’ll see a bunch of guests come on those days. But oftentimes that doesn’t work out. And so what we need to do is be thinking about it week in, week out.

So the first two numbers, attrition, we’re gonna assume 15% annual attrition. That’s a good benchmark. If you don’t know what your attrition number is, that would be the number I’d pick. We see that, that’s a sticky benchmark we see across the church. The second, again, what we’re aiming towards is to try to double a church and to go from 1,000 to 2,000 in 1,000 days. And so what that document at first time guest number is 3%.

Now let’s talk about guest retention. So how many of those guests, what percentage of those guests are we going to actually try to retain? Now the benchmarks here, the rule of thumbs we’ve talked about is that stuck and stagnant churches keep one in 10 guests. Growing churches keep two in 10 guests. And really thriving churches, churches that are knocking it out of the park, keep three in 10 guests. So the number I want you to be thinking about when it comes to guest retention in our calculation to go from 1,000 to 2,000 in 1,000 days is 26%. And the reason why I say 26% is your goal is it’s aggressive, but it’s also doable. When you think about back to that 30 guest issue every week, weekend, week out, we’re going to see 30 first time guests come. Then what that means is we’re hoping to see seven or eight of those guests stick and stay within that first year. We want to see seven or eight, somewhere in that of those guests.

Now this is important for you to think about because I think sometimes as church leaders, it could be discouraging to think, man, we’re only going to keep seven or eight out of the 30. What about all those other people? But this is just the normal church dynamics. We see this time and again, even growing churches, you have way more people come through the front door than actually stick and stay at your church long-term. This is normal. This is a normative process. And so what we need to be thinking about is what can we do to build a system? Now there’s a ton and we’ll talk about this in future weeks. There’s a ton that we can do to try to figure out what can we do to see seven or eight of those people stick of those 30 every week or 26%. Now, if you follow that, assuming you’re a church of 1,000 people, you have 3% documented average weekly guests, you have a 15% attrition rate and you keep 26% of your first-time guests, that means that you’ll grow by 26% a year. Now the interesting thing about 26% is if you can sustain 26% for 1,000 days or three years, your church would double. You’ll go from 1,000 to 2,000 assuming all of that continuing. You’re losing 15% a year. You’re seeing that 3% week in, week out. If you can sustain that every three years or every 1,000 days, you will double as a church. Now, the reason why I love 26% as a target, it’s aggressive. That puts you in the fastest-growing churches in the country. That puts you among the fastest-growing churches in the country for sure. But what that looks like on the baseline of 1,000 is, man, can we integrate every year 250 new people into small groups? That’s like, can we launch 20 new small groups in this coming year? Could you do that? Could you make that happen? Could you integrate somewhere between 100 and 150 new volunteers in this coming year? We’ve gotta create space for them. That maybe is like launching a new location or that’s gotta expand your teams. You gotta launch new spots. If you don’t do these two things, you’re not going to be building the space to get these folks in. So we need to not just think about attendance on the front end. We need to think not just about how do we drive people to sit in our auditoriums, but ultimately it’s about creating space for them to stick and stay. So at 26% on a baseline of 1,000, it’s what can we do to create space for somewhere between around 250 people this year? And then obviously that number grows. After that first year, you’re gonna be about 1,250 and then you’ll be about 1,600. And then that last year, at the end of that last year, you’ll be 2,000 people. So the key metric, if I was sitting across the table from you today and I was saying, hey, if you’re a church of 1,000 and you’re thinking about growing, you’d like to get on this path towards 26%, I would start with the top end of that funnel and that is the average documented first-time guest. This is a number that you can control. By building your invite culture, by consistently pushing your people towards what can they do to invite their friends, you can increase your average documented first-time guests. Now, how do you gather that information? You gather that information by having an exchange. I like to call it the ethical bribe. On Sunday morning, you stand up every single week, week in and week out, and you say, hey, we’re so glad that you’ve come to Sunnyvale Community Church. Let’s say that’s the name of your church. We’re so honored that you’re here at Sunnyvale Church today. In fact, we’ve got a gift for you. If you’re new here at Sunnyvale Community Church, we’d love to give you this gift. Click on this QR code, fill out this card in the seat in front of you, and take it to our dedicated new here kiosk where we’ve got amazing volunteers who are going to give you one of these coffee mugs that says Sunnyvale or for Sunnyvale on it or this T-shirt. And in exchange for your contact information, we’re going to give you this gift today. And that’s the number that we look at and that’s the number that really should be that documented first-time guest. Obviously, also first-time kids are connected in with that as well.

So that’s some numbers there. So documented first-time guests, your target should be 3%. Annual attrition, assuming we see that lots of times, at 15% of church, your guest retention is 26% is what you’re targeting towards. That will drive overall growth of 26%, which will mean that a church of 1,000 will grow to 2,000 in 1,000 days. Friends, if you’re looking for help for this, particularly if you’re the church that we’ve been talking about today, a church of 1,000 people, we’ve got coaching. We want to get in your corner. We have predictable processes that we do with the churches we coach where we’ve seen this happen time and again. And if you want help with that, just reach out. Email me, I’d be happy to talk about that.

Host: Thanks so much, friends. Pumped to be in your corner. Hope that you have a great week and thanks for being on the path to try to grow your church, to make an impact, to see good things happen, to see people connected, to see marriages renewed, to see people take steps closer to Jesus, to see more people get baptized. Thanks so much, friends. We’ll talk to you later. We’ll see you next week on the Unseminary Podcast. We’ve got a great interview tomorrow. You’re not going to want to miss it. We’ve got an incredible interview coming up. You’re going to see that tomorrow here on the interview show. Thanks so much, friends. Take care.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.