Unlocking Generosity and Engagement: Key Takeaways from Church Growth Incubator Retreat

In today’s episode of the unSeminary podcast, we pull back the curtain on an extraordinary gathering that promises to revolutionize the way church leaders envision growth and community engagement. Fresh from the Church Growth Incubator retreat held at Mariner’s Church in Irvine, Southern California, we’re eager to share a treasure trove of wisdom that emerged from two days of deep learning, fellowship, and strategic planning. This retreat, designed for senior leaders of churches approximately 1,000ish in size, focused on nurturing an invite culture to foster church growth.

The Power of Collective Wisdom

The Church Growth Incubator is not just an event; it’s a catalyst for transformation. With bi-monthly calls and two in-person retreats every year, it creates a sustained environment for growth. This February’s retreat was elevated by the presence of not just one, but two esteemed guest coaches, including Phil Ling from The Giving Church and Greg Curtis, the Director of Connection & Assimilation at Eastside Church, each bringing their unique insights and strategies to the table.

Lessons in Generosity from Phil Ling

Phil Ling, renowned for helping churches and ministries raise a billion dollars, shared compelling strategies to enhance church generosity. His approach, encapsulated in the “win, lift, and keep” framework, provides a roadmap for attracting new donors, increasing contributions from current members, and ensuring lasting engagement. Ling’s emphasis on genuine support over transactional relationships underscores the importance of viewing church members as partners in growth.

A significant portion of our discussion on increasing giving revolved around the concept of the “three rooms” – the big room (weekend services), the medium room (tribes or small groups), and the small room (one-on-one interactions). This framework offers a strategic approach to communication and engagement, emphasizing tailored messages for different congregational segments to maximize impact and foster deeper connections.

Greg Curtis on Assimilation and Connection

Greg Curtis, known as the Assimilation Sherpa, offered transformative perspectives on engaging and integrating churchgoers, from newcomers to long-standing members. His insights into the “new assumptions about assimilation” challenge conventional wisdom and advocate for a more intentional, personalized approach to discipleship and connection. Curtis’s strategies underscore the critical role of connection in fostering a vibrant, mission-driven church community.

The Retreat’s Ripple Effect

The Church Growth Incubator retreat has once again proven to be a wellspring of actionable insights and inspiration for church leaders dedicated to growth and engagement. Beyond the sessions, the retreat underscored the importance of community, shared learning, and the collective pursuit of a more inviting, generous church culture.

A Call to Action

As we reflect on the profound lessons and stories shared at the retreat, we invite church leaders to consider how these insights can be woven into the fabric of their own communities. Whether it’s through enhancing generosity, refining assimilation strategies, or simply fostering deeper connections, the path to growth is paved with intention, innovation, and collective wisdom.

For those inspired to dive deeper into the strategies and success stories from the Church Growth Incubator, remember that this is just the beginning. The journey to unlocking your church’s full potential is ongoing, and we’re here to support you every step of the way. Join us as we continue to explore, learn, and grow together in our mission to create thriving, vibrant church communities across the globe.

Thank you for tuning in to unSeminary. If you’re seeking to bolster your church’s invite culture, don’t forget to check out the recently released book, “Unlocking Your Church’s Invite Culture,” available now on Amazon.

Let’s continue to share, learn, and inspire one another in our collective mission to lead churches toward unprecedented growth and impact.

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Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: Risepointe

Do you feel like your church’s facility could be preventing growth, and are you frustrated or maybe even overwhelmed at the thought of a complicated or costly building project? Are the limitations of your church building becoming obstacles in the path of expanding your ministry? Have you ever felt that your church could reach more people if only the facility was better suited to the community’s needs?

Well, the team over at Risepointe has been there. As former ministry staff and church leaders, they understand how to prioritize and help lead your church to a place where the building is a ministry multiplier. Licensed all over North America, their team of architects, interior designers and project managers have the professional experience to help move YOUR mission forward.

Check them out at Risepointe.com/unseminary and while you’re there get their FREE resource “10 Things to Get Right Before You Build”.

Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well, hey friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. Really looking forward to today’s episode. I’m really pumped for this because I want to kind of pull back the curtain a little bit, give you an insider scoop, kind of let you in on something that’s been happening in the background that unless you’re paying attention, you will not know about.

Rich Birch — Listen, I’m just back from a two day in-person retreat for the Church Growth Incubator. Now, you might be wondering, there’s a lot of words there that you don’t understand. So what is the Church Growth Incubator? It’s a small cohort that I run, for senior leaders of churches around a thousand in size. And we’re working on growing our churches by increasing invite culture. We do two calls per month and we meet for a year, and we do two in-person retreats during that year. And we just got back from two days in Southern California. We were at Mariner’s Church there in Irvine. It was a great time. We learned a lot. We had a lot of fun. We laughed, we learned we, you know, made new friends, that sort of thing. It was great. But today, what I want to do is pull back the curtain on, you know, really, and give you a bit of a sample of some of the things that we talked about.

Rich Birch — You see, at each one of these in-person retreats, one of the promises of the in-person retreats is that we will have a guest coach. This is someone who I really deeply value and who, you know, I believe just has a lot to offer to churches. And we get them to come and spend some time with us. And the amazing thing at this retreat was we didn’t in the past, we’ve had Jenni Catron, Carey Nieuwhof actually was at our last retreat as well. But this time around, do we not only had just one guest coach, we actually had two, which was amazing. So good. And so what I wanted to do is to take a few minutes and kind of unpack some of the lessons. Now, friends, this is two days of conversation. Obviously, we can’t unpack everything, but I wanted to give you a bit of a sample of it, because I think these are some lessons that you could take and apply into your church.

Rich Birch — So the first guest was Phil Ling. He’s from The Giving Church. If you don’t know Phil, you really should check out his website, thegivingchurch.com. Phil has helped churches and ministry raise $1 billion. That’s a B, billion with a B, which is, you know, just incredible. And the thing I love about Phil, well, both of our guests, well, it’s all the people that we have come, but particularly these two, these guest coach that we had this time around is they are in the corner of churches like you. They really do want to help churches. They don’t see the church as just like a market. Sometimes you interact with people who have services or provide coaching to to churches. And frankly, to me, they kind of make my skin crawl a little bit. And Phil definitely doesn’t do that. He’s in your corner. He is there to help and help you particularly increase generosity. And there’s there’s really two things I want to talk through.

Rich Birch — First, we had a whole conversation around the three things or the three actions that we’re doing as we’re engaging with our people to try to, you know, from a generosity point of view, what are the kind of three outcomes that we’re looking for? And he talks about win, lift and keep; win, lift and keep. So win – this is all about gaining donors. So the question for you, if I was to sit in your corner and Phil was to sit in your corner, would be to ask the question, what are you doing to win new donors? You know, we got talking about weekends and how oftentimes, man, the weekend is a great place to, to find new donors, people who haven’t given to your church before. Phil was talking about the fact that 45% of the people in that give to churches in America give less than $200 a year. But those are those are the people who give. There’s a ton of people, including folks in your church, who don’t give anything. And so the question is, what strategies are you applying towards winning new donors? And we spend a lot of time, effort, energy thinking about that, thinking about what can we do to move people from not giving to giving. The reality of it is it from getting them to go from not giving anything to giving something. Man, that is a that is a phase shift. That is a significant shift. And if we could see that kind of thing happen, it would make a huge, huge difference. So win – that’s the first.

Rich Birch — The second is lift. This really is about this idea of increasing revenue from people. We had a fantastic conversation around what can we do to see people’s increasing generosity. Obviously you’re feeling this pressure. I’m feeling this pressure as the cost of things become more expensive. We need to also continually continue to think about what can we do to increase the revenue that comes from our, you know, from our people. We talked about, even the value of something like a quarterly vision report where we get back out to our people, regularly to communicate to them about how they’re giving is, you know, is is being put into action, what difference it’s making to the vision, how it’s pushing the church forward. But the question for you is, what can you do to increase revenue? This is particularly difficult in this age when, you know, one of the the downsides, potential downsides of us moving everyone to digital giving, recurring giving, is unless we interrupt with a regular kind of outreach to them, people won’t necessarily increase their giving. So what are you doing to lift their giving?

Rich Birch — And then thirdly, keep, keep. So it’s win, lift, keep. What can we do to show appreciation? How are we keeping the donor? We obviously know that it’s easier to keep a donor than to find a new donor. And this is an area, frankly, I think that many of our churches are lagging behind. We lag behind our nonprofit brothers and sisters when it comes to showing appreciation. And I think we often think of it in a, like, a, a very kind of extreme way. We’re either saying, hey, we need to be putting brass plaques on everything, everywhere across the entire church, which is kind of goofy and dumb. We don’t want to do that. Or we don’t want to do anything at all. There’s got to be other ways to show appreciation. This could be about gathering those folks together. We talked about the fact that particularly the senior pastor time with the senior pastor is a great commodity. And how can you use that to show appreciation to those people that are giving to your, you know, to your church? So we talked a lot about this, but the questions I would have for you, you know, from Phil’s coaching, from The Giving Church around, you know, the three actions that we’re taking when it comes to generosity: win, lift, keep.

Rich Birch — But then we also had a conversation around the three rooms, kind of thinking about what kind of communication happens in various rooms. We talked about the big room, the medium room and the small room. So the big room, the weekends. This is really about participation. It’s about trying to get more people to give at some level. It’s it’s it’s about driving high percentage of your people to engage on a regular basis, participation is the win in the big room. It’s actually not about revenue or big numbers. You know, we talked about within like a capital campaign when it gets to that public phase, really what that is all about, once you get to the public phase, it’s just about participation. It’s just about saying, hey, what can we do to get as many people in on this?

Rich Birch — Then the medium room. What do we mean by the medium room? This is a, you know, this is the kind of tribes or small groups or volunteer huddles, that sort of thing. These would be segmenting your community up into smaller, bite-sized communities. And really, the question there is, is about how we can engage donors and really to speak to their specific needs, to understand what is it that that kind of donor, what are they looking for? And then how are we packaging up what we’re doing in a way that is, gaining their, is helping them kind of get more plugged into the church, is helping them get more plugged in to what’s happening? And so you divide groups up into various, you know, into smaller, medium-sized rooms, and then you communicate specifically to them. So you might get, you know, young parents together and talk about the kids’ needs and talk about what difference, you know, the church is making in the kids’ point of view and how they’re giving makes a difference to the kids in their community.

Rich Birch — And then finally, the small room, really one-on-one. And I think this is one of those areas, we talked a lot about this in our coaching sessions, around coaching lead pastors, particularly, to have one-on-one conversations with, with donors. And we talked a bunch about how to do that, best practices, that sort of thing. And really, the overarching lesson here is the largest checks come from the smallest rooms. And so we’ve got to figure out a way to get in front of people on a regular basis, even if that’s, say, 51 a week, to get in front of those people on a regular basis. And that is more about partnering with people than presentation. So think partnership, not presentation. It’s about sketching out on a piece of paper where the church is going and asking for their input, asking those people to come along.

Rich Birch — So, we talked a lot about the three rooms. So big room, medium room, small rooms. So, Phil Ling, super honored to have Phil with us. What and, just incredible gift for the Church Growth Incubator in-person retreat, honored to have him with us. But like I said, although we only really say that we’ll have one, you know, coach or guest at these guest coach at these in-person retreats. We ended up having two this time. Extra value. We had Greg Curtis. He is the Director of Assimilation. Greg has been on the podcast in the past. He’s a dear friend. You’ll be hearing more about him in the future. There’s he’s actually got an offering coming up that I want to make sure you know about, but he, he is my assimilation sherpa.

Rich Birch — What do I mean by that? He is the person that I point to when it comes to how are we developing an engagement pathway to get people connected, to go from new here to new volunteer. That new here to new volunteer engagement pathway is critically important. And how are we getting people plugged in? And, you know, our time with Greg was second to none. Incredibly helpful. We got the whiteboard out, and we’re working through some very specifics around people’s individual kind of concerns and comments and, you know, you know, thoughts on what’s happening in their in their community from an engagement or assimilation point of view. But one of the things that Greg talked about in his kind of presentation portion, he had this kind of new assumptions discussion, which was new assumptions about assimilation. And there are five of these that jumped out. There’s a lot more than we talked about, but there are five of these that I thought might be particularly interesting for us to talk about on the podcast to do.

Rich Birch — And so the first one is this, no one can make a disciple out of an unconnected person. So we, you know, connection is the first part of the discipleship process. If people don’t get connected to your church, they won’t get discipled. And we might think that connection is like a “nice to have”, but it actually is a “need to have” if we’re thinking about discipling people. So really the first step, no one can become a disciple, you know, you can’t make a disciple out of someone who’s unconnected. And so if you have a heart for making disciples, really your first step is how do we get people connected? And the reason why that is, is because discipleship at its core is it’s life on life. It’s about people seeing other folks who are following Jesus and trying to get a sense of, hey, what is it like to follow Jesus, and learning from those people. So number one, no one made it a disciple out of it, under, an unconnected or under-connected person.

Rich Birch — Number two, just making Christians more Christian is not discipleship. Wow. That was one of those like bam, like, you know, mic-drop moments. Just making Christians more Christian is not discipleship. I loved Greg’s push, and this is really one of the hearts of EastSide. We want to be the kind of church where unchurched people are getting connected. We are not trying to sheep steal. We’re not trying to get people from other churches. We’re trying to connect people, people who don’t know Jesus. And so, discipleship is, is about connecting with unchristian people, people who do not follow Jesus, and helping them take steps towards Jesus. It’s not about taking Christians and making them more Christian. Man, what a mic-drop moment. And we had a whole conversation around, okay, what are we doing, particularly, to connect unchurched people? How can we work to ensure that we connect unchurched people to our church? And what can we do to ensure that our assimilation processes are biased towards connecting unchurched people. So love that. Number two, just making Christians more Christian is not discipleship.

Rich Birch — All right. Number three, connection could be taken for granted in previous generations. Connection could be taken for granted in previous generation. We have a whole conversation around, you know, in, in previous generations, whether that was ten years ago, 20 years ago, 50 years ago, this idea of connecting with people and the church being a place where you could connect, where you could make relationship, that was maybe taken for granted before. And this is really an accelerating issue. You know, this is, this is true today. I would say it was true five years ago, but it’s more true today and will be more true five years from now. We can’t take connection for granted anymore. We’ve got to take an active kind of in the driver’s seat, helping our people get connected, building systems to help them get connected, building relationships, environments, steps. Clearly thinking about how are we going from one step to the next, thinking about the places where they might fall through the crack, so that we don’t take it for granted. We need to, to, you know, work hard at this. It’s not the kind of thing that can just be taken for granted. So that is number three.

Rich Birch — Number four disc…So that was number three was connection could be taken for granted in previous generation; obviously can’t be taken for granted now. Number four: disconnection is the greatest obstacle to mission fulfillment in your church. Disconnection is the greatest obstacle to mission fulfillment in your church. Ultimately, you know, our our mission goes forward the more people we get connected, the more people we get connected to serving, the more people we get connected into groups, the more people that get connected even just as new here guests – more connection drives the mission forward. If if people are disconnected, then your mission is not going to happen. Connection is not secondary to the mission. It is primary to your mission. It is primary to what we’re doing in our churches. And so we shouldn’t be relegating connection or our strategies for connection down, you know, to maybe giving that to, you know, administrative people or giving that to people who, that are maybe lower down in the org chart. It needs to be at the highest levels of concern in our organization. Disconnection is the greatest obstacle to mission fulfillment in our church.

Rich Birch — And then finally, number five, it takes our Sherpa mindset towards connection. It takes a Sherpa mindset towards connection. So, you know, Greg has built his, his entire coaching organization called Climbing the Assimilayas, this idea of, you know, we are helping people. And what are Sherpas? You know, he’s got all these great statistics about Sherpas. Sherpas help people climb Mount Everest. They have, they’re built for that trend. They’re constantly, or that that part of the track, they’re they’re constantly starting at base camp and taking people to the peak. And then going back to the base camp and taking to the peak. They literally have,, more developed lungs to be able to operate at such high level, consistently breathing, you know, thinner air, but moving people to those peaks. And really, that’s what our role is in connection. Our role is to literally help people hand-over-hand, help them be connected. It’s it’s about being a Sherpa. So again, we had lots of conversation around what that looks like in our context. But I loved what Greg had to say, again, Director of Assimilation from EastSide Church, Assimilation Sherpa helping so many churches connect so many people.

Rich Birch — Well, friends, our two-day, in-person retreat for the Church Growth Incubator. It was just it was a wild success. If you’re a church of a thousand or around a thousand, I like to say a thousand-ish, and you want more information about Church Growth Incubator and want to learn about our upcoming in-person retreat, or those two calls we do a month. We’re seeing actual results from churches. Churches are growing in this. The ones that that buckle down and apply what we’re talking about, man, they’re seeing results. We had all kinds of other stuff at this retreat, including a done-for-you resource, that really is about increasing attendance at Easter this year. We rolled that out last week.

Rich Birch — We also rolled out a brand new tool to keep the front door visible. So one of the problems in our churches is if you don’t see the front door, you can’t understand it. Oftentimes, our staff are just thinking about the back door because they can see it so clearly. But how can we keep the front door visible? And we came up with a brand new tool for that, for that. And we had some fun and, you know, went out on Duffy boats and did a bunch of other stuff. It was a great retreat. Thanks so much, friends. Thanks for being a part of unSeminary., if you haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy of my most recent book, Unlocking Your Church’s Invite Culture, you can do that at Amazon today. It’s, the book is out. So you can go and pick it up today; it released this week, earlier this week. All right, friends, well, thanks so much. Thanks for being a part of unSeminary. And we’ll talk to you next week. 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.