In every church I’ve been at, as I meet believers from other churches, and as I interact with people in my city (and sometimes overhear conversations), I often hear a similar line of thinking from people who feel like they aren’t growing in their church. They might be involved, but they express discouragement and disappointment because they walk away each week not feeling like real growth and life-change are taking place.
It raises the question, is there anything they could have done, or can do, to better grow how they’re engaged at their church? Or to make it more personal, is there anything you or I can change about how we participate in our church?
While most of the attention goes to what is and isn’t offered, the heart of the matter is usually how we engage in these things.
More times than not, the number one thing needing done by individuals or families is switching from a passive to an active approach. Most churches provide enough trellis on which people can grow—the frameworks of church services, ministries, programs, classes, groups—but it takes effort and intentionality from each person.
Here are seven simple ideas for getting more out of your church involvement for the sake of growth. There are many more ways than these, but find one or two to take small steps.
- Approach the Corporate Gathering Differently
The best place to start is how you approach the weekly church gathering. Come hungry and eager to engage fully in every part of the service. Sing like you mean it, or at least like you want to mean it. Don’t mentally check out during prayers but join in prayer. Listen attentively to the preached Word.
Fight distractions and feed attentive engagement in whatever way works for you. If you need to take notes during the sermon, do it. If you need to sit towards the front to not be distracted by others, do it. If you need to stand in the back so you don’t fall asleep, do it. If you need to silence your phone, turn off emails, or bring a hard copy of the Bible, do it.
Diagnostic Question: Do I come on Sundays ready to engage all of my heart, mind, and soul?
Be on Time
This is an extension of the first point, but I wanted to highlight it because of how important it is and yet how easily neglected it is.
Getting out of the house on Sunday morning is hard, so no one wants to hear this, but it’s hard to maximize your experience if you’re late. If you walk into the sanctuary (or whatever you call it) after a couple of songs, you’re likely already stressed out and distracted from rushing in. You’ve already missed key moments in calming your heart and redirecting your mind onto God. Many church services have an intentional flow, or liturgy, so you likely missed part of the larger focus and narrative of the morning’s service.
Don’t plan on being at the church when the service starts, put plan to be there early enough to park, get checked in, grab your coffee, hit up the restroom, and drop off your kids before the service starts. I know, easier said than done. But this is part of changing your approach, even if it means laying clothes out the night before, getting up a few minutes earlier, or tricking yourself by moving the clocks up several minutes. And please, if you have to choose between stopping at Starbucks and being on time for church, please make the right choice.
Diagnostic Question: Is there anything I need to do differently to make it to church early enough so I can be in the sanctuary before it starts?
Don’t Wait on Others to Talk to You
Most of us hope others will talk to us on Sundays, but few people take the lead to initiate conversations. Making the choice to proactively meet and talk to others on Sunday might be a game-changer for your church experience.
See this as your own personal ministry. Find someone new and introduce yourself. Meet the people around you. Go talk to someone you know but don’t know well enough. Part of growing is experiencing the church as a community you belong to and not just a crowd you sit in.
Diagnostic Question: Am I intentionally initiating conversation and actively getting to know others instead of waiting on them to approach me?
In Relationships and Involvement, Choose Depth Over Breadth
My hope is you’re already a church member serving somewhere and plugged into a discipleship-oriented group (small group, bible study, or discipleship group). If you’re not, start by serving and joining an existing group.
If you’re in a group or ministry but don’t feel like the relationships are deep, the temptation is to add more people or another group into your life. My encouragement is to not do that—even though it’s easier—but to find ways to deepen the relationships God already put you in.
Don’t settle for surface-level conversations in your small group, but lead by example through honestly, humility, transparency, and appropriate vulnerability. Ask someone or several people out to lunch or to grab coffee. Share with the group your desire for more depth and intimacy, and help come up with ideas and solutions for changing things rather than waiting for someone else to fix it.
Are you allowing yourself to be known? Are you genuinely interested in others and expressing that by listening, asking questions, and learning more about them? Start where you are by going deeper. Go deep with a few instead of participating in multiple ministries without ever really being known.
Diagnostic Question: Am I doing everything I can to know and walk alongside of the people I’m already in?
Growth happens not only as others pour into us; it also happens as we pour into others. God stretches us as we sacrificially serve out of love for Him and His people.
If you aren’t serving people in meaningful ways, then you will stall out in your growth. If where you are serving isn’t helping you, talk to the leader of that ministry about it. Maybe you need to serve more regularly, serve with others rather than alone, or you might need to serve in a way that better fits with your gifts and experiences. It could be you need more human contact in how you serve, it needs to be more connected to ministering the Word or prayer, or it could be you need to take on increased levels of responsibility or leadership.
You are a member of the church body, called by Christ to build up others and be built up by them. You’re now a family, where strangers become siblings in Christ. The church is not a restaurant where you show up to be taken care of and fed by others, and it’s not a show where you pay to receive some kind of spiritual entertainment or life-improving service. Don’t just be a consumer of the church, be a contributor in the church.
Diagnostic Question: Am I regularly pouring my life into other people and ministering to them through loving service that points to Jesus?
Be More Consistent
This is another small change that can go a long way. In our noncommittal, busy culture it’s easy for people to be involved in many things and yet inconsistent in all of them. But it’s hard to gain traction if you’re inconsistent. Prioritize the Sunday gathering over competing options. Don’t sign up for too many things if that makes it easier to cancel. Show up to whatever group, class, or study you are a part of. Create ownership and accountability to help with consistency.
Diagnostic Question: Am I consistent in my presence and engagement at the church or do I attend things when it’s convenient?
Reflect and Respond
Even though we might attend the church service, or show up to a bible study or small group, it’s all too easy to leave what we learned in our seats. We each need more follow up in our life. The good intentions we have after a sermon, class, or study doesn’t amount to a change in direction unless we build reflection and response into our week.
Come up with ideas or a plan on how you can better reflect on what you’re hearing on Sunday or in your small group, as well as how you can respond throughout the week. As you pray in the morning, rehearse these things you’ve been learning and ask God to help you live in light of them that day. In your small group, talk to others about how you want to respond to truth. Ask for their help, prayer, encouragement, and accountability. Provide this for others by following up on things they mention, how they’re trying to grow, or where they need encouragement.
Diagnostic Question: Do I have ways to reflect on and respond to what I hear or am learning so I can be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer?