Related to the 2017 Progress edition and its themes of onward movement or growth, the News Journal asked three Clinton County pastors the following question: What are two or three things that, in your experience or opinion, are keys to attracting and retaining church members?
The three men of the cloth are Paul Crisp with the Blanchester Church of the Nazarene, Kelly McInerney with the Bible Baptist Church of Wilmington, and Mike Holloran with Saint Columbkille Parish which includes Holy Name Chapel of Blanchester as well as Saint Columbkille Catholic Church in Wilmington.
Pastor Paul Crisp has been with the Blanchester Church of the Nazarene for more than 27 years. He gave several factors he feels contribute to either attracting church members or keeping them.
“I would say a viable ministry to children and youth, and that actually applies to both parts of the question — if you want to attract, it’s vital to have ministries to children and to teens, and if you want to keep,” said Crisp.
He added the youth ministries have to contain ongoing substance.
“In other words, after attracting, the church has got to have something to offer them over the long haul or else they won’t stay,” he said.
He also thinks to attract new people, a church needs to have a healthy outreach to its surrounding community.
The Blanchester Church of the Nazarene operates a street ministry called the “Exchange” which involves food and clothing and more. It is an outreach to the local community in which the congregation resides.
“Because we do this ministry, we have attracted a lot of people who have heard about it. It’s not even on our [main church facility] property,” commented Crisp. The Exchange is located at 116 N. Broadway in Blanchester, whereas the church building itself is at 10451 State Route 28.
When new people come to a church, it is important they find “a sense of authenticity,” said the Blanchester pastor. For building up a church family, it goes a long way when newcomers can sense genuine authenticity among the existing members, he thinks.
Long-term credibility among local residents and having a good reputation are helpful in attracting new people, said Crisp.
So if the existing church membership has the reputation of being interested in the general public and giving back to the local community and has done so for a long time, they build up credibility in the community.
“That’s huge. You can’t overstate the value of having favor with the community,” he added.
And the final thing Crisp mentioned to attract and keep members is a “willingness to change when you need to change.” For churches, that is easier talked about than done, he feels.
“To be an established church and yet be willing to change and adapt when you need to, it’s a huge challenge,” Crisp said.
It is a big turnoff, he said, when people come to a church and they see that it’s “basically dug in, and it’s an ‘Us versus Them’ mentality.”
Bible Baptist Church of Wilmington Senior Pastor Kelly D. McInerney founded that congregation in 1995, and it has grown to be reportedly the church with the largest membership in Clinton County history.
“From our experience, we have found people respond to the preaching of the Word of God. We elevate the preaching message. People don’t just come for fellowship or ‘Game Night’ or youth activities. The very foundation is the preaching of the Word,” said McInerney.
Another way of putting it is that the Bible is held in the highest regard at Bible Baptist.
“That is the reason we’re here, the preaching of the Word,” McInerney said. At another juncture, he described this piece as preaching “straight from the Bible.”
A second thing, he said, is the church does all it can to minister to the needs of every family, whatever the family’s or individual’s age bracket.
Some churches might focus on the 20- to 40-year-old age range, he said. But at Bible Baptist, they have developed ministries to cover the entire spectrum: young couples, middle-age couples, things for senior saints, widows, teenagers, and single parents, said McInerney.
He described it as a balanced ministry for all ages.
“There is no specific demographic group that is our favorite or that is our target. We’re going to minister to everybody that God sends in our doors,” said the pastor.
The third thing he mentioned is going out into the community.
“We tell people about the church, through [newspaper] advertisement, and door-to-door information,” he said. The advertisements sometimes highlight upcoming free concerts featuring well-known Southern Gospel groups, or worship services with particular speakers, McInerney added.
“We have literally knocked on every door in the city of Wilmington at least four times in 22 years,” he remarked. Not everybody was at home or glad to see them, he added.
For the door-to-door canvassing, the city’s residents would be covered a neighborhood at a time by church members bearing informational packets.
Then in 2011, which was the 400th anniversary of the King James translation of the Bible, the church purchased full King James paperback Bibles.
Though it took more than a year to do it, they stopped at every residence in Clinton County, leaving a free Bible as a gift. The door hanger bag also held brochures about the Bible and the church.
“We actively promote the church through advertisement and word-of-mouth and community outreach,” McInerney summarized of the third factor he cited.
Father Michael Holloran of Wilmington-based Saint Columbkille Parish identified three things he believes people are looking for and hoping to find.
“One — the truth, clearly, convincingly and compassionately presented,” he stated in an email.
“Two — worship, that reaches down into the soul and opens us up to God,” Holloran continued.
“Three — community, that makes a person feel connected to fellow believers and encourages them in their walk as a disciple of Christ,” he said.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.