How Do You Shepherd A Large Flock?
I recently attended a church service where a pastor admitted they have always taken the perspective of “people are responsible for themselves. If they choose not to engage and participate, it’s not our problem.” That same pastor also admitted that he and the rest of the staff are haunted by Colossians 1:28 and the call to “present everyone fully mature in Christ.” They struggle with getting attendee engagement at the church. Thousands attend; maybe 40% of them are in small groups, and a far lower percentage volunteer. They’re trying to figure out how to improve engagement, and their new strategy is still to offer small groups/classes and wait for people to sign up. The difference now is how frequently they talk about small groups and serving.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with a staff member at that church where we talked about some of their challenges and ways they could improve their engagement. In that meeting I asked the question: “How do you shepherd a flock if you don’t know who they are?” I then suggested they take steps to start tracking weekly who is attending their services, and the person laughed out loud and said “churches this big don’t do that.” I asked how else they could know who’s there so they can be shepherded and the staff member acknowledged they didn’t know.
This might be the most important question pastors have to answer when it comes to shepherding a large group of people: How do you shepherd someone when you have no idea who they are, how often they attend your church, and what their level of involvement is in your church? How do you present them as fully mature in Christ when you know nothing about them?
The truth is that you don’t, mostly because you can’t. But, that doesn’t let you off the hook. They still have to be shepherded. So what do you do? What do you do when the flock is big and people start slipping through the cracks?
The answer is simple to say: Know them. Figure out who they are and know them. But how do you do that? That’s a lot more involved, but here are some tips and ideas to get started:
Know who’s in your building every weekend
If you want to shepherd a large group of people, your team has to know who they are, when they’re in your building, and what next steps they need to take in their walk with Jesus. The only way to do that is to ask them to identify when they’re in the building. Call it attendance, call it whatever you want, but your people will slip through the cracks and you won’t be able to shepherd them well if you don’t know who they are.
Doing this requires using some form of a connect card or response card and asking everyone to include enough information to make themselves identifiable every week. More than just knowing how many people are in your building, this is the foundation for shepherding a church that is bigger than what one person can handle. It allows you to answer these questions:
1) Who (specifically) attended our services this week?
2) How often do they normally attend?
3) Do they support our ministry financially?
4) Do they serve?
5) How long have they attended our church?
6) Have they been baptized?
7) Based on information they gave us, do they want to take a next step in their faith?
8) Are there any special needs or prayer requests people have communicated to us?
Do something with it
Once you have that information you can start mining it weekly to answer some important questions:
1) Is there anyone we haven’t seen in church lately? If so, let’s reach out to them!
2) Who is experiencing heartache or trauma in life and needs us to come alongside them this week?
3) Who can we identify that attends regularly but doesn’t volunteer? Would a simple conversation help them take a step in that area?
4) Who can we identify that attends, but not regularly? Could a phone call, email, postcard or facebook message start a relationship that would help them want to attend regularly?
5) Who can we identify that, based on average length of time people attend our church, is close to the time when people normally leave? Would meeting up for a meal or coffee help get them connected to our church?
6) Who is committed with attendance and finances but isn’t part of a small group? Could someone geographically close to them reach out and invite them to try out a small group?
7) Who attends regularly but doesn’t give? How could we encourage them in taking a step of faith with their finances?
Answering these questions is the essence of shepherding the people God has entrusted to you
The answers to these questions are what lead people to attend, participate, and connect with your church and ultimately build a deeper relationship with Jesus. It’s how we know them.
Can one person read and enter all this information into our church management software? They can, but they probably shouldn’t. Build a team of “work from home” volunteers and have them help. Two people cut the work in half. Ten or more make it downright enjoyable. Make sure your volunteers can do it from home on a Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. They give up a minimal amount of time and you get a treasure trove of information at the beginning of every week that helps you determine who your church staff should focus their energy on.
For many churches this is a complete shift in thinking. We think people want to be anonymous, and perhaps some do, but the biblical mandate to shepherd supersedes our concern for their perceived anonymity. Jesus himself said “I know My Sheep” and He charged Peter to take care of and feed His sheep. The calling now falls on us to do everything in our power to know, take care of, and feed His sheep.
As pastors, staff members, and key volunteers, we have a biblical calling to shepherd the flocks God has given us charge over. Unless we know who they are, there is no way to fulfill the calling Christ placed on us. The only way to know who they are is to do the hard work of finding out every name of every person in your building every week.
Is this more work than you’re doing now? Yes. Is it hard? Not with help. Is there another way to properly shepherd a large group of people? 40+ years and over 9,000 churches later, we can’t find it.
Would you like to talk through how this tracking process may look for your church? Give us a call at (866) 654-6127. We’d be happy to help.