How to Think Like a Church that Effectively Meets New People

July 17, 2023

The future of the church isn’t simply about building new buildings or designing new events. 

At its core, the future of any church rests in the new people it engages. In this month’s article, my friends Gabe Norris and Ken Thomas, of Connect Ministries, lay out four questions every church team should wrestle with if they want to meet new people and assimilate them into the life of the church. 

But more than just providing content for us to think about, they have provided a practical assessment that any church could take to help it improve its engagement with new people across the four areas that they have identified from working with thousands of different churches across the country. 

I’ve seen the work that Connect Ministries does firsthand and deeply believe in their leadership. I hope you will take time to read the article and participate in the Assessment — the future of your church might shine a little brighter if you do.

​​— Dave Rhodes, Director of Church NEXT


Barna Research suggests that only 1 out of every 5 millennials believe church attendance is important 

Every generation alive is on the decline as it relates to church attendance.  

From the time we were children until the time we were raising our own children, there has been a 300 percent increase in the number of unchurched people in America.²  And if we continue doing church the way we’ve been doing it, research tells us by the year 2050, there will only be half the amount of church attendance as there was in the year 1990  

Churches today are realizing that it is hard to get outside of your walls and meet new people for the purpose of assimilating families into the life of the church.

The church and the unchurched community are operating in two completely separate worlds.  

Connect Ministries was founded on a deep burden to help churches meet new people.  Since 2006, we’ve helped thousands of churches meet hundreds of thousands of new people. One truth has become increasingly clear: The church and the unchurched community are operating in two completely separate worlds.  

For most churches, the solution is not to do more flashy events to put them in front of more people. But instead, it’s to begin thinking more strategically, like the type of church that is becoming more effective at meeting those people. This usually begins with learning to ask yourselves and your teams the right questions. 

Here are four questions your team can wrestle with in this season to begin thinking like the type of church that effectively meets new people:

1. Does our church provide remarkable experiences?

According to Community Church Builder, when it comes to guests who visit your church, 16 percent of first-time guests return and 85 percent of second-time guests return.4

 Providing a remarkable experience is not about putting on a show to wow everyone. It’s about getting people to come back that second time, getting them involved in your church, and getting to see the life change only God can bring.

Remarkable experiences come in all shapes and sizes and can cost a lot or a little. Whether it be in the auditorium, social media channel, small group space, community event, handwritten note, or hospital visit, remarkable isn’t about the price tag. It’s about how people feel after the experience.

Big or small, we all crave remarkable experiences.

Big or small, we all crave remarkable experiences. And when new people show up at church, they want the same. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every experience you provide needs to be full of fireworks. But being aware of their expectations is key. 

Pulling this off is easier said than done. Connect has witnessed the struggle around the country firsthand. Churches are not always synonymous with remarkable. When you are doing church every week, how do you provide remarkable experiences every time, with all the other things you’re responsible for? How in the world do you create remarkable experiences for families and not drop everything else on your “must do” list? It’s a tough challenge. 

If meeting new people is a priority to your church, then it may be time to realize that the lack of new families might be a reflection of the lack of remarkable experiences in our churches. 

2. Is our church known for building life-giving relationships?

People of all ages long to belong. We see this truth throughout culture.  

People gather for interest groups around golden doodles, knitting, stamps, and gardening. People spend a lot of time and money simply tailgating before a football game. But it’s not only physical, in-person groups that draw people these days. Many people are finding a sense of belonging on social media and other online groups.

It doesn’t matter if you’re introverted or extroverted or where you fall on the enneagram. The desire to belong is innate. It’s inside us. That means the people you’re trying to reach want to belong. 

However, as much as people want to belong, they’re not going to try to belong somewhere they’re not welcomed. The church should be the most welcoming and life-giving place on the planet.

If a first-time guest comes to a church and feels like an outsider, it’s highly unlikely they will somehow find a way to “get on the inside,” to get connected and plugged into the life of the church. 

Every Sunday, new people sit through an entire church service with a deep desire to belong, yet never feel as if they do.

Every Sunday, new people sit through an entire church service with a deep desire to belong, yet never feel as if they do. This might explain why only 16 percent of first-time guests actually come back to the church they visited.5

Take a moment to wrap your mind around what you just read. Now think about it this way: 84 percent of first-time guests don’t return to the church they visited. That’s bad news!

The good news, though, is that 85 percent of second-time guests actually do return to a church.6 So, the key is moving a visitor from first-time guest to second-time guest. Obviously, we believe one of the ways you do that is to intentionally build life-giving relationships in the context of your church.

3. Is our church executing a clear plan?

If you’ve ever run a marathon, you are very well aware of what an overwhelming task it can be. I felt the same way until a friend of mine showed me the best way to go about it: Executing a clear plan. I followed the plan and ran the marathon. 

As I was running the marathon, it became obvious that some people didn’t follow a plan or the plan they followed didn’t prepare them for the race. It was common to see people getting a golf-cart ride or sitting in the medical tent, not able to finish. 

Passion alone won’t get you to the finish line, but passion and a clear plan can.

You see, everybody is passionate about finishing at the beginning of the race. Passion alone won’t get you to the finish line, but passion and a clear plan can. Passion with no plan leads to poor results.

When it comes to churches, every church is going to be passionate about meeting new people. Some churches we coach refer to their plan, but it’s really a mission or vision statement. It’s not a clear plan. Many churches we serve lack a comprehensive and strategic plan. As we study results from our Connect Assessment, it becomes more and more clear that the number one area for improvement is executing a clear plan.

When we’re not executing a clear plan, a positive result is either coincidence or luck. To consistently have impactful results, you need a clear plan with everyone on board. 

4. Has our church created a culture where people are enjoying deep friendship with God?

Ribeye. Steak. What was your first reaction to reading those words? 

If you’re like me, you immediately pictured a big, juicy, marinated, caramelized, marbled, beautiful steak. And maybe you started to get hungry.  But that’s not always the case. 

There is nothing worse than looking forward to a steak only to realize it wasn’t marinated, wasn’t cooked right, and is dry as a bone. To expect steak and get jerky. No steakhouse has ever become famous for serving dry steaks. 

You’re a church that’s trying to meet new people right now. And you want to plug those people into the life of your church. 

Obviously, you would never want to serve people a dry church, a dry experience full of people who are dry in their hearts. But oftentimes, the more you get into ministry and leadership in the church, the more and more you get pulled in a lot of different directions. You find out you spend more time than you ever anticipated being spiritually dry. 

One of the most important ingredients of a church that effectively meets new people is having leaders and church members who enjoy deep friendship with God.

As we have worked with churches all over the country for many years, we have found that one of the most important ingredients of a church that effectively meets new people is having leaders and church members who enjoy deep friendship with God. This is the antidote to spiritual dryness. Jesus desires for us to be in deep friendship with him so that we can know what intimacy with God looks like on a daily basis. 

The paradoxical truth is that ministry can leave you spiritually dry. And that results in spiritually dry church leaders. And spiritually dry church leaders oftentimes, if not always, have a spiritually dry church. 

So, we’re left with the question, “How in the world do we address this?” 

If we want to become the type of church that meets new people, we must meet this tension and instead ask the question, “How do we become a church where people are consistently enjoying deep friendship with God?” 

These four questions have the potential to put you on a path of thinking like a church that becomes highly effective at meeting new people.  

We’ve designed a tool that will provide you with objective and actionable insights that help you measure your effectiveness in each of these four areas. You can take the first step by completing our free quiz at You are only two minutes away from getting our personalized recommendations on how your church can more effectively meet new people in the upcoming season!  

There are people out there who desperately need the hope found within the message of your church. It’s time to meet them.



  1. Barna, “Americans Divided on the Importance of Church,” posted March 24, 2014,
  2. Barna Group, George Barna, David Kinnaman, Churchless (Tyndale Momentum, 2014), p. 33-34.
  3. Outreach Magazine, “An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America,” posted April 10, 2018,
  4. Dave Bair & Steve Caton, The Assimilation Engine (Church Community Builder, 2018),
  5. IBID
  6. IBID
Ken Thomas

Ken Thomas

Ken graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Science in Education and from Southwestern Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity. Then he earned a Doctorate of Education from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Today, he combines his great education with his passion for teaching, equipping, and leading to help churches meet new people. He began his work in camp ministry in 1989 as a summer staffer and has served in various capacities over the years. He served for more than 10 years at LifeWay Christian Resources (Nashville, TN) on the Student Events Team, where he was instrumental in starting a children's camp called Centri-Kid. He also served as Senior Director of WinShape Camps, where the camps grew from 1,800 campers to more than 40,000 campers during his time of leadership. Ken now serves as President of Connect Ministries, which helps churches connect with their community and meet new people. He and Gabe Norris started Connect Ministries in 2006 and God has used this ministry to partner with more than 1,000 churches and has impacted more than 500,000 people with the message of Jesus Christ. He has taught Sunday School at his local church for many years and enjoys preaching and speaking at churches and conferences. He and his wife, Norma, have three children — Nathan, Anna, and Blake.
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Gabe Norris

Gabe Norris

Gabe was born and raised in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He graduated from the University of Georgia and Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. While attending UGA, Gabe met his wife Allyson and married her in January 2002. He has been blessed with the opportunity to teach, speak, and preach to a wide variety of age groups all across the country. Gabe has led in camp ministry since 1997 in many different capacities. After serving as the Camp Director for Student Life For Kids, Gabe then became a Camp Coordinator for LifeWay's Crosspoint and Centri-Kid camps. In September 2006, he and Ken Thomas co-founded Connect Ministries, a non-profit ministry existing to help churches meet new people. For more than a decade, he was the Director of WinShape Camps for Communities. Currently, he serves as Vice President of Connect Ministries and Director of Connect Camps. Gabe and Allyson reside in Bishop, Georgia with their three daughters, Neely, Ansley Jane and Audrey.
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