How are you planning on bringing newcomers in to your church this fall?
How are you planning on bringing newcomers in to your church this fall? (Flickr )

Wise farmers know that reaping a harvest in the fall requires hard work in the summer.

The months of September, October and November have historically been the best months to attract newcomers to church and enfold them into the kingdom. Kids returning to school and fewer vacations make this an ideal season for people to start something new—like coming to church and cultivating a spiritual life.

Here are 13 steps you can take now to influence a healthy spiritual harvest this fall.

1. Begin praying for your neighbors' receptivity. Before you talk to your neighbors about Jesus, you want to talk to Jesus about your neighbors. Nothing softens a human heart like the Holy Spirit.

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My favorite places to pray for my neighbors are at stoplights and in cashier lines.

While the light is red, I can usually pray for every person within sight at an intersection. I can also pray for every person in front of me in the grocery store, post office and bank line. My normal prayer is, "Lord, I don't know the spiritual condition of that person, but I pray that You will make Yourself known to them, and if You would, please use our church to do it."

2. Find out when school starts. Many North Americans have started taking a "revenge weekend" the weekend before school starts. They feel regret that they didn't play more during summer vacation, so they squeeze in one last opportunity before school starts.

The week after school starts is another story. That weekend they stick close to home to buy school supplies and make sure their children are settling in for success in their study habits.

This is the perfect time to begin preparing your congregation to invite their friends to a new and relevant series that begins after school starts.

At New Song, we serve five school districts, so I have to keep track of five school-start dates. Fortunately, this year they're all starting between August 15 and 30, which means that September 11 or 18 is the ideal time to launch a felt-need series.

Once I know that date, I can start planning around it.

3. Develop your best outreach strategy. Over the past decade, New Song has used three types of events to attract newcomers: Comeback events, Wow Weekends, and Church Campaigns. Last year we were the fifth fastest growing church in California. All of our growth came from these three events.

Comeback Event is an excuse to invite people to church who may have dropped out.

Wow Weekend is a weekend where you host a high-profile guest. You know you've got a qualified speaker when you tell a friend "So-and-so will be speaking at our church next weekend," and they say, "Wow!"

Church Campaign is a four- to six-week series that lines up daily readings, weekly small group discussions and weekend preaching all around the same topic. By definition, a good church campaign requires a good book on a topic relevant to everyone in your area.

Last year we saw a 17 percent jump in attendance by participating in Outreach, Inc.'s National Back to Church Sunday (a Comeback Event) followed by an I Love Sundays Church Campaign.

This year we'll be doing the revised version of The God Questions. Ten years ago, 2,000 churches reaped a tremendous harvest using this tool so we are in the process of updating it with new daily readings, new Bible studies, and new graphics and videos. The second edition will be available this summer for fall campaigns.

4. Put dates on the calendar. We'll be launching our God Questions Campaign on September 18. Knowing that date enables us to plan everything else around it. A few weeks ahead of time we'll do a message on the importance of serving (Rom. 12, 1 Pet. 4:10); the importance of being in a small group (Ps. 133, Mark 3:14); and the importance of inviting friends (John 1:42, John 4:29), to prepare our people to serve, fellowship and invite.

5. Enlist your leaders. Once you know what you want to do for the fall, gain buy-in from your leaders by sharing the details and your excitement with them. Board members and staff members are the "grass tops" of your organization. What they're up on will influence the excitement of others.

6. Drip in your sermons. You want your congregation to get excited too. This is why it's so important to determine your fall plans now.

The sooner you know what you'll be doing, the sooner you can start dripping your excitement about it in your summer sermons. I've already posted the book cover for The God Questions on my Facebook page. I'll start sprinkling excitement about it in my sermons within the next week or two. A good church campaign is like a good crockpot meal. You want to serve it up after it's had time to simmer.

7. Purchase materials. I have found that almost every Wow Weekend speaker we've hosted has written a book I can read ahead of time, and has a 3-4 minute video we can show in church during the weeks leading up to their coming.

Outreach's National Back-to-Church Sunday Kit has a set of materials that helps you prepare for and advertise your Comeback Event.

The God Questions, of course, is a book, but it also has a Campaign Kit with sample sermons, and promotional videos, graphics, postcards and banners. Other worthwhile campaigns will provide that level of professional support as well.

8. Decide how you will get the word out. Your best advertising will always come from motivated members of your church. But if you want to follow Paul's example of using whatever means that some might be saved (1 Cor. 9:22), you'll want to consider also using some combination of postcards, door hangers, street banners and Facebook ads.

Budget and timeline this out over the next few weeks.

9. Recruit small group leaders. Events don't change lives; processes do.

The reason I love campaigns is they encourage everyone to join a small group. People grow as life sharpens life week after week after week. That's why the effects of a great campaign are so long-lasting.

The sooner you start asking qualified people to pray about leading a small group this fall, the more likely they are to say yes.

10. Schedule a vision-casting sermon. August is an excellent time to do a sermon series on the vision and strategy of your church. You're preparing your core to advance the kingdom by praying, serving, inviting and giving to make the vision happen.

At the least, preach on the importance of inviting (maybe using Matt. 4:18-22, Col. 4:2-6, or 1 Pet. 3:15) a week or two before you launch your Campaign, Comeback Event, or Wow Weekend.

11. Create a prayer team. Study the history of revival and you'll find that they all started from concerted prayer.

Who is the leader in your church who most loves to pray? Ask him or her to gather a team of three to six others to begin praying now for your harvest this fall. Give that leader every piece of information you have on your subject, purpose, timing and strategy so your team can pray specific and detailed prayers.

12. Set a date to fast. Your church will know you're serious if you ask them all to fast on a given day or week for your upcoming outreach.

If your folks have never fasted before, encourage them to do a half-day fast, or to fast from sun-up to sundown. Publish a list of items you want them to pray through during the time they would have been eating meals. Consider gathering them together for an evening of prayer to heighten and celebrate the experience.

13. Prepare yourself. I have a saying that I borrowed and cleaned up from my Marine friends: "A pastor's prior prayer and planning prevents poor performance." If you'd like to prepare yourself, as well as your church, for an on-going spiritual harvest, I've created a five-week course called Momentum Bootcamp that will help you personally strategically, and organizationally.

You can learn more about this free course here.

Now What?

Spend some time before the Lord to consider how He wants you to lead your church to attract newcomers this fall. How will you implement these 13 steps?

Hal Seed is the founding and Lead Pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, California. Hal mentors pastors to lead healthy, growing churches. He offers resources to help church leaders at www.pastormentor.com.

For the original article, visit pastormentor.com.

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