Though football is revving up, much of the summer months are thought of as a “dead zone” in terms of sports: You have baseball, a little golf, a little tennis, and more baseball. However, that didn’t stop one church from capitalizing on a choice location and a surging local team to organically grow their congregation:

Fans who stream into the Navy Yard district before Nats games are now greeted with increasingly varied entertainment choices, from Yards Park for fresh air and views of the Anacostia River to the Fairgrounds for frat-rock music and adult refreshments to a variety of neighborhood restaurants and taverns, with more to come.

On Sunday afternoons this summer, they’ve had another option: a Catholic church service. Or, as the local St. Vincent de Paul church calls it, “Nats Mass.”

"Nats," for the uninitiated, refers to the Washington Nationals, the DC-based team currently leading the National League East division by the largest margin in baseball. St. Vincent de Paul is located literally as close as anything to the ballpark, just a block away. That location (and the city’s growing enthusiasm as a "baseball town") has produced dividends for Reverend Andrew Royals.

“On game days we had thousands of people walking right in front of our church. I was like, ‘Well, I’m sure some of these people would like to go to church.’…And we thought there’s no reason people can’t do both.”

Starting at noon, the service runs 40-45 minutes (short for a Catholic mass) so that patrons have plenty of time to wrangle the family or enjoy a couple of beverages before the typical 1:35 pm first pitch on Sundays.

Through a combination of signage, word of mouth and the twitter hashtag #NatsMass, Royals says attendance has reached 75-100 people for the Sunday service. By next year, he expects to max out capacity at 150.

Even if you aren’t fortunate enough to be located next to a top-tier baseball team, this is a good lesson in how a church, by being part of its community, can reach new worshipers. The gospel wasn’t spread in a vacuum; Jesus was big on the idea of getting out into the world to spread his message. If baseball existed in his time, drawing stadiums full of 40k+ people, you’d better believe he’d have been there.

“We’re shattering attendance records each Sunday,” Royals said. “That’s what gives me hope. I’m pretty sure at some point I’m going to start mass one Sunday, and I’m going to look out and see a church filled with Nats fans.”

Want more ideas for growth? Visit FaithStreet.com for ways to grow your church through our online network and online giving platforms.

Over at OnFaith, we’ve published a number of posts regarding the anarchy in Ferguson, MO. Today, we received an email from a reader named Bonnie who has a message of her own for spiritual leaders working in Ferguson: Unite, don’t divide.

(emphasis ours):

To the Pastors of Ferguson, Missouri,

I applaud your efforts to bring peace to the people of Ferguson Missouri.
When I think of the beautiful black community in America, I am reminded of the wonderful gospel hymns they use to sing that could move even the hardest heart to fall to their knees and surrender to the Prince of Peace, Jesus. God has given our wonderful black friends a special gift of Gospel Music. Born out of injustice, pain and suffering, it touches the soul and spirit of all who hear. How wonderful it would be to see ALL the churches of Ferguson Missouri united as one Body of Christ and marching with the protestors singing Amazing Grace.

The eyes of the world are on this one little town, watching and waiting to see if they will follow down the same path they themselves have chosen of violence, fear, death, destruction, retaliation and un-forgiveness. God has placed before you today, an incredibly important opportunity to show the world what amazing grace is really all about. It is not just a song we sing on Sunday mornings, it is a life we live on the highways and byways of America. Please don’t let this opportunity pass. Don’t let West Ferguson Avenue, Ferguson, Missouri, USA be labeled as a place of violence, rage, retaliation, and un-forgiveness.

Let the black community rise to the occasion and lead this nation back to what it use to be, a nation under one God where the Prince of Peace over rules and over rides the evil that is escalating in the rest of the world. Let the glory of black America be to triumph over evil and turn back the tide of un-forgiveness, and let it begin here and now on the street of West Florissant Avenue with the singing of Amazing Grace for all the world to see and hear. May God send His heavenly choir to join with you to take back your city….and America! God bless you in this battle………

- Bonnie

Bonnie signed off her email with Hebrews 10:22, which says:

"let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

We’re not entirely sure how gospel music plays into this, but: Wise words that ring true in a time of chaos. We love hearing from FaithStreet users and OnFaith readers! If you have something you’d like to share, email us at onfaith@faithstreet.com, or contact@faithstreet.com.

Oftentimes, church leaders are hesitant to approach church management from too much of a “business-y” standpoint. It’s hard to blame them. For one thing, churches are very different from other non-profits in terms of what they accomplish. There are also plenty of hucksters out there looking to make a dime by selling you skills to essentially commodify spiritual worship.

Still, a church is a large organization with a lot of moving parts — like it or not, managing one takes vision and discipline. That’s why we’re so fond of this post by Sharefaith Magazine called "Achieving Ministry Goals with Effectual Management – 10 Principles to Help Your Church Govern Itself." One principle in particular stands out:

3. Intentional Strategy and Planning
There is an old saying, “if you faith to plan, you plan to faith”. Achieving anything requires having a specific strategy, planning and implementation of the plan. Churches should spend the time to identify strategic objectives and a process to develop a plan to achieve them. However, plans are merely words on paper without implementation. Implementing a plan requires focus and discipline to see it through to completion.

Do you plan, or do you faith? Head over to Sharefaith for the rest of the principles.

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We all know the Bible’s words and teachings are eternal, but what about the physical book itself? Not so much, right? Bibles, perhaps because they’re produced in such epic quantities, tend to be printed on the cheapest possible materials - cardboard jackets, with the thinnest cellulose on Earth. It doesn’t take much to tear or damage one, and what Christian wouldn’t feel bad about that?

A Kickstarter for something called the Forever Bible aims to change that. Waterproof, dirt-proof and tear-proof, it’s “the first Bible in history built (and guaranteed) to last FOREVER.” From their website:

Our mission is to get the Forever Bible into the hands of as many people as possible, in every place imaginable. And yes, we realize that we’re working ourselves out of a job — no one will ever have to buy a second Forever Bible! We are so certain of the technology with the Forever Bible that we guarantee it for your entire lifetime.

Because their products float “like the Ark,” the Kickstarter is scheduled for 40 days and 40 nights. With 19 days left to go, they’ve already blasted through their $30k funding goal. Need another reason to get on board? For every Forever Bible sold, they’ll donate additional copies around the world, giving many people their very first Bibles. Learn more in the video below:

An interesting question, one posed (and eventually answered by) Chris Willard over on his blog. It must be something every church leader asks themselves: “Other churches seem to be doing well, but we’re not reaching our goals. Did we just get a bad batch of worshipers, or is it me?”

As it turns out, it’s a little bit of both, but not at all in a bad way. According to Willard, it’s an issue of education:

When a person becomes a brand new Christ follower, if they are connected with a church or ministry, the first thing the church will do is try to help them understand the fundamentals of their new faithFinancial stewardship and generosity should be one of these fundamentals.

He’s not wrong. Part of being a Christian is being generous and doing your part to keep the ministry alive. All too many leaders are hesitant to ask for support. Don’t be. Your congregation wants to do their part; it’s your job to show them how.

Head over to Chris’ blog for the rest of this and all kinds of other great thoughts on stewardship.

Often times when we talk about online giving here at FaithStreet, we speak in broad strokes. You know, “online giving increases giving overall” (it does), or “online giving is affordable no matter how small your church” (it is). That’s what our customers want to hear when they contact us, so we’re more than happy to back up our claims.

But what about the small stuff we all have to sweat on a regular basis? When you think about it, it’s really the little headaches that add up over time to make life difficult, isn’t it? Here are just four (of many) ways online giving makes up for life’s little hitches and hiccups.

No more snow days/holidays

With a winter like much of the country suffered this past year, there’s no denying that sometimes, the Lord would prefer people stay in the safety of their homes. Likewise, given the east coast’s relatively balmy summer, it’s hard to blame folks for wanting to squeeze in a family getaway to the beach some weekends. Online giving eliminates that absenteeism. A few clicks on their computer or mobile device, and church members can leave the same donation they’d ordinarily leave in the plate on Sundays.

Checks are no longer a hassle

Look, checks are great. The promissory note forever changed the way human beings conduct transactions, and mostly for the better. But, they’re far from perfect. Checks get lost, checks get misread and checkbooks can run our before you know it. Online giving never “runs out.”

Online giving bolsters forgetful givers

It’s a fact: When giving is a regular part of someone’s budget and routine, they tend to give more. That’s excellent, but for some people, “budget” and “routine” will never exist in the same sentence. Maybe they forgot to hit the ATM before the service, or maybe they overspent this week without remembering that they intended to set aside a little something for the offering plate - either way, online giving takes one more variable out of the equation.

Online giving reduces guilt

This is perhaps one of the more important facets, at least from a human perspective. Yes, we’d love to have congregations made up of nothing but incredibly pious oil magnates, but that’s not reality. Some people can barely afford to give, when they can give at all. Online giving allows them to give what they can, when they can in total privacy. When the plate comes around, all they need to say is “oh, we give online through FaithStreet,” and pass it along. No one should feel “less than” for not being able to give as much as others; online giving eliminates that guilt.

How we handle the little things in life defines us. Why not let something as simple and affordable as online giving make those little bothers even smaller?

Last week YALT, the young adult wing of the CRC, announced their “40 Under 40” - young leaders who are influential beyond their home church. Browsing it, we couldn’t help noticing some familiar names who just happen to be FaithStreet customers. Let’s give a round of applause to:

Peter Armstrong & Ben Spalink:

Peter is the church planter and lead pastor of Dwell Church in New York City’s Bowery district. Originally from Washington state, Peter planted Dwell just a few years ago with a Mumford-and-Sons-like atmosphere and band. Along with Ben Spalink (on our honorable mention list), he is active in the New York City Cluster and Kingdom Enterprise Zone, which teams up with local RCA leaders to pursue mission in the most influential city in the world. He also mentors lots of young up-and-coming leaders.

Also on the list? Honorable mention winner Eric Dirksen (Pastor at Christ Church of Davis), and some guy named Sean Coughlin, who we understand to be none other than the CEO and co-founder of FaithStreet.

Congrats to all honorees, but a special hat tip to Peter, Ben, Eric and Sean. Thanks for being a part of FaithStreet!

We talk a lot about online giving here at Faithstreet (seriously, we’re the best at it), but churches just as often turn to more “traditional” fundraisers for specific needs in causes. What’s your go-to? A car wash? A bake sale? Sure, those are fun, but just a little extra creative thinking can draw more eyeballs to your needs.

Case in point: One church in Indiana, who lost a bus in an accident that killed three adults (along with an unborn child), had an innovative idea for a fundraiser for a new bus: Trash.

On Saturday, Colonial Hills Baptist Church reached out for help, holding a paper-shredding fundraiser to raise money for a new bus. They processed 825 pounds of material, saving seven trees. After a matching donation from Money Concepts Capital, the church will have raised just over $5,000 for the Colonial Hills Chad/Courtney Bus Replacement Fund.

What a great idea! The average American has no shortage of paper refuse lying around. More importantly, many people are neglectful when it comes to sensitive documents, which is a good way to fall victim to identity theft.

A good fundraiser does three things:

1) It meets a need of the giver

2) It avoids being burdensome for both the church and the giver

3) It clearly compels givers to take action.

This one did all three - people need paper shredded, arguably more so than they need a clean car or sugary snacks. All things considered, shredding paper is a relatively easy task. Finally, they clearly articulated their need and paired it with an innovative fundraising idea that stood out.

The next time you plan a fundraiser, keep those three keys in mind.

For a church leader, attendance is everything. Sure, a lot more goes into a healthy, thriving church, but it all depends on how many butts you have in the pews. With a recent Pew poll finding that people are definitely, maybe, sort of falling out of touch with religion, it’s not surprising to see pastors languishing over declining attendance rates.

But wait - what if your congregation isn’t actually shrinking at all? Thom Rainer over at Patheos has an interesting theory: Are your numbers really declining, or just your frequency?

If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week, average attendance is 200. But if one-half of those members miss one out of four weeks, the attendance drops to 175.

Did you catch that? No members left the church. Everyone is still relatively active. But attendance declined more than 12 percent because half the members slightly changed their pattern.

Is it possible that this is all wishful thinking? Of course, and even Thom notes that this is just speculation - he hasn’t looked at any numbers. Even if he’s right, does it matter? Fewer people on average are still fewer people on average after all.

Anecdotally, at least, it makes sense. People’s lives are increasingly over-scheduled, particularly the families churches rely on to fill the pews. The takeaway is that when evaluating your acquisition strategy, don’t immediately look at declining numbers and say “GAHHH WE NEED TO GROW!” Instead, maybe it’s an issue of engagement.

In the workforce, an engaged employee is a productive one. It’s the same in a church. When evaluating declining participation rates, ask yourself what your church provides as an incentive for people to carve out some of their ever-decreasing free time to stay involved (beyond divine obligation, of course). The more engaged people feel, the more likely they are to see church as not just somewhere they go, but something they do, part of who they are.

Of course, there will always be people with more obligations than there are hours in the day. Need a good outlet for those people to feel involved, even when they physically can’t be? Might we suggest… online giving?

You know non-profit giving has reached the big time when the “paper of record,” the New York Times, has one of its top economic consultants on the case. In this week’s column, Robert J. Shiller examines what motivates people to not only give, but give more. He discusses a recent paper where researchers did a little experiment to see how they could influence giving:

Prospective donors were randomly divided into a control group and an experimental group. The only difference was that those in the experimental group had the option to donate money to a specific academic college, rather than the university as a whole.

Interesting. What do suppose might have happened?

The researchers found that while there was little difference in the probability that the individuals in the two groups would make a donation, the people in the experimental group gave much larger amounts. That was true even for those who ultimately decided to donate to the general fund. Just being given the choice of active involvement, and then not taking it, increased the donation.

Well, fancy that! When people have more autonomy over their giving, when they feel a connection to a specific cause, they’re inclined to give more. Even when they end up donating to the general fund.

Shiller goes on to discuss some, other, more conceptual ideas about where we could go from there, but take a moment to consider how you, as a church leader could act on the aforementioned study’s findings.

As a church, you’re always happy to accept general donations in the offering plate. Also, assuming you’re really a church and not actually a hobo standing on a corner with a steeple-shaped box on your head, you probably also have various ministries and missions operating at any given time, all competing for funds. With so many competing priorities (but only so much time in a service), how do you make clear to your congregation that they have choices?

Simple - online giving

Yes, yes, we are in the business of online giving, but in this instance there really isn’t a more efficient way to a) make sure money goes to where it’s needed and b) capitalize on the benefits of the behavioral economics experiment discussed above. With FaithStreet online giving, you can of course set up a general giving fund, but you don’t need to stop there - set up one for every one of your ministries, if you wish. Best of all, there’s no need to waste time passing around multiple offering plates - just make an announcement, or hand out fliers.

Online giving, through simple implementation alone, has been shown to increase giving anywhere from 10-30 percent. Combine that with options that let the giver know they have some agency in the matter and, well. The sky’s the limit.

You could even afford to buy that hobo a new steeple hat.

Image credit: Doug Chayka/New York Times