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John Albiston | Coaching Churches for Growth

John Albiston is a church growth expert who works with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. He grew a church from 300 to 1,500 people in a span of five years. The last year he was there he saw seven hundred salvations. Then he was asked to help the one hundred and twenty churches in his district to grow. Today he shares some simple secrets that are guaranteed to lead to church growth.

Learn more about the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada: https://paoc.org/ 

Connect with John Albiston: https://albiston.com/


Evangelism Coach Daniel King (00:00):
Welcome to the Evangelism Podcast. I’m Daniel King. I’m excited about telling people about Jesus today. I have a special guest with me, John Albertson. And you are with the Pentecostal Assemblies here in Canada, and you are a church coach. And so I love coaching, I especially love coaching evangelists, but you’re going into churches, helping churches to grow, helping them to think strategically about how to reach their community. So how did you get started doing that?

John Albiston (00:32):
Well, my story was my last church our church grew from 300 to 1500 people in the span of five years. And the last we were there, we saw over 700 salvations. That’s when I got a phone call from the Pentecostal Assemblies just saying, John, would you like to show other churches how to do that? And I was like, yes, I would love to show other churches how to do that. And that’s when we got started. I got started doing that in 2017. And when we started here in our district, we’ve got about 120 churches. We ran the numbers and we found that only 18% of our churches were growing. 82% of our churches were either plateaued or in decline. We’re happy to say that within a couple of years, by 2019, we had doubled the number of growing churches and doubled the number of annual reported salvations.

So we, our churches weren’t growing because we were trying to convince Baptists to come to our church instead. But no, we were genuinely reaching unchurched people in our community. Now Covid hit that threw our numbers right out the window. But now that we’re coming out of C O V and started re getting our, our bearings, it’s looking like we’ve got pretty close to 50% of our churches growing. And by the end of the year, we think we might be able to get 60% of our churches are growing, accomplishing real great commission salvation growth.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (01:54):
And so what are some of the things that you are helping churches with when you are encouraging them to reach out to their community?

John Albiston (02:05):
Well, one of the first things is just to understand their own purpose as a church and what they need to do in order to grow by reaching lost people. Because if you want your church to grow, what you need to do is you need to reach people in your community, bring them in, introduce them to Jesus, and then have them stay and learn how to follow him. Now, when I have conversations with pastors, like, are you doing that? Are you reaching people, introducing them to Jesus and then teaching them to follow him? The answer is, oddly enough, no. You know, we’ve been trained in Bible school and seminary, how to run services. You know, I was trained on how to be an ec eal preacher. I wasn’t taught how to speak to non-Christians. I wasn’t taught how to disciple non-Christians. You know, when when someone accepts Jesus their savior, what’s the first five things I’m supposed to teach ’em? I don’t know that that was never a class. So organizing our Church of War, actually accomplishing our mission is just something that most of us as pastors were never trained to do. And before we were too eager to blame our professors. Nobody trained those guys how to do that either. So if we want our churches to grow, that’s what we need to focus on doing.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (03:22):
I think one of the challenges is that everyone who pastors a church has been around churches for a very long time, and so they don’t look through the eyes of a visitor or a first time guest or someone who is seeking spiritual enlightenment, who just wanders into the church. What would you tell a church to help them to make that person feel welcome?

John Albiston (03:52):
Well, I’d tell ’em a few things. One, just the importance of it. As a general rule of thumb, on any given Sunday, 96% of the people in the room are your own people. And it’s so easy and so comfortable just to focus on that. 96%, only 4% of the people in the room are first time visitors. So if I focus on my 96%, I, I know they’re vocabulary, we’re comfortable through vocabulary. When I use churchy vocabulary words, they like it. We all know what

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (04:23):
The rows of Sharon

John Albiston (04:24):
Is. Oh, that’s right. Like it, it just like home. Feels like home. The problem is 100% of your growth comes from the 4% and just put yourself in in, in their shoes for a second. I mean, it’s a golden rule. Like Jesus teaches us to do this. Say you’re, you know, Larry from across the street you come home from a business trip and your wife is gone. You thought you had a good marriage, but now the house is empty and you realize everything that I’ve believed about the success of my life is falling apart. And all of a sudden God is speaking to them. And if they’re like, you know what? I’m gonna try something crazy. Maybe I can find hope at church. And so I go in my desperation and need for God, I go to the church across the street and what do I hear is a sermon about Calvinism versus Arminianism?

And then I realize, yeah, you know what? It was a really stupid idea to come here. Okay? We we’re not talking to the people who need the gospel the most. We’re not sharing the gospel. Most churches don’t preach the gospel. Yeah, maybe if you’ve been there for a couple years, you’ll pick it up a bit. But we’re just not focusing on our job, on how we reach our community. We’re just focusing on our frozen chosen. And that’s not good for our people either, because quite frankly, they’re gonna be living kind of a weak and limp Christian life. If you’re living the Christian life where I go to a church where people are getting saved all the time, where I can invite my non-Christian friends in and I know they’re gonna have a fantastic time in their encounter. God, that’s very exciting for me. And even if I’m an introvert, it’s easy for me to invite <laugh> somebody, somebody to something I know they’re gonna love. So if I know that you’re a fanatical football fan and I’ve got two tickets to the game, it’s easy for me to invite you cuz I know you’re gonna love it. And when our churches are places where I know when you come, you’re gonna feel welcome. You’re gonna understand what’s gonna go on, and you’re gonna meet Jesus. It’s easy and exciting for me to invite you to that.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (06:35):
And even to create that culture of people inviting their friends, I, I’m amazed as I travel the churches all over North America, every weekend I, I minister in a different place and I walk into a bunch of churches and there’s no signs showing where the children’s ministry is. There’s no sign saying whether the coffee is free or you’re supposed to throw a dollar in the, the cup there, there’s no sign showing where the bathrooms are. Like you can wander around the church for a long time just trying to find the bathroom. And I’m like, this isn’t friendly for visitors. Like, you’re not even thinking about visitors coming to the church.

John Albiston (07:17):
Oh, absolutely. That, that is a major problem. And it’s, again, we’re focusing on the 96%, we’re ignoring the four. And it, it’s such a tragedy of opportunity. So here’s the math of it. 4% of the people in your church on any given Sunday are first time visitors. Next Sunday it’s a different 4%, and next Sunday it’s a different 4% different 4%. And when you add that up over 52 weeks, you get a 200%. So you take the average attendance of your church, say it’s a hundred, over the next 12 months, you’re gonna have 201st time visitors. What would happen to your church if you kept half of them? You know? But we’re losing them because we’re ignoring them. We’re not putting ourself in their shoes. Yeah. That includes signage

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (08:06):
Or even know where to park. You come into the parking lot and where’s a visitor supposed to park? Or Absolut? Is there even a parking place for them?

John Albiston (08:13):
Absolutely. And when someone comes in, does anybody talk to me? Does anybody engage? Now a lot of our churches will have greeters, you know, who’ll say, hi, welcome. But I’ve, my local Walmart has greeters who say, hi, welcome. When I walk in, and I’ve been going to Walmart for I think 40 years, and in all those years, you know how many Walmart employees have gotten to know my name? Like Zero. Do you know how many friends I’ve ever made at Walmart? Zero. being friendly, whoopie, doof, we can find friendly anywhere. What we can’t find anywhere is friends. And so we need to actually love and care for those people that God are sending us because they’re already coming to our church. They’re coming in droves, people that God is calling them. And it’s hard for them to get here. Like we need to understand their journey.

I’ve, I’ve heard so many stories of people who would tell me that it took them three or four attempts to come to our church because they drive in, they were parked in the parking stall, white knuckling the steering wheel for 20 minutes before driving away in tears because they were too scared to come in the door. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Okay. We don’t know the journey that they’re going through, and when they come in and we just ignore them and we’re blind to them and we don’t care for them. If you come into my church and nobody cares for you, you don’t feel loved. I can be on the stage standing on my head, juggling fire, talking about the love of God, and you will

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (09:48):
Not believe I’ve tried that before. I’ve tried to juggle fire

John Albiston (09:51):
<Laugh>. You won’t believe me.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (09:53):

John Albiston (09:53):
But if you come in here and you feel welcome and you feel loved and you feel part of the family and like, you’re not getting just like a fake Walmart greeting that No, I feel included. I’ve never been in a place like this. I’ve never met people like, here, what is going on here? And then I talk about the love of God. You are gonna believe me because you’ve already experienced it.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (10:16):
So walk me through the process as you’re coaching a church, what recommendations do you give them for the, for the ushers, for the song service, for the offering time, for the message, for the altar call, for the follow up process. Kinda walk me through what an ideal process would look like for a visitor.

John Albiston (10:40):
So if a church is at that stage that like, hey, they actually wanna reach people, because sometimes I have to deal with stuff like, we don’t care about a lost people <laugh>, so we have to,

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (10:48):
So that’s a theological and a heart issue. That’s

John Albiston (10:50):
Right. So sometimes, you know, when I’m going into coaching church, that’s what we need to do the work. But they’re ought that if they’re at this stage where no, no, we wanna reach our community, what do we do? The fundamental principle is the golden rule. Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. When I walk in here, do I know what to do when the service starts? Are you speaking in plain English? So just talk about like, choosing lyrics for your songs. There’s a, a song that’s popular in a number of churches called Reckless Love. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not, but if you look at the lyrics of that song, 95% of that song’s gonna make sense to anybody in your community. Like, there’s one line about he leaves the 99, okay? They’re not gonna get the reference, but most of that song makes perfect sense. They’re gonna understand what we’re talking about. There’s another song that are, that is popular. Our God is the lion. The lion of Judah. Our God is the lamb. The lamb. Who is slain? Who’s Judah? Well, he’s one of the 12 patriarchs. Why are we singing about him? What’s

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (11:48):
Patriarch? Well, because

John Albiston (11:50):
The messianic lion goes through the lion of Judah. Why are we talking about lions? Oh, that’s symbolic. It refers to the Davidic kingdom. Who’s kingdom, okay. You see? So David was one of the descendants of Judah. Messianic line not only goes through Judah, but also goes through through David. Now Lamb saying you need not understand the sacrificial system and the Old Testament, how that pre prefigures Christ and Leviticus and the Lan of course, and Nasco logical figure, we’ve seen a book of revelation. Okay? That’s what you need to know for the song to make any sense. Okay? Did we have to make the climb that steep like half the time when people come in to our churches and don’t encounter Christ? It’s not that they rejected what we were saying, they just didn’t even understand what we were saying. It was just confusing. Gobbly good.

Our sermons are no better. And for our churches who actually do attempt to preach the gospel, we’re preaching the gospel in Christianese gobbly book, and they just don’t understand the words that are coming out of our mouth. So the first thing you want your church to have an impact on, people preach and sing with clarity, not to water things down. And we’re not trying to avoid offending people. I mean, we’re not gonna poke people in the eye, but okay, that’s not what we’re focusing on, is inoffensive sermons. We’re focusing on clear sermons that anybody coming in is gonna understand what we’re saying. So when it comes to the gospel, for example, I understand theologically that repentance and faith kind of a big deal when it comes to accepting Christ. But I also know that the people I’m trying to reach have never heard those words and don’t know what they mean.

Now, I know from studying Hebrew that the word repent, that the Hebrew route is make a u-turn. It’s how you give directions. Like go down fourth Street in repent <laugh>. So I will be on the stage walking one direction saying, I’ve been going down my own road. I’ve been the master of my fate captain of my destiny living my life the way I want to. Well, that ends here. Jesus talking about making a U-turn and following him, even when it’s scary, even when I don’t understand, I’m putting my whole life in his hands. Everything that I am, my hopes, my dreams, my sorrows, my shame, you know, my anger, my hurts. I’m putting everything I am in his hands and trusting him to make me to someone new as I follow him in a new life, in a new direction. So I explained both repentance and faith without necessarily using those words.

Okay? That’s a skillset we have to develop because I was raised in a church. Christianese is my mother tongue. I speak English as a second language <laugh>. So are we preaching with clarity? Are we singing with clarity? When you preach, you know, when you, for your own people, when you preach clearly in plain English, guess what your people learn in plain English. Because if I preach in gobbly G your congregation learns it in gobbly G. And then when they go out to the workforce, when they go out to the baseball game, when they go out to anything else, the only thing they know is gobbly go. Why would we be surprised that our people in our congregation are so ineffective at reaching their friends? But if we preach in plain English and explain the gospel in plain English, we’re equipping our people in plain English to reach their friends and neighbors in plain English.

So you wanna make the biggest difference in your congregation in being able to reach newcomers and actually seeing your own people be more effective at evangelism and discipleship. Learn how to speak in plain, ordinary English. It’s a discipline. It’s hard. People don’t know what discernment means. You, if you have to use the word, take 10 seconds, explain it to explain it. Don’t make a casual reference. Hey, just like Joseph, you know, okay, who’s Joseph? Okay, take 10 seconds to explain, give people on-ramps to what you’re talking about. And that is probably gonna make the biggest difference.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (15:47):
What about the follow up process for that 4%? How do we close the back door so they don’t just come in and leave, but we can retain some of the 4% that are visiting every Sunday? Well, I think

John Albiston (15:59):
The key is gonna be developing relationships of friendship. So sometimes you know, I talk about, you know, we, in order to have someone follow Jesus, they need to make f make friends with us. Because if you read your gospels, Jesus discipled the disciples within the context of relationship. So when someone say they, they raised that hand When I made that gospel call, I’ve already trained my ushers, they’re already at the back. Everybody else’s head is bowed, eyes are close, not my ushers <laugh>. They’re already at the back and they see who raised their hands, and they’ve already been trained to come up and approach them after the service. Introduce ’em. Hey, my name’s Tom, da da da, da, how you doing? Da da da da da. You know, how long have you been coming here? Da Hey, I would really like to introduce you to my pastor.

Is that okay now? Because I saw their hands, like when they’re my ushers, bring somebody to me. I know this is a new believer. Well then I can have a conversation with them. I can give them a new believer’s Bible and say, Hey, you know what? We’ve got this small group program called Alpha, it’s a free meal. Why don’t you come out? It’s a fantastic way to, you know, to get started. But we want to get them in relationship as fast as possible. So follow up is crucial, crucial, crucial. And we want to connect with them as soon as we, we possibly can. We don’t wanna let that get cold. And again, it comes down to the, the whole love of God experience. If they don’t f experience the love of God from us, they’re not gonna believe in the love of God.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (17:35):
Let’s talk about the, the Canadian context here. Most of the churches that you’re, you’re working with here are in Canada. Is there anything unique to Canada that might be different than say the United States or other? Or are these principles, do they work everywhere?

John Albiston (17:52):
So I’ve used these principles in, in other countries and like, like Canada, the United States are fairly culturally adjacent. So if you’re an American coming to Canada, like the least foreign country you could possibly visit is this one. And vice versa. But I’ve seen this work very effectively in Thailand, which is a completely different culture. And that’s because we’re talking about some basic human principles. People need to be known. People need to experience love, people need to experience acceptance. And none of us feel that way when we’re being ignored. So we wanna be certainly culturally sensitive. So if you’re going to Thailand and you’ve got a habit of touching people’s heads, don’t do that in Thailand. That’s considered very rude. Mind you, seriously, dude, that’s weird here too. <Laugh>, you know, but you know, sometimes our own, we have got

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (18:49):
Little, let’s bring all the visitors up and I’m gonna pray for you right now.

John Albiston (18:53):
<Laugh>, sometimes in our church we develop weird microcultures. Like I remember my, my last church if you were sick, the only way to heal you was to bring you out to the front of the service in front of everybody. We would hit you in the head to try to make you fall over. And that’s how healing happens. Is there anything in the Bible says we have to do it that way? No. And we kind of realized, you know what? That’s actually kind of weird. And people coming in here are kind of terrified by what we’re doing. Maybe we should find like non terrifying ways of doing things. So there’s ways where we can think about, well, things happen in context. So you look at the Apostle Paul apostle Paul said, I am all things to all people. So by all possible means, some might be saved to the Greeks, unlike a Greek to the Jews unlike a Jew.

Well, that wasn’t just words for Paul. If you look at the book of Acts on how he behaves, when Paul’s in a Jewish setting, man, he turns into super Jew, Hey, I’m a Pharisee and you know, I studied on a gamma meal and he’s quoting the Old Testament left, right and center. Like, I mean, he, he puts it on really thick with the Jewish stuff. But when he is talking to a Gentile lobby audience, he doesn’t talk about any of that. In fact at Mars Hill, he starts quoting their poets and using their cultural references to bring them to Jesus. So he adjusts the way he talks depending on who he’s talking to. And I mean, we understand this when it comes to age group. You know, I’m not gonna talk about substitutionary atonement when I’m talking to preschoolers. Okay? So we, we’ve got some kind of understanding of that. Well, we need to know who we’re talking to and then adjust our vocabulary and how we explain and how we act compared to who we’re talking to.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (20:37):
Well, thank you so much for being on the Evangelism Podcast. If someone has some questions about how their church can be more effective at reaching their community, what’s a good way to get in touch with you? What, what’s, what’s your email?

John Albiston (20:50):
They can reach me@justjohnalbertin.com. My last name is A L B I S T O n.com. And there’s some free resources on there, but yeah, anybody can get in touch with me and I am more than happy to help.

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (21:05):
Wonderful. Well, thank you so much and I love what you’re doing. I, I love coaching evangelists and people who are excited about reaching the lost, and I think so many churches need to have that heart for their community and, and, and for the lost, and, and not just talk about it, but take tangible steps to make it happen.

John Albiston (21:28):

Evangelism Coach Daniel King (21:28):
And so, just so much love what you do and so valuable.

John Albiston (21:32):
Well, thanks for having me on here. Thank you.

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