Churches: Be Present online through COVID19 / Coronavirus.
At the risk of sounding like an opportunist (both in recommendations to churches and in the timing of this blog post), I hope that churches understand that while we’re not attempting to capitalize on the COVID 19 / Coronavirus situation, we can optimize how we serve people in our community while it is taking place.
This is going to take a shift in mindset for a lot of us.
Too many times we think of ‘church’ as a building. It’s not uncommon to say “See you at church,” or “We’re going to help set up at church.” I’m not refuting the thought that ‘church’ can be used to represent a building, but I am suggesting that the Church is more than a building.
If NONE of us owned buildings, we would still be the church. Not just in the sense of meeting where available – like a library or a high school – but also that church is a group of people, and THE Church is many groups of people participating in 1 central focus: Going and making disciples.
While not every person is choosing social distancing, many are. We saw more churches than ever broadcast their service online this week, and many in lieu of having an in-person gathering; AND we still had church.
Small groups gathered, families gathered, neighbors gathered, and people who were bored tuned in just to see what this thing was all about.
It was incredible to see the number of churches adapting and shifting their mindset.
AND We’re missing a massive opportunity to bring hope to our community if we stay silent until next Sunday
Yes, your Sunday morning service probably takes a fair amount of production. I saw everything from Pastors doing a quick selfie video to full-scale edited productions (in one case, I know the production team was up REALLY late on Saturday making it happen).
BUT there’s plenty of opportunities to continue to make an impact online for people who are choosing social distancing and self-quarantines.
Here are 7 ways you can continue to serve your community online over the next week (7 ways, 7 days… hmm)
1.) Have Pastor follow up the sermon from Sunday with a live devotional/prayer
Pastors often have a gold nugget leftover they didn’t have time to fit in, a topic that they wish they could have dug deeper on Sunday, a scripture that reinforces their idea, or feedback – like a question someone asked them after service – that they could clarify.
Have your Pastor go live – all that’s necessary is a phone and admin access on the Facebook page – and talk about that extra tidbit, that follow-up idea, that additional piece of clarification.
Offer to pray for anyone who would like prayer by leaving a comment in the video.
If you’re not sure about the value of Live vs Pre-Recorded, Ben Stapley talks about it here:
2.) Have your Kids Pastor do a live video to talk with the kids at your church
Kids, especially right now, are feeling bored and probably isolated. Many are used to going to school with a large classroom filled with kids their age – everything from recess to lunchtime to group activities to evening sports are grinding to a halt in their world.
Did your church put all of your efforts on Sunday into recreating your main service? Did you have a time and place for kids who were watching this week?
If you didn’t, it may be worth considering for next Sunday, but in the meantime, have your Kids Pastor do a live video (Create a Facebook event, send out an email newsletter and announce it’s coming so Parents can get ready). Read a bible story, do an object lesson, play some kids worship songs, and then offer a follow-up, like a YouTube playlist of the worship songs your kids sing in church each week, so the kids can worship at home, and have a familiar experience to what they’re used to on Sunday.
3.) Decide what you’re doing next Sunday and send out an email/text message to let everyone know
As early as possible, decide what the future holds, and for how long until you’ll make the next decision. It’s really easy for us to go stir crazy considering the possibilities for a situation. Make a decision and announce it so that your team can understand what the strategy is moving forward and announce that to your church.
A simple email like “For the remainder of the month, we’ll be having church online only. By the last Sunday in March, we’ll let you know how we’ll proceed together for April. Join us on our Facebook page (or YouTube or your website) for daily updates this week from our team.
4.) Have your band/worship leader do mid-week worship
You don’t have to go overboard on multiple camera angles, lighting production, audio remixing and lyric overlays. Take the pressure off, and just go live with a guitar or keyboard and a singer. Sing familiar songs that you’ve sung recently.
Paste your song lyrics in the live video description so viewers have the words to sing along. After the live video is done, download the video and add it to your YouTube channel so you can send out the link to that song later in an email.
Done Beats None. Don’t overthink it, just do it.
5.) Youth night live broadcast
Your youth don’t want to just sit at home and practice distancing. They’re probably on their phones more this week than they’ve been able to with classes and homework at other times.
Run through a typical youth setup – if you usually have icebreaker games, figure out a way to do an icebreaker with an Instagram story poll, or voting system. Have 2 of your key leaders on video, and have the viewers vote on who has to eat different types of food, or use a system like Kahoot to do group quizzes.
There’s no question your teens are on their phone. Meet them there.
6.) Do some online leadership or volunteer training
You know how it’s difficult to get everyone in the same room on a Saturday morning now and then to do some vision casting/leadership training/volunteer training?
Well, that hasn’t changed, and probably won’t.
BUT we’ve learned that giving people online resources that they can watch at their convenience has become really effective, and not time-sensitive. Now would be a great time to create and publish some online learning opportunities.
Masterclass, Lynda.com, and many others have proven this method.
Every now and then, I have to write a blog post that cuts deep. This may be one of those. Without using clickbait, or trying to stir the pot, I want to help you hear my heart and hear the hope in this blog post. If your church is on a path towards closing, please considering reading every word.
In this article by Thom Rainer, from Lifeway, he says that 6000-10,000 churches in America will close per year, which means that 100-200 churches that opened the doors last Sunday won’t open the doors this weekend.
It’s so sad to hear, and I wish that statistic didn’t exist. Honestly, I wish that there was only growth and not decline, but the reality is that’s not the case.
Here’s where it starts to hurt, and I’ll apologize in advance for how terrible this is going to sound: Objectively, it would be more helpful if the number of churches closing was higher.
Ugh. I don’t want that to be the case. I wish with everything in me that this didn’t make objective sense, but considering my experience with what I’ve seen and heard, first hand and through a network of people passionately hoping their church wasn’t on a decline, I know this to be the case.
Consider a business that’s in decline: profits have been down for many years, clients are decreasing, they are spending their available budget on staying afloat, taking on debt to pay salaries, or remortgaging their assets to drain their equity and pay the bills.
If this were the case for your business, it would be helpful for someone to come alongside you and say, “It may be time to sell while you still have equity in assets and find another source of income, or simply retire and enjoy your lifetime of work.”
We see this in outdated technology companies, retail stores that have lost out on a price war with big-box retailers, and restaurants that are in a ‘downtown core’ in small towns where retail is moving to the mall on the edge of town.
Where we don’t often see this strategy is with churches. Churches often hold on far too long to emotion, sentiment, and status quo beyond reason, in ways that businesses could never justify.
To be clear, I’m not talking to churches who have had a sudden upset in leadership, lost their building in a hurricane, or another catastrophic event. I’m also not talking to churches who have poor months financially or have gone through a split of some kind and your members are emotionally drained. I’m talking to churches who have a traceable track record of financial and membership decline over years or decades.
There are 2 paths for a declining church:
Keep doing what you’re doing until there’s nothing left.
Make a significant change and adapt in order to grow and make a difference in your community.
Path 1: Keep doing what you’re doing
Nothing is going to change. Insert the definition of insanity if you’ve kept doing what you’ve always done and expected different results, and then throw in a pile of other cliches.
It just seems so obvious to me that I can’t even justify boring you with the what, but I do want to dig into the ‘How.’
How is it that we can experience years or decades of decline, and still not be willing to change?
For each church, this could look different, but I believe any church can fall into this trap, either from success, indifference, or not knowing how to handle decline. This could be because:
We had a good month. A new family joined, and our finances were above our costs. Maybe this is a new trend!
We don’t want Pastor to lose his job, and he’s been doing this his whole career and he has a family, so what else would he do? We’ll continue to give a salary as long as we can.
From the Pastor: What else would I do? I don’t have a resume outside of working at my church and nobody will hire someone whose most recent track record is years of decline.
We’ve been in the community for many years, and our city just wouldn’t feel right without us here.
Maybe if we just pray more, this is just a season of difficulty we’ll pull out of.
We need to cut costs and remortgage assets, and now it looks like our cash flow is in the positive.
If we don’t reach our community, then who will? We’re here at whatever cost to be a light in our community.
Let’s just take it one step at a time. Let’s make sure that Sunday is good, then we’ll think about next Sunday.
People left the church because they saw a decline in the youth program, kids funding, social events, outreach opportunities, etc. We’re going to stick around and prove them wrong.
OR the case that I think most churches struggle with:
If we were to make a change, what would be the right change? What options actually exist? It’s easier to not make a change.
Either path means a change is coming.
Either you’re going to make a change, or you’re going to run out of people and money and a change is going to happen. You may be trying to preserve a building, or staff salaries, or your pride, but if you run out of people and money, you’re going to lose all of that anyway.
Ask yourself this question:
Based on our rate of decline (in attendance or finances) how many years do we have left at this speed?
Is holding on to hope without reason until our assets or membership hit zero the most effective way to help people in our community meet Jesus?
Path 2: Intentionally make a significant change
Often, the biggest obstacle here is knowing what a significant change could look like.
Here’s where the logic of ‘Objectively, it would be more helpful if the number of churches closing was higher,’ takes effect.
Here are some options for making a significant change:
Option 1: Merge with a growing church
You may have assets like a building, or investments, or a community center, and committed members, so what if you partnered with a church that is still meeting in a high school or renting space at a library, or trying to get the funding together to renovate a space in a strip mall, or looking to plant a campus in your city. You bring your assets to the table, and they bring a fresh system of what’s working to impact the community.
Your church’s legacy would be adding fuel to the fire of a growing church by providing a building, committed volunteers, and mentors. They’re contribution is taking your legacy and continue to reach your community.
In this case, remember that you’ll need to embrace their systems. This doesn’t turn into a “my house, my rules” situation since your way of doing things has led to a decline. You need to hand over the reins to their system.
One way to approach this option:
Give them the building, change the building to their church name, and let your members know that they can join the new church if they would like. Alternatively, there may be other churches in your area that are the same denomination or style where your current members may feel more comfortable.
It’s important to not present it as “They’re joining us” or “We’re joining together” but rather “our legacy is going to be gifting our assets to them. Consider joining their church in this building, or here is another alternative if you’d like something more in line with our style.”
In some cases, the members of the church gifting the building simply join another church altogether and hand over their keys (obviously with the proper due legal process).
Option 2: Liquidate your assets and help a new church plant or campus plant
You might have a substantial amount of equity between your building and property, but if your building is in need of renovations or a design overhaul, then it may not actually be considered an asset to a smaller, growing church or a church looking to plant a campus – it might actually be a liability to need to fix the roof, remove the wallpaper and paint from top to bottom or fix the parking lot that’s home to a few ducks and frogs and completely unusable every time it rains.
Consider liquidating everything and find a growing church to invest those assets into. Leverage your assets while they can make a difference, rather than waiting until they vaporize.
It could be tempting to “merge” with another church in your denomination, or a church of a similar style to yours, and pool your resources together. While I’m not advising against that, I would want you to consider if they are a growing church with upward momentum, or if you’re simply pooling assets to prolong their decline.
Option 3: Bring in new leadership SOONER THAN LATER
I’ll just let this one simmer.
If your current leadership (staff or volunteers) have only been able to create a track record of decline, then they need to have the self-awareness to step aside and say “I don’t know what to do, and for the sake of our church and our community, someone else needs to step in.”
Again, I’m not saying this should be the case after a few months or even a year or two of decline, but after more than a couple of years without an upside, (and in many cases, more than that) it’s time to look at the business side of things and say “Would a major corporation allow their CEO to lead for a decade of decline without making a change?”
Our mission as the church is much more significant than inventing a new gadget or turning a profit. Our commitment to reach that significance has to be reflected in our decisions, no matter how tough they may be.
This decision has to be made sooner than later. Waiting until there’s only red in the bank account and nothing left of the membership is like setting fire to potential. If you have any desire to see the organization turn around, give “the new guy” something to work with.
I’m not pretending this is an exhaustive list, and there may be another option that is a fit for your church and community but making the decision to make a change is the first step.
Do you know of any great resources that would be helpful for a church looking to make a change? Leave it in the comments below so we can learn together!
The 2 categories of your church’s social media content:
We’re past the point of needing to have a discussion about the value of using Social Media to reach your community. Hey, if your church is still having that discussion, that’s cool, but most of us are on social media so much that we’re using it like skip button on our PVR.
For most of us, it would be like discussing whether or not to have the name of your church on your building or signage outside your portable church to let people know where to find you. Social Media has become second nature to most of us, and with the simplicity of setting up an managing an account, it should be taken for granted that your church is using Social Media to connect and engage with people in your community.
That being said, we’re now moving into a world where Social Media is getting noisy – there are facebook ads, pop-ups, event reminders, notification, friend request, DMs and way more than I can handle listing here, so like social media has evolved, your strategy around social media has to evolve as well.
There are 2 categories to consider when posting on your church’s social media accounts.
Internal or External:
Think of a big brand – Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Hilton, Disney – imagine they used Facebook on Tuesday to let their customers know about a new product, then used their facebook page on Wednesday to remind their staff that there’s a mandatory staff meeting on Monday morning.
Whatever engagement they garnered from their new product promotion would be crushed by very few people in their followers finding any value in a reminder about a staff meeting on Monday.
Consider your church members like the front line of your church making it all happen – the cashiers, shelf stockers, maintenance, customer service, guest relations, chefs in the kitchen.
Too many times when I’m stalking a church’s social media channel (side note: Yes, I do this in my spare time) I see an all-too-familiar mix of internal memos and external promotions which is taking your audience on a confusing roller coaster of “Cool, I’ll like and share this” to “What does that have to do with me?”
I’ve been guilty of this myself, both in business and with churches I’ve worked with. It’s possible for all of us to fall into this trap.
Ultimately, too many posts that are irrelevant to the end-user is going to cause them to unfollow your account – Maybe not the first or second time, but eventually seeing what could be considered “ads” for irrelevant products is going to find it’s limit.
The litmus test for internal and external content:
If I don’t yet go to your church, do I care or could it affect me?
Pretty simple: If I know nothing about your church, other than it’s in the same city as me, do I care about what you’re going to post.
We have to move away from using our facebook page, twitter account, snap chat and Instagram (or whatever else you’re on this week) to communicate things to our church members and focus that content on content for our community to engage with.
Men’s Breakfast Invitation: External. We need people to bring eggs to the Men’s breakfast: Internal.
Family circus day: External. We need someone to work in the nursery this Sunday since our teacher is sick: Internal.
Here is a sermon clip with some tips from Pastor Bob on parenting: External. In future services, we’re asking parents to please take your kids to the foyer to watch service if they’re causing a distraction: Internal.
We’re looking for community volunteers to help with our Christmas Dinner for our city. External. Sister so and so just got home from the hospital. Click this link to volunteer to bring her a meal. Internal.
Just imagine for a second a billboard in a city that says “Mary is sick this weekend. Please call the office if you know someone who can fill in the nursery on Sunday.”
BUT, what about the children?!
Ok, maybe not “the children” but what about the people in our church? This is the pushback I get all the time as if your facebook page is the only way to communicate with your church during the week.
(side note: if announcements are the “Holy Grail” of communication at church, then a social media post is perceived as the “Holy Grail” during the week.)
Tools that are perfect for internal communication:
Email Newsletter segmented to specific audiences (ie. men/women, parents of kids/parents of youth, singles, young married couples, middle-aged couples, retired couples – you get the idea. Many people will fall into more than one category).
Facebook Group – Build facebook groups for your small groups, or demographics of people at your church, or areas of the city where they live, etc. Groups are perfect for connecting and having conversations, plus great for mentioning a need or encouraging an internal effort without promoting it to your community audience.
Text message services, like Text In Church, allow you to build multiple segmented lists so you can get the right information to the right people. Text beats out an email for urgent needs, or reminders (ie. Thanks for volunteering to help at the family fun day tomorrow. Setup starts at 4 pm! See you there!)
Provide a 2-3 sentence announcement for your small group leaders to announce to their groups. Be sure the information matches the people represented in the small group.
Internal Communication goal: Right information to the right people at the right time.
Forget telling your retired couples about the singles night, or your young parents about youth retreat, or your campus 1 families about a campus 2 event in another town. Get the right information to the right people at the right time – including information you provide to your community.
To sum it up; Tools for Internal or External communication
Signage in your church
Social Media pages
External Advertising – billboards, radio ads, mailers
How have you seen this working for your church? Leave a comment below so we can all learn together!
(recently, I wrote a letter to Pastors hoping to help start conversations about why communications teams are overwhelmed. This is a follow up to that letter. The letter that I wrote to pastors has gained more attention than I had imagined, with a 1400% increase in traffic to my blog on the day that I published it.
Along with the public shares, comments posts, and tweets, I also received private messages from people in that role who thanked me for helping them realize that they’re not the only one who face those pressures. As a follow-up, I write this.)
Dear Church Communications Teams,
I hope I was clear in my blog post that I wasn’t creating the list to create a justification for laziness on our communications teams, or entitlement.
Famously in church world, we have a habit of bragging about how bad we have it. Twice in recent memory, I’ve sat at a table with 4 or 5 Pastors (or Pastoring couples) I’d never met before, and they each took turns talking about how bad their latest church split was, or how their county wouldn’t approve their building permits, or a how long their church has been struggling with finances.
We have to push against this culture. We’ll never reach our communities with the compassion of Jesus if we’re so intent on making ourselves out to be victims, and the same is just as true with our communications teams.
In communications, the pressures of overwhelm are real, but we don’t have to give in or give up.
There’s a reason that some people thrive in the environment and others give in or give up. I can think of a dozen people in a blink of an eye who are thriving in that position, and here are some observations about how I see them blazing the trail that we can all learn from.
In the true spirit of the typical creative. Here are quick ideas and bullet points you can turn into a checklist.
Review this with your leader and find out if you are unclear on any of these details.
Build an online form to handle incoming design/event/promotion requests to get all of your information in one place. If you’re not sure how to do that, use a pre-built service like ChurchRequests.
Find a volunteer with an administrative gifting/project manager. You don’t have to do this alone, especially if it’s not your strong suit.
Use a project management software to track your progress where each department can see the progress without having to interrupt you to ask. My project management stack is simply Trello + Dropbox + Email. (as an alternative to email, a lot of teams use slack.)
Create timelines of how long projects take, and provide that timeline to all other departments. Maybe a sign requires 6 weeks: 2 weeks for creative and first proof, 2 weeks for revisions, 2 weeks for printing and hanging. Maybe a Facebook post is 2 days. Create the timelines so your departments know what to expect and are clear when you say you are able to or unable to fulfill a request.
The worst answer you can give someone when they make a request is “no”. I know we hear all the time that we need to learn to say more no often, but in our role, we need to try and find a way to make things happen.
Instead of No, you left it too late,” or “No, I’m too busy right now,” aim for “Instead, we could try THIS with the time we have left,” or “Instead, I do have a file from last year. Could we make it work if we just change the details?”
Take care of yourself
This is for sure the most obvious, and the least likely to actually happen. You might be getting overwhelmed because you’re in a fog from not taking care of yourself, or personal situations are occupying your focus at work.
Pray and read your bible.
Instead of burning an hour at night on your phone, turn it off and get an extra hour of sleep.
Eat properly and intentionally.
Stand up from your desk and go for a 5-minute walk a few times a day.
Turn off your phone either Saturday or Sunday after church, and let your team know you won’t be accessible.
Have phone-free / work-free conversations with friends and family over lunch or dinner.
Get your personal finances in order and save for emergencies.
Build your relationship with your leaders
Remind yourself that while they may not fully understand your challenges, you can’t fully understand theirs either.
Understand that their decisions may include factors that you’re not privy to.
Recognize that they may be trying to hide their own stresses to support you.
Remind them that you love them, you’re committed to them and you’re committed to the mission of your church. (do it now. Send a text or email)
Offer feedback, and recognize there may be confidential details that won’t allow them to fully explain what’s going on.
Trust them to have your best in mind.
Have real conversations, tell the truth, express your frustrations, and re-affirm your commitment to the team.
Ask for their trust with questions like “I see we have different ideas on this. May I try this my way to see what the results are?”
Talk about your role: “I think I would be a lot strong contributor to the team if I was able to focus more on X instead of Y. How could we move towards that?”
You can do this. The pressures are not impossible to handle. You’ll have to be intentional, but the results are worth the effort.
Whether your key communications and marketing person is staff or volunteer, you’ve probably run into hearing that he or she is overwhelmed from time to time.
You need to know that it’s not unusual for the position, not always something they are doing wrong, and not something that can be fixed overnight (or debatably, not something that can ever be permanently resolved).
There are some strategies that you can implement to help them address feeling overwhelmed and reduce the likeliness of it recurring.
My goal is not to defend or justify laziness, disorganization or an entitlement mentality. My goal is to give you a peek into our world – a world we can’t always articulate – with some practical tools to help so your communications department can reduce the likelihood of being overwhelmed and be as effective as possible in helping your church introduce your community to Jesus.
Why is feeling ‘Overwhelmed’ affecting your church communications department?
Before we dig into strategies to mitigate and address overwhelming situations, I wanted to dig in a bit about why they affect the communications department specifically. I know these details are different for every church, community, and culture, but generally speaking, here are some of the ideas that affect most churches.
Consideration 1) Vertical: The Communication Leader is Middle Management
The communications department is somewhere in middle management in the organization’s structure. Usually, the communications person is not the lead Pastor, and often they have someone working under them that they oversee – whether this is a graphic design contractor like Church Media Squad, or working with external software and teams like Text In Church, or a volunteer team on-site at your church.
While not making the decision, or sometimes getting input into decisions, the Church Communications person represents the decision as if it’s their own and communicates on behalf of the leadership and the church (internally or externally).
This can be taxing when we have an idea of how to best communicate something, which channel to use, or how to position an announcement, but we’re considered robots – following directions about how, when and where from someone who may not understand our tools – rather than considering us creative people who specialize understanding our tools and presenting ideas in a unique way.
Consideration 2) Horizontal: We primarily serve other departments.
Some leaders are in a solely-focussed role, while other leaders who are wearing a few hats may have to work in 2 or 3 categories. Your communications person needs to have their ears to the ground in almost every category, event and department at your church.
For example, the youth leader has a full plate getting youth services ready, preparing games, food, missions trips, weekends away, counseling students, communicating with parents and executing midweek services or small groups. While the responsibilities are diverse, all of those items fall in the category of the youth department.
A week in a communication person’s world may look like:
When is VBS?
How many new small groups are we adding this year?
What is our Social Media strategy leading up to Back to School / Back to Church?
Did the printer quit partway through printing the bulletins?
What are we including in announcements this weekend?
Did we get that email sent out about the food drive coming up this weekend?
Where did last week’s volunteer photographer leave the battery when they were done?
Is it time for us to rebuild the website? Kids ministry pictures are outdated.
Why aren’t we getting as many new likes on facebook this month as we got last month?
I need to get a quote from the printer on new banners for our parking lot.
Which graphic would best suit the upcoming series?
We often have to make decisions that are going to lead to some amount of disappointment in other departments:
We’re announcing this but not that (one person is happy and another is not.)
We only have one spot to hang a banner, so we’re hanging this banner up, but not that one (one department gets promoted, and another isn’t).
We’re not going to promote small groups in that way (now a whole group of people is disappointed because they wanted their small group to get an announcement, bulletin mention, yard signs, billboard, radio ad, a personal Instagram video from Pastor, and a parade downtown are all upset that you “don’t value their group as much as they do”)
Consideration 3) How long does that really take?
In addition to having both Vertical and Horizontal responsibilities, our “to do” list is often misunderstood or misrepresented. The question of “How long does that really take?” is an important part of the ongoing conversation that you can have with your team.
With the perception that “Posting on facebook is as quick as sending a text message” or “Creating a 2-minute video is hitting record on your phone and recording for 2 minutes,” or “I write a 3 paragraph email in 10 minutes, so writing a 3 paragraph email newsletter should only take 10 minutes,” or “Just send the bulletin to the printer and pick it up when it’s done in an hour.” (I could go on…)
In light of those perceptions, the ACTUAL time it takes to craft a Facebook post, or shoot an announcement video or write an email newsletter may seem too long and can create a sense that the communications person is unproductive or needs more on their plate to fill their work hours.
Did it really take you 20 minutes to edit a photo and create a 1-sentence caption for Instagram? Did it really take a whole afternoon to film and edit a 4-minute announcement video? You’ve been working on that email newsletter for how long?!
Keep in mind that a 40-minute sermon may take you days to craft at times, and other times, could literally take only 40 minutes, and many care and counselling roles at churches are driven by meetings: a 1-hour meeting takes one hour. A 15-minute meeting takes 15 minutes. Surprises and overruns don’t happen often when you have back-to-back meetings – you can simply schedule another meeting if needed for a future date.
The same isn’t true when creativity and technology meet at a crossroads.
While we have tools that make us more efficient, creatives often use the tools to do better work, not faster work – we may use a tool that gives us a better final outcome, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we spend less time picking a color, or choosing our words, or adding in final touches to a video.
Consideration 4) How much energy does that take?
It’s not uncommon for a creative person to be exhausted by 2 pm or 3 pm.
Sometimes we’re night owls, so our best ideas (and best work) happen late at night. It’s possible we were up until 3 am night working on graphics for church this weekend, then at the office at 9 am the next day for a staff meeting.
Maybe it’s that we’re morning people, so we’re able to knock out a creative video in an hour at 9 am, but that level of energy is going to leave us unable to put together a perfect tagline for the next series at 3 pm.
Inversely, someone who is a night owl who has a flex-schedule may work until 2 am, get into the office at 11 am and have some of their most productive time mid-afternoon with a great project to show from the night before.
Being “less productive” from mid-afternoon until the end of the day isn’t always a symptom of laziness (although, let’s be clear that sometimes it may), but it may be a symptom that we’ve given our best for the organization at other times through the day, and we need to recharge.
Just because something took 1 hour this morning, doesn’t mean we can turn around and repeat it in 1 hour this afternoon.
Consider a creative day like a boxing match. A punch is a punch, but that doesn’t mean that round 5 has the same level of sustained energy as round 1.
I’ve heard from many Pastors that they are exhausted after preaching for an hour on Sunday. It would be ridiculous to assume that one hour of replying to emails on Monday might take the same energy as presenting a one hour message on Sunday. The same is true for someone who is spending their creative energy.
The same thing may be true early in the week compared to later in the week. It’s different for every person, but there has to be some flex built into the schedule for considerations about “How much energy does that take?”
Consideration 5) Our world is always changing.
…And I don’t mean that every few years a new channel shows up. What I mean is that what you see another church doing on Instagram may not be able to reproducible the next week, or what you see someone with a large following doing on facebook may be a feature that requires 100K or more ‘likes’ on their page, and you simply aren’t there.
What you did on facebook last month to get an incredible response may fall flat this month, Instagram may add or remove a feature, and twitter may change how their timeline functions altogether.
You may not get the results you’re used to from one day to another, or your communications person might have built a strategy around a particular feature which is no longer accessible one week into a campaign.
A program they’re used to using could run an update and change the layout of the toolbar that takes them an extra half hour to get re-oriented, and Google may change what constitutes as “spam” email, and way fewer people may open the email this week compared to last week.
Unlike the worship team that turns on the same sound system each week or the kid’s team that has the same classroom space in your building, their world, tools (and the communication strategies/tools they use) are always a moving target.
Consideration 6) We execute with a strategy in mind.
While you may think that it’s only going to take a few minutes to publish a simple “last-minute” post on facebook, that may actually hurt your big-picture strategy.
In this example, Facebook wants to see engagement on each individual post to determine how often to share the next. If you had just posted on facebook a few minutes ago, it can actually hurt the impact of both posts by publishing too quickly again since there wasn’t much time for people to see and engage with the first post.
If your communications team has a strategy about what gets included in Sunday announcements, it could actually hurt the impact of the 3 important things they want to share when you insist on Sunday morning that there are 4 additional things that need to be mentioned without discussion.
They love your church. They’re doing this because they love the community, your vision, and they want to communicate effectively. They’ve made decisions that lead to a certain result (and your team would probably love to have a conversation with you about that.)
I imagine that you wouldn’t randomly walk into a youth service and tell the youth leader to add in a new song that night or tell the kids teachers on a Sunday morning to change their lesson plan. A random “I need you to do this now” doesn’t reflect an appreciation for the strategy your communications person brings to the table.
Something more like “We need to communicate this urgently. How can we best do that?” shows that you trust what they’re doing and you’re trusting them to handle the details.
Consideration 7) Our work is on public display
Ask your communications person how many communications they get per month about a typo on the screens or a detail incorrect on a facebook post (that instead of commenting privately, the event co-ordinator decided to make a public comment on the post to correct the details). It’s not that your communications person is sloppy, but we’re human and mistakes happen – and ours are often public.
Worse than actual, identifiable mistakes, we also get to hear everyone’s opinion about “Why would you choose that background?” or “Can we do something a little more subtle?” or “I don’t like that font” – and often from people who are unrelated to the event being promoted.
I once had a gentleman come to me after church to tell me that he noticed a typo in someone’s name on the screen during a video I made for our building campaign. He said “If we’re raising that much money, it’s disappointing that we can’t even spell someone’s name correctly.” (this was only one of the three times the name appeared during the video.)
I asked if he would like to help and preview the videos like a “proof reader.” He said he wasn’t the one getting paid to be sure it was right, that’s my job.
Most departments may have an internal memo with a spelling error, or the youth leader has an off night during his message, or in a meeting, something is said that could have been worded differently.
Our work is getting mailed out to the community, posted on the front lawn, shared on facebook, seen on the screens, or hung in the lobby.
How would you handle it if every time you misspoke during a sermon, someone stood up and let you know like it was urgent?
A fire alarm is urgent. Misspeaking, having an unclear thought, mentioning one scripture reference but turning to another, or tripping over your words is not worth someone yelling “FIRE!”
I realize that you’ll often get a follow-up email from someone about your message, but even that person knows to distinguish between what they think is important (important enough to send an email) and urgent (like jumping up in the middle of church service).
How can you help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed?
Consideration 1) Vertical: Middle Management.
Move towards giving your communications person a seat at the decision table and allow them to earn your trust. You don’t have to flippantly toss decisions to them or take their recommendation every time, but a simple “What do you think?” or “If this was your decision, what would you do?” along with hearing the rest of the discussion is going to be helpful in communicating the big picture.
Consideration 2) Horizontal: Serving other departments.
With the help of that toolbox, you’ll equip your team do their best in tracking projects, create incoming request forms, and work with other departments in your church as efficiently as possible.
Delegate communications decisions to the Communications person, support them as the decision-maker, and bring them into a conversation if someone comes to you to request that you veto a decision.
Consideration 3) How long does that really take?
Ask the question when you delegate the responsibility and ask it again when a project is completed.
Come to an agreement on what is a reasonable expectation, and where time consumed on one project may not provide the best return compared to that same time spent elsewhere.
Be slow to assume that making a request is so simple that it can be easily fit into the workload instantly.
Build time into the schedule for your communications person to be creative, dream and explore new ideas. Stuffing every minute of their day is going to be exhausting, and you’ll get the same recurring results… which leads us to the next point.
Consideration 4) How much energy does that really take?
Have conversations like “What is your most creative time of day?” and “When do you do your best work?” and “What would an ideal schedule look like for you to bring your best to the team?”
Push back against the tendency you may have to set office hours. When Sunday rolls around, do you want to present your best work or do you want to check the box that said someone was present at their desk from 9 am – 5 pm all week? Of course, nobody at your church cares how many hours a project took, or whether it was completed at 2 pm or 2 am.
What matters when all is said and done is the end result, not the schedule necessary to create the result.
This isn’t to say that your communications leader can miss morning meetings if they’re a night person, or miss afternoon meetings if they like to start earlier in the day. But if there’s nothing scheduled at 9 am, and they worked an extra 4 hours last night, what difference will it make on Sunday if they show up at the office at 9 am or not?
Earn the best from your communications person by having clear goals and helping them meet those goals in whatever time it takes.
Consideration 5) Our world is always changing.
Have regular conversations that start with “What strategy do you have in mind for this event?” or “How are you planning to promote this?” or “What have you seen others doing that could work here?” Understand that we can’t promise the same results since the tools we use are always changing, and those changes are outside of our control.
Avoid saying, “We’ve done it like this before. Do that again!” or “They’re doing it. Why can’t we?”
Instead, have conversations with your communications person that lean into their wisdom, experience, and hands-on knowledge of the tools they have available to them. Ask questions that start with “What would you suggest for…?”
We’ll never get away from changing social media tools, but you can reduce the stress that keeping up with those details can cause by giving us some freedom to try new things, and explore. Recognize that at any time, the answer might be “That’s not how it works any longer.”
Consideration 6) We execute with a strategy in mind.
While we can technically post something quickly on facebook, it may not be the best strategic decision based on the technology, the way we want to present that information or the timing.
The same goes for what we plan to include in announcements, (or how many announcements), what we post on facebook, twitter or Instagram, how we’ll send out text messages or our email newsletter.
By all means, have conversations with your communications person about their decisions, their strategy, pick their brain about what and why, and be clear about what you’re hoping to achieve so they can help your church get to that end goal…
…AND, remember that this is our life and focus. We don’t take the responsibility lightly, and we’re not (usually) trying to be flippant or lazy or territorial if we say that your suggestion about how we communicate something may have some better options.
Consideration 7) Our work is public.
Learn to distinguish the difference between important and urgent. Important means “That’s worth noting and talking about later so that we try to avoid that mistake next time.” Urgent means “This needs to be addressed now.”
When you walk up on stage after an announcement video and make a joke about a typo on the screen, or send off a text message about the bulletin when it’s already printed and can’t be adjusted, then that’s come across as “Urgent: This can’t wait and has to be addressed now.”
It’s a bit overwhelming to be told that “This is urgent, but you won’t be able to do anything about it until next Sunday.”
Here’s an example of the distinction between urgent and important:
Urgent: “The time was incorrect on that announcement, and we need you to be here tomorrow at 7 pm instead of 7:30 pm” – That’s worth addressing now.
Important: “There’s an extra “w” before the website address in the bulletin. I’ll send an email Monday so a correction can be made before the bulletin goes to print next week.”
Support your communications team and recognize team effort if someone else points out an imperfection.
“We’ve been working on a lot as a team. I’ll have someone take a look this week,” causes much less stress than “So and So looks after our marketing. Go point it out to them” or “Here’s some public shaming in the form of a joke because I don’t want someone to think I’m responsible for the issue.”
Learn to delegate to and trust your communications department:
This could be difficult. This may not seem ideal. They have probably made mistakes before, and they are publicly representing your church, so if you don’t feel like the person in place is the right person for the job, please correct the situation sooner than later.
It doesn’t serve anyone to keep someone around whom you don’t trust, you won’t delegate responsibilty to, and you don’t believe knows what they’re doing in their job position. However, if you trust that they know what they’re doing, then let them do it.
If the person overseeing your marekting and communications is not someone that you trust to take the reigns, either get them the training they need to become that person, have the conversations about what indicators you need to see in order to build trust with them, or release them from the position. It’s not an easy request, but neither is the veil of trust when there’s no foundation to support it.
I want to be clear that your communications person is not against you if they have different ideas.
They’re not trying to steer the public side of the church in a different direction through social media or public relations. If they want to discuss a decision further, it’s because they see an opportunity for improvement, not that they’re looking for a reason to tear down. Please give him or her an open line to have conversations about what is working and what they think could improve.
They love the church. They love your vision. They love you. They need your support when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Recently, I was listening to Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast (a round table discussion with Clay Scroggins and Brad Lomenick – listen here.) and Carey talked about how we’ve made church experiences downloadable – watch online, listen to a podcast, listen to worship music on iTunes or youtube – AND how we need to create ways for people to want to come to experience church in community.
(There’s a lot to be said about WHY that’s truly important to build community, and the podcast covers that very well).
In my time travelling (learn about my family’s time on the road visiting churches here), I’ve had the opportunity to visit many different churches, and I wanted to share 3 ideas that I’ve seen to help avoid making your church experience downloadable – that is, to create the desire for people to want to be there in person and feel like if they’ve simply watched online or downloaded the podcast, that they’re missing part of the experience.
Avoiding “Downloadable church” is more difficult specifically for churches with multiple campuses who show a video of their speaker from their main campus.
When someone is watching a screen during your church service, it’s not much of a stretch for them to think “I could have just watched this on a screen at home” so while these examples are applicable at most churches, my first ideas includes a focus on churches with campuses.
1: Integrate elements of your service so they overlap
Modular service programming easily turns our minds to think that a service is simply a series of pieces; Pieces that we can pick and choose from on our own time.
Having music end when someone does a welcome, then “turn your attention to the screen” is like creating modules for people. We have a music module, then a “announcements, welcome, giving” module, then we watch a video module.
We’ve been to campuses like this. It’s handing people the line “I could have watched this at home” on a silver platter. This piece ended, and that piece started instead of “This is how our experience is continuing.”
At the Elevation Campus in Raleigh, NC, the services across campuses were in sync with each other when we visited.
For the last song in worship, the band at our location was playing the song, but the screen showed the lead singer from the Charlotte campus (main location). We could see and hear her singing while we were worshiping with the band and backup singers at our campus. All of the lighting styles, colors, and movement at our campus matched the lighting that we were seeing on the screen for the worship leader at the main campus, so it really felt like an integrated experience.
After the lead singer was done, Steven Furtick came on stage while our campus band continued to play and slowly died down while he prayed to transition to the message.
There was no clear line between “We’re done music and now turn your attention to the screen to watch the message.” (I’ve heard they run an audio channel from their head campus’ music director so each campus’ band can listen in their monitor and get directions to play/sing along.) There was a welcome and giving talk before the last song so that the transition went smoothly to the main campus during the last song.
The experience was just like Steven Furtick had been at our campus, walked up on stage close to the end of the last song as the band kept playing and following along with him.
At Potters House, Dallas, they had the band set up in the center of the main stage. (There was another drum kit setup it looked like on a top side tier of the stage, so I would guess having the band in the center wasn’t a typical setup the day we were there).
At the end of worship, Bishop TD Jakes came up and started teaching about how God has created us to be instruments of worship. He walked through each instrument on stage (literally walking around the instruments while he was speaking), talked about how each instrument produced sound and gave each instrument the opportunity to play a solo, creating an overlap between music and the message.
I’m not sure how they edited that podcast, but blurring the lines, creating overlap and integration makes your service happen as a single experience, rather than modular pieces that can be downloaded later.
2: Have a response that is done in house
We visited Christ Fellowship church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida a few years ago and they were talking about God’s promises. Part way through service, they handed out small white flags (The kind that you would see in the ground where a water line or gas line is marked – this picture is from their facebook page).
On the flags, people had written something that they were praying for – maybe a scriptural promise, the name of a friend or family member they’re praying for, or debt cancellation – and on the way out of church everyone took that white flag, and stuck it into the grass somewhere around the campus on the way to their car.
We visited 3 campuses and each parking lot island, patch of grass at the front door and planter box was filled with these white flags. (one of their campuses meets in a mall, so they couldn’t leave the flags outside. They had built multiple “grass patches” for inside their foyer – boxes 4 feet tall, two feet wide and probably 8 feet long with a strip of sod on top for the flags.)
This kind of experience can’t be downloaded. Could someone who only watches online still get benefit from the service? Sure, but their experience wouldn’t compare to seeing thousands of white flags coming and going from church.
3: Create an experience at your church
The environment and atmosphere you create are factors in how people experience your church.
Your Church’s Environment:
The environment of your church can be a draw for people to actually be there in person.
Do you have seating areas where people can hang out with their friends after church, a coffee shop so people can come early and stay late to be with each other or a playground area where the kids can play and the parents can get to know each other?
Do you decorate your lobby or campus for special events (like a certain series or time of year) in a way that creates a “wow” factor worth inviting others to come experience?
Have you ever had a BBQ after church in the parking lot with bouncy castles or water balloons for the kids to invite the community and kickoff VBS?
Do you set up a photo booth for Easter or Mothers Day or special holidays?
The physical things you do to make a “wow” experience are the things that will have people taking pictures, sharing on Social Media and inviting their friends to come see.
Your Church’s Atmosphere:
I can’t exactly speak to how to make this happen, but I can attest that it’s more fun to go to a concert than it is to listen to an album in your car. There’s something about an engaging crowd (even a silent, yet highly-focussed crowd at a symphony) that can’t be reproduced in a download.
There is nothing downloadable about the way the people of Potters House respond to Bishop TD Jakes when he’s preaching, or the way that Elevation worships together, or the way it feels to be in a room with 10,000 people praying together at Lakewood or see people around you respond to someone giving their testimony on stage before being baptized, or seeing people around you stand up to make the decision to follow Jesus.
If your church isn’t an expressive-style church, that’s ok. Have a text number where people can text questions to have a Q&A about the message or take a poll via text about the next series topic or have members of your church participate on stage during different points in service to illustrate your theme or read the scripture.
So how will you integrate service elements, create in-house responses and offer an experience at your church to avoid making your church simply downloadable?
Trust me when I say I’ve been there. An event comes across my desk, and I roll my eyes, completely ignore it and hope it goes away, but I’ve learned that rarely works. Why? Because often when the event flops, the organizer blames it on poor promotion.
Some people can’t wrap their brain around the thought that there isn’t a huge crowd of people begging to be part of the 70’s and over, couples skydiving and paintball event, so when you roll your eyes at the thought of promoting that event on the last page of the bulletin or honorable mention on the corner of the website calendar, it only takes one person to say “I didn’t hear about that,” and now the event organizer is convinced that the event flopped, not because of lack of interest, but because of poor promotion and marketing.
So how can you kill that event that everyone except the event organizer knows won’t fly? Great Marketing.
If you promote the event with great marketing, put your full effort into it and create a measurable standard for what a “successful” event looks like, then the event organizer can’t blame marketing anymore. They may actually come to terms that the interest isn’t there for their event.
Here’s Where Clarity Wins:
What is the marketing team for?
In the event organizer’s mind, the marketing team may be to convince people to show up to events. In your mind, it may be to make people aware of the event and allow them to decide if they want to show up. Get clear on the differences for both you and the event organizer.
If you’re not, the event organizer always has an excuse to blame poor attendance on marketing – after all, in their mind, your job is to convince people to come, and since no one came, you must not have done your job.
Which of our church’s core values is this going to be emphasized at this event?
Is the goal of this event is to build relationships, reach out to the community, give people an opportunity to use their musical gifts, bring in outside donor funds for a new outreach facility, equipping parents to understand their kids’ health or help people improve their marriage? Which of our church’s core values is going to be emphasized, and how does that create a a simple goal for this event?
This isn’t time for a marketing slogan, alliteration or creating a perfect hashtag. This is one sentence that describes the one main focus of the event. This is easily framed with “If your neighbor who doesn’t come to our church asked what this event is about, what could you tell them to explain it?”
Some examples are “Helping people have better communication within their marriage” or “Going to build an orphanage in Peru” or “Dinner and dancing you can invite their friends to, so they can meet other people from church.”
What is considered a ‘win’ for this event?
I made the mistake too many times of not having this discussion before an event. After the event, we would get together for an after-action review (that’s coming further down the page) and I would say “Wow, you had 50 people at your event! That’s great,” and the event organizer (without fail) would say “yes, but I was expecting more. More people would have come if there was some additional promotion.”
Before an event starts, have a kick-off meeting, and set goals for the event. Ask questions like “Based on $20/person, how many people do you need to show up to cover the costs of the event?” or “How many people attended this event last time?” and (believe it or not) “How many people would you like to see at this event in order to consider it a success?”
That last question can be a can of worms, because that person may say 200 people want to attend the 70s and over couples midnight skydiving and paintball party when there are only 15 people over the age of 70 at your church, and you know the event organizer is probably the only one wanting to go skydiving and play paintball.
Instead of saying “That’s completely unrealistic” like I would say, (you can say it in your head) you could point out that there are only 15 people that this event could apply to, and ask if you could broaden the range.
Broadening the range may look like “Based on only having 15 people who would fit in your age range, would you consider expanding your age range? Expanding it from 70 and over to 40 and over would give us a better probability of seeing 200 registrations.” or ” Maybe a $200 dinner and dancing package might not be realistic for 60 couples. Would you consider finding a different restaurant to bring the evening down to $100/couple? How many people do you think that could include?”
If the organizer says “No, this is what the event is going to be,” then you need to say “Based on previous events, age demographics at our church, the average age of families in our neighborhood and the cost of the event, 200 registrations isn’t realistic. What do you think is realistic?”
Don’t move forward without that answer
If the event organizer isn’t willing to come to terms here, no amount of marketing/promotion/advertising is going to solve that. Bring in someone to help move the conversation forward, but don’t talk about how / what promotion will take place until that number is clear – It gives everyone involved a goal and target to push for.
It’s also possible that after this discussion, the event organizer realizes that this event is not going to be the success they imagined it may be. It’s helpful to allow the organizer to get to that conclusion, not heavily suggest that the event isn’t going to work. If that suggestion is yours, then the assumption may be that your team has already decided not to put in full effort.
Compare the anticipated registration to your promotional tiers
Here’s a video I created with Kyler Nixon about creating and promoting within even categories at your church. If these categories aren’t yet clear at your church, then create them and get clear. If not, everything becomes “top priority”.
Protip: When you talk about which category this event falls into, mention a few other recognizable and successful events that fell into this category. “The canned food drive was also a tier 2 event, and we had our largest donation amount ever.” or “This is the same tier that the Kids Church team used to recruit 20 new volunteers this past spring.” or “This is the tier we use for our yearly mission trip.”
The event organizer needs to know that the promotion they are receiving is on par with other successful events.
PRO-TIP: Throwing in a few ‘bonus’ promotions outside of the tier – maybe an instagram story, or organizing a facebook event or an extra in-service announcement will help give your discussion strength if you can say you went above and beyond, and the event didn’t take off. This goes against everything you want – I know – but it’s essential in helping the organizer understand if there’s an interest in this event.
Have an After-Action review
Be sure once the event is done that you get together to talk about the event. Did the number of participants match the considered “Success”? Bring a record of how you promised you would promote (based on your tier system) and the dates and times, print material, and announcements you used in your strategy. There’s no need to bring this information out unless your commitment to the promotion is questioned.
Phrase your ideas as questions to the event organizer “Do you think people may not be interested in this topic right now?” would be better than “This doesn’t work and we’re not doing it again.” and follow up with “Is there something else we can try to accomplish this goal next time?”
PRO-TIP: Let’s say the event was a crazy success. You have to be willing to say “wow, that response was great. Let’s do it again next year!”
This process isn’t about you being right, it’s about giving every event the best opportunity to be successful and have honest conversations about the events that were, and be willing to put an end to events that aren’t.
Profit: It’s often a ‘dirty’ word that often comes with the connotation of greed, so it’s not a surprise that the associations of businesses with profit and the associations of profit with greed lead many churches to be resistant to considering using principles proven in business with application in our church – although, it’s a little like saying everyone who wants to make a profit is greedy.
Greedy like that kid who shovels the snow from your driveway in the winter for $5 so she can buy her family Christmas presents or that restaurant owner who attends and tithes at your church who takes their leftovers to the homeless shelter at the end of the day, or the mechanic who is so successful that he employees 5 people in your town who all live well and provide for their families, or Paul who wrote a 1/3 of the New Testament was also a tent maker.
Of course, there are examples on the other end of the spectrum, where greed does drive profit (often accumulated dishonestly), but the interesting thing is that the business principles that work are what drive revenue into the business, it’s the business leadership that creates an economy of generosity or an economy of greed. (reminder: Money is not the root of evil. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.)
Let’s not boil down business to being only about profit. Profit funds a cause. For some, the cause is more profit, while for others the profit is a means to drive a cause. Let’s not be lazy enough to lump it all together as greed.
What brought us to this resistance?
A little bit of church history in North America.
When Canada and US were settled, the church was the center of town. The steeple was often the tallest peak in the town and the “compass” so to speak if you were traveling from one town to another to be sure you’re heading in the right direction. A 50-foot pointed tower from across fields and dirt roads was a great way to know you’re heading the right direction.
Not only in a literal sense, but also in a figurative sense, churches were the compass of the community.
Businesses were closed on Sundays, everyone went to the church in their community and brought food to share for lunch in the basement or on the church lawn, and the best clothing was reserved for Sundays, and in short-hand, referred to as their “Sunday Best.”
The church was often the largest building in town for square footage, so in many cases, town hall meetings, birthday celebrations, weddings, judicial court and community theatre all took place in the church building. For many years, simply turning on the lights in the church was enough to draw a crowd.
Fast forward to today, and the only thing turning on your church lights will draw by default is electricity.
The mindset shift:
This mindset of the church is the center of the community, like many other mindsets, has been passed down through churches from generations, and these generations, while refusing to change their paradigm of “church” have changed their paradigm of nearly everything else.
Businesses are often open Sundays and evenings. Radio, then TV, then Internet became attention seekers in the home on evenings and weekends. The popularity of post-secondary education took more young adults away from small towns for a one-way trip into big cities, and ‘small-town America’ is a different cultural landscape.
Business has gone through a similar shift. Most towns used to have a family bakery, general store, gas station, tailor or seamstress. Now franchises, nation-wide brands, and department stores have made many individual industries obsolete. With online retailers, business has been required to adapt again.
Music (a keystone in culture from the beginning of history) has undergone shifts in the last 100 years from live music only to vinyl recordings on demand, to radio, through various physical mediums, Napster and illegal downloads to singles outselling albums on iTunes.
While it’s true that some businesses didn’t make it through these shifts, it’s also true that some businesses have thrived. What can we learn from both sides?
We have to come to terms with the reality that, for many people, since businesses adapted to the shift, while churches didn’t, the church is no longer the center of community and culture. In many ways, business has taken that place, so we need to take a look at the shifts that successful businesses has made in our community and culture and apply those principles to our church.
What Drives Business?
For years, businesses have been generating brand loyalty (to keep people connected to the brand), brand advocates (empower people who love the brand to encourage others to connect with the brand) and a sustainable economic structure to get their message to more people who then can become participants with the brand.
Or is it less dirty if I switch out “Businesses” with “churches”, ‘brand’ with ‘Jesus’ and remove the ‘marketing jargon.’
Churches work to keep people connected to Jesus, empower people to encourage others to connect with Jesus and use finances to get their message to more people who can connect with Jesus.
At the end of the day, while our end goal may be different (for businesses, it’s serving customers, employees, and investors, while churches it’s the great commission) the principles that are used in business can be helpful for our churches to connect people to Jesus, help them get others connected and spread our message.
Articulating the application of business principles to churches often comes with a high level of resistance, because businesses are often considered to be solely for profit, while churches are not-for-profit organizations.
This comparison is true: Businesses have to be financially profitable – someone gains more finances with higher profits. Churches are not driven to personally enhance someone’s wealth based on higher incomes.
But its possible that two things can be true at once.
Businesses, while must be profitable to survive, can also be driven by serving people; giving them a sense of hope or belonging or purpose. Churches, we hope, can be driven by the same purpose. (but this is probably a great discussion for another blog post…) If we can learn applicable principles from business to help our churches reach our community, let’s do it.
Your Church Needs a Target Audience:
One of the most interesting conversations that successful businesses get right, and stagnant churches ignore is that conversation about target audiences, and the argument is often made that church is for everyone, and everyone is welcome at our church so we’re not going to profile a ‘target audience’.
Spoiler alert: Jesus had a target audience. Your church needs to be clear about yours also.
Let’s be clear: I agree that everyone can benefit from being connected to a church that helps them grow closer to Jesus and build meaningful relationships, but look around. You’re not the only church in town (and in many cases, you’re not the only church on your street).
While the (capital C) Church is to serve everyone, YOUR church has a special part to play, a specific piece in the puzzle, and an audience that you will connect with better than anyone else.
By default, with or without your intentionality, your church has already created a target audience. Don’t love that thought? How many families drive more than an hour to be at your church each week? How many drive more than 30 minutes? The simple fact that you church has a physical location narrows your audience.
If you’re in New York, you wouldn’t buy a billboard in Montana to advertise your service times (even if the Montana billboard is on sale).
Do you have a 9:00am service or a 11am service, or both? Those decisions narrow your target audience. If you’re in New York and have a 10am service on Sundays, then you’re not reaching the nurse in Montana who works the Sunday morning shift every week.
If you church outright opposed to having a target audience, and your mission is to be a church for everyone, then by definition, your mission is impossible.
Do you have loud music, or soft music? Old music, new music or both? Orchestra? Just an organ? Just a guitarist? Do you have child care during service, before service, or not at all? How much parking is around your building? What languages do you use during your services? Apart from Sunday mornings, when else do you have services? Do you broadcast online? Are you within walking distance of people who don’t own a car and use public transit?
Each of these decisions narrows down who you serve and how you serve them.
Jesus had a target audience
Ok, this probably seems to be border lining on heresy for some readers. Jesus, the son of God, the salvation of the world came to reach only certain people? I’ll let the Bible speak for itself. Matthew 15:22
22 And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”
23 But He answered her not a word.
And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”
24 But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Jesus realized that he was called to impact the “House of Israel” – the Jews. He didn’t do this to be exclusionary, but to be intentional. He knew his time was not infinite, but had to be focussed on shifting a particular culture – the Jewish culture.
He didn’t tell this woman she couldn’t sit and listen to his teaching, or that she wasn’t welcome to be part of the crowd following him, or that God wouldn’t accept her and she couldn’t be saved. Simply, He didn’t allow what she wanted to distract Him from His purpose.
But, we get to see Jesus’ compassion take over, and this is an important piece of the conversation for how we’re to impact our community. After a brief conversation… Matthew 15:28
28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
Defining your target audience creates focus, not exclusion
Nike’s target audience is 18-25 year olds, however, I’ve seen lots of people who are not definitely older than 25 wearing Nike’s shoes. Nike doesn’t use their target audience to create exclusion. They don’t check your ID at the shoe store before selling you a pair of Nike shoes, or create commercials that are offensive to people outside of their age demographic, but they DO use their target audience to define how they’ll advertise and the kinds of products they produce.
Nike creates plenty of basketball shoes styles, and very few formal-wear styles.
It’s not wrong to reach outside of our target audience to help someone in need. Jesus proved that in how this interaction played out, and it’s interesting that this interaction started with him framing a decision around who is is called to reach, and the intentional decision to momentarily suspend that direction.
If we’re constantly vying to serve everyone who has any kind of need, we’ll never become focussed enough to play our part in the body of Christ the way we’re assigned. We can’t be the eyes, ears, feet and ear lobes all at once if we’re called to be the mouth piece.
Clarity creates consistency
1st Corinthians 12:15:
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where wouldbe the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where wouldbe the smelling?
18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now indeed thereare many members, yet one body.
Each of our churches has a unique part to play in the Body of Christ – not one more important than another. By trying to reach “everyone always” we foster a culture of murkiness, unclarity and inconsistency.
Comparing ourselves to other church’s accomplishments, strengths and growth not only gives us a sense that we’re not measuring up, but also fails to support those other areas of the body.
Clarifying who we are called to reach helps us create consistency in our interactions. A consistent focus helps us create filters for how we’re going to interact with our community.
Attractional or Missional: 2 ways to identify your target audience.
There are 2 ways to approach your target audience, and both approaches have been demonstrated successfully in many businesses and churches.
Attractional Church: Specific Audience. Flexible Strategy.
Attractional says “We’re here for you specifically, and we’re flexible in how we’ll serve you.” An attractional model is structuring your church to attract a specific audience around a variety of solutions: Specific Audience. Flexible Strategy.
In business, companies like Walmart, McDonalds, Kia or Amazon are consistently listening to the wants of their customers and serving those wants. “We want more varieties of dog food” for instance if you’re McDonalds (ouch… just kidding) but that is a consideration for Walmart or Amazon.
McDonalds may hear feedback like “We want shorter wait times” so they implement a second drive thru lane, self-serve ordering kiosks and drink fountains in the seating area so you can get your own refill.
Deciding your target audience means weighing their wants and needs in every decision.
In the context of your church, this could look like planting a church in low-income area and building your programs and structures around education, financial classes, relationship management and a myriad of other programs that will resonate with the people who can attend your church.
If your church is in the financial district of Manhattan, you may choose to offer and promise 65 minute service so the business people attending your church are clear about what their schedule looks like on a Sunday.
If you’re planting a church in Latin America, it may be an obvious choice to have services in Spanish, but your community may find real value in offering English classes during the week.
In essence, deciding your audience is an attraction approach, and can be summarized with the question “What is our community looking for, and how can we connect them to Jesus in that context?”
How attractional churches can be mislabeled:
Sometimes attractional churches are mislabeled as “watered-down” or “wishy-washy” or not grounded in Biblical truth. If you’re not in the attractional camp, remember that the strategy is flexible for these churches in order to attract a specific audience. That doesn’t make attractional churches right or wrong, but takes us back to each of us being a unique member of the body of Christ.
Often (but not always) attractional churches use Sunday mornings to attract their audience, and mid-week groups or classes or services for discipleship. The Sunday morning experience may not look like “discipleship” in the way other churches see it, but that doesn’t mean discipleship isn’t taking place.
In the analogy of the body of Christ, let’s be thankful that our skin and muscles and internal organs have some flexibility to allow us to move and adapt. This is the attrractional church.
Missional Church: Flexible Audience. Specific Strategy.
Discovering your audience says “We know who we are and what our strategy is, and we’d love if you joined us.”
Companies like Apple, high end hotels or steak houses, and many retail clothing stores fall into this category. They come to market with a specific strategy in the form of a product, service or line of clothing for example, and people who want to engage with them may.
The audience is broad and may change significantly overtime, but there is still a trend or commonality that can be found.
In the McDonalds example above, they flex their strategy to cater to an audience desire for faster service. At a high-end steak house, if you ask for a faster steak, you’ll probably get something to the effect of “This is how we cook our steaks. It takes the time it takes.” with the inference that if you want fast food, there are many other places to find it, but it’s not here.
It may also sound like “Ripped jeans this summer and a line of bright pink accents? That’s not what we’re offering this season, and I’ll be happy to show you what we have instead.”
In the context of churches, missional churches are clear about their strategy in reaching people, and need to be alright that their audience is flexible. Missional churches’ audience will often be multi-ethnical, multi-generational and have just as many people say “This isn’t the church for me” as they have fall in love with their church culture.
How missional churches can be mislabeled:
Missional churches can have enough confidence in who they’re called to be (what their mission is) that they can sometimes seem unwelcoming or arrogant. From the perspective of the attractional church, missional churches can appear as though they are turning people away, not willing to listen to the needs of the community or ‘stuck in their ways.’
In the analogy of the Body of Christ, our rib cage, skull, spine and bone structure are intended not to flex, but to be protective.
Which way do you lean?
There are often elements of both attractional and missional in most churches, but very few churches, if any, are a significant mix of both. You may have an event that’s specifically attractional or a teaching series that leans toward missional, but who you’re called to be usually leans heavily toward one or the other.
If you are finding yourself thinking that your church is and even mix of both, then have the discussion with a team of leaders or a mentor that you trust, and remember that identifying one or the other is not a conversation of right or wrong, but of how God has placed your church in the Body of Christ.
Creating a Target Persona:
Your persona is the “Average Joe” that attends your church and will likely want to attend your church as your advertise to people who don’t participate at your church. It’s an important filter to consider as you structure your communications. Without this piece of the puzzle, you’ll be using a shot gun approach and maybe hitting your target sometimes.
Let’s say for example that your persona is John and Jane (made up names of course – you can be more creative with yours if you’d like).
John and Jane live in the suburbs within 10 miles of your church. One of them owns a business and the other is in management. They take Sundays off of work, and like to have a social evening out to dinner with friends at least one evening a week. They have 2 kids who are in middle school and elementary school, and they give to multiple charities each year.
Being clear on your persona will help you laser focus on how to resonate with that person. Conversations can now look like “Will this resonate with John and Jane?” Here is a broad example of how that can look different for different churches:
In an attractional church: “Will this project, class or series resonate with John and Jane? Will they see value in inviting their friends?”
In a missional church: “How can we communicate this strategy in a way that will resonate with John and Jane? How can we give them the tools they need to resonate with the friends they would like to invite?”
Whether you lean toward missional or attractional, your target persona is an important person in your day-to-day discussions and decision making process, but the make-up of that persona (The way you describe that persona) will have many similarities, but also look different depending on which way you lean.
Attractional Church’s Persona:
What is the geographical region you’re serving?
What are the dominant people group?
What are their pain points?
What are they trying to solve?
What keeps them up worrying at night?
What makes them want to jump out of bed in the morning?
What do their family structures look like?
What culture already exists?
Where do they work?
What does their schedule look like?
Who currently gets their time and attention?
Missional Church’s Persona:
Who are the people groups that are finding and engaging with us?
How do they find us, and what was the tipping point for them to visit the first time?
What are their family structures like?
What culture exists that we may be competing with?
How do they spend their time and attention?
What are their social patterns?
What words / language / verbiage resonates with them
What are the brands that we hear and see resonating with them?
What keeps them awake at night worrying?
An attractional church’s persona will emphasize details like age, geography and people group. A missional church’s personal will emphasize things like time, attention, and values.
Sum it all up:
It’s important to remember that in this conversation, we’re not creating definitive lines – there are variables that exist. We’re not drawing lines of exclusion, but creating focus. A shotgun approach of “everyone, always” doesn’t serve our audience or the Body of Christ. Being clear on who we are and who we’re called to reach gives us the laser focus we need to do our part in introducing people to Jesus.
I like browsing the grocery store to try things I’ve never tried before. I found this fruit called a kiwi berry. It tastes like a kiwi and has the inside texture of a kiwi, but is the size of a grape with slightly tougher skin, but soft enough you can bite though – not as tough as a banana skin.
I’ve described to you a brand new experience that I had – eating a kiwi berry – but described it in the context of patterns I recognize; the taste of a kiwi, the size of a grape, the skin was softer than a banana.
As designers and project managers, we are not just creating designs but creating an experience. With that in mind, remember that our human psychology is built to recognize patterns and make correlations. By the time you reach your adult life, almost everything you experience is filtered through a previous experience.
What does this mean in a design context:
If someone sends you a text message in all caps, it’s a safe assumption that they’re trying to communicate that they’re yelling. (there are exceptions when you mother-in-law has turned on caps and can’t get them the off again – hypothetically speaking…) Bonus points for extra volume if you tag on an exclamation mark also.
I took a picture of a sign that greeted me when I walked in to visit a church. There’s no value to naming the church, but an opportunity for all of us to learn. (for the record, I asked their permission to post this picture)
For context, there is no other signage in the building. This is the only sign I see when walking in, and there are 4 of these lined up between the entrance to the building and the sanctuary.
They are in a metal frame, 3 feet tall x 2 feet wide.
What could this sign choice communicate?
Our priority is avoiding coffee stains on our seats. Kids check-in, guest services, and restroom locations didn’t make the cut when we decided what to communicate with signs, but not spilling coffee did.
WE’RE YELLING: Not only is it important, it also needs to be emphasized. It’s all capitals and ends with an exclamation mark. In most contexts, this is yelling. But Adam, it’s a design style… I get it. Leave out the exclamation mark then and use a softer font than a serif.
We have this rule. For someone who is apprehensive about coming to church because ‘it’s all rules about what you can’t do,’ you’ve started their experience by reinforcing their apprehension – Not “welcome home” or “we’re glad you’re here” or “here’s what we’re about” but just yelling and emphasizing our rule.
As an alternative to this sign, my recommendation to this church is to have a sign in the cafe area that says “Please finish your beverage before going into the sanctuary.” and have an usher or greeter at the door who can ask anyone walking in with food or beverage to finish it before going into service.
This church is also going to replace these signs with wayfinding signage, pointing guests to restrooms, kids check-in, guest services, and their coffee shop.
Ok, I can hear you from the other side of my keyboard. Adam, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.
Remember: You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, and if anything that I’ve said resonates true with a visitor, it’s worth considering.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment so we can all learn together: