3 Ways to Avoid Creating a Purely Downloadable Church Experience

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?

Leave an idea below so we can all learn together!




Visiting Churches

Visiting Lakewood Church, Houston (Pastor Joel Osteen)

One of the most interesting churches that I’ve been looking forward to visiting is Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. (learn about our travel adventure)

Not only is Lakewood the largest physical church building in North America, but also one of the original “mega-churches” (defined as having more than 2000 members in attendance by this definition.)

(We took some photos ourselves while there, but through the article are a few that I requested from the Lakewood team. Thanks guys!)

Often I might think of rapidly growing churches as the newest, trendiest, less than 20 years old, but Lakewood breaks a lot of the moulds – a church started 60 years ago by John Osteen and now passed onto Joel Osteen, his son.

Enough of a history lesson. To say we were overwhelmed by the size would be an understatement, but the building is setup in a way that makes it easy to get where you need to go. The current Lakewood Church building was formerly the Houston Rockets stadium, so you can imagine walking in at ground level, and then the auditorium itself is sunk down to allow for multiple tiers seating 16,000 people.

Let’s be honest. I was also curious about things that I’ve heard about Lakewood church – I wouldn’t say skeptical, but definitely curious.


First-time Guest Experience

Lakewood Church, Houston TexasAs we walked in, signage was clear and easy to follow. We knew exactly where the Kids Classrooms were, and even though the building is REALLY big (like 16000 seats big), the had a single, centralized point to check in our kids that was easy to get to.

Classrooms were divided up into multiple groups of the same ages, so even though there were hundreds (might even guess thousands) of kids that were participating over the 2 morning services, our 3 boys each had a classroom experience with all of the kids in their age group, then went to small groups for the second half of service.

Signage was a big deal – it matters for any church size – but especially when considering the size of the building.

Each door to the sanctuary was labeled with a section number, so finding our way back through the right door was a simple way to get back to the kids classrooms, plus there were guest service volunteers almost everywhere saying hi and helping us find where we’re going.


How Lakewood Church breaks the mega church stereotypes:

Here are a few things that I found counter-culture to what seems like the “norm” in large churches. (and thanks to a tour from my friend, Justin Bracket who oversees their digital communications, I was able to learn more than the average guest.)

  • While many rapidly-growing churches are going to multiple campuses – some with multiple campuses in an area, some spread far and wide, Pastor Joel Osteen isn’t interested in expanding to additional campuses. Lakewood’s growth strategy is based on adding more services at their current location. The weekend we were there, they were expecting between 30,000 to 32,000 people (between 2 morning services, a Spanish afternoon service and an evening service).
  • Joel Osteen, Lakewood ChurchJoel Osteen sat on the front row during service, and during the designated prayer time during service, he was on the floor in front of the stage praying with people who requested it, along with a team of people for each section. This may not seem like a big deal, but we’ve been to churches where the speaker walks out from a green room and leaves back offstage when he’s done speaking to never be seen.
  • After service, Joel Osteen spends time meeting people in a designated spot in the foyer. With the number of people in attendance, this had to be done in an organized way, but with a clearly designated meeting space, he was greeting people and taking selfies with them.
  • Unlike many models of growing churches, that are moving toward a condensed service, the service was almost 2 hours long. Lakewood had extended worship music time, a time when a family shared a testimony, an offering message, designated prayer time during service, a “ted-talk” like devotional, more worship, then Joel Osteen’s full message.
  • Announcements were mentioned through the service at times when the topic was relevant to other things going on – not a video or “announcement time”. During the family’s testimony, they mentioned that the son had recently come back to God and was now leading a small group, so you can also lead a small group by signing up on the app, for example.
  • The Auditorium is referred to on all signs as the “Sanctuary.” I’m not offering an opinion in this blog post, but it’s a more traditional term than would typically be used for a mega church.


In many ways, Lakewood Church breaks to mould for a growing megachurch, and at the same time, many of these “mould breaking” standards are standards that they’ve been using for years. Many of us grew up with a longer service time than is standard now, or referring to the auditorium as a sanctuary or not focussed on planting campuses, so in many ways, Lakewood has found what works for them and stuck with it.

Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas is rapidly growing, but breaking the “mega church” mould with tradition.


Have you visited Lakewood? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.


My Travel Adventure

In June 2018, my family and I moved back to Canada (where my wife and I grew up) from serving at a church for 3 years in Fort Myers, Florida.

We decided that this transition was going to be different than any other we’d made before.

When we started packing for to move back to Canada from Florida, we made our goal to only take with us the essentials – clothes, toys (for our 3 boys), linens and some kitchen items that were less expensive to move than to replace. We moved from Fort Myers, Florida to Woodstock, Ontario, Canada in a 5×8 uHaul.

Within 2 weeks of arriving back in Canada, we bought a used 29 foot travel trailer and started renovating to travel through Canada and US for 12 months. (if you want to follow along on our family’s adventure, here’s the facebook page and our instagram account)

One of our primary goals while traveling is to visit all different churches along the way. This is how we spend most weekends – as first-time guests at a new church. Some of these churches you may have heard of. Others, even we had never heard of, but here’s an ongoing list of the churches we’ve visited, what our experience was like as guests, and what we’ve learned along the way.

Read about our Church Visits.

Free Resources For Churches Tools

FREE Easter Planning Meeting Checklist

Ever get a week out from the big day and get thrown a curveball? This FREE Planning checklist will help to get everyone on the same page with some helpful discussion questions about Promotion, Easter Weekend and Guest Follow Up.

• What are the topic and theme for Easter Weekend?

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Free Resources For Churches

25 FREE Church Communication Resources for 2019

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Make your guests feel known, noticed, loved, and invited back to your church with this 6-week guest follow-up system that includes email, text message, handwritten note and phone script templates!

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If you are serious about reaching more people, then you are going to love Church Marketing University! Get free access to our popular Church Marketing Bootcamp.

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Kenny Jahng & Big Click Syndicate

A How-To guide on utilizing Pokemon Go to attract new visitors to your church location and events.

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There are 5 essential players on your church’s first impressions team. Learn each player’s part and how to find the right personalities to fill those roles.

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ebook: This simple ebook will walk you through step-by-step of inspiring a response from your announcements THIS SUNDAY!

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ebook: 11 Ways to create a first impression that sticks at your church.

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ebook: 9 steps to building a volunteer team that grows itself.

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You probably have a list of websites where you can find a lot but sometimes the photo you need isn’t there. Here is a list of places to get the best FREE photos for your work.

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Ebook from

Overwhelmed in outreach? You’re not alone. Here are 4 Ps for Effective Church Outreach.

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Church Media Drop was created to help churches share what they have created. Together we can resource churches around the world with quality media to share the most important message, the good news of Jesus Christ.

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Church Communications Group

Share expertise, ask questions, and offer ideas about branding, design, social media, communication strategies.

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Church Motion Graphics

Take the guesswork out of choosing fonts for your lyric slides, sermon presentations, and announcements with this free download that makes it easy to look awesome.

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Use these high-resolution photos for free on your website, print material, social media and anywhere.

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Church Stage Designs

This free e-book has five great options for ready-made stages, perfect for when you need something last-minute or don’t have a lot of energy to put into building something yourself.

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Life.Church pre-made resources, trainings, and apps to strengthen your church.

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Be Known For Something

Presence on social media is necessary, but it takes time and often we don’t see results. This planning tool is the solution!

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[Twelve:Thirty] Media

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Salt Conference

Want people to know how to follow you on social media? Need to remind the congregation to silence their phones? Download these 19 PSD editable announcement slides.

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Tom Pounder

Some churches are giving up on Twitter and that’s a mistake. Discover how Twitter can be one of the most effective tools in your communications toolbox.

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Seth Muse

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Stephen Brewster

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Advertising Branding Marketing

How to Kill Bad Church Events Using Great Marketing

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.





Why Churches Resist Business Principles (and why that needs to change)

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.


I wrote this post on One Thing Jesus Knew About Marketing That Churches Resist. It’s a great starting point if your church is ready to connect people with Jesus, empower people to get others connected and spread your message.




One Thing Jesus Knew About Marketing That Churches Resist

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 would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be 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 there are 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.

Advertising Tools

Church Bulletins: Why or Why Not?

Recently, I spoke at a conference where I was asked (ok, I baited the question) about my thoughts on bulletins – to be clear, I would consider a bulletin a printed list of upcoming events or information, not an “order of service” or printed liturgy. (side note: I’d love to speak at your event or with your team. Let’s start the conversation here)

I think in answering the question that we arrived on the thought that bulletins are specific to each church and there are no right or wrong blanket statements for whether it’s best for all churches to have a bulletin or not.

I told the story of how I transitioned the church I served with from having a bulletin to a weekly email newsletter over the course of 6 months, and how I used surveys (both online and in paper) to find out how many people were actually using our bulletin compared to our email newsletter and evaluating those results with the paper, ink, photocopier ‘per piece’ lease cost and labor involved in producing it weekly or monthly.

I had to apologize during that session that I came across with the suggestion that all churches should get rid of their bulletin. I believe that through the conversation, we all understood that bulletins are very effective at serving some churches, and very ineffective at serving other churches.

There were many follow up questions – questions that I believe were genuine – about the purpose that the bulletin serves and how those purposes could be served otherwise, and I confirmed that I don’t hate bulletins.


Bulletins are merely a symptom

What concerns me about the conversation (not at this conference, but the larger conversation that I have with many churches about their communications) is that we are often making communication decisions based on:

  • What we’ve always done
  • What we anecdotally / logically think is best
  • What might upset someone if it changed

… and unfortunately, communication elements (like bulletins, or announcements) are often this untouchable piece of the puzzle based on the “What about”s created by the information above.

We have limited time and resources (for some, that limit is higher than others) so it’s worth finding ways to evaluate if our current strategies are the most effective strategies.


For example:

Make a list of the “What about”s:

Let it all out here. Finish the sentence “If we were to discontinue the bulletin, what about…”

All of the anecdotal concerns, fears, and possibilities, but before you make this list commit not to let the process end here. In the example of a bulletin, here are some great questions that I hear:

  • What about new visitors? How would they know what’s going on since we don’t have their email address yet to send them that information?
  • What about the person who volunteers and proofreads the bulletin each week?
  • What about people don’t find out what’s going on and miss events?
  • What about greeters who lose their ‘comfort blanket’ of having something in their hands to hand out
  • Our email newsletter only gets read by 25% of people. What about the other 75%?
  • (insert other “what about”s here)

Add up the costs:

If your bulletin takes an hour in a staff meeting or an hour worth of back and forth emails to discuss each week, an hour of design time each month to create a format, then an hour of inputting content each week, an hour of proofreading and verifying the content with every department, an hour pounding the photocopier and monitoring it for paper jams, plus the cost of paper, ink, and your “per piece” cost on the lease, then it may be worth the effort to add up all of those details and discover what the actual cost is to produce your bulletin each month.

In our church, the cost was between $400-$500/month


Find out how effective that method is:

Next, you’ll need to find out how effective your bulletin is. Include a survey on the inside of the bulletin asking people to answer a few questions (for instance: How do you first find out about new events at church? Where do you look for more information about events between Monday-Saturday? Help us update our records: What is your first name and your email address?)

Be clear about how to submit that survey (ie. rip of this section and leave it in the offering plate either this week or next week.)

Also, send out an email version of the survey (this is great to learn about all different communication methods and how your church hears about and finds more information.)

In our case, we learned that 2% (8 people out of our 400 survey results) first found out about events in the bulletin. For the second question, we learned that 0.25% of attendees (this was 1 person when we got 400 survey results) used the bulletin to get more information between Monday – Saturday.

(Helpful information that we learned was that our website was the most likely “go to” place for more information from Monday – Saturday)


Make a decision:

With both the costs and the results of your survey, only now can you make a decision about the effectiveness of this communications piece.

In our case, we were spending $400/month to serve 8 people.

If you’re spending $100/month and 85% of your congregation uses the bulletin, then the decision is obvious. Your bulletin is a valuable communications piece.


Solve the “What About”s:

It’s important now to discuss the initial “What about”s.

If you’ve decided that maintaining the bulletin is ineffective, then how can you allocate some of those resources (time and money) to getting new visitors the information they need to get connected at your church (maybe this is still a print piece specifically for guests?) or communicate in other ways so everyone has the opportunity to find out what’s going on.

If you’ve decided that maintaining your bulletin is effective in your communications strategy, then how can you take the “What about”s and use your bulletin to solve those communication opportunities?


To sum it all up:

I don’t hate bulletins. I think some churches are served well by having a bulletin. I do, however, have a concern when we make decisions about our communications strategy on anecdotal concerns, and not based on factual information to discover what best serves our church and community.


Love this post? Hate this post? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts:



Guest Services Visiting Churches

The Key Element For Your Church Guests: Communicate the Obvious

There is a baseline that we all feel we don’t need to communicate: The obvious. The perception is that we need to communicate just what isn’t in the ‘obvious box’, because the rest is, well, obvious.

I was at a friend’s house once where they were pouring drinks for dinner. I was offered the milk and poured my drink first; A full glass. My friends’ brother looked at me like something was REALLY wrong. In their house, they only ever poured half a glass of milk, that way, if they spilled, they only lost half of a glass. To them, this was obvious (and it’s pretty decent logic) but for me, not obvious.

The challenge comes when we convince ourselves about what is within the obvious box, and the danger with the ‘obvious box’ is that over time, it keeps growing. As we get used to the systems and processes at our church, they become more ‘obvious’ to us, but that doesn’t make them more obvious to our guests.

Consider these ideas about church. As someone who grew up in church, they seem obvious to me, but take a moment and view them from the eyes of someone who has never been to church in their life, and walks through your front doors this weekend.

  • We offer childcare during service.
  • Children have a check-in process.
  • We stand up when the music starts playing.
  • We sing out loud as a group in public.
  • We talk (or shout) back when a presentation is being made.
  • There is a time during the week that our teenagers get together.
  • We do this every Sunday, with the intention that everyone returns every Sunday.
  • I need to fill out a ‘connect card’, and stop by a booth to pick up a gift
  • I didn’t realize that I needed to fill out a card when it was my first time last week. Now it’s my second time, so I missed my chance to get that gift?
  • When they’re talking about money and passing around a bucket.
  • Is that coffee free?
  • Which way do I go when I walk in?
  • I want to learn more about Jesus, so I have to go buy a bible?


Recently, we visited Bay Area Community Church in Annapolis, and they gave us a magnet to take home after we checked our kids in (5 x 7 in size). Here’s a picture of the magnet:


This magnet gives us a clear understanding of our family’s faith journey could look like from now until the time our kids graduate college – It may seem obvious that at a certain age, we have a “Parent Dedication” or “Baby Dedication”, or that our kids will participate in a 4th and 5th grade retreat at that age, but this ‘map’ makes it that obvious that there is a clear plan and path for my kids to move from their current stages with intentional transitions to the next stages.

A few things I love about this idea that drives home Bay Area’s commitment to help my family’s faith journey:

  • There are clear stages that both parents and kids can understand and follow along with
  • There are resources provided along the way for parents to learn and grow
  • There are tokens that the kids can have a hands-on experience as part of their journey
  • There is a high frequency of “next steps”, not large gaps where families could fall through the cracks
  • It’s clear when the transition happens from “kids” to “youth” (that arrow that says BASM – Bay Area Student Ministries)


What may seem obvious to you, is an important starting point for communicating to your first-time guests. Don’t take anything for granted or make any assumptions about what they know and how they’re expected to respond.