Here are some smart, practical things you can do to connect with more people in your community and give them a chance to get to know you.
#1: Narrow Your Focus
The first question to ask yourself is, “Who do we want to reach?” Now, I know the temptation here is to say, “Everyone! We want to reach everyone!” And I agree – your heart’s desire should be to reach everyone. But, generally speaking, one church cannot serve everyone. Even though you’ll welcome anyone who walks through your doors with open arms, in order to remain strategic it is important to identify the specific people you are most capable of reaching, or those you feel called to reach.
Who is your primary target? You may say “unchurched people.” That’s great, but who specifically are they? Are they young, blue-collar families who live close to your church building? Are they older retirees? Are they immigrants living in an adjacent neighborhood? Are they college students from the nearby university? Take some time and think about the people you want to reach, and prioritize the groups on which you want to focus.
#2: Know Your Audience
How well do you know the people you want to reach? Get inside their heads, walk in their shoes, and think about things from their perspective. What is life like for them? What do they worry about every day? What struggles do they face? What is their religious/spiritual background? What are their goals and aspirations? Where do they go for help?
Seven weeks ago, City Community Church launched as a church plant in downtown Indianapolis. They knew who they wanted to target: 18-35-year-old urbanites living and working downtown, a group that is off of most churches’ radar. They spent months prior to the launch getting to know this group of people, learning to speak their language and connecting with them online using Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The result was an overwhelmingly successful launch of 300+ people, with consistent attendance and growth since then.
#3: Know Yourself
What is the unique promise that your church offers people? This is the million-dollar question. If you can answer this clearly and concisely, and in a way that is meaningful to the people in your community, you are ahead of 95% of churches. What I’m really talking about here is identifying the “special sauce” that your makes your church compelling to people.
Discovering and articulating this for your church takes some work. Start by identifying the features of your church – objective things like size, location, types of programs offered, worship style, service length, types of topics covered, strengths (what do you do really well?) and typical member characteristics. Next, identify which of these features are unique to your church. Narrow your list down to the top three or four unique features that you think make your church distinct and compelling to people.
Now translate those unique features into benefits. Benefits are similar to features, but the difference is that they speak directly to how people’s needs are met. For example, if one of the needs you identified in your community was that “parents are worried that their teenagers will get involved in the wrong crowd,” and one of your church’s unique features was “a strong, active youth ministry,” a benefit might be that your church “supports parents by offering their teens a fun, worry-free environment and opportunities for positive friendships.” You should come up with three or four unique benefits of your church – each an authentic representation of your church’s DNA, and each meeting a real felt-need of the people you want to reach.
Once you do this, simplify these primary benefits into a single concept – the unique promise your church offers. When you boil it all down, what makes your church distinct and compelling? What is the singular idea that makes your church meaningful to people? This is what we call your “brand promise” – a clear, concise concept that makes you distinct from any other church or institution in your city. It must be authentic to your true character and values. And it must be meaningful to the people you want to reach. You should simplify this promise to a short phrase that you and your team can remember.
This is what International Family Church has done. Located just outside of Boston, IFC is composed of people from over 40 different countries. They identified themselves as a multi-cultural, multi-generational church that enables people to impact the world. Reinforcing this concept through various media and communications has resulted in a big boost in their people’s personal ownership in the church vision and an enhanced sense of community.
#4: Get Real
There are two ideals I continually emphasize with churches I work with – authenticity and consistency:
- Authenticity – What you communicate to people about your church must authentically represent who you are and what you’re about. If you promise or imply that your church is one thing, but the actual experience is something different, you will actually antagonize people – and they will gladly tell their friends and family that you’re not who you say you are.
- Consistency – Once you have clarified who you are as a church, you need to take a closer look at all your “touchpoints” and see how you’re doing. How well do your logo, tagline, images, designs and messages communicate your brand promise? And how consistently do you communicate at every point people touch your church? This includes your website, advertisements, signage, parking lot attendants, greeters, lobby design, children’s classrooms, bulletins, video projection – the list goes on an on. And of course, what is communicated from the platform is critical too!
#5: Get Some Ink
One of the best ways to let people know what your church is all about is for them to see stories about you in the local news media. Develop relationships with local newspaper, magazine, TV and radio people, and give them what they are looking for – great stories. Look for stories about people in your congregation, things that are happening at the church, special events and anything else you can think of. Keep a steady stream of press releases coming across their desks, each of which should reinforce the unique benefits your church offers.
This strategy has paid off for Harvest Church in Byram, Mississippi. The state’s largest newspaper recently featured the church because of a sermon series they were doing called “How To Be Rich.” They developed a good relationship with the reporter, who just contacted them again last week for an interview about how churches are using social media. This kind of publicity is much more effective than advertising – and it’s free!
#6: Cut Up Your Content
If you’re like most churches these days, you are probably streaming podcasts of your sermons. That’s great, but who is really listening to them? Most likely it is people who are already in your congregation, and they listen because they missed church last week. A podcast is not the most effective tool for helping people get to know your church, simply because a 45-minute sermon is just too much for them to fit in to their busy day.
One of the best ways to make your website content more effective is to chop it up into bite-sized pieces. If you create a special two-minute video for the service, post the video on your website also. If someone tells a compelling story on Sunday morning, capture it on video and post it on your website. If something funny happens, capture it on video and post in on your website. You get the picture. People are much more likely to watch these short snippets than they are to listen to or watch an entire service. And these can be great tools for people to quickly get to know your church better.
Tony Morgan, a pastor at multi-site NewSpring Church in South Carolina, does this with great effectiveness. By posting short videos and his favorite quotes from senior pastor Perry Noble (which he calls “Perryisms”), readers of his blog get a real taste of the church’s culture and personality. Take, for example, last week’s video of the worship band, where the church daringly uses opening Easter service with their rendition of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. Definitely a great way for people to experience the unique style of NewSpring!
#7: Empower Your People
In point #4 above, I listed a multitude of different touchpoints of which you should take account, but I didn’t mention the most important one – your people! Those same people who sit in the padded chairs every Sunday are the most prolific representation of your church to your community and the world. Not only are they physically in contact with their family, neighbors, co-workers and others all week long, but most people now reach hundreds or thousands more virtually – through their blog, discussion boards and activity on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, StumbleUpon and others. People’s circles of influence are now exponentially greater than they were just a few years ago. So the big question is: How are they representing your church?
Obviously you can’t control what your people say and do, but you can influence it. Start by giving them the words to say. When the subject of church comes up while having coffee with friends, hopefully your members are able to clearly and concisely articulate what makes your church unique and compelling. If you are consistently expressing your brand promise from the platform and all your other communications, the odds of them getting it right improve dramatically.
Also, the snippets of content you post on your website are great tools to turn your people into activists for your church. Let them know a video of that moving story from Sunday morning is posted online. Many people will tell their universe of Twitter followers and Facebook friends all about it and send them a link to check it out. If the content is compelling enough, you could easily see hundreds or thousands of new people introduced to your church and beginning a potentially fruitful relationship.
#8: Join The Movement
If you haven’t already joined the hundreds of millions of people who are expressing themselves online, it’s never been easier. A few months ago, Pastor Rick White of The People’s Church in Franklin, Tennessee got a standing ovation from the entire youth group, who always sit together in the front of the church, when he announced he was starting a blog. People are hungry to hear from their leaders. But if a blog seems like too much work, start with a tool like Twitter, a micro-blog tool that limits you to only 140 characters per post.
You Can Do This
Remember, people need to trust you before they join you. And they need to know you before they trust you. And you won’t get far at all if they don’t like you to begin with. Follow these steps, be authentic and be consistent, and make your church worthy of a second date!