Preaching Articles

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!

Rod Arnold is passionate about empowering leaders and organizations to think smarter about strategy, branding and marketing. For more than 15 years, Rod has worked with businesses, non-profit organizations, and churches as a branding and marketing leader and strategist. He's the founder of BrandSmart Marketing and has been responsible for marketing and building such brands as Hillsong United, Integrity Live, Acquire the Fire, BattleCry, Dare2Share, Group and others. He also wrote What Smart Churches Know: How Branding and Marketing Know-How Can Revolutionize Your Church.You can learn more from Rod at his blog at

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John D Jones

commented on Jul 16, 2011

Some very good ideas. However, I disagree with using AC/DC or music inspired by them in a church service. I might be old fashioned but what is the purpose of that? Are we entertainers, are we trying to appeal to the flesh or are we truly trying to glorify the Lord? I struggle to understand why some churches and Christians want to be so much like the world and call it radical. We may be in the world but we are certainly not of why imitate it?

Colin Bain

commented on Jul 16, 2011

Good basic strategy. As regards the AC/DC clip, it depends. If you are aiming at the unsaved and the leadership and congregation are in that mode, then its a good bridge. Wouldn't work in my church at the moment. I have recently become more focussed at the start of my srmons to use what is going on in the world to bridge to the message. The world isn't that God glorifying for the most part either, but I start where my people are. I think it will be different for each church.

Chad Eddy

commented on Jul 16, 2011

I think that we are entertainers, in that we are attempting to get a message across to an audience. If we don't entertain, the message doesn't connect. Some entertain with winsome humour, some with loud shouting, some with great stories, some with a good blend of strategies. But it's not accurate to say that we're not to entertain. Look at how entertaining Jesus was! Now, the use of popular entertainment is another question. Would I use "Highway to Hell"? I might. I've used REM's "Losing My Religion" and I plan to use Depeche Mode's "Your Own Personal Jesus" (you can see the generation I'm speaking to!). The issue isn't cut and dried. It's not about AC/DC or Michael W Smith. It's what will help the message connect with the audience. The message stays the same. The audience changes. So we must convey an unchanging message to an ever-changing audience, which means that we need to cut up some of the old sacred cows (such as using no secular music or media) in order to convey the Truth to a new generation.

Todd Baker

commented on Jul 16, 2011

I agree it is wise to know our audience and their needs and to be sure we communicate in a way that is clearly and accurately understood, but we violate the trust God has given us as Pastors when all we do is give them what they want. We need to be authentic - authentically biblical. Our mission is to be the mission God has given us and our means are to be the means that He has ordained. Yes, wisely use the tools and language of our culture as we can without compromising who we are in Christ, but stop trying to be like the world. Success is being what God wants us to be. I recommend the book "Spiritual Leadership" by Blackaby and Blackaby. It reminds us to follow God's agenda as a church leader, not our own.

Rev Becky Troke

commented on Jul 18, 2011

I expect for once the artical writer is seeing things from the young peoples point of view on this matter. you will never get young people to going to a church with outdated idears, I am not a young person, i am however a worship leader and have always proved that music over and over again is an usable avnew for young people and families to get an interest in God, and when you come down to it its not our traditions we r giving glory to its God. So within reason, i feel modern music is brillient, and i enjoy every Sunday dymantic music followed by a relevent Message .

Barb. Gerhard

commented on Jul 18, 2011

I am living in Chilliwack BC and a member of the Rosedale Church of God and we have an out reach to a recovery house in Rosedale and we don't have to play music to the tune of the world in order to attract people from the community, we worship in the middle school gym and people are coming in from the community, because of our initial outreach to the recovery house as many are family and friends of the recovering drug addicts from that facilitywe also are very accepting of these people they had problems being accepted in other churchs in this valley, in some cases they were vertually treated like lepers no one would sit near them or speak to them, where was the faith , also we dress more casualy basicaly everyone comes to service the way they are mose comfortable, it sometimes is intimidating for a new person when they walk into a church and find everyone in$300. suits and fancy dresses and gold jewelery, they will usually turn around and walk back out again. we are a family and have learned to be real in our faith we are non judgemental and so a new christian can be free to give they're testimony no matter what they're past has been the new is come the old is nonexistant. that is so important for, because all of the men from the recovery house have a history of being in jail, thats how they came to be in the progam some were on the streets, we simply show christian love and acceptance we don't need a facy program or monthly outreach progects, people are not progects, we don't get new converts by playing gospel music to the tune of ac dc. God bless you all and be real as christians and people will come, be accepting, be open, Jesus was.

Michael Dios

commented on Jul 20, 2011

I would disagree with Chad. We are called to minister the gospel of Christ, not to entertain. I'm not opposed to changing methods with the times, but there is no way I can compete with the world in the area of entertainment. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:4 - "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power." We cannot forget that there is power in the Word of God. It is relevant for every generation. It is the Holy Spirit that plants the word in people's hearts and produces life change, not my clever ideas.

Miguel Pinell

commented on Jul 21, 2011

Good, thank you for sharing... keep sharing (not so much preaching) Christ. Keep up the good work and may God bless you.

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