Three Best Practices for Building People who Invite People

At my church, communication and marketing is all about equipping people to represent the church in the community. This, and not advertising, is my best strategy to invite people and grow a church. It’s built in relationship, based in community, fits with the gospel and fits with best communication practices today.

WHAT IS YOUR CHURCH MARKETING STRATEGY?

A church member recently asked me about putting an ad on a billboard. It got me to thinking – what do I like and not like about this idea? This led to some clarification about our brand – what matters to us as a church, or as I have called it, what makes us burn. (If you’re trying to figure out your church’s brand, look here for a set of tips to help you explore.)

After 18 months of learning the community of St. Andrew, I realized that we have two brand distinctives as a church:

1. A STRONG COMMITMENT TO AND COMMUNITY OF RELATIONSHIPS

In most churches, a strong sense of relationship means a small community. While many large churches are perceived as being impersonal, St. Andrew senior pastor Robert Hasley’s long commitment to the people of St. Andrew has created as strong an association with relationships as you’ll find in any large church.

2. AN EXCELLENT OFFERING OF WEEKLY WORSHIP

At the same time, you’d be hard pressed to find a large congregation in north Texas that offers such high quality worship in both traditional and contemporary settings. While traditional worship at St. Andrew is long established, contemporary worship has caught the attention of many, as evidenced by its strong growth trajectory (our contemporary worship has averaged over 10% growth for two years straight, which puts it among the top churches in America.)

I like to talk about these two brand distinctives in a single phrase: Side by Side. In relationships with one another, we are one church, standing side by side, changing the world through the work of the Holy Spirit. In our matching, high quality traditional and contemporary worship styles, we stand side by side, offering a dual experience that is unique among regional churches.

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION IS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

While most marketing tries to build community, or “establish markets,” good churches already have a true community. Good communication in a local church builds on relationships.

According to Dallas-based large church research firm Leadership Network, 90% of church growth happens on the arm of a trusted friend. We have been seeing this in action at St.Andrew, where we are growing through organic spread of effective, word of mouth marketing from friend to friend and family to family.

That means the primary goal of church marketing isn’t to generate new “leads” but to galvanize and inspire the people who call St. Andrew home to invite their friends and neighbors. Churches that look to marketing to generate leads are usually not healthy, vibrant and growing.

Church marketing doesn’t drive relationships. Church marketing supports relationships.

THE HIGH BAR OF COLD CHURCH MARKETING.

The reason is that the bar for cold visits is simply too high in church now.

Consider: your brand has to be so comfortable with a prospective newcomer that they would feel no qualms about making the choice to visit. That means they must be comfortable with:

  • the people who attend – do they look like people I’d like?
  • the facility – does it look current or creepy?
  • the brand – does the church seem friendly?
  • the website – can I figure out what’s going on?
  • the campus signage – can I figure out where to go?
  • the communication within the church – what happens if I visit?

Once inside, the first word out of a greeter’s mouth may make or break it. Even if the visitor clears bars 1 – 5, often something happens in the lobby (narthex) or in the worship service that turns the visitor off, and they don’t return.

Instead, most people come and stay because of the second way – the invitation of the friend. Friends help newcomers contextualize, understand and minimize their fears.

Church marketing is about the power of personal recommendation.

INSTEAD, HELP YOUR PEOPLE INVITE PEOPLE.

Good church marketing helps to overcome the awkwardness a church community feels about discussing matters of religion and faith with those outside the walls of their church. It gives people specific handles to start and continue conversations.

As the life of faith is built on relationships, good church marketing serves as a form of strategic caring by facilitating new relationships and deepening existing ones. This is how church growth really works.

The world of business is gradually coming to the same realization. To quote marketer Seth Godin, we no longer live in an interruption economy but a permission economy. Effective communication today engages audiences, builds trust, and earns permission, rather than getting attention by sticking a foot in the door and yelling.

The beauty of St. Andrew is that we are already a church built on the power of personal recommendation. We are a church of relationships. We trust the word of a friend. Because of this, our primary goal isn’t to grab people cold, but to support and extend existing networks and organic opportunities. Our primary goal is to elevate the St. Andrew brand through the power of relationships.

3 MEASURES FOR HELPING YOUR PEOPLE INVITE PEOPLE.

In order for your people to feel comfortable inviting others, you need to make sure you’re delivering on a few basics. Rather than putting all of your attention into advertising, which is mostly a poor use of your resources, I’d suggest these three things:

1. DELIVER ON AN EXPERIENCE PROMISE.

If every fourth worship service is a clunker, with bad music or failing technology or a meandering message, your people won’t have trust that next week will be meaningful. Create a consistent excellent experience each week, so that your people feel comfortable inviting their friends.

2. DELIVER ON THE HOSPITALITY PROMISE.

Overcome the awkwardness people naturally feel when walking into a new church. Create a world-class hospitality environment, where people feel welcomed and that the church is a good “fit” for them.

3. EQUIP YOUR PEOPLE TO INVITE.

Don’t just expect people to do the work of inviting on their own. Give them resources and handles to help facilitate easy conversations. Help your people tell the story of your church community and create new and additional opportunities for invitation and hospitality.

We occasionally advertise, and we also do publicity work. But the measure of success of good marketing in your community isn’t by the cold calculus of leads but by the warmth and excitement your own people feel about your church. It is about their eagerness – not just willingness, but excitement – about sharing the power of their church experience with their co-workers, friends and family.

What efforts would you like to see your church implement to become better at inviting people?

Read more from Len.


 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Len Wilson

Len Wilson

Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).

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A Church Communications Self-Assessment

What does your current church creative arts and communications ministry look like? To improve your situation, discover what’s going on.

By communications and creative arts, I am talking about your church’s efforts to communicate the gospel with clarity and beauty. This includes your worship and sermon series planning and development, your videos, your print material, your website, your social media – anything outside of the human voice that you use to share the story of Jesus.

In my conversations with church creatives, I find frustrated people, demoralized at a lack of appreciation for their work. But pastors are equally as frustrated. Dysfunction in the creative process is a top five complaint I hear from both church leaders and creatives. As one pastor wrote me, “My top priority right now is getting the right people in the room, with enough content and enough time to dream and accomplish the creative vision.”

MEDIOCRE OR POOR CHURCH CREATIVE ARTS AND COMMUNICATIONS IS A COMPLEX PROBLEM.

Some of the problem is tactical, like where or when to meet and who should be in the room. These decisions are important, but I think there’s something even more important. Creating an environment where creativity flourishes and creative people want to be requires more than just changing a few methods such as the day you meet or who’s in the room.

Some of the problem is strategic, like how far ahead to meet and what sorts of questions to ask in the planning process. But having a plan isn’t sufficient, either.

Some of the problem is systemic, such as the continued influence of models of knowing and being based on print culture, which has several qualities that are antithetical to creativity.

TO UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM, TAKE THIS SELF-ASSESSMENT.

The first step to fixing your church creative arts and communications ministry is to understand what’s going on.

Take this brief survey to self-evaluate your situation.

Now, add up your total score. Give Big Problems you are having a “5”- Applies all of the time; for things that are Not an Issue give a “1” – Does not apply at all.

So the best you can get is a score of 8, and the worst is a score of 40. Are you over 15? 20? If so, you have some issues to resolve.

The answer to these problems is what would lead you to what I am calling a “church like Pixar” – a church whose creative and storytelling prowess made them appealing to people of all ages.

Read more from Len.


Connect with an Auxano Navigator to learn more about developing a vision-soaked communication culture at your church.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Len Wilson

Len Wilson

Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).

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To Grow Disciples, Start by Rethinking Your Church Communication

Are you familiar with the well-known website, church marketing sucks? Or, if you’re put off, perhaps church marketing stinks? I’ve always loved the blunt challenge the domain presents against the dominant framework most local congregations bring to the idea of church communication. Like the site’s owners, I am against misunderstanding church communication as a mere tool to share information. I am very much for using church communication to strategically shape a church’s story and create a covenantal community.

Unfortunately, most churches define the role of communication as the tactical execution of messages designed by other church leaders. It is a support position, like clip art on a desktop publishing PC. A popular post defines it well, here.

There’s a reason for this poor understanding of church communication, and it is killing efforts to grow churches and make disciples of Jesus Christ.

20th century advertising was defined by “features and benefits,” or information about the attributes of a product. Features provided the point of view of the producer – what the product offers. Benefits provide the point of view of the customer – how the product helps their life. Both angles assume the person on the other end of the transaction is a consumer. This is precisely the problem with most communication in churches – it adopts a strategic assumption that is consumer-driven and transactional. It treats the “seeker”, or the person coming to church, as a consumer, to receive spiritual goods and services, and it makes the relationship transactional in nature, when biblically speaking it should be covenantal.

Now, I don’t think this is all the church’s fault. It is the default mode of our society, and the person coming to church will, without thinking, approach their spiritual life in the same way they approach everything else. We have to teach people what it means to be covenantal rather than transactional.

The newer advertising philosophy, which I have advocated in my ministry, is experiential. Rather than thinking about a product’s features and benefits, it attempts to create an environment for finding meaning. Most major campaigns now do this. Advertisers are exploring how to create what is essentially a more covenantal approach to their craft – they desire to create brand promises with their customers and forge long-term relationships. Of course their goal is still to sell products, but we can learn from this. Many church leaders still operate, I think by default, in a features and benefits mentality.

This gets at the heart of the dichotomy between “attractional” and “missional,” as I discussed earlier. The debate on whether a church should be “missional” or “attractional” is a false dichotomy. It is both/and, not either/or. As friend Mike Slaughter says, “The gospel is offensive. We’re just making sure you know you’ve been offended.”

Obviously, clear communication is vitally important. How a church presents its identity both in its core story and in its ongoing daily messages determines what audience it engages. A church that finds its core story in relating to people “burnt by church” is going to present itself, or tell its story, differently than a church of people who have found great personal benefit in the combination of church and society (like many of the churches in Dallas I used to work with). This also means you must know your audience, which is a future topic for this blog.

In the meantime, if you want to grow disciples in your church, re-thinking church communication is a great place to start.

Read more from Len here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Len Wilson

Len Wilson

Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).

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COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> It is a good idea to to know how christians should be good leaders. Thanks
 
— Okello.moses
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I ask: “How long have you been coming here?” It’s works in every situation.
 
— Russell C
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Excellent information, thank You
 
— Thomas TC Gotcher
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.