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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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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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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