- Praise God
- Please be praying...
- What Every Church Needs to Know about Marketing: Final Thoughts: If you don't pass the people test, nothing else matters
- What Every Church Needs to Know about Marketing: Part 3: Marketing is about People
- What Every Church Needs To Know about Marketing: Part 2: Marketing is Everything
- Getting Your Current Members to Invite Friends
- Through the eyes of a visitor
- Encouraging progress
- Please be praying
- Bootstrap Faith
- Know Our Hearts?
- Seldom Read But Always Evaluated
- Creating an Experience
- The Bond Between Music and Design
- The Church Exposed
- The Value Principle
- The Nike Effect: Part II
- The Nike Effect: Part I
- Starting New This New Year
- Christmas Revelation from Charlie Brown
- The Video: Speaking Starbucksian
- And The Winners Are...
- The Video: A Treasure Hunt
- The Video: We're Not Like That Church Down The Street
- The Video: Signs of Neediness
- The Video: Death to Papyrus and Comic Sans!
- The Video: Inconsistent Artwork
- A Thanksgiving Thought
- The Video: The Culture Crime
- The Video: Reserved for Barista
- The Video: Real Men Love Java
- The Video: Marketing is more than you realize
- The Video: The purpose of the video.
- What If Starbucks Marketed Like the Church? A Parable.
- re-Branding on Momentum
I am so honored and thankful to have been able to sit down a few weeks ago and chat with Chris Yaw of ChurchNext.tv. Anytime I'm able to share my passion for church marketing and healthy church growth with others is a gift! Check out the video link below for a whole host of insightful questions and honest answers about church marketing, when and when not to promote your church, and the keys to really growing a healthy, thriving church body. Enjoy!
I run across churches all the time that are struggling to break out of their old mold. They see flagship churches execute services flawlessly with tremendous attention paid to the details in areas such as lighting, sound, service flow, building cleanliness and guest services. They see this and think, "We are going to have to do things differently." They are no longer satisfied with how their teams execute church compared to the "model" church they have just experienced (I'll call it WillowBack). They have been enlightened and things are going to change...
This enlightenment is often followed by a knee-jerk get-together with their lead team to talk about what they saw at WillowBack and show them how serious we are about immediate improvement and the unwillingness we should all have to tolerate anything less than this perfection. Team leaders pound the table with passion and commonly say something like, "We just need to get rid of that person who does the PowerPoint. I told him to do it this way and he didn't do it." In their newfound pursuit of improvement, they become ready to eliminate anyone who does not deliver flawlessly. What is driving this leader is a picture in the leader's head of perfection and he is frustrated by those around him who cannot or will not deliver on what he sees. The once happy-go-lucky minister has become a heavy-handed enforcer in the pursuit of flawless execution (which he calls "doing things with excellence"). Does this at all sound familiar to anyone?
Here's the deal... You do not become WillowBack overnight, and the way you learn to execute well is not by creating a culture of tyranny. The secret is standards. Standards are the greatest tool for training your team and they are, for the most part, missing in the church today. Why? I think we feel so grateful for Bob (the guy who volunteers to do the PowerPoint), that on his first day, we do our best to make sure we do not upset him. After all, what if he stops coming? Then what are we going to do? No, what we will do is give him the least amount of information about his duty we can (as we do not have time to really train him) and then we will put up with him not doing it perfectly since he is so faithful (of course he has no real idea what perfection to us is), until one day we get fed up and fire him from his post and crush his spirit by telling how he "never" does it right, when we never trained him what right is.
There's an old adage: Set your expectations, then inspect what you expect. This is about training and managing based on standards. Tell the PowerPoint guy, "Thank you for volunteering, you have joined a team that has very high standards and it's an honor to be on this team. I am in charge of training you and what we will go over are the standards for this position; I will cover not just how to do your job, but why to do it that way. I will give you a vision for what it looks like when you do it perfectly, and we will make that vision into a standard. I want you to be an ace and will meet with you every week for the next month then every month going forward to discuss how well you are meeting the standards. I'm expecting great things from you."
Then, when you meet to give feedback, you are able to collaborate with Bob on how to improve things as he has bought in as an investor in the process of rising to the standard. This is a picture of what managing by standards looks like. Standards are not rules. Rules are what you must do. They are driven by consequences. Standards are what you could do. They are driven by vision. The main difference is the culture that is created. Rules create an atmosphere of fear and trepidation. Standards create an atmosphere of ownership and healthy pride in doing things well.
So here's the deal, you don't do it as well WillowBack. So what are you going to do about it? You have a choice. You can build your change around rules or you can become a better leader and train people to uphold and raise standards with vision. Standards will require more forethought from you as a leader. It will require that you create a visionary job description and give positive and corrective feedback on a regular basis. It will cause you to dedicate more to training than you ever thought you would. It is a lot of work. But, it's up to you.
In the end, would you rather be a part of a church that is known for its rules... or its standards?
As church leaders, we are not necessarily taught to study and understand the variances between different people, different cultures and different mindsets. Perhaps it is seminary oversight, but I am amazed at how this inherent part of Paul’s ministry is not pounded into us. Not only was he able to “become as a Jew to win a Jew”, his letters to the Galatians showed us he had a handle on their struggles, lifestyle bents and mindsets—yet, they were clearly different than what he was able to see in Corinth or Ephesus. Paul was able to distinguish lifestyle patterns in people that they did not see in themselves. This is a developable gift that made Paul much more than a preacher—he was a reacher. He reached people below the surface, right where they lived. And as a result of his tremendous passion and traveling exposure, he was able to understand the variances between people types and use it to help them see Christ.
There is a life being lived by church-goers and outsiders alike that is often below the surface to us as leaders. This is not about token “church relevance” where we feel hip by naming a sermon series after the latest movie. This is about understanding what makes different people tick. Even more, as the average church leader is more strapped with preparing messages, holding onto people through life’s struggles, and keeping the ship afloat, the ability to devote time to truly understanding who is and who is not in our churches is lost. This cycle of struggle eats away at one of our strongest assets in understanding people—exposure. Like Paul, when your exposure to different patterns increases, you are able to see more clearly what you yourself are dealing with. And be assured, every church has definable patterns of culture affecting its health and growth whether they recognize it or not.
Know your strengths: Whom do you reach naturally?
Part of the challenge is that we rarely understand our congregants in their day-to-day context. We do not know them as “socially passive”, “upper-middle-class”, “distinctively un-pretentious”, “good-ol-boys” or as “yuppies”. We know that Bob (an arbitrary member) is a kind and supportive, outgoing volunteer at church—but we do not know that he is really an introvert and challenged to feel confident in social settings in his day-to-day life. Does this matter? You betcha! It explains why Bob, while being such a great helper and worker, has never invited anyone from work to church—ever. And if you have a church full of Bobs, you will probably never lack for volunteers, but you will also never see substantial growth. Bobs are reliable; they just are not necessarily influential outside of church.
Do you reach Bobs? Why do they feel most comfortable at your church? Not sure whom you reach? Maybe to understand the types of people you have in your church, you should start by looking into your surrounding community and defining who is not coming to your church. What are they like? When you think of the big church down the road, what kind of people go there? How are they different? Now, look at the people in your church. What are some of their common attributes—socially, economically, in their personality and predisposition—what about their age? Industry? Heritage? Knowing whom you resonate with is a key to understanding your strengths and weaknesses.
Even more, a high concentration of Bobs might make it hard for non-Bobs to feel comfortable. This might have nothing to do with the minister, it might be that you have a Bob-driven culture—a church where Bobs feel comfortable and flock together, and that those with a different social disposition never really feel at home.
Know your calling: Whom do you long to reach?
You can always be stretching to reach more kinds of people, but you must be truly honest about whom you are good at reaching (of note: “good at” might be an insight into your calling—it might also be an insight into whom we have gotten “comfortable with”). Knowing who you are good at reaching is not enough. Paul was a mega-Jew—certainly good at reaching them, but deep down he considered himself an apostle called unto the Gentiles.
God is trying to put people on your heart. If you can find an intersection between your strengths (whom you reach naturally) and your calling (those your heart draws you towards), you have a sense of your target. If you decide that you are not willing to consider the target question, what remains is to water down your pursuit of all with those whom you have little ability and little heart to reach. Doesn’t sound very productive, does it? This is why the targeting question is so important—it causes us to analyze who we are and build to our strengths and calling. Following God’s unique calling for your church might ultimately require that you accept that God can use other churches to help reach those you might not be able to.
Knowing your target strengthens your resolve and clarifies your methods.
We are fishers of men. Like good fishermen, we must start by understanding the type of fish we are going after. Then we determine if you need a net, a rubber worm or a fly lure. The target is found from being open to understand people and hear God’s voice. He is crying out for all of them. He has equipped you for reaching certain ones with a unique gifting. Who are they? Is your church equipped to serve them? The method (how you actually “do church”) follows the target. Get this. This is the most important thing. The method follows the target. What color should the carpet be? How long should we worship? What should we preach on? What should the logo look like? It all becomes easier. Who you are trying to reach? Once you know who you are pursuing, how to pursue them becomes much more clear.
Taken from an article I wrote for Ministry Today, July 2008.
Target Marketing: Finding Your Focus
As a church, whom are you called to reach? …to be?
Once you get past the initial fear that many churches have about marketing, the next hurdle tends to be the discussion of target marketing. It sounds insane that we would target certain people and therefore exclude anyone from our pursuit. After all, Paul, our marketing guru-of-old, shared his heart about being “all things to all men.” (1 Cor 9:22) On his missionary journeys, it was incredible to see Paul’s ability to understand the needs and habits of different people groups and adapt his message to meet them right where they lived. He serves as our role model in his pursuit of all men. On the other hand, Paul considered himself called to be “an apostle to the gentiles.” (Rom 11:13). Sounds slightly targeted doesn’t it? How do we reconcile these two pursuits—to reach all and yet to focus only a segment?
Believe it or not, it was not spiritual bigotry that Paul was guilty of in his pursuit of the gentiles. This was a pure sense of Paul understanding his strengths and his calling. Every church has strengths at reaching a “type” of people in its community. While that might strike you as unjust, its truth defines both our strengths and the areas we need to grow in. Whether you are a church that is known for young families, old money, the upper-class, the working-class or the struggling-class—whether you are known for deep followers, surface seekers, empty nesters or down-and-outers—there are tendencies to whom you draw.
Bear with me as I use a non-church example of two famous target marketers in order to paint a picture. Eminen is a mid-thirties rapper who has a number of platinum albums. In America, if you asked anyone from age fifteen to thirty if they knew who Eminem was, you would get over a 90% familiarity rate. Emimen is extremely targeted and he has almost fully saturated his young, pop-culture target. As a result, everything that he does is extremely aimed at the values of a decade’s culture and style. If you are 65 and know who he is, odds are, you do not like him. He does not care. You are not his target. He dresses young and angrily and he raps young and angrily. He appeals to the young and angry.
Now lets look at Josh Groban. He is in his mid-twenties and sings with operatic undertones. A significant amount of you knows who he is, but, despite his youth, he is just as (if not more) likely to have sixty-year-old women listening to his music than he is a sixteen year old. He wears linen suits or nice jeans with a wool turtle-neck and a sports coat. He sings songs of love and inspiration. “You Lift Me Up…” His target audience is spread wide amongst ages and styles. He will never reach a 90% familiarity rate with any one group. He does well by spreading his style thin to reach a little of a lot. This is in juxtaposition to Eminem who reaches a lot of a little. They both sell millions of records, but they both have different target audiences.
Much of what you see succeeding in churches today are those churches who have committed to specific people groups (targets) and styles by which they will pursue them. There are those that succeed with a wider range—targeted more like Josh Groban, but they must maintain to an exhaustingly extraordinary level of ministry to pull it off. After all, Groban would not be able to have such a wide appeal if he did not have one of the greatest voices of all time. Trying to serve all people at once when you are under-staffed and under-resourced is enough to put most churches under. It is harder to appeal to a wider range of people. Eminem does not have Groban’s voice—he just knows which buttons to push. Remind you of any churches?
It is often easier to reach people with common values than it is to attempt to relate to all people. Numerical growth is often the result of ministers committing to whom they are going to reach and developing an attractive style around it. That is why many ministries with less tenure and testing are often numerically successful. They are not better ministers, they just know whom they are trying to reach and are staying true to it. They are spiritual Eminems—focused target marketers. Their true talent is knowing the values of a certain group of people.
If you have been the church that tries to reach all at once, don’t be upset with the church that targets—that brings an angle of style and cultural value to their ministry. The fact is, they will reach certain people even better than you—and you…them. Working together, that makes us the Body of Christ. If you are hungry for their success, do not copy them. You will only be seen as posers. Find your own way. Chances are, in your pursuit to reach all; you’ve been more successful in reaching a certain some. You might just not recognize who they are yet. And in your quest to reach more in His name, be as Paul… becoming all things to reach all, but knowing deep-down who God has called you to reach.
Thanks again for praying for us. Michele is improving and I am getting back in the saddle. Here's another article for the moment... Taken from an article I wrote for Pastors.com, May 2006
Here's a truism: people that have had a life-changing experience with God want others to find God in a life-changing way. This is surely true. It is also true that most people that sat in church pews last year never invited one single person to their church. So what is the disconnection?
I think one of the biggest disconnects we have in the church is that, as leaders, we often forget what it was like to go to church for the very first time. The intimidation factor for a lone visitor in a new church is simply huge. But it is nowhere close to the stress and vulnerability that is put on a churchgoer who invites a visitor. All inviters put their reputations on the line every time they invite someone to church. You can rest assured that your church members will not invite someone if they do not expect a positive outcome. And most of the time, that's why one church isn't growing and the church around the corner is. It has led us to say that "People are not ashamed of Christ, they are ashamed of their church." Ouch!
I asked a young friend how he was enjoying his church; he admitted that he loved it but was bothered by the fact that the church wasn't growing. I asked him why it wasn't growing; he acted bewildered and said, "I have no idea."
"Yes, you do," I challenged him. "You know why it's not growing."
After a silence, I asked, "When was the last time you invited someone?"
"Well, it's been a long time," he said ashamedly.
"Why don't you invite people?"
He shuffled his feet and said, "I don't know."
"Yes, you do," I said. "The reason you don't invite people is the same reason why your church is not growing."
I could tell that bells went off on the inside. He responded, "Yeah, I know why." He had known it all along. He just had never connected the dots between the challenges of inviting people and overall church growth.
It might be simple. A congregant might be embarrassed about the church decorations, the woman who shouts from the back of the church, the inexplicably deep or dry sermons or the pastor telling jokes about his wife. The harder it is to invite people, the more challenging church growth is.
You see, I knew my friend loved God and wanted others to experience Christ's love. Unfortunately, most people are not intimidated about being Christians; they are intimidated about inviting people to their church.
The simple truth is that if an invitation is hard to make, for whatever reason, fewer people will be invited. The battle for growth is first fought in the hearts of churchgoers who want to better the lives of those around them. This is actually the desire of the vast majority of churchgoers.
I cannot say this emphatically enough-all true Christians want other people to become Christians. It is planted in them when Christ is planted in them. This means if your church has to beg, push, cajole, offer incentives, or even just remind people to invite others, it is a telltale sign that, for whatever reason, they do not believe the ministry that takes place will make a successful connection with the people they would invite.
This is where the rubber hits the road. Is your church connecting with your community? The main link is through your congregation, and if they think you're not connecting, you won't.
It is no wonder Paul challenged us in advance to "become as one to win one." The ability to relate to our communities and church growth go hand in hand. When a ministry can successfully relate to the people in its congregation in a way that reassures them that their guests will be connected with, the churchgoers will be willing to invite others because they know it will relate to those they invite.
By analyzing the temptations and challenges associated with inviting people to church, we found the following to be true. If a churchgoer can answer these questions positively, then inviting friends and family will not only be easy, it will become a lifestyle. The church will explode with growth! As a side note, my guess is that none of these topics would ever show up on a visitor survey. They require us to look closely in the mirror, as even our closest allies would have a hard time advising us of some of these issues.
- Will my friend feel welcomed?
Principle: Hospitality-The atmosphere, nomenclature, and style of service should be inviting and not intimidating to the unchurched.
- Will my friend fit in?
Principle: Comfort and Compatibility-Like it or not, invitations and visitor comfort decrease when social or cultural gaps exist.
- Can I feel confident that I know how the service will turn out?
Principle: Consistency-People need to know what to expect, because they will invite accordingly.
- Will my friend get something out of it?
Principle: Relevance-The message should be relevant and powerful for people at all spiritual levels.
- Will my friend understand it?
Principle: Understanding-Jesus taught through practical illustrations. The songs and message should be understandable for people at all spiritual levels.
- Will anything that could seem strange to the unchurched be explained through Scripture?
Principle: Sensitivity-Scriptural actions should be carried out with clarity and considerate explanation.
Having said all this, I am convinced of one thing. If members walk out of your service saying, "I wish my unchurched friend had been here," they will start to think about inviting their friend. If a member walks out of your service three weeks in a row and says every time, "I wish my unchurched friend would have heard that," nothing will stop that member from dragging that friend through your doors. The challenging thing is that often, when members walk out of churches, the only thing they can say is, "I wish my other church friends would have heard that."
It's time to evaluate. Are we creating an atmosphere that fosters growth or are we just ministering unto ourselves?
Thanks again for praying for my wife during this challenging time. I have some new ideas I will be posting on soon. In the meantime, take a gander at an article I wrote last year for Religious Product News...
Take with me, if you will, a walk through your church using the eyes of a first-time visitor. Let’s make him (Steve, for example) a first-time visitor that was e specially courageous and made his way to church one Sunday morning completely by himself. He makes his way into the parking lot by his best-guessed method then stares for just a second at the myriad of entry points that face him. Steve, of course, does not stare long as he does not wish anyone to recognize him as “an outsider”. Of course, at “our” church, he does not need to worry about that, but unfortunately Steve does not know that.
Signage sets the foundation
Steve might be wealthy—he might be struggling—he might be getting along just fine, but a door in his heart has opened and he is willing to step within our doors to see if what we claim is true. What is his single greatest need in life at this moment? Direction. As Christians, we know that direction comes from God (through us) and leads to God (through Christ). But there is an even more practical direction that he needs. He needs to know where to enter—where to take his children—where to visit the restroom.
Sorry for being so direct, but as institutions that have been given a mandate for providing direction to a lost world, our churches lag dramatically behind when it comes to providing direction within our four walls.
Visitors are not supposed to feel like an imposition. They are our guests. They deserve our forethought, our care and direction. Greeters are important but can never replace a sign that gives direction to the restroom from someone exiting the service. Signage is a part of your fundamental infrastructure for acclimating people—helping them feel comfortable and at home.
Ask yourself this, “Is my church built to make visitors, like Steve, feel as if you thought of everything for them, or does it make them feel as if they are an afterthought—uninvited to the party?”
Signage can be so much more
When you walk in Starbucks and see their latest graphic on the iron stand, or when you see the light-post banners lining the entry at Disney World, two things are happening that you are likely to miss. One, your expectation level for what is being offered goes up, and two, subconsciously, you are ascribed value by them and you begin to feel all the more welcomed. Just like the “happy birthday” sign strung across your living room doorframe, or the “welcome home” signs at the airport for the soldiers returning from war. Signage tells people they are valuable. It is a deep thing that you rarely recognize, but once you notice it, is it any wonder you are polarized to be a part of it and want to make it a part of you? Great signage simply does that.
Steve also notices something we forgot about: style. The style and quality of your signage also gives him a window into the mind of your church. The decade it was designed in tells him a quick anecdote—the timeframe the church was at its high-water mark. Subconsciously, to the visitor it says, “This style reflects the year the church was most outwardly-focused and financially sound.” To harness this reality for our benefit, we need smart signage solutions that are able to adapt to changes in style. Furthermore, smart churches will use their signage to reinforce the growing spirit of their brands—the essence of who they are as a church. It ultimately becomes part of your intangible asset list that makes visitors respect you all the more and regulars inherently more proud to belong to your church.
Ask yourself this, “Does our signage attract and tell the story that we are a church for “today”—or does it indicate that we are the church from a time gone by?”
My friends, signage welcomes, it enhances a sense of belonging and it indicates the standards of your vision. It is an intangible with great effect. It is the starting point to providing Steve with the direction he needs. If done well, it might even lead him and your whole church towards your vision. “Write the vision and engrave it so plainly upon tablets that everyone who passes may [be able to] read [it easily and quickly] as he hastens by.” Habakkuk 2:2 (Amplified)
I often run into a church that is in transition, looking for decisiveness on tender topics... should we have multiple worship styles? How can we serve milk for newbies while the regulars want meat? How do we get rid of this horrific TBN-esque pulpit when so many people value it so much?
As a consultant, these are the issues I tend to love the most. The reason I love them, is because I like to dig into the heart of the issue. I love to go beyond the surface "love for old hymns" and ask, "why do 'these' people like 'these' songs?" I am convinced that the answer is almost always deeper than we expect. Older folks do not like older songs simply because the songs are older. To these people, to any people, the worship style they like the most tends to be the style in which they felt closest to God (I am partial to some late ‘80s Rich Mullins myself). Our love for our favorite genre of music is a heart's attempt to reach back to these special times.
We were working with a church recently that was struggling with this change. By listening, we picked up on some interesting undertones. It led us to propose that if someone wants the songs sung today like they were thirty years ago, this person is more than likely struggling with two things when someone tries to bring about change: 1) That their greatest moments with God were in their past (instead of looking to find fresh times with God in their future), and 2) that their inability to learn all the words to all the new songs that we do in our A.D.D. song rotations (and small "very cool" overhead text) just makes them want to give up.
With this in mind, we worked with the leadership to cast vision for fresh experiences with God and to teach them a short list of new songs over several months. When we arrived back at the church 7 months later, the over 70 crowd were as much or more engaged in Tomlin-esque, acoustic worship than the twenty-somethings were.
The lesson learned: it’s not safe to assume the thoughts of any crowd. We have to learn their hearts—what makes them tick on levels they can't even express. And a little warning as well... just because it worked for this church, let's not assume it is the cure for all music transition woes. Looking to what other churches do to make our decisions can be tricky. Let's be like Paul... "become as one to reach one"—spend time with them. We need to let others in on our thoughts and ask them to share theirs. Often, they simply wanted to be asked to be a part of the solution or direction. Let's give ourselves time to get to the heart of the issue and share the burden of change together. Understanding the interests of others is part of our labor of love (Phil 2:2-4).
A factor that is often overlooked by church staff, but one of the most important to a visitor at church, is the Children/Student Ministry. What visitors want to see from Children’s Ministry and the Nursery is twofold—security and genuine care. If their kids have fun, that is the cherry on top. When they drop their kids off, they’re seeking a strong sense that their child will be safe, warmly and sincerely accepted, and seen as an individual child. They want to hear you say their child’s name and see you help the child become part of the group. To them, their child is not just another kid. It’s their kid. They want them to feel special and it speaks volumes if you make them feel that way…but even louder if you don’t.
Not too long ago, I asked some friends who had been looking for a new church how the hunt was going. They responded with how much they loved the ministry of a particular church, but were completely disturbed by how their young children were treated. When they would drop their children off, it was extremely difficult to get the attention of the teacher, and when they finally did, the children were checked in without a smile and “mushed” into the herd. This happened for several weeks in a row, and the same routine happened each time at pickup—only the teacher was not the only one without a smile…the children were equally discontent.
While the pastor preached his heart out and ministry was catered for them, these visitors—who were sure to become workers in the church—could not let their children grow up in that environment. They moved on.
What do your Children Ministries say about you as a church? How are you ensuring that the standards you have in your pulpit clearly exist in other parts of your church?
In my travels I often run into church leaders who have lived incredible lives of faith. They were impacted by God and subsequently abandoned their previous walk and threw their lives into ministry. One of the things I see with these leaders is an incredible tenacity to follow God at any cost. The concept of obedience and stretching their horizons is a never-ending one. At the same time, these leaders who have pulled their faith up by the bootstraps tend to fall short in many areas of ministry.
The leader whose attitude is, "Why can't they just obey God? That's what the Bible says..." is often the same one who struggles to provide mentorship and structured discipleship for his church. Why? For one, because they were likely never mentored. They sat under a minister who taught them from a pulpit, but never walked with them and coached them through life. They find it hard to see why people need coaching. They didn't. To them the Christian walk, Bible study, and obedience was so black-and-white, that they cannot fathom why it is not so clearly black-and-white to everyone else. As a result, they often get frustrated when people do not follow simple steps of faith and they do not have the patience nor vision to provide the deliberate mentorship that they were never given themselves.
In reality, it is not fully their fault. Few of us were mentored. We really don't even have a mental picture of what that looks like. We were preached to, but churches have rarely had the programs needed to support healthy discipleship. And few men ever took the time to apprentice the young believer from their gray world into black-and-white faith. As a result, many churches have a chasm between those that "get it" (and do all the work in the church) and those who never seem to possess the same reality of God.
A few years ago, a pastor read my book and called me for help. He had pastored for about 15 years and had struggled to get his congregation over 50 people. He was an honorable man who had given his all to help people. His wife and family had stood beside him as he endured hardship year after year in order to stay afloat. He spoke of desiring to see growth, but was saddened in that he lacked strong leaders. He was a man of bootstrap faith. He listened to the preacher as a young believer and he acted on what was said. His action led him into ministry and now he was struggling with people that simply would not take the same initiative in their faith.
I asked him, "How are you mentoring leaders?" He was puzzled, responding, "Well, I prepare and preach every week." For fifteen years, he had given people words—powerful words, but had never really built people. As a result, he never had an infrastructure that would support growth. Let me challenge that the job of a church leader as a mentor is never done. Even when you have a congregation of 10,000 and hundreds of mentors leading healthy people, you are still responsible to seek a handful of people who you can pour your life into in a deeper way.
"And the [instructions] which you have heard from me along with many witnesses, transmit and entrust [as a deposit] to reliable and faithful men who will be competent and qualified to teach others also." 2 Tim 2:2 (Amplified)
This was Paul mentoring to Timothy—writing him a personal letter—teaching him to mentor others. Are you a person of bootstrap faith? What are you doing to pour you life into a small group of people that you will mentor into true leaders? For every bootstrapper, there are dozens who will need a lot more effort in order to become whom God has called them to be. As leaders, the next move is ours.
It’s fair to say that brochures and print materials are seldom read, but always evaluated. The same is true of your website. Bulletins are read more commonly, partly because of their focus on headlines, dates and bullet points--but also because people find lulls in the church service and use bulletins for mindless entertainment. To some degree, bulletins have cross-gender appeal. It’s a long-standing truism in marketing that men read headlines and women read the details. Now, this isn’t universally exact, but has been found to be common. A good brochure or printed piece will connect with both men and women—allowing headliners to get the basic information out and those who enjoy the details can get their fill in the body text.
All printed materials that you put out as a church form to create your church’s personality in printed form. If your printed materials are not consistent in style and quality, that’s what people will take away from your church, consciously or sub-consciously. If they are outdated, you’re telling people your church is outdated. On the other hand, these pieces might be telling people that you’re the “cool” church. This would work if you genuinely are the cool church, but if you’re not, that’s an awkward disconnect.
You can and should have contemporary materials that are relevant, creating a bridge between your style and values and those of your target audience. In doing this, design consistency, or branding, will become the catalyst to defining who you are and will enhance your ability to reach your target audience right from the start.
What are your print materials saying about you?
A few years ago, I was sitting in my local Starbucks and happened to overhear a group training session for new employees. And it was awesome! The employees were being trained on the atmosphere and experience that they were hired to create. The mission statement was given clearly through examples, so everyone could grasp it. The meeting was visionary. I was just about ready to fill out an employment application!
The people holding the training had a picture of how the employees were to treat each other and the leadership, but the tone was not focused on what the workers wanted to get out of the job. Instead, the training was centered around the experience they were to provide for each other and in turn, the customers. They were taught to be relational with frequent guests and sensitive to those who might not even know what a latte is.
What if we, as the church, put this much effort into inspiring workers—volunteers and members alike—with a vision for how the church could be and the atmosphere we would create for our visitors? Without this alignment, is it any wonder why we often come across as so fragmented and ineffective to the people we are trying to reach? Is it a surprise that there are so many churches connecting with so few people?
What are you doing to allign your ministry team? Do you have an atmosphere that's deliberate and effective?
Have you ever noticed that the average designer looks like they are in the band? Ever notice the odd coincidence that so many music people also dabble in design? Ever wonder why? Let me play a few chords of the common bond between music and design... When a musician begins learning, let's say... guitar, he (or she) first learns how to play the notes, but then begins to learn on a higher level how different notes and sounds make up the songs that create his moods. He learns the chords that stir him up, wind him down, and make him wax melancholy.
The longer he plays guitar, the more he learns the characteristics of the sounds and is able to see the direct correlation between chord and emotion. He learns how to use his instrument to create whatever reaction he desires. He can make the audience laugh, cry, bang their heads or squeeze their lover's hand—all with the choice of notes and the combination and speed thereof. A great guitarist is someone who has mastered the elements of music and combines them like a mad scientist to create specific response. He does not merely play the guitar. He plays the audience.
How different is design? Instead of using the tools of notes and timing, designers use color and shape to instigate a response. In the same way, they combine elements time after time and begin to learn the responses they create in the hearts and minds of the viewer. This correlation between the musician and the designer is a simple bond... the study between creative inputs and human outputs. Great chefs, great comedians, great interior designers all have it—it is an innate drive to know an audience and bring elements together that would captivate them in some way.
The reason a guitarist often makes a good designer is that he/she has already strengthened their sense of deliberative mood setting. They bring the same root logic into a new medium and they are far ahead of those that are just starting to hone that gift. The challenge, as it is with musicians, is that they often only learn to play their songs for just one group of people. Sure, you know how to make a 20-year-old sing a worship song, but can you master the sounds of the 60-year-old's worship set? In the same way, many designers can only play design tunes that reach certain age groups. They are not masters of their craft, but yet masters of their target audience.
To the musician and designer: never stop studying the correlation between your elements and the response that follows it. At the same time, never stop expanding the reach of the notes you play. In doing so, you become all things to all men... reach them.
Visitors cannot be expected to understand all that goes on in the context of church. Very often, the one thing visitors do know when they come to church is that they’re out of the loop; particularly, when it comes to the language that we speak in church, or “Christianese.” When they hear words they don’t recognize, one of two things happens:
-They are taught what these words mean and they feel included in the conversation, or
-Words are not explained and visitors are confused and made to feel excluded and unimportant.
It’s very natural to develop verbal shortcuts among our groups and close communities. They save time and assure us in our sense of community and belonging. The downfall to verbal shortcuts in church is that they can create walls between us and visitors.
Think about the average church visitor that doesn’t know God, and who has trouble defining a word as common to us as grace. Would this visitor be able to understand, or at least have explained to them all that is said in your church on Sunday mornings? Think about these common church words: Anointing. Saved. Redeemed. Lost. Called. Communion. Iniquity. Intercession. Apostle. Consecrate. Transgression. Rapture. Sanctification.
It is easy to forget that some of the words in our everyday jargon are not so common in the world outside the church. I want to challenge you to start evaluating your level of Christianese and how often unfamiliar terms are explained to people who might not understand our language.
What are some other words that the average visitor at your church might not understand?
During my travels serving churches, I’ve noticed that very few churches have a balanced response to what is a core facet of a healthy church: exposure. Exposure is critical to understanding who you are as a church and finding your way. And while I know that there are some church "hermits" out there, there are just as many church "followers" to ensure that there are large crowds on each side of “the exposure ditch.”
Let's start with the underexposed church. These are churches that rarely expose themselves to the world outside their walls; or have limited knowledge as to what’s out there in their own community. Their pastors are so busy that they tend to only rely on their denomination or a few "model" churches to provide insight into how church is done. By not being exposed to other churches in your community and what they are doing, you probably don’t fully understand who you are in the context of your community and you won’t have a sense of how your community perceives you. In order to fully understand God’s will for your church, you have to be exposed to what He’s doing in other churches. This helps your church see the role it can more effectively play in the bigger picture of what God is doing in your community.
For this church, make a point to visit churches that do not match your flavor. Visit growing churches and struggling ones. Do not judge them. Ask yourself, "Why do these church-goers like this? Why is this church successful? Who is not attending this church and why?" In order to get away from your own church on a Sunday, some pastors might have to commit hard to taking a break. It is difficult to take a break if you and your church are not in the habit. Let me challenge you that every church leader needs an exposure break--an opportunity to see others fighting the same "good fight" they are fighting. I challenge you to trust God by stepping out of the pulpit and stepping into someone else's back row. It will enhance your perspective in so many ways.
The other side of the ditch is the church that is overexposed. These churches tend to chase whoever they feel is the most exciting at the moment. They spend so much time following trailblazing churches, they end up constantly changing what they do to match what they think the most innovative churches are doing. The end result is that these overexposed churches never really gain a sense of who "they" are and don’t fully understand who God’s called them to be. They read tons of blogs, get tons of direct mail, and listen to tons of podcasts. They are always looking for the "silver-bullet" that’s going to create success. They end up becoming puppets to church fads--and while they can spout out a who's who list of popular Christianity, they never take a hard, inward look at who they are and let God show them how to commit to who they are supposed to be for their community.
I want to challenge that it’s critical as church leaders that we get exposure to what God’s doing in other churches. But it’s also critical after seeing what God’s doing in other churches, that we come back and ask the question, “who are we and how can we learn from this exposure to execute better on who God has called us to be?” As a result we can use exposure to understand ourselves better, communicate our unique DNA more effectively and become more deliberate; instead of constantly reinventing ourselves.
What do you do to ensure you are properly exposed?
The other day, I talked about Nike and its brilliant marketing campaign in the early nineties. Nike stood out amongst the competition in the athletic shoe industry by selling us a perceived need—inspiration—but delivering a real need—belonging.
Now here’s the question I’m posing: Do you think Nike would have been successful if they’d done a commercial without Jordan and instead used a slogan like “We make you feel like you belong”? No. It would have been a crash and burn because people wouldn’t have connected with it. Think about it—people don’t realize they need to feel like they belong, so blatantly selling belonging won’t work. You’ve got to wrap it up in something else that will connect with them.
Nike was able to grab you by making you feel like you belonged to something bigger than you. They drew you in with inspiration—something that knows no boundaries. Challenge knows no boundaries. Challenge me to go to the next level and no matter what level I am on, I will understand the calling.
What this means: don’t sell belonging by advertising and promoting it. People don’t consciously think about their need to belong and most are not aware of it until after it’s been fulfilled. For example, having a tagline like “a church where you belong” is like someone responding to an altar call without hearing the message first. We know that belonging is a human need—but most people don’t recognize that. This is something to keep in mind with every area of your church’s communications.
My question for you today is…how are you communicating to the needs of your community? What does your church provide that the community thinks it needs?
Some of you out there might remember the early days of the running shoe market in the late seventies and early eighties. (And by some of you, I mean if you’re old enough!) There were all these new companies—Brooks, Puma, Saucony, Asics, New Balance, Adidas, Pony—and they were all competing against each other, each company selling pretty much the same thing. Well, by the mid-nineties, Nike basically made it clear that it was the dominant company. How did they take over that market? It’s called genius marketing. They saw needs that the other companies didn’t.
What Nike did was sell us a perceived need—inspiration—but delivered our real need—belonging. They convinced us that we could basically have superhuman abilities by creating a connection between their brand and Michael Jordan—an extremely iconic figure in sports. They had top athlete endorsers from almost every sport—creating more than just shoes, but rather an identity behind them. When they reached their “Just Do It” campaign, the company was one of the top brands in the world. How did they do it? They paved the way for us to see them as more than just shoes. At the time, Nike was so great that no other shoe stood a chance.
Nike was all about belonging and to buy a pair of Nike shoes was like being a part of something bigger than yourself. We have this basic human need to belong; so Nike wrapped their product up in faith and achievement. Why am I convinced that it was about belonging and not a true desire to be better at sports? Because 90 percent of us never used our Nike shoes for anything more than going to the mall on Saturday. We didn’t really want to be athletic—we just wanted to be on the winning team.
So how does this translate for the church? Well, it helps us see that there is a difference between true needs and felt needs. We know the people we want to reach need Christ, and we can agree that God has given all of us that space in our heart that only He can fill. But until they’ve heard and understood the message, most people don’t know their need is for Him. They might know things like they should be in church and their kids should be there too, and they probably feel something missing in their lives. We know the real need in their lives is belonging to Christ, but they are likely to think the need is something less spiritual.
We’re not frequently going to introduce them to their real need until we can connect with them on what they think they need. Since they don’t fully understand their true need, it’s our job to make that need felt.
What do the people in your community think they need? Is it friends? Childcare? A sense of belonging? Financial provision? A job? Cool music?
© Richard L. Reising
A woman is driving down a lonely, pitch-dark road late at night and sees that she is almost out of gas. Her fear is somewhat relieved as she sees two gas stations up ahead. If these two gas stations are equally accessible and the gas is equally priced, which one will she choose? The answer is simple. She’ll choose the one with better lighting. Why? At that moment, her primary need is safety. Better lighting makes her feel safer. Her response is natural and just as natural as the first conclusions that people commonly draw about churches.
I imagine the owner of the less-frequented store dropping prices and scratching his head. “Why are we so slow at night when the other store is packed? Cutting prices doesn’t work and increasing inventory hasn’t increased sales. Redesigning the logo and a bigger advertising budget hasn’t done it either.”
The owner’s disconnect here is about perceived needs. Sure, the late-night customer might want to save money some other time, but at that moment her most important need is safety.
How does this relate to the church?
The summer between high school graduation and my first year of college, I worked for a friend at church who cleaned offices. We cleaned at night, usually from 8:00 PM until about 2:00 or 3:00 AM. Now, cleaning is probably my least favorite thing to do in the entire world. In fact, I’m amazed that my mother didn’t pass out at the thought that I would actually take a job cleaning—something that she did not see me do for eighteen years. The funny thing is, I was pretty good at it. I mean, we never heard much praise from our clients, but in my own mind, I was a master cleaner.
The thing is, I had adapted my own way of cleaning. I know this is not the most appropriate topic, but bear with me as I chat about toilets for a second (I promise it’s crucial to my point). When I went into these offices to clean the toilet stalls, I was absolutely sure I was the best toilet-stall-cleaner out there. Why? Simple. I watched the other people who cleaned them, and they followed this approach: open the stall door, wipe down the doors, spray the toilet, and they were done.
My “superior” method was this: I opened the stall and sat on the toilet lid. From there I had the most important perspective that exists in the bathroom world—the perspective of the person on the seat. After all, the person sitting there usually has time to stare at the walls, right? I can clean all day long, but if the stall is not clean from the view of the person on that seat, we have problems. Honestly, very few other perspectives matter. I would finish by wiping down the seat and voila—the cleanest toilet stall in all the land!
With that in mind, some of us in ministry need to change seats. We need to look at the church all over again from the perspective of the first-time visitor. Things might look good when you are standing at the door, behind the pulpit, or in the youth room, but the bottom line at the end of the day for the church is how we come across to the person in that seat.
© Richard L. Reising
Through all of our consulting, I’ve discovered countless marketing speed bumps and stumbling blocks that keep outsiders from hearing the message of Christ clearly in our churches. It is never our intention as a church to create these things, but oftentimes we’ve become so “churched” that we overlook them—forgetting all about the outsider.
Now, my observations and my passion for connecting with the lost are not to be mistaken for a desire to water down the gospel—rather far from that. In scripture, you’ll find that Christ is either your cornerstone, or your stumbling block. You either find his truths to be the foundation of your life, or you stumble over them (1 Peter 2:7-8). It clearly tells us that for some, Christ Himself will be a stumbling block. You need to know this in advance. Not everyone will leave your church talking about how awesome it was. Scripture tells us that we won’t please everyone, but we’ve got to make sure that we aren’t the stumbling blocks because of our inability to relate and adapt ourselves to the lost and their needs.
In 1 Corinthians 9:20, Paul tells us, “and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law.” To reach people we have to adapt our lives and our approach to them. We have to understand how they think, communicate, interact, and view the world. It’s impossible to reach someone without adapting the way we communicate to his or her understanding.
Do you know of any possible stumbling blocks at your church? How do you plan on overcoming them?
© Richard L. Reising
A couple of years ago, I had the honor of visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo in West Africa and addressing about twenty-five hundred native pastors. I was completely humbled by the opportunity to speak to them and totally unsure how I might explain exactly what it is that I do. A “marketing executive with a passion for churches” might connect with a few, but honestly, I wasn’t sure they would understand well enough for me to gain and hold their attention.
Then I remembered Joshua and Caleb and the team of spies who were sent ahead to check out Canaan. I talked about this story to the pastors, focusing on how they analyzed and calculated and researched the Canaanites. They brought their report to Moses and the Israelites. “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).
As I dug deeper, I discovered something pretty cool. The instructions that Moses gave to Joshua and Caleb sounded so familiar to me. It was what we call market research, demographics, and psychographics today. Moses told them:
"See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? How is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort then to get some of the fruit of the land." (Numbers 13:18-20).
Research still proves critical in knowing how to take the land for God. I shared this message with the Congolese pastors and explained that I am like Joshua and Caleb for many churches—a spy sent out to scope out the community. The pastors understood completely. In fact, I think they got the message in a way that many American ministers don’t. God gave them insight and strategy to expand their reach in their communities.
The point I’m making is to know your community. Know what they like, what they dislike. Know their hopes, and know their fears. Through research, find out how you should market yourself to reach them. This will equip you to expand the Kingdom and to further your reach. If you don’t know where to start when marketing to your community, start by finding out who they are.
Who are the people you're trying to reach and how are you getting to know them?
© Richard L. Reising
Back in high school, did you ever notice that when a guy didn’t have a girlfriend, no one wanted to date him, but the moment he had a girlfriend, all the other girls were suddenly interested? It’s the eighth wonder of the world. It’s amazing what happens though—it’s like this air of confidence takes over the guy and suddenly every girl in school has taken notice. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Well, the girlfriend effect is alive and well in churches today and it starts with the atmosphere you create.
But what does atmosphere have to do with church growth? Some of you might think the suggestion is an attempt to devalue the work of the Holy Spirit and the power of prayer, but it’s completely opposite. The fundamental component of any church’s atmosphere is the sense that God is among His people and is active in their lives.
Remember, the Bible says that Peter and John were clearly “perceived” as “uneducated and untrained men,” yet the onlookers “marveled” at their “boldness”—“And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
They had a powerful spiritual walk that was evident. It created an atmosphere around them. People must be able to recognize that a church’s leaders and members have been with Christ and that His Spirit is active in the church. If it is not recognizable, the church will have a hard time making an ounce of difference in people’s lives. It is the cornerstone of the atmosphere you create.
So my challenge for you today is to continue to press into what the Lord has for you. When the Lord is the cornerstone of your church and the Holy Spirit resides there, it is evident not only to believers, but to visitors as well. It makes them want what you have—even though they may not know what it is.
© Richard L. Reising
Everyone who knows me knows I’m a thinker. In fact, my close friends tease me all the time because they can tell when I’m having conversations in my head. And I always find it strangely odd how my wife is never ready for that trip that I’m convinced I told her about. I then realize that I only thought to tell her about it. That’s the difference between intention and communication. Very similar to the difference between someone’s heart and how others perceive them.
Here’s the thing—until you clearly and fully communicate that thought, it really only exists in your head. In this world, a continuous battle for mindshare causes the companies that over-communicate to be the ones that make an impact. If you didn’t catch it the first time around, you’ll hear it again.
A similar tale can be told of Radio DJs and popular music. About the time that a hit song is driving them crazy is when people start calling in to request it. The DJ's totally burned out but has to play it over and over for listeners who are most likely hearing it for the first time.
The same principle that applies to the DJ, works for the church. Something is said once or twice and leadership assumes everyone has heard it. It’s not like that. Just like radio, people are tuning in at different times. Just when you think you’ve said something enough, some are only hearing it for the first time. You’ve got to repeat if you want it to stick. When it comes to especially important areas, like spiritual steps, communication is essential. If you aren’t making it a routine to communicate these things, there are people who aren’t hearing it. If you aren’t tired of saying it, you’re probably not saying it enough. The same principle applies to signage at your church, as well as communicating the brand and vision to your staff.
By over-communicating, you’re showing value to the recipients and you’re creating a culture of trust.
© Richard L. Reising
As a marketing person, you would probably assume that I am pro-promotion, right? Meaning, that I think the answer for more growth is found in advertising. Well, the truth is that I am pro-promotion…when you’re in a place to promote yourself. There are a lot of people out there today that misconceive what marketing is all about. It’s about building a bond between you and those you’re trying to reach. And as a result, I challenge that for most churches, the best marketing is not to advertise at all—not until they’re ready. Most churches are not ready because they aren’t connecting or "bonding" with visitors well enough to get them to come back.
In the video, What if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church, one of our baristas made the comment that they plan to do a direct mailing "that will solve everything". The only problem is that the experience that this fictional Starbucks provided was actually keeping people from coming back. The other barista said himself that visitors rarely came back. I see it time and time again. A struggling church sees a thriving church do a mailing and decides, “we should be doing that too. That will solve our problem.” Think about it this way: That’s the same logic as the young couple that fights all the time and thinks marriage will solve all of their relationship problems.
Direct mail, like getting married, doesn’t solve problems; it brings them out and intensifies them. If you aren’t retaining visitors, when you send out a direct mailer, all you are doing is inviting people to come in and see why no one wants to come to your church. On the other hand, if you have a healthy church—one that is thriving on its own, direct mail can enhance your growth just like marriage enhances a strong relationship.
I recently was consulting at a church that had spent tens of thousands on advertising the year before we arrived. When we worked with them to diagnose their current situation, one of the things we saw was that about 4 out of 100 visitors were returning. Thank God for the 4, but that means that 96 people out of every 100 were casting a "no" vote about their church. With their increased advertising, they were increasing the rate that 96% of the community was turning them down. Give them a few more years of this and everyone in town will have visited and summed up that church as one that nobody wants to go to. Needless to say, my team and I helped them shut down the advertising and are working with them to build an atmosphere that fosters growth—in numbers and in spiritual depth—while keeping their core values in tact.
You won’t win them all. A healthy church will experience 20-30% visitor retention. Growth should be organic first and foremost. It should be the response of changed lives inspiring others to experience change. Word of mouth has been and always will be the best advertising that exists. If you’re not hitting these numbers, it’s time to look introspectively.
In the meantime, start asking yourself, what is it that’s making visitors not return? Take the energy and effort that you would put into a direct mailer, or promotional plan, and apply it to things that will cause organic growth. Focus on the relationship first—once you’ve got it solid, then you can start talking about the marriage.
If you’re interested in more resources about building an atmosphere that fosters growth, start by reading my book, ChurchMarketing 101. There are several chapters devoted to it.
© Richard L. Reising
There is no doubt that Starbucks has their own language. Tall, Grande, Venti... (Let's call it Starbucksian). For the most part, churches have their own language too. Having your own language is sometimes a valuable weapon in your marketing arsenal, but yielded without planning and precision, it can be deadly to your culture. Basically, it’s a two-edged sword. On one hand, if you don’t know the language, you feel lost and on the "outside." However, if you know the language, you feel "included," special and "in-the-know."
"Code" language is a very insider thing. Many churches will ask, if insider language is a bad thing, why does Starbucks do it? Simple. They want insiders. As an outsider, you learn the secret code by ordering a drink. If you don’t know it, someone is standing right there, looking you in the face and helping you engage your transition between outsider and insider. They are there to even suggest a drink. When someone has a puzzled look on their face, you quickly hear... "Would you like something hot or cold?" "Would you like something sweet?" They are literally trained to identify a newcomer and immediately make them comfortable without any kind of embarrassment. They are "hands on" to steer you into an addictive Mocha Frappucino. After you visit about three times, you are the master. You’ve got your drink and your size down pat. You’re an insider now. The bridge to that point was built very deliberately by Starbucks themselves in an effort to create insiders. Brilliant!
Now, why is this not working so well for churches? One, most churches speak Christian-ese not as a bridge to gain insiders, but as a validation tool with other insiders. AKA: I prove my spirituality in the number of three-syllable Bible words I can say. As churches, we often make it difficult for visitors to understand our code. We don’t have interpreters waiting to greet visitors at the front door, their job solely to explain everything we intend to say. When someone does indicate they might not know our ways, many churches throw them under the bus and make a show of them—asking them to stand up, raise their hands, and fill out forms.
If the visitor tries to follow along, our insider jokes and language—the very stuff that rallies the troops and makes believers feel like they’re in the cool "in-crowd" (the “God is good.... All the time” stuff from the video)—all of those insider jokes just remind them that they’re outsiders.
What's the key? Just that: a key. It’s like a map that you need to read the key to understand the symbols. The key is a bridge. The key is an explanation. Without explanation, you leave outsiders out. Without the barista telling me what the stuff is, I’m lost. With the barista carefully explaining the coded language, I’m on my way to becoming an insider. So, insider language in itself is not the issue unless it is left to resolve with out deliberate explanation.
Make this commitment: never let a service take place where you don’t break down church vocabulary for the visitors present and tell them the story behind our inside jokes. The secret behind this is two-fold: if you commit to it, 1) you’ll build stronger bridges and 2) you’ll get tired of bringing in so much context to all your insider verbiage, that you'll cut it down to the minimum.
As a church, do you have your own language? Do your inside jokes leave an outsider feeling further outside? It’s time to build a bridge. Change your language or commit to bridge-building. Without it, your church might be good at winning over other Christians, but you will leave a lost and dying world dying to know what you’re talking about.
© Richard L. Reising
If you look closely at the video, you’ll see the smiley face signs that ask for volunteers. They are smiley face signs with a pointing finger that says, "Starbucks looking for smiling volunteers. We need you!"
It wouldn’t be uncommon to see a sign at a Starbucks communicating the opening of a paid barista position. But there’s a world of difference between communicating a need for employees and soliciting for free labor. In reality, I think that it’s the commonality of such signs that causes us not to second-guess the use of "volunteer begging" in the pathway of a visitor. Even if it wasn’t meant for them, they don’t know that. To a visitor, he/she was just asked to volunteer in spite of not even knowing Christ or this particular church.
In the book, I mentioned a story about an unchurched friend of mine who had called me to let me know she had finally attended church (something she knew was very important to me) but that she was baffled and frustrated that when she went there looking for answers, she was asked on her first visit to volunteer the following week in the nursery. A little overzealous, don't you think? That church's neediness translated into a missed opportunity to meet someone's spiritual need by preemptively asking them to meet the church's labor need.
Whether a sign or a non-filtered verbal challenge, confronting visitors with volunteering is a telltale sign that you are a "get to work" church. The visitors are asked to give of themselves before they’ve received anything. This might work with a believer, but with a non-believer, we should fight to always make it a "win-win" in which we let them "win" first. I do admit that there are communities that are more prone to volunteer quickly based on their work ethic and values, but I challenge that the concept of Christianity is summed up in the fact that Jesus gave us a win-win opportunity by letting us win first. That means to follow His footsteps, we are to give to visitors in such a way that they are overwhelmed with grace, long before they are asked to give back.
So the issue is really placement. If it’s not something for the visitor, it simply belongs somewhere else. I know what you’re thinking. You say “Well, this is the best chance we have at getting our church-goers attention about that need.” If that’s the case, your real issues might be two things: 1) assimilation and 2) communication. Create a church where people are taking progressive steps towards Christ. As they're taking those steps, find the right place to challenge them to get involved. Consider web-based communities, times of deeper ministry and small groups—all of which are better opportunities to challenge people to serve that don’t confront visitors head-on.
Just like the post about the Stadium, people come to church at various spiritual levels. Communicating to people on each of those levels and progressing them is essential. This will help you avoid the bottleneck that creates volunteer neediness. Signage to get volunteers will simply reinforce that issue by pushing newbies further away.
© Richard L. Reising
Here's a test. How many different versions of the logo did you see in the video? I'll give you a hint... It's more than five. Do you ever wonder why most churches have logos and design styles that vary in everything they do? In most cases I would suggest that it mirrors a lack of commitment to who they are as a church. Most churches are not consistent because deep down, they don't know who they are, whom they are called to reach, or how to reach them. When a church does, consistency becomes the natural outflow of our successful communication with those people.
To be brutally honest, those of us who have been in church for a while know what all the different styles and logos really represent--they stand for all of the volunteer graphic designers that have been burnt out along the way. :)
Design is not something to skimp on. When my wife and I were dating, I spent a lot of money on my haircut. She thought I had great hair and I admit I worked that angle as much as I could to woo her. After we got married and the demands of life overcame us, I resorted to buying clippers and cutting it myself late at night--partly because when we first started serving churches, it was financially tight and also because I was too strung out to ever make it to an appointment. A few years ago God convicted me about it. He reminded me that my wife loved my hair and that by no longer investing in it, I was devaluing her. My investment into my haircut was an investment into my relationship. Needless to say, I pay for my haircut now.
In the same way, great design is part of the courting process. It says, "I know who you are and I know who I am and I want to appeal to you." When you cheaply slap it together, you are literally devaluing the object of your pursuit. Furthermore, show me a church that looks to other popular churches for their design direction and I will show you a church that is short-changing its unique, God-given purpose for a random shot at quick-fix, imitation success. It would be like me getting a haircut to match some movie star in spite of it fitting my face or hair type. If these churches continue on this route for too long, they will come across as "the always changing church"--a.k.a. "the poser." To the outsider, the use of a barrage of differing design styles and varying standards leaves an impression--whether subconsciously or quite obviously--that your church suffers from real identity and resource issues.
The great irony about communications inconsistency is that even though you spent more time and money re-inventing yourself on every project, you actually come off looking cheaper. On the flip-side, when you really know who you are and whom you are called to reach, it shows. Consistency reflects deliberateness. Deliberateness is a value of confidence that draws people.
What's most amazing about the constant re-invention approach is that the churches that do it never stop to think about how rarely they ever see a truly strong organization creating such brand chaos. I mean, Eddie Bauer is still Eddie Bauer and Apple is Apple. I have never seen an ad that would cause me to confuse the two. Brands that know who they are and their resonating factors with their target audience maintain consistent design molds. Adapt over time? Yes! Constantly reinvent? No!
I beg you, as a church, it is time to figure out who God has called you both to be and to reach. Once you have, you are able to build an arsenal of consistent communication that connects the two together over time. Stop measuring yourself by the newest mailer that hits your doorstep--measure yourself by your ability to stay true to who God has called you to be in the midst of the world around you. You do not need a "cool" brochure or website, you need a strategic brand that grows with you as you grow.
© Richard L. Reising
In the video, there were a few points made about culture. Not just the style of things, which I look forward to writing on soon, but the often unidentified aspects of culture that are less obvious—the way greeters greet, the way ministers minister, the way ushers "ush", and the way church-goers go—all of it is a reflection of a church's culture. Some churches have a very outgoing culture—others seem to be in a completely different world of their own.
I’m not just talking about our need to train greeters on how to greet as much as I’m suggesting that there is a way of "being" that each individual church has created—whether it’s realized or not. That culture can be completely magnetic to outsiders, or completely repellant. The irony is, whether good or bad, it’s usually consistent throughout—or at least is consistently inconsistent. Many times, when you see a greeter fail on his/her job, it has more to do with church culture than it does poor training.
For some of the church leaders out there, I’m about to paint a picture about a proactive culture that you might deem farfetched, but here goes...
Imagine being ahead of the game. Your volunteer team is trained and comes ready. The sermon and music was nailed long before Sunday. In addition, as a leader, you are thinking and praying for souls. You are thinking about people and how you‘re going to connect with them at every spiritual level [see my posts on the stadium]. You’re thinking about visitors—how you want to see them come to Christ. When you arrive before service, your pre-game routine is simply to pat the team members on the back and remind them of what the trophy looks like—touched lives. You encourage your team that people today will be coming and need to see their smiles as God prepares their hearts. You are thinking more about hitting home runs [see the stadium] and not so much about the details. As a result, you’ve spent what time you do have with your support team—encouraging them with enthusiasm. You are outward focused. You put your teammates at ease by allowing them to focus on their task—reminding them of the end result.
This culture is a proactive one. It’s proactively outward focused. It’s ahead of the game and it’s driven by a clear purpose. It exists consistently in about 5% of churches. The other 95% of churches are reactionary: struggling with the lack of resources, the missing team members, and the last-minute changes. In the reactionary world, it’s very unlikely that every one is thinking outside themselves and about others—specifically visitors. No church will ever be proactive all the time. Some weeks, things will happen and the reactive impulses will reign. But, the end result of weeks and weeks of reactivity is that after a while, we stop forgetting about the outside world all together. After a while, we are no longer building our efforts around the visitor experience and we lose the correlation between our actions and growth. If we go too far, we can even create a counter-culture, so fixated on ourselves that we've lost track of what non-"regulars" are going through or needing.
The culture crime of this video is not just the missed greeter opportunity—it’s the disconnection that kept every other "regular attendee" and worker in the video from thinking first and foremost of others—remembering the inside jokes and the punch lines, but forgetting the true treasure in their midst. Just this past week I experienced a rapidly growing church that was so outward focused, it was palpable. Every volunteer was attentive to me as a guest, and was adding to the experience of the well-executed service. I was amazed. I then felt the same attention given by those I sat next to. It was a pro-active culture—one where they were thinking about me long before I arrived. What "secret sauce" did this mystery church have? It wasn't their brochures. It was their culture. It starts today in your church. Go build it.
© Richard L. Reising
I love signage. Signage means so much. When you have a birthday and your family hangs a sign they made up over the door—when the military returns home from war and they are met with poster-board signs of affection—every time you see it, signage conveys value. It says "you are important, and we thought of you in advance."
In our video there were two signage statements we were making—one blatant and another hidden. The "RESERVED FOR..." parking signs did the job that signs do: they expressed value. They said, "These people are important to us." In our video, the visitors were not valued, just the ones who ran the show: the barista, the manager and the manager's wife. Without realizing they were doing it, they were saying with signage that, "These are the preeminent people. This is who we value as an organization."
The hidden statement is that there were no signs for visitors whatsoever. Not parking signs, not welcome signs, not even signs telling them where to enter. In our original cut, we had the couple ask, "Where do we go in?" They were confused about where to enter and ended up just walking where the crowd was headed. Lack of signage simply told them they weren't important. Lack of signage in a church leaves the indefinable impression to a visitor that, "this church was not made for you. It was made for people who already know their way around."
Now, I understand that pastor might need a parking sign in order to make sure the service goes off without a hitch. I might suggest that it is near the back entrance, if possible. In our video, it was the only signage visible—saying that the barista (minister) was much more important than the visitor.
When we think about how valued we want the visitor to feel, we would all say it should be very high. The way you show that, is in the signage leading up to your entry, and then following that throughout your building. Notice at the end of the video, the wife says, "I couldn’t find the restroom anywhere?" Signage leads the way. Your Info Center does not resolve the timid visitor's need to know something we should have already told them.
Hey, I'm not the only one pounding the table about signage. How bout this guy... “Write the vision and engrave it so plainly upon tablets that everyone who passes may [be able to] read [it easily and quickly] as he hastens by.” Habakkuk 2:2 (Amplified)
Signage is a statement of value. Are your values consistent with your signage?
For more insight into signage, I wrote a few articles earlier this year about it in Church Executive and Religious Product News.
Stay tuned for more on the video...
© Richard L. Reising
You’ll notice that there are some great bumper stickers in our video, What If Starbucks Marketed Like the Church?. “Real Men Love Java,” “Think this coffee’s hot??” and of course the Starbucks logo eating the Juan Valdez logo. Now, this was not meant to be a cheap shot at all Christian bumper stickers, as bumper stickers are not the issue when it comes down to it. We specifically chose bumper stickers that had a combative undertone. Of all of the props we used, we admit this is the one that any given church has the least control over (except in our video, where they were sold inside on the bookshelf). It can, however, reflect your church's culture or tone towards people who do not think the way you do.
Most of these bumper stickers started out as great inside jokes between Christians. We laughed about them and made them into bumper stickers but maybe never really tried them out through one-on-one situations in personal evangelism. I mean, can you imagine? Someone at the gas station goes up to the person at the next pump and says, "Real men love Jesus. Are you a real man?" It might work, but I doubt it’s the most strategic and effective opening line.
While I fully believe that Christ portrayed the ultimate man, I’m wondering how many non-believers on the highway today fell to their knees seeking manhood after reading "Real Men Love Jesus" on the car in front of them. Jesus is awesome. He doesn’t need us telling non-believers they aren’t "real men." Knowing scripturally that only God knows our heart and that "man looks on the outside" (1 Sam 16:7), I just wonder what we are showing unspiritual people about what God is like. The chances are, my only reaction as a non-believer would be to close myself off even further. You might as well drive by and yell to someone at a stoplight, "You're not a real man!" and then drive off. If you have 10 seconds to say something to someone with your car, is that what you want to tell them?
"Think this Texas heat is hot? Wait till you get to hell." This is along the lines of "Get saved or get microwaved." It might sound cute when we say it among believers, but would you ever kick off an evangelistic effort with this door-to-door opening line? Oh yes, and we are not the biggest Darwin fans, but does our fish have to eat his fish? I'm not saying it doesn’t work—just that combative evangelism is not necessarily the best way to open hearts. I assume most of the church world gets this, but let’s be aware of our need to develop a culture that loves people into the knowledge of God. Remember, it is "His goodness (kindness and patience) that leads us to repentance" (Romans 2:4).
© Richard L. Reising
About ten years ago my wife and I left the corporate marketing world on a mission to serve the church. We had received a clear calling on our lives that drove us to leave house and home--literally. We sold a brand new house we built in Scottsdale, sold one of our cars and moved in with relatives (better know you have heard from God before you do that) in order to pursue this passion. We left two executive level salaries for a life serving churches that qualified us for welfare for several years. God sustained us. He sustains what He starts.
As we were in this transition to serve the church with God-given, world-tested, marketing principles and ideas, we were struck by how the term marketing was handled in the church. In my previous career, as a marketing professional, I had my hand in everything from market research, client profiling, customer experience development, sales analytics, pricing, sales oversight, advertising, facility decor, public speaking, branding, public relations and client billing. When we put up our shingle as a firm, churches were struck by the concept of a "church" marketing firm and routinely asked us, "Oh so you can design my mailer?" We could and we were gracious to do so, but to many churches--the small area of marketing that we call "advertising" or "promotions", was what they thought marketing was all about.
What is marketing all about? Webster’s says that marketing is “an aggregate (sum) of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer.” So how does that apply to the church? The sum of everything your church does to connect Christ with your members and the outside world is marketing. Many might wonder why the video is about marketing. It's because marketing (connecting Christ with people) is in your parking lot. It's on the outside of your building. It's in the way you greet me. It's in your members. It's in your message. It's in everything we do that forms the perception of who we are and what we value to the world we are called to reach.
The challenge is, if we think door hangers or websites will solve our marketing problem, then we have a bigger problem. The average church in America has less than a 15% retention rate of first-time visitors. If I owned a pizza parlor and more than 85% of the people who ate there once decided to never come back, I would think a mailer might just kill the business. It would bring people in faster and increase the speed of my demise. I, more likely, need to be working on things like... my recipe, my wait staff, my decor--anything and everything that could increase my retention rate outside of bringing more people in. The principle is stewardship. What are we accomplishing with what God is sending us? If we are not converting that, scripture would reveal that we are not ready for more (Luke 16:10).
Most churches are not successful at marketing because they don’t quite understand the fact that it encompasses every aspect of church life. They often make the mistake of assuming that marketing is about having the coolest website, but it’s so much more than that. Reality: every single church out there is currently marketing whether they know it or not—there are just some doing a great job, and some doing a not-so-great job.
The truth is, God is not as interested in promotion (mailers and the like) as He is in preparation. He is more concerned that you have created an environment to connect with and retain those who visit your church than He is with how you compelled them in—He wants you to create an environment that a non-believing visitor would actually want to stay in.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I imagine some sort of uprising where you all start yelling at me and telling me we’re supposed to be in the world, but not of it. I know that. The fact is, you don’t have to be of the world to create an environment where worldly people would feel welcomed and engaged. The truth is, not everyone is going to come back. Not everyone will accept Christ. But I pray that it will never be the way we miscommunicate with them that causes them to not come back. Take a look back at my post called A Pastor’s Prescription for More Golf. You’ll be surprised.
If this topic intrigues you, I would highly encourage you to check out the book. I spend several chapters redefining “marketing” and pouring a biblical foundation for it. In a few days I will start breaking down the video further--talking in detail what is in there and why.
© Richard L. Reising
It is important, rather critical, that as church leaders we see how the things we do can affect others. I love the church. My heart beats for pastors and church leaders who have given up normal lives for salaries that are below expectations and responsibilities that are above reason. I have spoke, written and pounded the table at every turn for the last 10+ years as an advocate for that pastor who wants to see peoples' lives changed for the cause of Christ. This video is a furtherance of that cause.
Many years ago I spoke at a conference, challenging on biblical marketing principles (yes, they exist--more to come on that) and I shared the concept that most churches should not promote themselves. Why? Simply this. If your current membership is not actively inviting people (or visitors are not staying), there are reasons why. If you send out a big promotion and visitors come, all they see are the reasons why your congregants do not want to invite people. Those visitors seldom return and share with their friends the reasons they will not come back. Lights came on in minds throughout the room.
I further challenged that every person who has had a life-changing experience with Christ wants every one they know to have a life-changing experience with Christ. If they are not inviting people to church, it is likely because they are not confident in the result. I know some of you will say, "we as believers are responsible to win people to Christ outside the church and the duty of the church is equipping...", I know and I get it. The challenge is, that until that is realized, people from outside our church walls are visiting looking for answers. These people are not spiritually minded, they are naturally minded. Like 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us, they do not see our hearts when they enter, because "man looks on the outside."
After the conference I had the opportunity to speak to a number of pastors. One particular couple mentioned how much they liked the message and saw its application in the church they came from but not in their own. In the church they pastored, they had great members who loved them and were proud of their church, but still never invited anyone. After a few minutes of questioning, they had unknowingly built a case for how awkward a visitor would feel. Their core group was so core, any visitor would feel like an outsider looking in--not invited to the party.
For years I have struggled with this topic. It is my heart that every church looks introspectively about how a visitor feels when they walk through their doors. This can be extremely difficult for the visitors who are not regular church-goers. They are terrified. They feel out of place. They need us to acclimate them. I have secretly visited hundreds of churches in my consulting. I see things first hand. I have trained my mind to see things from the eyes of the visitor, yet maintain my own unrelenting passion for the church. And it is for this reason I have a desire for us as church leaders to all meet people right where they are at--just as Christ met us.
Every church has the opportunity to better themselves and be introspective, so I don't want you to think your church is excluded from this. Your takeaway is not to determine which church this fits the best, it is to go back to your church and ask, "God, how can we connect with the lost more effectively so we can share your love with them with greater success?" Yes, we need the Spirit of God. We need His presence and His wisdom. We can have it all and still confound a newbie by not creating a bridge from his/her cluelessness (this day and age we have to expect them to know nothing) into the depth of terminology, style and churchi-ness we have grown comfortable with.
With all the love I can muster, this video was not meant to offend, to make fun, or to frustrate. It was meant to wake us up. To open our eyes by seeing something in a new light. To help our hearts break. The response is not to point, to blame, nor to think "our church is in the clear." The point is to prayerfully ask God how we can remove the speed-bumps we have unknowingly created for visitors. It is to convert our speed-bumps into onramps toward the knowledge of Christ. If your heart has been stirred, please read more of the blog, read the book, and stay connected with us. We are here to help churches reach more for the cause of Christ. We will continue this cause as long as He allows.
Lord, in our pursuit of you, let us not go blind... to the lost.
© Richard L. Reising
Have you ever tried really hard to make a point and when people say they get it, you are just not sure they do? Sometimes it takes us seeing our world through new eyes--something that it is hard to do as believers. Sometimes a little bit of juxtaposition does the trick.
We made this video because we sometimes struggle in helping churches to truly understand the disconnection between how we do things and the people we’re trying to reach. Our thought was to showcase the visitor experience in a completely different context and in doing so, we might help churches realize how they might actually comes across to the world we are called to reach.
Sometimes it takes seeing something in a different light to really get it. With this thought, my team and I made a little video called “What if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church? A Parable.”
We hope you like it and share it with others. Come back soon or subscribe to our feed to get more insiders notes on the video. We'll have fun breaking it down together.
What if Starbucks marketed like the church?
It seems like churches these days have seen the power of marketing and branding just enough to jump onto the band wagon. Churches everywhere are sliding onto the re-branding table and looking for a quick-fix for their "growing" concerns. A few recent conversations have illustrated the often missing link in a church's preparedness to go under the knife for a branding make-over.
Now, before I get into this, please note that true "branding" goes much deeper than skin deep. True branding is a plum-line from the core of who you are to the people God has called you to reach. It is a promise you deliver on in all that you do and is seen on the surface as your communication, design, image or brand. With that said...
I was teaching a session on branding last week at the National Youth Workers Convention. I normally speak to senior pastors, so I jumped at the chance to hang out with youth leaders for a few days. It was a blast. I was challenging on the need for churches to become successful without a branding effort and that the best brands are those that learn how to connect to people and grow organically first—and then build their brand around that. A youth leader visited me afterwards almost in tears. He had recently taken a position at a new church and, as what he (and much of the church world) thought was norm, decided to launch a new youth group brand. He built that brand around a new look, new logo, new name, new everything. He developed the image of this great brand before he had built trust in his youth and momentum through his ability to connect with them and see growth. He then attempted to launch the brand with a huge event and watched it all to fall flat. The results were a disappointment for him and now his youth group is struggling and shell-shocked. He was heartbroken.
What this represents is surface re-branding. It is an epidemic. It is the concept that if we are not attracting people, it is because we do not have the right name or image, and therefore, we need to change it and re-design our look. With all the love I can muster, if you are not growing what you have, it is not because of your logo. If you are not connecting with people that come through your doors in a way that causes them to come back and bring others, no amount of design can create a long term fix. If you do have momentum however, the right brand can be a catalyst to new levels of growth.
This stuff is not taught in schools. In February, I sat down with a doctoral student at Dallas Theological Seminary who interviewed me regarding his doctoral thesis on church brand development. His brilliantly written thesis had a fatal flaw—it omitted that re-branding should only take place after momentum has been generated. To simply re-brand a church when it has not found its traction is generally just an indication to your community that you’ve tried everything else without success and in your last attempt, you’re changing your style and/or name in order to reinvent yourself. Branding done right is not a "fix". It is a swagger. It is a well-communicated sense of self built on successfully connecting with others.
Here’s the deal: if you aren’t currently connecting with people right where they’re at, no amount of branding/design can solve your problem. Re-branding without momentum is kind of like dressing up for your prom and forgetting to court a date. Think about it.
Design cannot obtain what a disconnected ministry cannot reach.
© Richard L. Reising
Following up on my last post, when you’re hanging with the masses, one thing you should keep in mind: they aren’t going to clearly say profound things about what drives them. People don’t normally talk in a straightforward manner about the real, deep-rooted issues that actually control their decisions about life or church—aka what they are really thinking. You’ve got to learn to interpret what you do get from them. The Mountain Dew Mandate (mingling with the masses) can be broken down into the following examples:
1. Your church normally reaches a lower-middle class crowd (good people, unpretentious, but just not the "Joneses") but many middle to upper-middle class people are moving into the community and you feel that God has called you to reach them. Mingling with the masses might just be having your leadership go out and play more golf. I’m serious! Of course they shouldn’t go out as a group together, but individually spending time with members of that crowd in a place where they are found to be comfortable. You want the country club group? You have to go where they are in order to learn from them. You might feel a little weird and awkward at first, but over time, you’ll feel more comfortable and gain much insight. If you listen long enough, they will reveal how to reach them.
2. Your church is mostly middle class and you really would like to be more effective in reaching a much lower class part of your area. Spending time with the masses might mean a couple of trips to the unemployment office. There you could observe and gain insight into their experience and viewpoint. Some other options could be spending time at stores you don’t normally go to. When you’ve done all of that, you’ll have an understanding of their mind-set and your target can be geared toward connecting with them.
This research is valuable in the concept of becoming as one to win one. You will gain more understanding by watching them in their element than you could by reading about them or asking them directly. You’ll understand their underlying struggles and victories. Mountain Dew didn’t read the book about their target audience—they wrote it from experience.
© Richard L. Reising
In my last post I talked about Jesus being an aerobics instructor, as well as asked us to become the master aerobics teacher. On a more serious note, remember Jesus’ ministry to the multitudes? It is the perfect comparison for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced aerobics classes.
The Beginner Class
Jesus challenged the five thousand with stories and parable and gave them physical food as well. The miracle with the fish and bread was the home run for them. Jesus was inspiring and reached them in the upper deck. This was like a beginning aerobics class. You know, where it’s pretty surface, but still a fairly good workout. The beginner class is the least embarrassing to go to and you usually drag your friend along. If you’re an experienced attendee, and you really want your friend to go, you’re not going to make them go to the advanced class with you. You’ll go to the beginning class for a couple of weeks and stand by their side.
The Intermediate Class
Jesus went across the lake and not all of the multitude followed, but many did. Those were the ones that took the next step, committing more and moving to the lower deck. Jesus taught them there and increased the depth of His ministry. This can be compared to the intermediate class. Many commit to move forward in their aerobics ability, but not everyone will. This might be what you would go to after you feel like you’ve conquered your beginner class and still want to get a good workout.
The Advanced Class
Many lingered after Jesus walked across the lake and it was time for Him to see who would move from the lower deck to the playing field. His next sermon topic was about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Those were deep, spiritually discerning, inner-court words that only His lifers (disciples) could handle.
Jesus adjusted his ministry based on whom He wanted to connect with at the time. He found people where they were, ministered to them and challenged them toward the next level. He had different topics and preaching styles for different audiences and He put Himself in their shoes. He knew where they were and spoke on their level in accordance. It’s kind of like the stadium principles that I talked about.
Think about it. How can you reach people at all levels?
© Richard L. Reising
Everyone who knows me knows I’m a thinker. My brain is constantly going and you can always tell by the look on my face. My mind often wonders over to really random and sometimes bizarre things like aerobics. I am a little overweight--depending I guess on which city I am in. In Paris, I was the fattest guy on the street. At home in Dallas, I feel pretty good about myself. When I was faced with the dilemna of getting back in shape, the risk of showing up for the wrong class struck me--maybe not too unlike what people feel when they decide they need to be in church for the first time in a long while.
At my gym, I was pleased to find separate classes for beginnners, intermediate and advanced. What a novel concept. What if we could do that in church? Wouldn't that remove a lot of intimidation for the visitor? Wouldn't it be the goal to reach someone where they currently were and progress them to the next level or class?
Is that not a mirror of the Gospel? That Jesus meets us right where we are but does not stop challenging us to grow? Step by step. faith by faith. Precept upon precept.
How lousy would I feel if I walked into a "one size fits all" aerobics class and could not keep up? Would I come back? No way.
As a pastor, I am sure you are wishing you could just have different services: for beginners, intermediates and advanced Christians. Many churches are actually doing that. Different services are casting nets at different levels. But suppose you can't do that and you were left with one "class" to teach all levels. How would you connect with the spiritually "unfit" and still challenge the advanced crowd?
Ok, imagine that you are an aerobics instructor. I know, I know…it’s a stretch (pun intended). But seriously, imagine if you were an instructor who held regular workout classes and wanted to see growth—meaning, more people working out and being pushed to the next level, but you had to train them all in one class.
So how would you hold your class? If you cared about the people, you would start by explaining all the aspects of the class and communicating that beginners should not feel obligated to overdo; nor feel intimdated if they cannot follow along. You would make sure there were some "light" exercises just for them. You would let them know they are welcomed and give them grace to join in at their own pace. You wouldn’t just yell at everyone. You wouldn’t tell them that they are not doing a good enough job—people would feel terrible about their progress and not return. Your heart is to see people move up the highest level, but that is done one affirmed step at a time.
If Jesus was an aerobics instructor, I’m pretty sure that’s how He would do it. (By the way, I think He would be the best aerobics instructor ever). Seriously. What do you think?
© Richard L. Reising
This is the third installment in The Stadium Principle. Let’s finish this off.
After many years of playing, usually someone with great talent develops—from little league to college to the big leagues. Picture a rising star with me. He’s like a Nolan Ryan or a Roger Clemens. He’s Randy Johnson. Ok, imagine it’s the bottom of the ninth inning at game seven of the World Series. We’re talking intense—the President of the United States threw out the first pitch, Grammy-award winner sang the national anthem like you’ve never heard it before, the game has been back and forth, back and forth. Bottom of the ninth and everything is on the line. Randy’s on the pitcher’s mound and it’s the moment of a lifetime for him. All of the years or little league and college ball have built up to this. Randy has lived baseball—eaten, drunk, and slept baseball. His friends love the game and they love how he plays the game. Bottom of the ninth—it’s a full count, two outs, one strike and we win. People are tuned in around the world watching this.
Do you think Randy Johnson, at this moment, remembers what it feels like to not care about baseball? Do you think he’d be able to relate to someone who has never been to a game at this moment? Just like Randy, do you think pastors who have lived church—eaten, drunk, and slept church—with friends who love God and admire them…do you think they remember what it’s like to be a stranger to church and to not know God? Do you think most pastors routinely remember what it’s like to hear about Jesus for the first time? It is almost counterintuitive. After all, as church leaders, we spend most of our time with church folk.
I say this in prayer that we never forget what is going on in the hearts and minds of those people in the upper deck. Those are the most overlooked and least connected with. It’s easy to pitch for the lower deck—they are the cheers we hear the loudest. A good pitcher learns how to make the game great for people at all levels of the stadium. God give us a heart for the upper decker and allow us to never forget the first time we heard the crack of the bat.
© Richard L. Reising
Last time I gave a baseball analogy and talked about how I went from making fun of the baseball freaks to actually becoming one. I talked about the fact that I didn’t get there overnight. It was gradually through baby steps. I went from hating the game, to giving in and actually going to a game, to discovering that baseball might even be enjoyable, to going back to another game, to buying season tickets, and joining a softball league.
These baby steps could be paralleled to many people’s experience with the church and accepting Christ. I thought I would never set foot in a church until my friend pleaded and I gave in. I sat there feeling empty and full all at the same time. It was obvious to me that there was something more and when the pastor spoke, it was like that home run—in my heart. His words inspired me and I returned.
Later, I committed my life to Christ and I found myself more and more sold out. I was investing more--paying more for my seats. I wore the Christian t-shirt and I had the leather Bible. God was working in my heart and people began to see a change in me. I joined the church and solidified my commitment.
One day, as I was growing, God called me out to the playing field. I now find myself serving any time that I can. I can’t wait to see all of my friends and family come to know Christ.
Sometimes, like Paul, God completely knocks you off your horse and you go from disconnected outside of the ballpark to the playing field in a very short time. Unfortunately, this is not the case most of the time. It’s a matter of progression over time. During that time, God works in our hearts and minds to change our perception. Now I am not saying we are not all immediately called to be witnesses, I am saying that we grow and progress in our walk with Christ at different rates, but in similar stages.
So what can we, as a church, do to help those outside the ballpark make it to the upper deck? What about the upper-deckers moving to the lower deck? How do we challenge the lower deck to get on the playing field and be part of the team?
I’m sure you’ve seen the parallel that I’ve made by now and I pray that you understand I am not belittling the church with this illustration. My heart is simply to understand that perceptions are quite varied in our churches. Whether it’s unbelievers, or scholars, we’ve got to learn to reach people right where they are and motivate them to the next level. Are you thinking about that every week as you prepare your messages? Make it so.
© Richard L. Reising
A scenario: ok, you and I are good buddies. You are the world’s biggest baseball fan. I am on the other end of the spectrum. I can’t think of a more boring game than baseball. I’ve never even been to a game before, but I am absolutely convinced that I wouldn’t like it. You ask me constantly to come with you and I can’t wait until you’ll stop asking, but one day I give in to your request in the midst of a weak moment.
So I’m going to this game with you, but you are most definitely buying my nosebleed ticket that’s approximately $2 and my hot dog as well. We sit in the upper deck on a blazing hot day—you’re completely happy and I’m pretty much in agony. I’m eating my hot dog and slurping my drink when suddenly, the home team knocks one out of the park. We jump up and high-five each other! I’m totally caught off guard. Somehow the hit inspired me and I’m thinking that maybe I like baseball after all. Not what I expected at all. I might have actually enjoyed a baseball game.
Of course you ask me to go again and I surprisingly commit. This time I’ll buy my own ticket and hot dog. I’m willing to spend that much, but not enough to sit in the lower deck with the $80/seat baseball freaks. They are just a bit much for me at this point. Although I like baseball, my commitment is minimum.
After returning for a couple of games in my cheap upper deck seats, my passion for baseball builds. Now, the $80 seats don’t seem so expensive and I could even catch a foul ball down there. I find myself decked out in all the gear—hat, jersey, leather glove, the works. I’m a sold out fan. I push it even further by getting season tickets. I want to make sure I don’t miss a single inning. People at work now know me as one of those baseball freaks and I’ve even joined a softball league. I plan on coaching my kids’ softball team.
The thing is, I didn’t get here overnight. I got here with baby steps. Something to think about and chew on for a few days. Were you ever the person who hated a particular thing and made fun of the so-called “freaks”? Paul was. And even he spent a short season getting prepared for the transition from onlooker to first baseman.
© Richard L. Reising