- 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
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).
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?
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
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
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?