In the last post we talked about connecting to the small town where you pastor or lead, specifically looking at ways to connect to newcomers and long-time residents. Now let's look at ways to effectively connect to those who might want to check out your church.
First of all is first impressions. We all know the stats that tell us most people have made up their minds about returning before you ever get up to speak. So we should be constantly looking closely at what our first impression is communicating. I'm talking about the impression given when people see our property during the week, not just on Sunday. Does your signage reflect excellence? Last week I noticed a new church in the next town while driving. I didn't see the facility since I was driving and didn't have time to look, but I saw the sign – a banner hung haphazardly and with a misspelled word. My first impression is negative and I'm someone who loves the local church! Think about the guy looking for excuses not to go to church and make sure you aren't giving him one.
Never use a lack of resources as an excuse for a lack of excellence.
Whatever you have, present it in excellence, as unto the Lord. As my dad always said, "Sometimes you can't help being poor, but you can always be clean." Is there trash in the parking area? Are there burned out light bulbs? Are the bathrooms clean and well-stocked? Is there a pile stored visibly in the corner of the kids room? Is the grass cut and the landscaping neat? Are the windows and walls clean? You know the drill, just make sure you don't slack off.
Treat every day like it's your first Sunday. No one will see things the way you do, so don't back off because they don't or because they think you are a little OCD about it. And if you're not one of those who sees these kind of things, find someone who is and turn them loose!
And is the marketing media you use sending the message you want sent? Are you promoting the Church or just your church? Are you subtly putting every other church in town down while lifting yours up? Remember, the Church belongs to Jesus and He loves her, so don't join in with the world and put her down to make yours look good. Instead of "Tired of the same old church experience? Try us because we're better!", how bout just marketing your strength or focus? Our enemy spends a lot of time making sure people have a negative image
of the church, let's don't aid him with our marketing. We're Kingdom people and we want the Kingdom to advance, not just our church. In fact, if your church is the only Bible-believing, Jesus-loving church growing in your town that is growing, then there really isn't revival taking place.
When the level of Holy Spirit activity rises in every Biblical church, then we are truly making a difference in our towns.
Look at your signs and your marketing media. Are they done in excellence? Are your signs all level and readable? Are they sending the message you want sent about your church? Are they Kingdom-minded? When people see them do they have a connection point?
For instance, at LifeGate we have always believed the church should 'out-race' the community. In other words, if our community is comprised of 20% African-American, 8% Hispanic, and 2% Asian, then our church make-up should surpass those percentages. We also believe the church should be multi-generational. Look at your marketing and in-house media – do the people represented in it reflect what you want your church to look like? We were surprised at how hard it is to find diverse stock photography or videos for use in our marketing and announcements. When someone receives our mailer, or sees our billboard, or picks up a brochure about us, we want them to see someone like them, someone with whom they can connect. If you want diversity, then make sure you are putting diversity in front of people. It's the principle Jacob used with Laban when told he could have all the spotted calves. He put a striped stick in front of the herd while they drank and they became what they saw! They started birthing spotted calves. Keep diversity in front of people, from your media to the platform, and they will become what they see.
Here's something that will help you as you think about your first impressions and their impact on how people connect to your church. We just returned from Disney World with some of our grandkids. Every time I go to Disney I am challenged about the way we do church. I understand they have a ton of resources, but I'm talking about the 'feeling' you get there, not the stuff they have. I don't like being pressed in crowds or standing in line, yet I have a good time. When you walk onto the grounds you know you are there to have fun. The signs leading to the parking, the entrance signs, the attitude of the 'cast', all send me the message that I'm here to have fun. (By the way, they don't waste any time or space to tell me how much better they are than the other theme parks!). I have a friend who is in management at Disney and they shared with me that every 'cast member', whether they are in uniform or not, is trained to stop when they see a crying child and see what they can do to help. She was enjoying the park on an off day and saw a child crying because the little girl had dropped her ice cream. My friend stopped, asked if she could help, and took the family to an ice cream cart where the little girl was given another ice cream. Our churches are supposed to be 'sanctuaries' where people come and find hope and help in Jesus. Do we communicate that with our signs? By the time someone parks and walks to our front door have we already raised their expectations? Have we taught those we lead to be hosts in the house and empowered everyone to help when they see a problem? Whenever I have a Disney experience it challenges me to examine the experience at LifeGate and ask if we are truly facilitating a hopeful, encouraging experience for those who attend, whether they are there for the first time or the hundredth time. That's the power of first impressions. If we do them right, they will help us connect people to Jesus, and that's our goal.
We'll continue talking about connection to our small town in the next post. I hope this one has stirred up some creativity on ways to help your town connect to your church and your church connect to your town. I would love to hear ways you have found to effectively connect to your small town. Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.