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From the hand-written letters of the Apostles to the 140 characters on Twitter, the way the Church meets, communicates, and spreads the good news of Jesus has greatly changed over the past 2,000 years.
This isn’t to say that the message of the Gospel has changed, or that people are in any less need of Jesus. But how people find, engage with, and often give to a Church is radically different than it was even 20 years ago.
With the advent of modern technologies like the internet, mobile phones, and the ubiquitous use of social media, Churches now more than ever need to both understand and utilize these modern forms of communication in order to effectively reach and engage with new, existing, and possible future congregants.
The challenge that many pastors face, however, is that they didn’t go to school to learn how to build a website or create a social media account. They went to school to learn how to shepherd God’s people.
The reality today is that people almost exclusively use the internet and internet-connected devices to both find and engage with a Church.
And for pastors, this could potentially sound daunting as their already overwhelming schedule doesn’t have room to set aside time to learn how to build a new church website, how to implement SEO, how to manage a Google Ad Grant, or how to run digital ads across all the various social media and advertising platforms.
That’s where Missional Marketing can help.
Missional Marketing is a Christian advertising/marketing agency focused solely on helping Churches of all sizes to more effectively reach and engage with existing and new visitors.
They have over 25 years of experience and have helped hundreds of churches across North America by removing the stress on pastors of having to reach new people in their communities.
Their proven methods of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Search Advertising (Google Ad Grants program and Google Ads), and Website Engagement Optimization (improving website effectiveness) all work together to help Churches reach new people, increase online giving, and more effectively communicate with their local congregation.
The reason we’ve chosen to partner with Missional Marketing is not only their vast experience in church growth through digital marketing efforts, but because their goal is to be a valuable contributor to the Church’s overall success and to grow the Kingdom, not just to get more clicks. They want to see more people hear the Gospel and find salvation in Jesus Christ.
After all, that’s the only “conversion” that really matters.
Missional Marketing is a Christian advertising/marketing agency focused on helping Churches of all sizes with church growth by improving their online presence. They have an “arkload” of experience and specialize in all areas of digital marketing, including church website design and development, Google Ad Grants, paid advertising, and SEO.
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People usually look forward to Christmas. But this year, thanks to COVID, we’re absolutely craving the Christmas spirit.
People in your church are ready to turn the page on the craziest year ever. People in your community ready for some familiar reminders of what’s normal.
That’s why your church needs to dive headfirst into planning Christmas.
Here are some quick tips:
Take a Step
We’re going to dive deeper into these ideas and help you create a complete Christmas plan on a free training on September 22. Join more than 1,000 other pastors already registered and sign up here.
On the training, we’re going to talk about…
The training is free and you can reserve your spot here.
Join 30,000+ pastors and get ideas, resources and tools from our free, weekly newsletter.
Here’s one of the most important communications lessons I’ve ever learned…
Know your audience.
Whether you’re writing a novel, composing an email, answering a question, or delivering a speech, it’s of utmost importance to answer your question.
A novel written for military history buffs will be dramatically different from a romance novel intended for young adults.
You can truthfully answer the question, “Where do babies come from?” in a variety of ways, but your approach will largely be dictated by the age of your audience.
It’s great to be an expert in your field, but it might be just as important to be an expert in understanding your audience.
It’s not just your content; it’s about understanding the hopes, dreams, fears, beliefs, and style of the people hearing your content. The better you know them, the better you can connect.
This is true for pastors and church leaders, too.
For those of us in the Church with life-changing messages, programs that should reach people, and ministries intended to meet people where they are, we need to make sure we have “good stuff.”
But we also need to make sure that our messages, ministries, and programs truly connect with the needs of our community. We don’t just need to know our mission—we need to know our mission field. We don’t just need to run our programs—we need to understand the people who need them.
Too many churches forge ahead with programs and ministries, sermons and messages, without taking the time to really study the makeup of the people they are trying to reach.
That’s not good stewardship. Plowing ahead with programs and ministries without knowing whether or not we’re working in sandy, rocky, or good soil isn’t great faith or great leadership. It’s a missed opportunity.
When missionaries enter the mission field, they should devote significant time to learning customs, language, and culture. Most realize that they need more than passion and vision to thrive. They must connect with the culture and community.
Anna Wishart writes this about missionaries:
“People in different places think and see the world differently than we do. We are going to another culture, another language, another people group. They are human beings, real people with intelligence, history, feelings, thoughts, customs, and minds; and like the uneducated surgeon, our good intentions alone will not be able to enter into their world to help them.”
Stefani Varner adds this:
“Crossing cultures can help us learn valuable lessons in principles such as honor, respect, relationships, love, discipline, work ethic, and more. We have an opportunity for personal and corporate growth as we learn from each other. As we cross cultures for the purpose of bringing the life-giving message of the gospel to the nations, we must do so with humility. Having the mindset of a learner and gaining trust is critical so we can focus on building relationships and pointing them to the truth of the gospel.”
Learning culture is an important topic for missionaries, but it is just as important for pastors and church leaders. You’re a missionary in your own community. There might not be a language barrier, but there’s still an opportunity.
Many pastors know their mission statement backward and forward but have not put in the time and energy to get to know the mission field.
That’s a huge risk.
But where there is great risk, there is great opportunity.
The better you know your community (and congregation), the better you can match your programs, ministries, and communication.
Knowing more can help you be more effective.
You think you know your community, but what do you really know?
Do you just have stories or observations? Or is there some hard data?
There’s value in both, but if you can get data and insights, you’ll be able to make better ministry decisions.
Here are two places you can get the kind of data, statistics, and insights we’re talking about.
First, take a look at the Know Your Community report courtesy of Gloo Insights.
Once you create a free account and put in your church address, you can download a report containing a wealth of information about the people living in your area.
This information is anonymized, meaning you can’t see individuals. But an aggregate look at your community is well worth your time.
When you run your own report, you can dive into:
This type of “third-party data” is a valuable snapshot of your community. It can provide some fresh insight into your mission field. It may confirm some suspicions or shed light on why your people respond the way they do.
When you run your report, talk about it with some other leaders in your church. Did you see anything that surprised you? What do you make of the spiritual style section? Do your current programs and ministries match who lives in your community?
Second, gather information through surveys and assessments.
You can learn a lot from your congregation by asking them questions. This “first-party” information comes directly from your people.
Like a shepherd knowing the condition of the flock, pastors can use surveys and assessments to better understand the condition of the congregation. By asking questions, you can know rather than guess.
In recent months, we’ve seen churches make great ministry decisions after listening to the congregation. Here are just some of the options.
Surveys and assessments are more valuable than overreliance on the most recent story you’ve heard or the loudest voice in the room. They allow you to move from “people are saying” to more concrete evidence of perceptions and beliefs.
Taken together, insights on your community and answers from your congregation can give you a deeper understanding of the people you are trying to reach and the people you are serving.
Even if you feel like you have a decent pulse on this, the actual information can inform your ministry decision making.
Now more than ever, it’s important to know and match.
It’s likely your community has changed over the last ten years. In fact, things probably look radically different today than just one year ago. That’s why you should search out this type of information, even if you feel like you have a baseline understanding of your community.
Don’t let familiarity with your environment lead you to miss out on important changes or trends.
And because the mission of the church is permanent, pastors and church leaders are often resistant to cultural changes. We’re comfortable doing what worked in the past and are sometimes conditioned to ignore the changes around us.
Many churches are designed to meet the needs of a community that existed 10, 20, or 30 years ago.
Let’s be clear: Your purpose should not change.
The calling to “go and make disciples” should be the foundation for everything you do. The changing needs of culture do not alter the purpose of the church.
But your strategies and tactics should be informed by the audience you’re trying to reach.
When you take time to understand your community and get to know your congregation at a deeper level, you can be more effective in ministry.
Do you want to dive a little deeper into this topic? Our newest course, Data Fueled Church, is a free resource that will help you process many of the ideas in this article. We’ll guide you through how to get things set up and help you take action with some of the information available to you.
This premium course is 100% free and includes videos and resources for you and your team.
It’s a dreaded question.
It’s tough for any organization to answer. It’s particularly difficult for churches.
What does your church do?
Most of us who grew up in the church just stare back in disbelief. We ponder many questions about the church. How do we serve more effectively? How do we reach more people? Who should lead churches? We rarely ask ourselves, “What does our church do?”
So invariably we don’t have an answer when asked—at least one that clearly communicates with those we want to reach. Maybe we respond with something full of Christian jargon.
Those all may be correct statements (and I hope they are), but they’ll make someone who doesn’t go to church regularly scratch their heads in confusion.
Or maybe we go into a long diatribe that explains every facet of our church strategy.
Many unchurched people today have little background in the church. According to Barna Research, the percentage of people who call themselves atheists, agnostics, or of no religion, has doubled in the last two decades. Those numbers have been particularly abrupt among Generation Z. Words like lost, gospel, and saved mean nothing to people who have no history with the church—or even worse, they mean something different from what they mean to us.
Plus, you simply don’t have 25 minutes to explain what your church does. Most people won’t listen (really listen) that long, even if they’re trapped at a dinner party with you.
To respond to this very important question from the people in your community, you need to reach into the business world for a tool that’s proving effective in helping businesses engage customers.
You need a one-liner.
So what’s a one-liner?
Marketing guru Donald Miller defines it like this in his book, Marketing Made Simple: “A concise statement you can use to clearly explain what you offer.”
It’s basically your church’s elevator speech.
Miller calls it the most powerful tool in any organization’s toolbox because you can use it to make people curious about you. “A one-liner makes people lean in rather than tune out at a cocktail party,” he writes.
Anyone who has ever tried to explain what their church does at a party can appreciate the value of a one-liner.
When you first hear Miller’s definition, it might tempt you to think you’ve already got a one-liner. It’s called your mission statement.
But you’d be wrong.
Yes, you still need a mission statement. Your mission statement communicates to your church family what you’re all about. It keeps everyone on the same page. But you can’t use the same language with the church as you do to people outside of the church. Plus, even the best mission statements don’t necessarily make someone lean into them.
Your mission statement is centered on your church.
Your one-liner is centered on the people you’re trying to reach.
It looks like a subtle change, but it’s transformational when it comes to engaging the people your church wants to reach. Unchurched people don’t care about your church. They don’t particularly care about what you think God wants you to do. They don’t really even care about what God wants them to do. They care about themselves.
Most people don’t check out your church because of your cool mission statement. They check out your church because they believe you can help solve a problem in their life.
That’s at the heart of what a one-liner is. It tells people who don’t go to your church how your church will solve a significant problem in their life.
As Miller says, your one-liner is the most powerful tool you have at your disposal to communicate about your church. It’s the starting point of any other marketing need you have.
The effective one-liner tells a clear and compelling story about your church in just two sentences or less. Like any other story, your one-liner needs a hero.
Your story’s hero isn’t your church. It isn’t even Jesus. For your story to engage the people you want to reach, you have to put them in the hero slot.
At its simplest point, every good story has a hero who wants something but faces an obstacle to getting it. The story describes how the hero overcomes the obstacle to get what he or she wants and ultimately how reaching this goal impacts the hero’s life. Your one-liner works the same but at a micro-level.
Your one-liner has three parts.
Problem – Nothing is more important to define clearly from your hero’s perspective than the problem. Nothing is more difficult either. Once you define the problem, everything else falls into place.
Solution – If you describe the problem clearly (and it resonates with those you’re sharing it with), you’ll create a sense of anticipation for the solution. You’ll have pricked a pain point, and they will want to alleviate that pain. Your church is then in the perfect position to provide the solution.
Success – Finally, you need to give people a glimpse into how your solution will make their lives better. This part provides the real emotional punch to your one-liner. The person you’re trying to reach has been likely trying to solve this problem for years. They’ve attempted other solutions and failed. You’re giving them hope.
Your new one-liner will be the most used part of your church’s marketing collateral. Because it’s short and simple, you’ll find places to use it everywhere. Here are a few examples:
These use cases are just the beginning. Brainstorm with your team different ways you can use your new one-liner. Most importantly, say it often to one another and to people you engage in the community.
You can also join our Church Fuel Members for our upcoming LAB in September, where we’ll be working alongside a Storybrand Guide to craft our own one-liners. He’ll not only guide you through the process but put your one-liner to the test in our cohort style workshops.
You should never be at a loss of words again when you’re asked what your church does.
I said that I would never buy an air fryer.
I didn’t need more kitchen gadgets, and I especially didn’t need a large one taking up counter space. But the COVID-19 season changed that.
Similarly, even the churches that weren’t interested in introducing an online service option found themselves doing just that during COVID-19.
What seemed to be a frivolous investment before turned out to be a welcomed tool that makes better ministry possible right now (and in my air fryer case, better fries).
But after months and months of live streaming, pastors started reporting a drop in online service attendance around June. Only 42% of practicing Christians reported that they had listened to or watched a sermon online during a four-week period.
So, while online services continue to be the norm for many churches, people are less engaged. It’s time to revisit (or create) your church live stream strategy.
When we think about improving the live stream, our minds often go to spending thousands of dollars to upgrade the equipment.
But it’s not about the gear. It’s about engagement. Especially now.
As Carey Nieuwhof put it, “Just because the novelty of online church is wearing off for people doesn't mean there isn't great long-term potential for online church in a world in which everyone you want to reach is online.”
There are steps you can take to rebuild live stream engagement for your church. These small changes can make a big difference.
If your live stream goes right into music at the beginning of service and switches straight from music to sermon, consider adding a host.
This person can add a personal element, helping to pull online attenders in and make feel welcome. Not only can they serve as the friendly face that begins and ends the service, but they can provide context as the live stream transitions from one part of the service to another.
The countdown slides that help everyone know how soon service is going to start can also do so much more.
Use those countdown slides to encourage connection:
Together Church, where Church Fuel ministry coach Dr. Robbie Foreman is Senior Pastor, is a great example. They use their countdown slides to encourage people to submit a prayer request, tell them how to find the church on social media, and show instructions for giving online.
If your church has full-time staff, they most likely have their plates full with just making sure that Sunday service happens.
But volunteers can easily step in to help with the engagement piece of online service.
When I was on staff at a church, I had my hands full with typical communications tasks. I recruited a team of volunteers to post Instagram stories live on Sundays, reply to social media comments, and cover events.
An engagement team can improve your church’s live stream by being available to chat, pray, and answer questions. Their active presence in the chat section of the live stream can make it feel more lively and interactive for guests.
If you’re a Church Fuel member, check the Resource Library for our Online Service Moderator Guidelines. This resource outlines what engagement team members/online service moderators should do, best practices for engaging, and example comments and questions to spark interaction.
If you ask most people who are burnt out on live streams and Zoom calls what they miss the most, their answer will probably be “other people.”
We took our times of hanging out in the church lobby to chat after service for granted.
But until those times return for your church, help people connect online. For example, Cornerstone Church in Atlanta, GA sets up a Zoom call every Sunday for church members who want to see familiar faces while they watch the service online. People can log in to the Zoom call a few minutes before service and stay on after to interact.
Providing spaces for “virtual lobby talk” can make people more excited about having church online. They can watch the live stream and connect with the people they miss.
“The Apostle Paul used the technology of his day (letter writing) to connect people with God and to grow the church,” said Dave Adamson. “We’re called to do the same thing—use the technology of our day to help grow the church and connect people with God.”
When the live stream process becomes routine, it can start to become mundane. It’s easy to eventually forget that those are people and not just viewer numbers behind the screen.
Let people know that you remember them. Tell people you’re happy to “see” them on the live stream. Share personal news and stories.
This is the same principle that says people are more likely to stick around at a church if they get involved—making friends, volunteering, joining a small group, etc. If people feel seen and known on a live stream, they’re more inclined to log on.
Thank Sharon for sharing the live stream with her grandma in Indiana. Congratulate Jack and Jill on their recent engagement. Ask everyone to wish Bill a happy birthday. Don’t let your live stream continue to be “business as usual” Sunday after Sunday—bring people in.
If the live stream attendance is dropping and those who do watch aren’t engaging or sharing it with friends and family, the reasons might be deeper than screen fatigue.
The best way to know what could improve the live stream experience for your people is to ask them. Better yet, ask an outsider who isn’t a part of your church (or even a non-believer) to evaluate your live stream and give their honest feedback. They can point out shortcomings that might be turning people off and highlight issues that aren’t easily seen from the inside.
Church Fuel members, you’ll find an Online Service Evaluation Form in the Resource Library to help with this.
The live stream may be new terrority for a lot of churches because of COVID-19, but it’s an excellent tool to help even more people connect with the church.
As Kenny Jahng, a church communications expert who helps organizations create content that drives engagement explained in our Rebound course: “You now have an audience that's captivated, curious, and conversive, and those are the three magic ingredients.”
Make a few small changes to improve the live stream experience and they will add up to build a stronger, more engaged online audience for your church.
Looking for ways to reach more people in your community and invite them to church? In The Senior Pastor's Guide to Reaching More People, you'll find practical and actionable tools that you can use to reach more people inside and outside of your church.
No matter which feed you open, where it’s Facebook, Twitter, or even your own thread of text messages, you’ll see plenty of opinions about reopening churches for in-person worship after COVID-19 lockdowns.
But in a sea of noise, it’s wise for church leaders to focus on communicating to the audience entrusted to them…their congregation.
You can serve your people well by communicating with clarity—in this season and always. Here are our six tips for communicating about reopening.
We believe that the decision to reopen is a big one. But there’s no doubt that your congregation has questions about which decision the church is leaning toward, and the pastor’s inbox is likely evidence of that.
If your church has made the decision to reopen, communicate that to the congregation even if you have to say, “Details are coming soon, but we wanted you to know where we stand because we know that you have questions.” This helps people know what’s happening and why even if they’re not planning to return to the building any time soon.
In his book, Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley wrote: “My enemy is not uncertainty. It is not even my responsibility to remove the uncertainty. It is my responsibility to bring clarity into the midst of the uncertainty.”
Sometimes the answer is “I don’t know” or “Not yet” but there are ways to communicate this reality that provides some clarity and relieves people’s anxiety.
When communicating through a crisis, one important principle to remember is to keep it concise.
There’s a lot that goes into making the decision to reopen and many things that could go wrong, but the congregation doesn’t need to know the brand of thermometer the church will use to check temperatures at the door or the level of disagreement the church elders had about the cost of hand sanitizer stations.
You want to communicate the facts concisely with the most relevant details in external communication (to the congregation and media). And right now, it’s even wise to share the cleaning policies that no one cared about before. But internal communication is the place for nitty-gritty details to guide your staff and key volunteers.
Even those who aren’t in a hurry to come back to in-person services are seeing the anguish around them and looking to their church asking, “How can we help?”
Give the people what they’re searching for—answers, hope, and ways to serve. There might be a place for them on the church’s reopening task force to help make the decision. Or families with urgent needs for groceries or childcare that they can help meet.
As the logistics of reopening become clearer, new volunteer positions will likely emerge. Share these with your congregation and give them an easy way to sign up.
In all of your reopening communication, give a nod to vulnerable populations who are advised to stay home.
Let them know they’re not forgotten. Share the options available to help them stay connected (online services and virtual small groups, for example). Make them feel noticed and cared for.
We can’t always control the angles that media outlets use to report a story.
But even if you don’t care what the media thinks of your church’s decision to reopen, it’s wise to care for your congregation and community’s perception by having a public relations (PR) plan in place.
Don’t allow the fear of unknown responses from the public to stop you from planning.
Nona Jones once put it this way: “Fear is an invitation to prepare. Fear is not paralytic.”
It doesn’t have to be long and detailed but prepare your response.
Know what to say when asked how church leadership reached the decision to reopen and what the safety measures are. Designate one person to respond to inquiries from the public (typically a Communications Director or Executive Pastor).
A PR strategy is helpful for churches all the time, but it’s especially valuable now. It’s not submitting to public opinion. It’s an opportunity to clearly communicate responsibility, concern for the community, and God’s love to those who are confused, hopeless, and hurting.
With the term “unprecedented” and the phrase “new normal” floating around all the time, most people are longing for normalcy and seeking hope for the future.
It’s true that there’s a new normal that we’re all getting adjusted to and it’s important to be honest about that.
But Hebrews 13:8 is also true.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Matthew 16:18 is still true.
…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
So, when you communicate about reopening, confirm what has changed. Maybe you’ll be wearing masks for a while, closing some hallways, and canceling some events.
But communicate what hasn’t changed, too. Clarity is comforting and your congregation will appreciate the hope-filled reminder.
Not sure what to say in communication to your congregation right now? We created these free, pre-written emails to give you a starting place and help in determining what your church needs to know right now.
You can customize the messages for your church context and use them as a guideline for what to say in emails, on the website, or in social media posts.