Need some evidence that it isn't just your imagination making you feel nobody has time for anything related to the church? "At the end of the weekend, you are more than a full day behind in your activities. Even if we went to an eight-day week you still would be 4.5 hours behind." Was the conclusion of an article in the Wall Street Journal.
Ed note before I continue: I wrote this article several years ago and while updating the website ran across it. The time challenges of your audience today make it worth another look because though a few years have passed if anything the situation of time demands has become even more challenging as we attempt to reach people. Following is a reprint of the article with a number of updates added.
An article in the Wall Street Journal reported Americans work an average of 53 hours a week. Dale McFeatters took that statistic and calculated that if an individual did all the activities reported such as sleeping, TV, dressing, etc., without multitasking, that person would have a 28.5 hour a week time deficit. In addition to helping explain why we often feel stressed and tired, his calculations help explain why it is so difficult to get people respond to the communications from your church. Following are some ideas on how to communicate your church's message to a time-stressed and time-starved audience.
Acknowledge that it's a serious situation
McFeatters concludes, "In other words, at the end of the weekend, you are more than a full day behind in your activities. Even if we went to an eight-day week you still would be 4.5 hours behind."
Humorous? Not really. Life is overly full and highly stressful today. If people are not reading and responding to what you try to communicate to them from your church, it isn't because they have lost interest in church or hate God and have gone apostate. Most often they are simply too busy. Here are some ideas for reaching these busy people:
Think like CNN's Headline News
One of their slogan's is: "Real News, Real Fast." That's a great guideline for messages coming from your church. Give them "real news" some message or information of significance and give it to them, "real fast" in a way that they can read and absorb in the midst of a busy, stressed out life. Here are some ways to do that:
Postcards are one of the best ways to do this. They are great to communicate to busy people who won't take the time to open an envelope and read a lengthy publication. They work great even in this digital age, when many people still look at their postal mail more often than email.
(One other update note that confirms the value of postcards: think back to our recent national political campaign in the U.S. A very large percentage of the advertising for national and local candidates was done with postcards and they would not have spent the money they are if they were not valuable communicators.)
Postcards are great for short notices, reminders, anything you want to see posted on the refrigerator so people will respond. It is the ability to put the postcard on the refrigerator that makes postcards useful in the age of email. Email is great (we'll look at it in a minute), but emails are seldom posted on the fridge for the family to see. You probably go to the fridge a lot more often than you reread church emails and that frequency makes a big difference in whether you attend a Bible study or other church event.
A number of recent studies have come out from direct mail marketing groups that verify not only the usefulness of postcards, but show that they are more effective than online advertising to get people to respond. One of the most interesting came out this year from the Direct Mail Marketing Association:
"Direct Mail outperforms all digital channels combined by nearly 600%."
2015 Direct Mail Marketing Association Response Rate Report
The quote is a summary of one of many studies in the 2015 Direct Mail Marketing Association Rate Response Report, put out by the Direct Mail Marketing Association. The shock value of such a large difference in performance (the number of people who call, buy, or take whatever action was advertised) illustrates well the mistake of assuming the popularity of social media means social media is the most effective way to advertise to get people to respond. After reporting the response rates, the larger report went on to discuss the need for a variety of media if a company wants customers to buy its products or respond to its offers. That same advice applies to churches.
If you’ve done away with other forms of advertising of events and ministries and have gone primarily to social media, you may have experienced a drop in attendance at these events. It’s easy to attribute that drop to busy schedules and a more secularized world, but part of the drop off could be a result of how you advertise your event.
Email time-saving advice—for your readers that is
Be sure to always put a summary of your message in the subject line for people who only skim their inbox. For example, instead of "Important Event at Church Tonight" put "Men's BBQ and Coach Bradley to Speak at 6" or "Bring Munchies, a friend, 5 bucks to Youth Lock-in Friday."
You can and should put all the details in the body, but the central facts to get people to an event can be communicated in seconds if you summarize the message in the subject line.
Remember always that not everyone reads email, some people primarily access it at work (and use texting for all personal messages), and some people don't check their email every day. Take periodic surveys of your people to update your email directory and to find out your people's preferred ways of receiving information.
The use of email is in flux now, with various social media, texting, etc. vying for use. Be sure to track how your people are responding and if one way of communicating is working as well as you like, add another channel (e.g. group texts to email). Don't get rid of the former one, because many people probably still use it. Remember we are in a time of multi-channel communication where we can't rid of any way of communicating, but must continuously be trying new things. Technology provides lots of options that are always changing, which leads to the next point.....
Keep up with technology
Using the most current technology is more important to some areas of ministry than others, such as usually the youth director needs to use the most cutting-edge technology available.
Since the majority of the students in your youth program text and share photos on the latest phones, be sure your youth pastor has the tools, e.g. a phone that can do everything and a plan with unlimited bandwidth that enables him or her to do what they need to. You wouldn't send a missionary to another country without language and cultural training and you can't expect a youth pastor today to be effective without the technology he or she needs to do their job. If they have to worry about minutes spent connecting with kids it's just like asking a missionary to watch the time they talk to people in another country.
Keep your website updated
Active, continual updating of your church website is essential if you want to serve the time-stressed congregation you have today. It has become an expectation in all areas of life that we go to the web to check out facts on what car to buy, where to eat dinner, and every other question in life. Your website has to have all the information about all the programs in your church easily accessible if you really want to meet the needs of people today.
If people can't get the most up-to-date information from the web site immediately when they want it, they may simply not show up for activities.
Have a system where ministry leaders are responsible to update their own information and hold them accountable for the updating. WordPress is the system I use for both this website and the sites I create for our ministry work at church. It is an incredibly easy system to learn (see: www.wordpress.com) and anyone who can do word-processing can update the site. In addition, WordPress has a number of website templates (like this one) that are "responsive." That means they adjust to any device that is used to view them, from a home computer to a tablet to a smart phone--for people who want immediate access to information today this is very important.
All of the companies that sell churches websites have training where volunteers can update their ministry areas and it is essential you take time to train them to do that. No one will be excited about this task, but we must remind them that it is vitally important. It is foot-washing, servant work, but it may make the difference between whether someone shows up for an eternity-altering event at your church or not.
Always remember—people do not go to church web sites for their multi-media thrill of the week. They go to them for information. An easy-to-maintain system that is up-to-date is preferable to a flashy brochure site that is great to look at, but frustrating to use for finding out when the small groups meet.
If you want people to volunteer, a vague plea such as "Greeters needed in the Welcome Center," probably won't get a response. In addition to being too vague, when people are busy and their time valuable, they won't bother digging for information.
You need to structure your volunteer opportunities into clearly defined, easy to read and understand communications to get a response from busy people. For example, instead of the previous vague plea, try something like this:
Volunteer position: Greeter Extraordinaire
Team Leader: Amy Johnson, 555-5555, firstname.lastname@example.org
Commitment: for one month, you pick the month or months you want to serve. if you have to miss a week, we have substitutes.
Training: Attend 2 hour Welcome Team Training or Read Welcome Team Training Guidelines Notebook and talk to Amy Johnson, team leader.
Requirements: a smile, a handshake, and wish to welcome visitors to Valley Community Church.
No matter how busy people are, everyone still finds time for what is most important to them. The church, a relationship with God and opportunities to help others are of primary importance to many people. We simply must structure our communications in ways that serve time-starved people and make it easy for them to respond.
Don't forget to have lots of coffee when they show up. People need it from the lack of sleep.