UPDATE editorial note: I've recently downloaded software that was attractively and appealingly advertised. Then I tried to use it and found that the creators apparently used all their energies in selling the software, but almost no time in the hard work of showing how to USE it. We can do the same if we have a splashy advertisement for a church event, but don't do the work to put in the connecting details that will get people to the event. This article from our archives will help you to avoid that mistake. We always must remember that our task is not to simply wow people with our witty, brilliant designs and catchy phrases about upcoming events, but to simply get them there so God can help them grow in their spiritual lives.
"He that is faithful is that which is least, is faithful also in much," (Luke 16:10), is a biblical principle we are all familiar with. It is also an important principle to remember in your church communications when you want people to respond to your church communication with concrete action. We don’t do church communications for people to think they look fantastic or to impress them with our technological prowess—we do them so lives and eternities will be changed. The details must be included for people to be able to respond.
If you don’t include the little details (time, date, location, duration, contact information) completely and consistently in every church communication you produce, the great design, writing, typography choices, and graphics will not mean anything. All of these design issues that many church communicators work so hard on, are virtually useless if you don’t have the details included that will actually connect people to the church events. This not to discount the importance of good design. Good design is important, but similar to James reminder that "faith without works is dead," so too, great-looking design is useless if it doesn't result in actions.
In the rest of this article I’ll talk about why we leave out church communication details and then I’ll give you a list of the details that are essential to include. PLEASE take time to read/review this article for maximum results from the hard work you do in your church communications. Pass it on, make copies of it for your staff to discuss.
Why we leave out the details in our church communications
Our default mode when creating church communications is to leave out connecting details. We do this for a number of reasons and here are some of the most common reasons why we leave out essential details in church communications:
This is a natural occupational hazard of working in the church office for more than a few years. Without thinking, it is easy to assume that everyone knows the people, time, and location of events, as well as the people does in the church office. But they don't. I sometimes refer to this as the “Oh, everybody knows” fallacy in church communications. Whenever you hear yourself making that statement, stop yourself and remind yourself, “NO, everybody doesn’t know.” Even if most people in the congregation do know the details (and they probably don’t), put them in for the one person whose life might be changed if they attend your event. You never know how important it might be.
Another result of assuming everyone knows is what happens if a church communication, either in print or on the web doesn't give complete information and few people show up. Sadly, many churches then assume that since everybody knew all about it (which they didn’t) and they decided not to come (no decision really, they didn’t know where to show up) the final assumption is often that people today just don’t care about spiritual growth opportunities. What a sad conclusion. We cannot wrongly ascribe a lack of desire for spiritual growth to our failure to include connecting details.
Expecting people to “call the church office for more information”
People’s lives are crazy busy today. They don’t have time to call—the information has to be in the first listing of an event for people to know if it is even possible to attend. In addition, even if they do make time to call, many churches don’t have a human answering the phone and if the staff is practicing time management by not picking up their extensions when they ring, it can be an exercise in frustration. After a try or two with only voice mail as a response even the rare person who takes time to call will often give up. In addition to people probably not calling, the staff shouldn’t have to repeat what could have been printed or on the web.
We forget newcomer or uninvolved member embarrassment
If you are new at the church, or been around for some time, but not involved you may feel like everybody but you knows who is in charge or where it is and you may be too shy or embarrassed to ask. We need to assume there are always people in this situation as we create our materials. What may be very old information to church regulars is news to people who are either new or who haven’t paid attention to previous information. Maybe they should already know the details, but it is best to assume that there are many who don’t.
Study after study shows that newcomers don’t want to stand out. They may want to quietly attend something and if they have to go to extra trouble to find out basic details they may decide it is too much trouble.
What might be the tenth time you put out a church communication might be the first time someone sees it
This is related to the reason above, but it involves a little trick our minds play on us. We've seen the message ten times as we prepare the third postcard or sixth announcement or email and our minds tell us, "Oh, they already know that." We unconsciously assume that because we’ve seen the progression of church communications created and published about this event, that our entire audience has seen the same progression of communications.
That is seldom true. For the majority of your audience each church communication piece your publish, print or put out electronically will be the first one seen (or paid attention to) by the majority of recipients. That is why the details, the little things listed below must be included each time. Again, what is repetitious to you is news to them.
The false idea that we need to make it “interesting,” or “eye-catching” or pull of some other visual trick and that will make people want to attend
We hear those sorts of things all the time (often from people who want to sell you the interesting design or website or something else you can do much more cost-effectively yourself), about how important the visual, graphic wow factor is. We hear we live in a visual age and how important visuals are in communication.
That’s true if you are producing the latest animated feature movie or if you are creating an advertisement for the current sale at the mall. Though we don’t want our church communications to be intentionally ugly, the place of design and looks is somewhat different in the church. People do not go to church looking for great graphic design. They don’t sit in the pew and evaluate the typography to determine if they will come to an event. People respond to church communications that clearly show how an event will meet a need in their life. They will respond and show up if the church communication includes the details that will connect them with the event, not because they feel that the artwork was a contemporary masterpiece that spoke to the human condition.
There isn’t room on the calendar
There are sometimes practical limitations, but we can use our creativity to conquer them. Experiment with smaller type. Strive to get one that prints clearly at small sizes-test options on your printer. Use variety in bold, italic, etc. to make the various parts of the announcement stand out.
Or make a bigger calendar. What is the use of a tidy little calendar if it doesn't serve people? Often times events presented in list form are more useful than those printed on in calendar form. Try different methods; record your responses. Go with whatever method resulted in the best turnout.
One last reason—details are not fun to include
Communication creators often have to track down the details from people “who never turn anything in on time.” That in itself is a challenge and our sinful nature is apt to grumble, “If they don’t care enough to let me know, I’m not calling one more time to find out.” This is not fun to do and we don’t want to do it. The Lord then often gently reminds us of how often He has to come after us and we make the phone call or send the email to find out what we know is essential information.
Once we have the details, it’s not fun to include them when they take up valuable space we’d much rather use for a nice image or leave blank for pleasing white space. It’s much more fun searching for great graphics and crafting a stunning design.
It’s sometimes hard to remember the oft-repeated phrase, “If it isn’t fun, don’t do it,” is never a reason to justify the actions or inactions of a Christian communicator. Many of the tasks that make our work a ministry and not a hobby or even a secular vocation are not fun. Some of the most life-changing communications from your office may be deadly boring and detailed to create.
I’m sure we could think of many more reasons why we often don’t include essential details in our church communications, but though the reasons given are many and real, we must include the details if we want people to connect with church events. Following is a list of the most basic. Specific events may have additional details that are important, but these are core ones to include.
Below are some basic items to include on calendars, bulletins, PR, and event announcements, both in print and on the web:
Name of event
It is always best if the name of the event has the age or interest group as part of the event name. The more specific you can be, the better. Some examples:
Youth Group Senior High Movie Night
Ladies Lunch Mom’s of Preschoolers Salad Potluck
Workday Men’s Ministry Morning of Church Repairs
Beyond making a generic name more specific, if the title isn't clear, clarify it. For example, my church had an event known as "Hospitality Night." From the title alone you'd have no idea that it is a free meal and games for singles hosted by married couples in the church. Explain somewhere what an event is unless it is totally self-explanatory. We now call it "Singles' Games & Goodies Night" and lots more people come because they know what is going on.
Acronyms are especially dangerous here. In the past we sponsored a group called OASIS, which stood for "Our Adult Singles in Service." I have since discovered that the name OASIS is a rather popular name for Sunday School classes across America. Recently I saw a bulletin where OASIS stood for "Our Adult Seniors in Service." Imagine you were a twenty-something person who had just moved into town and who was quite excited to see an OASIS group—just like the single's group he had left behind, he assumed. Imagine that visitor's feelings walking into a senior Sunday school class. Same name, totally different class make up. I'm certain the folks were quite nice, but that visitor may not feel like attempting a similar adventure again.
The acronym SAM is similar: some churches use it to mean “Single Adult Ministry.” Others use it to mean “Senior Adult Ministry.” Great ministries all, I’m sure, but you need to let folks know which one your church is doing.
Many people, especially pre-Christians, are much more fragile and uncertain about navigating their way around a church than many of us realize. Remember also that we have an enemy who loves to whisper in their ear, "Wasn't that embarrassing? You don't ever want to have to back out of a room of strangers like that again....this obviously isn't a place for you....." Please don’t let a communication misstep keep someone from connecting with your church.
You can do a lot in print and on the web, with clear descriptions and directions to make the way easier for people to find their way to classes and groups that will encourage and nurture them in their spiritual growth.
Give the address and if necessary, directions. An excellent solution that one church adopted was to give directions to each event starting from the church. They reasoned that everybody knew where the church was since that is where they heard about the event. Especially in a large metropolitan area, a common starting point such as this is helpful.
If you are using something like MapQuest, be sure to check out the directions first. They aren't always correct. In addition, I have found it helpful to give both a map and printed directions—some people find one or the other makes more sense to them.
One thing we have found very helpful at during campaigns to get people to sign up for small groups is when they sign up to give them a card that has a map and all the contact information for the group (name, phone, email, etc.) information on it. Without something like this, many times people will sign up for something, but half an hour before it starts, they may realize they don't know where it is being held or how to get there. Often at that time the church is closed and they don't have anyone to call. Often the website hasn’t been updated or is lacking complete information. Sadly the end result is that a person who may have desperately needed small group interaction may stay home.
No matter how well you at the church know them, all the newcomers and many regular attendees may have no idea that it's Cathy or Jane or Ann that always hosts a certain event. This is especially important for any event that involves children or teens; parents need a contact person. Tell who they are. Give the person's job title at the church if that is important, for example, "youth director" or "children's choir director."
People need to know there is someone they can contact for questions and a specific person rather than trying to explain to the receptionist what they want to find out is best.
True story here: I once needed to call a church for a conference that was being held at the church. The web-based marketing on it left out many details and my pastor husband wanted to attend, but needed the information. When I called the church office, I did not have a name or specific department to call, I only knew the event was to be held there. When I asked about it to the person answering the phone this was her reply:
“I don’t know anything about that. That’s not unusual they don’t tell me anything.” Unfortunately, she didn’t stop there. She continued with her frustrations about as a volunteer at that particular church until, several minutes late, I was able to gently extricate myself from that conversation.
My husband didn’t attend the event and though I chuckled a bit about the conversation, it really wasn’t funny. A specific contact person’s name, email, or phone number would have made all the difference.
Contact phone number and email address
In addition to a situation like the one above, even if people want to come to an event, they get lost, confused, or have questions and need to be able to call for clarification. If you have permission to provide a work number as well as home phone that's even better. If the church office is the one to call, list the number and extension right there. Not everybody has the number memorized and people might not have the time to look it up. For many people today, it's easier to communicate via email so provide an email address if available.
Also, think about having a system where someone answers the phone at church on the weekends and during church events. I realize this sounds quite radical, but think about what it would be like if your local movie theater or concert hall or college shut its office doors and turned off the phones when they held events. You'd think, "What is wrong with these people? Don't they want anyone to come?"
But churches do that all the time. If outreach really matters, think about ways to have someone answer the phone for the person who is running late, confused, or really doesn't understand how the whole church thing works. You may not get a lot of calls, but be assured; those who do call most likely really need to. You can always have volunteers who will answer the phone at home via call forwarding.
Sadly, most churches are even worse when it comes to answering emails. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve emailed churches in the course of my ministry and either never received an email reply or got one weeks later. There is no reason why a team of volunteers can't be available to answer emails 24/7. You might have to check around a bit and do some training, but many folks are up at all hours and might enjoy doing ministry when they can't sleep.
Websites are where we go for follow-up information in every area of life today. Businesses are judged by the quality of their website and so are churches. Be sure your website has complete information and all the details about the event you are advertising. Be very careful that it is current and that your site overall is easy to navigate. I realize this is much easier to recommend than to do, but websites more and more are acting as the hub and foundation of a church communication program.
The website also answers the objection that there is not enough room on the calendar or in the bulletin or newsletter to put all the necessary information. If people know they can trust that the church communication team always has the complete information on the website, they will know they can go to it for the details.
One more thing to be check out if you provide details on your website. Be sure people can get to them using their cell phone. Test this. Some churches today use lots of images on their home page that make navigation with a cell phone very difficult. You might have a text link that says “CALENDAR” that links directly to an all text page with the details of events. This would be extremely helpful for perhaps a person who is getting ready to leave work, wants to attend a small group, knows one is going on, but doesn’t have the address and needs to quickly check the website via cell phone on their commute home.
Time and duration
Time is so important, but again left out often on the assumption that "everybody knows when the newcomer coffee starts..." or "everybody knows the adult study lasts an hour."
Everybody doesn't know. Duration is also important especially for newcomers or folks needing to get child care. Without duration listed, e.g. 7-9pm, are you asking them to commit for an hour or an entire evening? People may not be willing to ask and with today's busy schedules, this can be a major determinate if many come or not. If you are honestly targeting unchurched folks, they have no idea of standard church meeting times so be kind and let them know by always having both start and ending times listed.
Cost or contribution required
If someone shows up to an event and can't pay for it, they may turn around and walk away. If a food item is desired, but not required, state that. If there is no cost, let people know. If a scholarship is available, let them know and tell them who (give the specific name) to contact. If a person is in need it is embarrassing to simply call the church and not know who to ask for.
In addition to making certain you have advertised this material, BE CERTAIN that the person collecting money or food at any event is a person filled grace and tact. No one should ever be turned away or made to feel badly if they don't have money for a church event. No one should ever miss out on a church meal or potluck because they forgot (or didn't or couldn't bring) their food item. We serve a Savior who freely gave everything to us—we must be careful to model His generosity.
Other essential information
This category is the most subjective. After you have included these key details, ask yourself, “Is there anything else a person has to know about this event?”Pray for insight to see the event with the eyes of someone totally unfamiliar with the church or this event. Again, what is obvious to the church communicator may not be to the person deciding to come to an event and few things are worse than deciding to attend and to then be told, “Oh, this is only for men” or “I’m sorry you have to be a church member.”
Some bits of information that are important include:
- Does the person have to be a church member to participate?
- Is there a previous event, class, or activity that is required before the person can participate in this one?
- Is it only for men or women?
- Are you assuming some spiritual status prior to attending, e.g. does the person have to be a Christian to come or do you need to state that it is open to anyone of any belief system?
Whatever requirements you have are between you and the Lord and the policies of your church, what is important is that you let people know about them in clearly in your church communications.
What a difference we could make if we include essential details in our church communications
I'm personally pleading with you to take the time to include these little things in print and on the web in your church communications. I honestly think it could revolutionize churches if we'd simply focus on clear, complete communication. If we can just get people to show up to events—our churches can grow in numbers and our people in Christian maturity.
Putting in these seemingly little details isn't easy and it does take a lot of time and effort, but please, remember they are essential if you want people to respond to your message. When it seems like a chore to track down and always include these details, remember that what you are doing is servant work—sort of foot washing with the computer. Lots of the jobs we do to carefully inform people are repetitive and boring, but the importance of these little details cannot be overstated. More than elaborate design, catchy slogans, or cutting edge technology, it is often these seemingly little things that can make all the difference. Remember, when Jesus was spending his last meal with his disciples, he didn't impress them with extravagant miracles they would never forget. He washed their feet.
If you want people to show up at events, it is the foot-washing inclusion of church communication details that will get them there.
One more thing
After you’ve carefully done the foot-washing work of detailed communication, take time to pray for the Lord's blessing on the event. No matter how hard we’ve worked, asking that the Holy Spirit help draw hearts to the event, that no conflicts interfere in people’s lives and that everyone comes who should come. Pray for the leaders and organization of the event and that all the details work together to accomplish the Lord’s goals for the event.
Then take another moment to look forward to the day when Jesus will reward you for the many “little things” you were faithful at as you included the necessary details in your church communications that connected people with an event that introduced them to Him, helped them to know Him better, and perhaps changed their eternity.