You might protest you would NEVER count on magic to do anything in the church and mean it. But unfortunately, the communication actions in many churches tell a different story because. . . . .
Magical thinking takes place when you assume that simply by doing certain things, you will get the results you want without actually doing the hard work you need to do to get them.
This often happens in the planning and work that goes into the season or holiday celebrations at your church. Below are FIVE ways Magical Thinking can defeat the fantastic opportunities the holidays give us to invite and get people involved in the church and ultimately to meet Jesus. Holidays work so well as outreach to unchurched people because though few people today respond to the invitation "Want to come to church with me?" few people will turn down an invitation to a FREE party that has food and fun stuff for kids.
Holidays offer churches a great opportunity, but to make the most of them, you need to be aware of and correct the following FIVE destructive ways of Magical Thinking.
Magical Thinking # 1: By hosting your holiday or seasonal event people will think your church is great, wonderful, and cares about the community
Whether it is an Easter-Egg Extravaganza, a Trunk or Treat, Thanksgiving Community Meal, or Christmas Caroling and Chocolate—the first thought of people in your community when they see an advertisement of the event is probably not about your church.
The people in your community care most about themselves and their families. Their thinking when they see or come to your event is something like "Wow, this looks like a fun thing for the kids." "Hey, it's free and looks like fun and our family needs a night out."
They are probably not thinking: "Oh isn't First Church a loving church that cares about community outreach and to show the love of Jesus is the sponsor for this event." Even more than your intended audience not knowing WHY you are doing this, unless you consistently and graciously remind them that your church is putting on the event, chances are they won't even remember that your church was the sponsoring group for the event.
There is a reason that sports drink companies plaster their identity on banners, bags, and all their promotional materials that they give out at events they sponsor. They don't just want people to come to a sporting event—they want people to know Gatorade or whoever is the SPONSOR of the event.
To get the same results for a church isn't an encouragement to be tacky, but an encouragement to not lose an opportunity to make it clear that it is a church, your church that is reaching out to them.
It is only wise stewardship of your outreach budget to do things like: create a big banner that announces, "First Churches Welcomes YOU!", t-shirts with the church name and logo on helpers, and worthwhile give-aways with the church name, website, and social media on them. These items are not-intrusive, but effective ways to link the free, fun event with your church.
Magical Thinking #2: Your congregation will invite all their friends to your holiday or seasonal church events because the church staff wants them to.
There are two steps to correcting this Magical Thinking:
One, realize that just because the church staff is excited about an event may not mean your people know or care about it.
Church staff planning for seasonal celebrations often takes place in what I call the church office bubble, a safe area, that has little or no contact with the outside world.
Sometimes it is a really thick bubble, where inside it the people making decisions have no idea what really appeals to the community outside the church. What they think is a fun time, may have been fun 40 years ago when not a lot was going on in the community. Back then any event in the community was worth telling people about because not much was going on. It's very different now.
Sometimes the bubble simply hides the facts about what is happening. People inside the bubble know all the reasons why your church is putting on the event and how important it is. You've spent weeks, maybe months planning, strategizing, and praying about it often before the congregation knows anything about it. By the time you are ready to do that, the staff is tired of even talking about the event.
But that's when your encouragement and communication work begins. Here is what you need to do:
Two, create the encouragement, inspiration, and tools to equip your congregation to invite their friends.
People are busy and they all have their own priorities. You have to give them compelling reasons to care about your church events and to take the extra step of inviting their friends. Here are some ideas to help you do that:
- Challenge your people a reason to invite their friends with biblical reasons to invite their friends. Remind them that the Great Commission (to go into all the world to share our faith wasn't only given to pastors—it is a command from our Lord to everyone. Remind them your event is an opportunity not only for fun for families (or whatever your main purpose) but for their friends to connect with a church, hear about Jesus and change their eternal destiny. Don't underestimate or downplay the potential importance of your event. It isn't simply one more option in the community calendar—it can have eternal consequences.
- Please check out these articles with links to motivational materials you can use either in print or you can take the basic content and put it into any kind of social or digital media you want:
- Why it matters if you invite your friends to Easter services
- How to motivate your congregation to invite their friends to your Christmas events.
- Provide tangible help in print and digital format to equip your people to invite friends to the event including creating invitation cards, postcards, downloadable Facebook art, Pinterest Pins, other social media images, whatever else your congregation uses to reach out to their friends. On each of these tools, be sure you have as much specific information as you can to connect people to the event, time, location, etc., plus links back to your website for complete details of the event and how to contact someone for questions
- Effective Church Communications has FREE TEMPLATES of all the suggestions above for major holidays. Go to the TEMPLATES section and click on the specific holiday for the material you can modify or use as is.
- Finally, PRAY without ceasing that your people will take this opportunity seriously to help their friends link with the church through this special event and ultimately with Jesus forever.
Magical Thinking #3: That by attending your event people will automatically come to your church next Sunday and if they have children that the children will all show up for Sunday School.
Sadly, many people in our secular, post-Christian world today have no idea what your church does on Sunday and no idea that something called “Sunday School” or “Kid’s Club” or whatever you call it exists. And if they don't know anything about it or why they should attend, obviously they won't.
True story here: when a church communicator recognized a woman from the neighborhood who had attended a number of church outreach events, she asked her if she ever came to the church on Sunday. The woman reacted with surprise, “You do things on Sunday?” she said, “I thought you just held special events for the community every few months.”
It was then the church communicator realized that unless the church gave out specific invitations to guests to return on Sundays and if the invitations didn’t have specific information: time, locations, and descriptions of what was going on that it was magical thinking to assume this was going to happen.
Create a “This is what else we do” handout with links to your website and social media for more information. Again, most of the holidays have Templates that you can modify to let people know what else you have going on.
In addition to whatever communications you create for your people, remind them to invite their friends to events at the church after the holidays.
Magical Thinking #4: That by attending your event people will learn something about Jesus and want to become his follower.
Of course, this is what we want for everyone who comes to our church seasonal and outreach events, but good intentions and Magical Thinking don’t mean it will happen.
We have to tell people about Jesus and give them ways to find out more about Him. This can be done in courteous, tasteful ways by creating a printed piece at the event--a program insert, business card, bookmark, whatever works for your audience, that has a summary of what it means to follow Jesus and that has website and social media links, plus contact information for people to find out more. Again the TEMPLATE section of this website has lots of free ideas and templates for you to modify. As you'll see when you look at the template ideas this doesn't need to be a lengthy, heavy-handed thing, but again, you need to be clear about who you are and why you are doing what you do.
This is incredibly important. In the past, I’ve found a number of churches that put on events at Easter, Christmas, or other holidays and say almost nothing about what it means to become a follower of Jesus. When I asked why they didn’t a common answer was that they “didn’t want to be pushy.”
What a sad, misguided idea. Pushy or not, the destiny of eternal souls is at stake and you may never get another chance to interact with that person or family. Give every attendee something that tells them about the good news of salvation in Jesus and gives them a way to find out more. One piece that has been very helpful is entitled, "Still have questions?" In the article on this piece I remind people that when the Apostle Paul preached to a Gentile group, it was rarely for one message only. Again and again, he spent weeks, months, and sometimes years in the same place explaining to them and teaching them what the message of salvation in Jesus is all about.
We can't expect people to make informed decisions about eternal issues from one brief event or message, but we can use this time as an opportunity to explore and engage to find out more.
Magical Thinking #5: That if people don’t return the Sunday after your event that they will remember your church and be sure to attend sometime in the future.
This kind of magical thinking is a direct result of the two above it and of course, is simply not true. If people have no idea what your church does immediately after they leave an event, that information will not magically come to them at some distant time.
The best solution to this magical thinking is to get people’s contact information (via a fun prize drawing) where you can follow-up with postcards and social media invitations after the event. Check out this article for what one church did to greatly increase the return rate of people after their seasonal celebration: Why it isn't enough to be a community-friendly, free event-providing church
Lots of work, but you don't have to do it alone
Much contemporary church communication advice seems to revolve around the idea that if you can just find the latest and greatest social media tool you will wow your community into responding and your church will magically grow. Sadly, that kind of magical thinking and all the Magical Thinking ideas we've talked about don't work.
As with any other goal of value, it is a "long obedience in the same direction." Many communications in print and digital formats (determined by your audience needs and your skill level) is what will grow your church in numbers, introduce people to Jesus, and grow your current members as disciples.
Seasonal events are a fantastic opportunity to do this and Effective Church Communications has articles, tools, strategy, and templates to help you every step of the way.
Yes, it is a lot of extra work to do tasks that aren't magic, but simply hard work, but if you do, not only will you have a wonderful outreach event, but it will be the start for many of a relationship with Jesus.