This summer your church will get lots of visitors, some of whom are friends of church members who might not regularly go to church, others may be from the surrounding community, and we can't forget out of town visitors. This is a wonderful opportunity to reach out with the gospel and the love of Jesus and here are some strategic tips to help your communications make the most of this opportunity and some strong cautions about what not to do.
We know we shouldn’t use church jargon terms like justification and sanctification in our church bulletin, web, or social media when we are writing for people visiting our church, but so much of our church jargon we don’t even see. Using acronyms we don't explain, talking about events that we do year after year and assume everyone knows about, insider jokes, assuming people know times and locations—all these things are confusing and unkind to someone visiting. We don't want our language to keep someone with a free night in our city to miss out on an opportunity to learn about Jesus.
What should we do? Awareness is a good first step. Look at your bulletin, web, and social media and ask the Lord to help you see them as a visitor would. Take the time to explain what you know is confusing, even if it benefits only one person. To go further, show your communications to a friend who doesn't go to the church and ask them to tell you what you said. If they have trouble explaining exactly what you are referring to, how to get there, and why they should bother to come you may want to make some changes.
Not for summer only: the above tip is useful to do at least once a year in your church. It becomes impossible for us to see if our communications make sense to anyone outside the church. You have to get that feedback regularly to be sure you are communicating with the people you want to reach.
Ask yourself what would make you feel welcome if you were visiting?
For local visitors:
- To start out, Welcome people! An upbeat hello on the cover or top of your church bulletin is a better way to make a first impression than a serious sermon topic. Let people know that visitors are welcomed, expected and the church wants to serve them, even if it is for a short time.
- Picture the people you are talking to. Remember you aren’t writing for people who have been there since the church was built. Perhaps put some pictures of your relatives who are traveling by your computer and explain what is going on at the church to them.
- Remember the people visiting your church this summer may be from the community around the church who may decide to give the church a try. Encourage that with special events.
- Spiritually support special events by reminding your congregation to pray for the people attending that they would see beyond the fun times and realize the spiritual connections that can be made. Prayer-walk the neighborhood and ask God to touch the hearts of all the people around the church and that the church be sensitive to their needs.
- If possible, take informal surveys. Ask people what are their dreams, their fears, the questions they have. Or just walk around, smile, and say "hi."
- When people do come to your event, be sure you have a follow-up system in place.
For out of town guests:
Keep in mind when you send out follow-up material that visitors may not be from around your area. They may be there on vacation. They may be thinking about moving there. Please don't make the mistake of thoughtlessly sending out the same visitor response to everyone.
True story here: a couple was checking out churches before a work transfer to another state. They were very active in whatever church they attended and though they'd only be at the location they were visiting a year and a half, they wanted a church to serve in. They were the kind of member we all want.
They visited a church on a preliminary visit and liked it a lot, until they got their follow-up form letter that gushed about what a great church it was for "the community we all love" and hoped to see them next week. The couple had clearly and specifically stated where they were from and someone had to notice it was from out-of-state because the letter reached them. One more thing, the letter also said, "It was wonderful to meet you." That was simply untrue as it was a large church and they ducked out a side door as the service was over to get to another commitment. Please don't do that.
A response that said something such as "I probably didn't get a chance to meet you personally, but I hope you had a chance to meet some of our wonderful members" would have been much more honest and kept the door open for the future. Needless to say, the couple did not go back to that church when they moved to the city.
Overall communication ideas:
- Before you sit down to write whatever communications, read USA TODAY, and some current, news magazines or blogs, and popular social media and websites. Try to write with an informal tone, but still respectful tone. Don't be flippant or irreverent after looking at these, but work to avoid an overly churchy voice. It's summertime—lighten up a little.
- Think about the fun Jesus had as he did ministry. At the wedding at Cana he turned huge water pots into giant jugs of wine—that’s like turning your hot tub into a punch bowl. Not something any church will repeat, but giving out ice cream or sponsoring a community picnic or outdoor movies shows you care and can have fun as followers of God. Remind yourself and your visitors, as C.S. Lewis said, "Joy is the serious business of heaven."
Don’t forget the details in summer communications and always
Sometimes what makes communications most friendly to people who aren’t regular attendees at your church are the little details that we think everybody knows. But everybody (even most regular attenders ) don't know all the little details you know because you are constantly working with them and when you leave these things out, no matter how upbeat your graphics or how colorful your writing, the content can leave people cold.
We might call this "jargon by omission" we know what's really going on, but people not familiar with the church don't. Some of these details include:
- Being clear who an event is for. Either say it is for everyone or be specific if attendance is limited to an age group or to men and women. If you advertise a “Singles Night Out” and a newcomer in their early 60s shows up and the rest of the group is all singles in their 20s because “everybody knows the Going Concern is for 20 somethings” but you don’t state it in the announcement, chances are that person who attended that was not the right age for the group won’t feel very good about your church. Or the other way around if you don't state it's for seniors and a 20 something shows up.....actually they would probably be welcomed and have a great time. You never know. To be safe, be clear and let people decide if they fit the age criteria for the event.
- Make the details clear on childcare. There are many single parents who would love to come to a church event, even if just visiting your city for a short time, if the church provides free, on-site childcare for church events. If it doesn’t specifically state “Free childcare for kids babies to 6th grade” most single parents won’t attend and they won't know who to ask.
- If an event costs make that very clear. It isn’t nice to assume “everybody knows the men’s breakfast is $5 at the door.” Many people don't carry cash today and regardless, asking for money if someone doesn't expect it makes for an awkward situation.If you don’t list it clearly, be sure a person with the gift of grace and mercy is at the door for people who didn’t bring $5 with them. When we were in charge of our Single Adult Ministry only in the rarest of situations did we have a charge (just didn't seem right when all from Jesus is free), but if we had to, we always made sure no one was turned away or made to feel awkward.
DON'T EVER HOST A MONEY-DIVIDED EVENT!!!!
Yes, that is all caps and I am shouting. I'm going to sound very harsh now, but I feel strongly about this and I think the extensive Biblical support for caring for the "least of these" and being concerned about the poor supports my concern.
Here is the situation I've seen in the PR of some churches (and as is the habit of our ministry, we don't name names of bad examples):
- The church hosts a summer event, but states clearly (or sometimes not at all, which is horrid) that everyone is welcome to free popcorn and punch, but there will be a charge for hotdogs and burgers.
- Or there will be free chips and salsa, but there is a significant charge for tacos.
How do you think that feels for a family that might have taken a huge step to go to the event they heard that was going on at the church but they have four kids who would love a hotdog or a taco, but then they find out that there is a charge for food (popcorn and chips do not a meal make) and they simply don't have the money for it. What will they do?
Or what about the single person who is working, but woefully under-employed, lonely, and hears about the event? Chances are they will be too self-conscious to stay if they can't sit down with the group to eat.
Most likely both will quietly leave and probably never go back to that church again.
Some might respond "Well the church can't afford the free food, so we have to charge." My answer would be, "Yes, you probably can--if you ask for donations to support it," as there are many people with excessive resources in our churches today who need to be challenged on their use of those resources. But if you don't want to do that, don't have that money-dividing event.
Perhaps it is because my husband and I have worked in ministries where the price of a hot dog or taco (especially if you have lots of kids) is a big deal, but I KNOW people like this and I know the pain involved. That is why we NEVER did anything like that for our outreach meals or events (and we hosted some big ones) and our ministry grew tremendously I think in part because of that. We raised money ahead of time and some people in the ministry gave sacrificially so all could be included.
I think Jesus' words here apply:
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, (the people who can't pay for the taco) and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:13-14
When our hospitality is lavish and without cost, when all are welcomed, when we work hard to make sure that what we do makes sense to all attending, when we follow-up with genuine messages to invite people back to our church, when we do these things we are are doing more than summer outreach, we are painting a picture of the coming Kingdom of God.
An event like that is pleasing to the Lord and worth all the work it takes to do it well.
For FREE TEMPLATES of event registration cards for summer and other summer-related communications, go to this link: https://wp.me/PDky9-7oe
For a podcast of this content, go to: https://wp.me/pDky9-8x2