Whether you’re a church or a small business, you want to reach your community.
I work in communications. I help both small to mid-sized churches as well as small businesses reach people. Sometimes it is communicating better within their own organizations. More often it is helping them communicate to their communities.
On the church side, I think a lot about how to communicate the heart of a church to the community the church resides within. Using their website, social media, and various print marketing I try to find ways to catch the eye of the community and display the heart of the church to them.
The internally focused church
Most churches are internally focused. It’s just the reality of the Christian world. We think more about our own comfort and desires than we do about the needs and desires of our community.
We constantly throw events hoping the community will show up in droves to end up with only the most active 20% of church membership in the room.
When we honestly look at why no one in the community showed up it’s often because we forgot to invite them. You may say, “Sure, we invited them.” Maybe you did, but you might have scared them in the process
Sorry if that sounds harsh.
So how can you effectively reach your community when trying to draw them to an event at your church?
Make it easy on them, not you
One of the most common reasons, I believe, churches fail to reach the community is because we’re focused more on the ease of execution for the staff and volunteers than the ease of attendance for the community. If you want to reach your community, make it easy on them and hard on yourself.
We think of a great event that will draw out the community and then we…
- Charge $5 per person (max $20 per family of course)
- Ask for a free will offering (also known as a guilt trip)
- Attach it to a meal and ask for everyone to bring food
- Push “families” incessantly – excluding singles and divorced people
- Insist on a devotion time before the event starts
While we desperately want to reach our community for Jesus we end up focusing on making sure that we don’t have to spend too much time setting up or tearing down or spend too much money to do it. Then we fail.
Here are a few ways you can increase your success rate with community-focused church events.
1. Don’t invite EVERYONE
Too often when we throw an event at our church that is for the community we try to make it for the entire community. That doesn’t work.
If you want to reach your community, narrow your focus. Leave some people out (in a good way).
Pick a target audience. If you’re a children’s ministry looking to put on an Easter Egg hunt this year focus on the kids. Select an age range and go all in on making it the best Easter Egg hunt those kids have ever attended. Figure out what will blow their minds and make it happen.
Once you’re sure you’ve nailed it for your target age group then turn to making their parents feel comfortable.
Repeat this for different events targeting different demographics within your community. Try to reach your entire community across the span of a ministry year instead of in a single event.
2. Don’t charge them, they won’t come
Let’s face it, churches don’t have a lot of money. I understand that. Most churches right now are laying off staff, reducing salaries and cutting programs. In the midst of financial struggle, we still want to keep doing everything we can. So, we resort to charging people to attend our events.
Sometimes it’s a cover charge. Maybe it’s a request to bring food to a pitch-in. Other times it’s disguised as a “free-will offering”, also known as a guilt trip. Either way, do everything you can to never charge a non-member for anything. Ever. If your event is mildly interesting but you charge someone who has never been to your church, they’re likely not coming.
If you want to reach your community, make it free if at all possible.
3. Preach when appropriate
When I was a youth director I used to love throwing huge parties for our Fall school year kickoff events. For me, it was a competition with myself to get more kids to come this year than came last year. Also, I wanted them to have the best night ever (in as much as it was up to me). Every detail mattered.
In my mind, the idea was to get them to the church and show them a good time. Chances are if they enjoyed themselves they are more likely to show up for something else later.
One year our supervisor suggested we gather up all of the students to do a devotion in the middle of the event. I declined.
It wasn’t that I didn’t think there were kids there that needed to hear about Jesus. Of course, there were. I didn’t believe it was the time or place.
I didn’t want to scare these kids or make them feel uncomfortable on a night that was meant for fun. The night was meant to give them a positive feeling about the church. It was meant to show them the church wasn’t so bad. Maybe even make them consider coming back in the morning for Sunday school if we were lucky.
You can’t buy anyone’s relationship with Jesus with food and games. You have to build a relationship with a person before what is most important to you will matter to them.
Inevitably, a few kids would show up the next morning for Sunday school. Those events always lead to a small percentage of attendees becoming strong members of the youth group. Some met Jesus later because we didn’t terrify them right off the bat.
4. Don’t forget non-families
Not everyone that goes to your church, or might, is part of a family. At least, not part of a family that will attend together. Go to just about any suburban white church in America and when they promote an event from the stage they’ll use the words, “your family” and “life of the church.” They are favorite catchphrases for church hype people.
It’s almost as if they’re thinking, “If we say family, they will come!’ Not necessarily. In fact, you might run off another demographic of people you have the potential to reach.
Like I said earlier, pick a target audience and go all in. If your audience is families, then go for it. However, if you’re hoping to get a broader cross-section of people, don’t say family 500 times in the announcement.
5. Know your community
If you want to reach your community you have to actually know who is in your community.
Do some research and find out exactly who lives in your community. Does your community look like you? If not, how can you bridge any potential gaps in race, religion, age, etc. and make a connection?
Don’t just assume you know. If you’re assuming, you are probably wrong. Even if you have lived in that community for 30 years, do the research anyway. Find out who is in your community and what their actual needs and desires are. Then serve them.
Conclusion: Be intentional
If you truly want to reach your community you need to be intentional about it. It sounds obvious, but when you look at everything I’ve highlighted here you realize it’s not. Too often we’re only intentional about our own comfort and financial stability and fail to be intentional about reaching people. Focus on the specific people in your community.
Are you in church leadership? Do you volunteer at your church?
How can you reach your community more effectively?