Monday, February 23, 2015
I can still remember the morning, in the early 1980's in West Valley, California (a suburb of San Jose, Silicon Valley), when a young woman, a total stranger, ran up to my grandpa at a restaurant one morning and said, "Aren't you Dr. Baird? I hear you are a pastor of a local church. What time are your worship services? I can't wait to worship with you this coming weekend." Sure enough, that coming weekend, the woman and her entire family were in church and they soon became active members and leaders. Those were the good old days, as they say.
These days, getting people to come to a brand new church is a much more challenging dynamic. Young families today are generally not really looking for a church in the first place. More likely, they are looking for a spiritual experience that they can easily access (like a sermon on the internet, or a podcast on their I-phone). If they are looking for a church, chances are they are more interested in a weekend worship experience, rather than an ongoing active involvement in that church.
What I have learned about attracting people to church is that it involves at least three sets of three different elements that are necessary:
The first set of threes are the three ways that a church needs to get the word out. Generally, these are three advertising fronts. A church needs to have three different forms of advertising in a community. Actually, a church needs to have about ten different forms of advertising in a community (since it is not likely that a person will happen to see all of the outlets at once). These can be newspaper advertisements, stickers on the side of a bus, ads in a monthly "Happenings" catalogue, radio advertisements, postcard blasts, and internet ads. We recently purchased an advertisement on the back of a trolley bus in Camarillo that is getting a lot of attention. Word of mouth is also a good medium in the first group of three's.
The second set of threes occur on the church's website. In short, the first group of threes drives a new person to check out the second group of threes which can be found on the website. Website is essential! Knowing that we didn't have the ability to build a website that would be professional enough for the modern cyber sensibility, we hired a professional from San Francisco to build ours. The second set of threes are the three videos, or recordings of a message, that a new person will want to listen to even before they set foot in your church. If you will, the sermons, or messages are like listening to a recording of a new song on I-tunes, before you purchase that song. The messages should be attractive enough to an outsider to make them actually want to attend your church. The videos have to be professionally filmed, choreographed, artistically presented. These videos can also be put on Facebook, which is sometimes more important than a good website.
The third group of threes are the three times that a new person generally needs to attend before they feel comfortable filling out an information card about themselves. Actually, I have known families to attend for months or years at a time before they are willing to give you their personal information (phone number, address, email, prayer request). The three Sundays that a new family attends your church must offer inspirational speaking, and be a compelling worship experience. The service must be a life transformative, and deeply moving event.
Gone are the days of people outside of a church coming on Sunday number one and getting deeply involved and active. The world for young people, and people outside of a church, offers too many competing interests and distractions. People's lives are more busy than they have ever been. The number of negative perceptions that people have about established churches and organized religion in general increases by the day, rather than decreases.
But there is a good side to the new world that we find ourselves in. Once convicted and committed to a church that is effective and transformative, the level of deep and abiding true allegiance to the important things in life (a relationship with Christ, serving the community and the world, being about justice), is more steadfast than it has ever been.
All For Now,