Once a church has decided in earnest that they want to be faithful to the commission Christ has given them and reach out to those beyond the church walls they should spend a good deal of effort on the first stage of the process: building an outreach identity.
Before you can invite someone you have to know what you’re inviting them to. It is impossible to invite someone to “church”, you must invite them to a specific church. That which distinguishes your church from all others is its identity. The big question is how do you accurately and enthusiastically identify your church. Superficially we may immediately think something like “the red brick church on Maple Street”, but this doesn’t reveal anything about the true character of the church and doesn’t give anyone any reason why they should check it out.
With much prayer and reflection you must ask who you are as a church. Who goes to your church? What is your demographic profile? Is your congregation young or elderly? Monocultural or multicultural? How do you dress? What kind of music speaks to you? Are your spiritual expressions more celebrative or contemplative? Does your theology tend to be more theoretical or pragmatic? Are you white collar or blue? Understanding who you are as a collection of people will go a long way in understanding who you are as a church.
What are your strengths and weaknesses? Is there a way to leverage your strengths against your weaknesses? Can you capitalize on your strong points? What would that look like? How does your church’s history and denominational traditions affect who you are? All of these things must be considered thoughtfully before you can get any understanding of your identity.
Once you have done that the next thing to consider is your image. Your church image is the outward expression of your inward identity. These include things like your building, church name, logo, signage, bulletin, interior decorating, website, yellow page ad, and any other way you communicate your presence to your surrounding community. The question is: does your outward image accurately and favourably reflect your inward identity? Are your strengths being highlighted in the best way possible? Or are you guilty of false advertising? Setting people up with false expectations is a bad idea and will not pay off.
Whether we like it or not, our surrounding community will make judgements about us by what they see or fail to see. What are you doing to make sure they are seeing the real you? Are you communicating who you are or merely who you were? Very often an old image or name will not reflect who you are today. I once pastored a “Baptist” church that didn’t have a single Baptist within it. We had Catholics, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and even a few Salvationists, but not a single Baptist that I know of. Very sensibly they decided to re-brand themselves as a “community” church. What is the most important thing about your church? What distinguishes you from everyone else in town? Does your image communicate that well?
A compelling and professionally designed image will be an incredible blessing to your church and your community. Once your community finally “gets” you, your outreach efforts will have triple the impact. Even those who don’t end up visiting right a way will start to have a much more favourable impression of you. Another benefit, is that a professionally designed image will add a great deal of passion and enthusiasm among your own members. They will be much more willing and much more able to communicate your church’s strengths and identity to their friends, neighbours, and co-workers.
Where do you go from here? Because this is such an important step to do well you simply can’t rush this. I have included below one awesome website to read more, two great books to buy, and four excellent Christian professionals who can help you out.
Church Marketing Basics @ Church Marketing Sucks
Christian Branding Services
The Laws of Outreach – Part 1: The Problem We Face
The Laws of Outreach – Part 3: Attracting Visitors
*Note: Much of this series is based on an eye-opening seminar I took in Detroit back in 2001 called The Four Laws of Effective Outreach. This outstanding resource can be ordered here from Outreach Marketing.