The Laws of Outreach – Part 3: Attracting Visitors

Once a church has discovered their identity and ensured that their image now lines up with it, the next step is to communicate that image to the community.  To be sure, the community already has an image of you in mind, it just might not be the right one.  It might take a significant amount of resources to catch the attention of the community at large, particularly if they have a negative image of you, but it will be well worth it.

1. Strategic Timing

The question of when to reveal your re-vamped image is just as important as how.  As it turns out, there are certain times of the year when people are more spiritually responsive than others.  Christmas, Easter, and the beginning of school in September are some of the biggest.  Personally, I have had a lot of success with September.  To many people, especially parents, September is like New Years Day – they make resolutions on how they are going to organize and prioritize their lives for the year ahead.  Making a big splash at these times will definitely bring in the crowds.

2. A Strategic Target

Who are you trying to attract?  Everyone???  Are you sure?  Are you going to spend time, money, and energy to try to attract people living hundreds of miles away to try to convince them to make an 8 hour commute just to go to your church?  Are you trying to steal people away from other churches and achieve some grand shuffling of the saints?  The sad fact of the matter is that those who have no target will never hit it, while those who focus the most on their target are most likely to hit it.

The important thing to consider when selecting a responsive target is proximity.  Physical proximity is the most obvious.  Here is a rule of thumb: the distance people in your area go to shop or eat out is the distance they will be willing to travel to go to church.  Spending much money to try to reach those further away than that is not going to result in a good return.  Cultural proximity is almost as important.  If your worship services are in Mandarin Chinese, you’re wasting your time try to attract those who only speak Spanish.  (Of course you can always start a Spanish service and then reach out…)   The same is true if you are a hip-hop church trying to reach out to the country & western segment of the community – it’s not going to work out very well.  Take a good look at the demographic profile of your congregation – you’re well positioned to reach more people like this.

3. A Strategic Message

The two most responsive groups that a church can target are the spiritual seekers and the spiritual prodigals (i.e. those who grew up in the church and may be considering a return).  Unfortunately, most churches try to attract non-believers with a believers-only message.  While promoting your favourite version of the Bible may be the most important thing to you, it is probably the least important thing to them.  If you want to attract them, you’re going to have to offer them something that matters to them.  You’re going to have to speak their language and fill their felt needs.

Jesus understood this perfectly, so it may be useful to take another look at how He reached out to people.  In John 4 Jesus offers water to a woman at a well (who came to the well for water in the first place), He then moved to her deeper needs, the need for a fulfilling and satisfying relationship.  If your church is struggling too hard to find anything compelling in the Gospel to offer to people in your area, it is probably a bit premature for you to consider outreach and you would very likely benefit from a good old-fashioned back-to-the-basics walk through the Gospels.

4. Strategic Communication

How do you reveal your improved image to the community?  The quick answer is – all at once.  That means that your new exterior and interior signage, bulletin design, yellow page ad, website, and direct mail invitations should all be bundled together to make a big as splash as possible. 5 things done separately will not generate enough attention to really get noticed, but 5 things done together will definitely turn heads.  As strange as it may sound, the communication math is 1+1+1+1+1=0, but 5=10.  And if having a communication / proclamation strategy sounds a little unorthodox in the first place, consider that not only did Jesus know how to attract a crowd, but He also used a pretty sophisticated understanding of acoustics to communicate with them effectively (talk to a sound engineer about why Jesus spoke to a crowd assembled on a hill while standing in a boat a short distance from shore).

Personally, I have had a lot of success with high-quality, professionally designed, direct mail.  Before we launched a new second service (that was targeting our missing generation of 20’s and 30’s) we carefully crafted six different post-cards to give a compelling reason to these people why they should check out our church.  We sent these out, two per week, for the three weeks prior to our launch to about 10,000 homes.  Why six different cards?  Because if you knock on a door once nothing will happen, but if you knock three times the door will open.  With direct mail, one card will be thrown away without a thought, but six will attract some attention.  As it turns out we had a 98% failure rate.  We only added 200 young people and increased the size of our congregation by 50%.  Evidently a 98% failure can turn out to be a 100% success.

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The Laws of Outreach – Part 2: Building an Outreach Identity

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The Laws of Outreach – Part 4: Assimilation

*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.

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