EXAMINING YOUR MAGNETIC FIELD
BY HAROLD PERCY
Every congregation has a certain ability to attract newcomers into its life, worship, and ministry. This ability represents each congregation’s magnetic field. In most cases there are at least four primary factors that influence the strength of this congregational magnetic field.
1. Your Buildings
The location of your buildings and their appearance can significantly impact your magnetic field. Obviously, people need to be able to find you if they are to join you! And it goes without saying that they will be more attracted to buildings that are in good condition than they will to buildings that look as though no on’ cares about them very much.
The key here is to remember that your buildings probably look much different to outsiders and newcomers than they do to longtime members. Once we have been around for a while we tend to block things out; everything becomes familiar to us. But newcomers are more likely to notice the signs of neglect that we have long since failed to observe. It might be helpful once in a while to have someone with “fresh eyes” walk around your property, inside and out, and tell you what they see. It might be surprising!
2. Your Advertising
Your advertising is what you say about yourself to the community with which you are seeking to connect, and also the way you say it.
Congregations use many ways to get their message out, from newspaper ads and direct mail flyers to cable television ads and radio spots. The key here is to be as fresh and creative as possible; if you try to save money by preparing a second-rate piece of advertising it is probably better to do nothing.
The quality of your advertising, as well as its tone and content, sends an important message to the recipient.
Advertising needs to be prepared from the point of view of the intended recipient. What do we want to say about ourselves that will indicate to our recipients that it would be worth their while to consider getting involved with us? Too often, church advertising focuses on the interests of the church, rather than on those with whom we are seeking to connect.
3. Your Reputation
If advertising has to do with what you want to say about yourself, reputation has to do with what others are saying about you. It is important to remember that people you don’t even know have very strong opinions about your church. These opinions might be accurate or wildly inaccurate, but the important point is that your church does have a reputation, for good or for ill.
Your reputation, of course, is largely influenced by how you appear to your community. Is your congregational attitude good or bad? Some congregations are known as neighborhood friendly; others are perceived as being snobby or perhaps a bit grumpy. “Keep off the lawn” signs and chained parking lots through the week don’t do much to enhance a church’s reputation in the neighborhood.
Many in your community will have heard how people are treated when they approach your church with various inquiries and requests. Many will know something about the style and tone of your worship and preaching, and will have formed opinions of your church based on this information. They will also have a sense of whether or not your church cares for your community and seeks to add value to it in various ways.
4. The Witness of Your Members
Of all the factors influencing the strength of your congregational magnetic field, this is the most significant by far. Insofar as the factors listed above are positive they will serve to support the witness of your members. And if any of them are weak, the witness of your members can serve to offset them. For example, your buildings might be hard to find, and your facilities grossly inadequate (although not neglected!), but the enthusiastic witness of some of your members about the value of your church to them will still attract others to come and give it a try!
The important question here is, “What are the members saying about you?” Do they talk about the church at all with their friends and neighbors who are not a part of the church? If not, why not? If yes, what do they say? Do they talk about the value the church adds to their life? Are they able to share what their faith means to them? And, perhaps most important, do they invite others to come and sample the life of your church?
We need to keep two things in mind here. The first is that most of your members won’t invite others unless they are encouraged to. It is important to make inviting a congregational core value. Remind and encourage your members on a regular basis to be thinking about who they might be able to invite to special functions or to next Sunday’s service.
The second is that no matter how much you encourage them to do so, people will not invite their friends unless they are proud of their church and are confident that their friends will enjoy it. If your members resolutely refuse to invite their friends to church, it is probably best to bite the bullet and ask them to share honestly why they are reluctant. This is the only way you will ever be able to address the problem with integrity.
Give them a chance to talk about their reluctance. Perhaps there are some things that you can help them work through. On the other hand, if they simply fear that their friends would not find the church to be either enjoyable or of value to them, then you have some serious work to do! It might help to ask them to think about what kind of church they think they might be willing to invite their friends to. Who knows what possibilities might grow out of such a congregational conversation?
If you are interested in increasing your congregation’s ability to attract new comers into its life, ministry, and worship, remember your congregational magnetic field. Invite some of your key influencers to help you think about the factors influencing the strength in this field, and pray that God will bless your efforts as you seek to connect with people in order to share the Good News of Jesus with them.
Harold Percy is executive director of the Wycliffe College Institute of Evangelism, Toronto, Ontario. This article is reprinted by permission from the Institute’s publication Good Idea! (Winter 1997). For a list of excellent resources on personal witnessing and congregational evangelism methods, call toll free 888/765-7841.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY NET RESULTS-NEW IDEAS IN CHURCH VITALITY, JULY 1998, PAGES 25, 26. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.