BY: K.L. CALLAHAN
Accessibility and Visibility
The ideal combination is for a local church to have both visibility and accessibility. These two strengths significantly reinforce one another in ways that are beneficial to the congregation. Some churches will have accessibility and virtually no visibility. Other congregations will have high visibility but suffer a lack of accessibility. Wherever possible, it is helpful for the local church to have both characteristics well in place.
There is high visibility when a local congregation has developed the geographical visibility of its site, community visibility with regard to its pastor, key leaders, and major programs, and media visibility in the communications networks that exist in its community. It is useful for a local congregation to be highly visible m all three arenas.
Seeing the Church
The Physical Visibility of the Church Site
It is quite straightforward. Either the church can be seen or it cannot be seen. That is, either the physical site can be seen by persons in the community or its visibility is marginal. You can determine the physical visibility of a given church site by answering the following three questions:
1. Can the church site be easily seen from major traffic arteries?
2. How many people in fact see the church site each day?
3. How many people see the church site in a given week?
It is obvious that the more people who see a given church site, the
more likely some of them are to think of that church site as a possible
source of help.
Now, the key to this has to do with whether or not people “really see” the church site. It is not at all uncommon for major buildings to recede into the background in such a fashion that people hardly even notice they are there. They become, if you will, virtually invisible. Church sites that remain essentially the same from one year to the next have a strong tendency to recede into the background. New people hardly notice them; unchurched persons get used to “not seeing” them. Churches that fail to add “points of interest” to their landscaping from one year to the next tend to become anonymous buildings that people pass by but do not really see. Shrubbery and trees that .re allowed to grow so tall and bushy that they interfere with the essential view of the site and the buildings also contribute to the church becoming increasingly invisible as time passes.
Another factor related to physical visibility is that of “high side” visibility. For example, if . committee were searching for . location for . new church, they would be best advised to purchase . piece of property that is on the high side of the major roads adjacent to the property. Churches that are “down in the galley” are virtually invisible. It may be one thing to sing .bout the church in the valley, but it is quite another thing for churches to be located on the low side of the road to the extent that they are hardly ever noticed.
Regrettably, many church location committees settle for . piece of property on the low side of the mad because they think it will be cheaper. To be sure, the initial cost of the property is less; it is precisely because it is on the low side of the road that it costs so much less. But the price that is paid over the coming forty to sixty to hundred years of that congregation’s existence is not worth the initial savings. High-side visibility is important to the physical visibility of the site.
Yet another factor related to physical visibility is the .mount of frontage on the road or roads adjacent to the property. Again, church location committees frequently select the site that may contain as much five to seven acres but with frontage on the major road or roads of no more than fifty to hundred feet. The narrower the frontage, the less visible the site will be, no matter how many acres it may contain. Physical visibility is enhanced by extensive frontage on the principle roads adjacent to the property.
Community visibility is equally as important as physical visibility. Indeed, the less the physical visibility of the site, the more important it is that there should be high community visibility. Obviously, this point is directly connected to the earlier point concerning open accessibility. Community visibility is of two types: (1) public visibility and (2) grapevine visibility.
Public visibility is the extent to which the pastor and key leaders of the congregation have reasonably high visibility in the community. High visibility is developed as they participate in the broad range of community activities in that the church serves. The extent to which the church is involved in community activities, and the extent to which people in the community recognize the pastor and key leaders of the congregation and their work in the church and the community is the extent to which the local church has public visibility. Simply put, public visibility has to do with whether or not the pastor and key leaders of the church are seen and recognized in the life and activities of the community.
The second type of community visibility is grapevine visibility, and it is as important, if not more important, public visibility. In every community there is an informal network of relationships among its people and groups. Communication travels along this grapevine network as rapidly as it does on radio or television. In many communities the informal networks of conversation and communication are the primary sources that people depend upon for information about what is really happening in their area.
Grapevine visibility means that a given local church has narrowed on the community grapevine a good feeling about its life and work. There is a sense in which the church, by its effective mission, has created a solid image of helping people. The pastor and key leaders of a local church can even virtually become living legends on the community grapevine. When that happens, a local church has an extraordinarily high degree of community visibility.
It should be observed that the important factor in both public and
grapevine visibility is the character and content of what is comma
nicated. Churches that have a useful community visibility tend to have
the kind of visibility that identifies [hat church as a source of help and hope and as a source of reliability and certainty amidst the difficulties and transitions of everyday life. That is, it is very important that a local congregation not develop a grapevine visibility that suggests the pastor or lay leaders of that congregation are “con artists” or are interested primarily in “gimmicks and gadgets” that focus on faddish programs and activities. The substance of the visibility is decisive. It is to be hoped that a local congregation will reflect upon the impression and image that it has created in both its public and its grapevine visibility. Not all churches create the impression and image that they have intended.
Now, this does not suggest that a church should develop a preoccupation with community visibility Rather, it is to suggest that every local congregation has some community visibility whether it wants it or no[. Whether it be two women visiting with one another at the grocery store or two men in conversation in a field or on a street corner, those persons, insofar as they discuss a local church, discuss their present impressions of that church. People in the community do develop an impression as to whether a given local church is sincere in its commitment to help people m the name and power of Christ, or whether it is primarily interested in using those people for some purpose. As you wen know, the word spreads fast-one way or the other.
Whether it be newspapers, radio, television, or other forms of media, the extent to which a local church advances its visibility through the media that are available, is the extent to which that local congregation contributes to high visibility. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before people, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Frequently, churches feel uncomfortable about media visibility and public relations. They sometimes fear that developing media and public relations visibility is too mach akin to “blowing your own horn” and therefore is something in which the church should not be involved. What we mast realize is that every group or organization, to a greater or lesser extent, is discussed in whatever media are present in that community. It would be most unusual for a year to go by without the media making some reference, however obliquely, to a given local congregation and its life and work. To be sure, churches in major metropolitan areas are less likely to receive media attention. Bat in towns and rural areas churches are frequently referred to by the media.
Media visibility and public relations should not be ignored. In churches that rank as 8, 9, or 10 on the central characteristic of high visibility, one will frequently find that a solid public relations program is well in place.
Three facts about public relations are fundamental to understanding media visibility. First, the basic element is integrity; without integrity there can be no substantive par c re dons effort. Indeed, without integrity it would be wise not to have community visibility-if you could avoid it. People are reasonably astute at discerning an “advertising campaign” that does not have substance or strength derived from the fundamental life and mission of a church. Some churches have tried to convince the public that they are solidly engaged in mission when, in fact, all they are engaged in is trying to convince the public that they are.
Eventually this lack of integrity will be found out. Thus, whenever a
church enters the field of media visibility it is important that that church share honestly what it is doing and planning to do in mission in the community. Such an approach mast have about it a thoughtful integrity.
The second fact about public relations and media visibility has to do
with the focus of the public relations program. Some local churches have focused on what people can do for that church if only those people will come and participate in that church’s programs and activities.
Some churches have focused on high-powered promises of what that church
can do for them if those people will only become participants in the life of that congregation.
Media visibility and public relations cannot be a kind of chocolate
syrup poured over flavorless ice cream to make it taste sweet. Most
people are not interested in overstatement about what a congregation is
doing. Most people respect a local church whenever it shares what it is
doing and what it is planning to do as it lives out the gospel. Not all
people are interested in which speaker is coming, or which singing
group; they are interested in knowing what the church is doing to be of
help in the community so that it will be a better place in which to live.
The third fact about media visibility has to do with the mutual trust that a local church develops with the media agencies in the community. Even when there is an awkward situation in a local church, the pastor or key leaders should be thoughtfully honest and forthright, giving the facts as accurately as possible. Chances are that awkward situations will be reported anyway. Candor and openness will create a better relationship of mutual trust and respect. That relationship will stand the church in good stead on a long-term basis as it works [o put in place a rightful and appropriate degree of media visibility.
Points of Interest, Signs, and People
Points of Interest
The physical visibility of a church site can be substantially improved as that church develops modest “points of interest” in the landscaping around the church. It is most worthwhile for a local church to change one or two points of interest each year so as to help people see the site in new and fresh ways. Too many churches leave their landscaping essentially the same year in and year out. I am not suggesting
overhaul its total landscaping over a three to five year period. Rather, I do suggest that the church select one or two points points of interest and make creative changes from one year to the next in those one or two spots.
For example, near [he church sign in the front yard a modest flower bed might create a point of interest. It would be helpful for the size and shape and color of [hose flowers to be revised from one year to the next. Indeed, it may be useful to move the spot from time to time.
Usually, the creation of such points of interest can be done inexpensively and easily. It is hard for the pastor and leaders of the congregation to see the church site the way it is seen by unchurched people and by others in the community. It is amazing the number of pastors and leaders who mistakenly assume that the way they see the church site is the way everyone sees it. Their own familiarity with the church gets in [he way of-their coming to pips with the fact that numbers of people may not even the physical site of the church at an. Modest points of interest will help catch the attention of those in the community who might have some eventual interest in that congregation.
Most church signs are foolishly done. They carry too much information; they are located in the wrong position in relation to the traffic direction patterns on the adjacent roads; and they are allowed to become worn and weather-beaten and, therefore, to communicate the sense that this might be a declining congregation.
Church signs should be two- or three-second signs. That is, given the speed of the traffic that passes a church, there should be only as much information on the sign as a driver can read in two to three seconds. The five-second sign has too much information on it; the driver will not read even part of such a sign. The driver glances at a sign, sees that it has too much information on it, and absorbs none of it.
The sign should simply state one or two key facts that the church wishes to communicate. For example, the sign might share simply and straightforwardly the name of the church and the name of the pastor. The name of the pastor should not be hung on a separate temporary sign underneath the real sign. Both the church’s name and the pastor’s name should communicate a sense of stability and reliability, a sense of permanence and presence.
It may be that the church would also want to add the time of the major service of worship. But, signs that communicate the name of the church, the name of the pastor, the time of the first service of worship, the time of Sunday school, the time of the second service of worship, the time of the youth fellowship, and the time of the Wednesday evening program have so much information that hardly any of it will be seen by unchurched persons. Such signs come across as cluttered and crowded, and drivers have more important things to do-like keeping their cars on the road-than to try and read through all of that.
Further, signs do not need to say visitors are welcome. The shape of the sign, the position of the sign, the colors used for background, and the lettering will all communicate a sense of warmth and welcome. It does not need to be also stated on the sign itself. A nearby “point of interest” such as a patch of flowers that have beauty and warmth will communicate the sense of openness and invitation that it is important to communicate.
More often than not, signs that are exactly parallel or exactly perpendicular to the road are not as easily seen as signs that are at some angle to oncoming traffic. That means that frequently a church will need two signs. One sign will be located in such a way that those coming, for example, from east to west will see it in sufficient time to read the important information on it. That church will have another sign located at an appropriate angle for those coming from west to east to see. The general principle is that the faster the average speed of the traffic, the mote important it is to have an adequate line of sight so that drivers can read the sign from some distance away rather than being expected to catch the sign at the very point at which they are passing both the sign and the church itself.
To be sure, I would advocate that signs be tastefully and aesthetically designed. I would not in any way suggest flashing neon signs or huge, glaring billboards. At the same time, the only reason for devoting so much detail to this point is that in my travels across the country as a consultant, I have seen the variety of mistakes congregations make on something as simple as a sign. Adequate signs will contribute to high
The best signs are finally people. People point people to a church. People who are visible in helping people contribute to the high visibility of a congregation. Mostly, these people are quiet and modest. Mostly, they are shy of publicity and do their helping and missional work with the hope that their help will be effective. They do not want publicity and they do not want their work to be ballyhooed abroad.
These people are the saints in the church. They are the persons who have visibility as being significantly helpful in the fives of people. The more helping persons the congregation has at work in the community, not in the church, the more that congregation will have high visibility in the community. The power of people is necessary and important in order for a local church to have high visibility as one of its central strengths and characteristics.