By Tim Massengale
Pastor Mark North moved carefully along the crowded altar area, pausing to pray with several who had come forward. Over to his right, Elder Vernon Baker was praying with a guest who had responded to the invitation. His hand was firmly planted on her head, and he was speaking softly in her ear. Mascara coursed down her cheeks as she cried and prayed, both hands reaching high above her head. Moments later she began speaking in other tongues and those gathered around her broke out in shouts of enthusiasm and worship. Mark grinned. That was the third one this morning.
Wanted: More Visitors
A short time later, back in his office, Mark popped the top on a cold Diet Coke and sat across from Elder Baker. The elderly gray-haired pastor mopped his brow with his handkerchief, his suit visibly damp with perspiration. Taking another swallow from his bottle of water, he sighed, “Mercy! I can’t remember the last time I preached that hard. Brother Mark, I do love preaching to your people. The way they respond, they about preached me to death!”
Mark chuckled. “That’s the Mississippi country boy in me. Where I come from they do everything, including shining your shoes as you preach. So I’ve encouraged my people to get with the program ever since I took the church. I had to coach them a bit, but now they really show their love for the Word of God. You really preached a masterpiece this morning, Elder. Thanks so much for accepting my invitation to speak.”
“Pleasure’s mine. You are getting a pretty good crowd here now. You have grown considerably since the last time I was here – what, it’s been about a year?”
“That’s right. You came to one of my Bible study nights and taught on the topic of evangelism. We’re averaging around 140 now on Sunday morning. We reached all our evangelism goals last year except the one for first-time visitors – we just missed that one. Our goal last year was for twenty-four to receive the Holy Ghost. So our visitor goal, based upon our Church Growth Spiral chart, was seventy-two. We had sixty-eight first-time visitors. I’m not sure why but we struggle somewhat trying to get new guests to visit our church. We’re located somewhat off the beaten path.”
The elder pastor nodded. “Still, to have sixty-eight first-time visitors is pretty good. If you reached all your other goals I’m sure you’re making good progress.”
“Oh, we are. We had thirty-three baptized last year and twenty-seven received the Holy Ghost, so we reached our conversion goals. But I wish I could do something to attract more visitors. Perhaps I should put more money into advertising. What do you think – billboards? Newspaper ads? Radio spots? What do you think works best?”
Brother Baker set the water bottle down and shrugged. “Depends on what you hope to accomplish. I don’t know about you but we have very few guests who come from our advertising efforts. I don’t advertise to get visitors. I advertise to increase my church’s name recognition.”
“Not sure I’m following you,” Mark said.
Role of Advertising
“Statistically, most churches don’t get a lot of visitors from advertising. Ninety percent or more of your visitors will come because someone invited them – typically invited by their ‘oikos,’ meaning family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances. Therefore, most church growth experts consider advertising to be a poor way to increase visitor flow. What advertising does is increase your name recognition within your community. So when I invite the waitress at the coffee shop to church and she asks where I attend, her response is, ‘I’ve heard of that church!’ and you then have validity. That’s worth a lot. I encourage a church to invest a set percentage of their gross income into advertising each year. We are investing about 8% right now. As the church income grows, our advertising budget grows. So we have a real good yellow-page ad – which incidentally is the most effective form of advertising a church can do. We have a weekly newspaper ad, we do several billboards for our Easter drama and Christmas program, and we print up lots of color flyers for our various special services. We do get some visitors from all this, but by far our best method is simple word-of-mouth invitations.
Mark nodded slowly. “Okay. So if advertising doesn’t bring in a lot of visitors, what does?
“I just told you – word-of-mouth. People talking, witnessing and inviting those they know and meet.”
“But I’m constantly encouraging my saints to invite people to church. I say something practically every service. What more can I do?”
Elder Baker sat back in his chair and stared up at the ceiling for a moment. “Mark, I don’t have all the answers – and what works for me may not necessarily work for you. But I have found that the more reasons I give my saints to invite, the more people they invite.”
Mark looked puzzled. “I’m not sure I’m following you.”
Give Them A Reason
“We have a good flow of visitors attend our church throughout the year. But I have found that any time we have something special – it doesn’t have to be big or expensive – but if I will build it up a little, if we will PR it in church and have a nice flyer designed, we almost always have double or more the number of visitors that day than we will have for a normal church service. Therefore, we have lots of special services.”
“My, you name it: revivals, holiday services like Easter, Pentecost Sunday, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents Day, July 4th, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. We do dramas, song fests, church socials and picnics, Sunday school contests, and Friend Day. The list goes on. We probably average at least one special service every month – occasionally two.”
“But doesn’t that cost a lot, all those special speakers?
“Who said anything about special speakers? Except for revivals and children’s crusades, I preach most of them myself. Some of my most successful services are needs based. I will announce a special ‘healing and miracles’ service, or a service devoted to ‘healing marriages and families.’ Recently we have had several ‘financial blessing’ services to pray for people to find jobs, pay bills and keep their homes. There are lots of people hurting out there. I think God has the answer to their needs.
“Understand me, Mark – these services are special simply because I take the effort to make them special. By that I mean I take the time to plan them well with my ministry team, we do special PR in church, we’ll put up banners, promote it by power-point, put a special insert in the church bulletin, do mail-outs, and most importantly, we design a nice color flyer. I’ve found that flyers are really important. They make it easier for people to invite their friends and family. The flyers are used by our bus workers, door knockers, street evangelism teams, and our nursing home workers. Many of our flyers are designed two on a sheet and we copy them off on our church color photocopier. We can copy off a thousand flyers – 500 sheets of paper – for less than twenty dollars in toner. Or we can send it out to an internet-based copy center and do twice as many for around fifty dollars.
“I will also challenge my people regularly – three or four times a year – to help stir up excitement. I have preached from the roof-top, worn my suit backwards, took pies in the face, shaved my head, dove into the baptistery, kissed a pig, and more – all to challenge my people to bring more visitors. For example, I will tell Brother Huston, my assistant pastor, that if his side brings more guests than my side, I’ll eat my tie. The church loves the fun and we all get a good laugh out of it. Last year we had over a thousand first-time visitors walk through our doors. And believe me, we followed-up on every one of them.
“Never forget, Mark, that one hundred percent of your new converts come from your visitors. The more visitors you have, the more converts you will have.”
Make It Special
Mark stared at the elderly pastor for several seconds before responding. “Wow! I had no idea you were doing all that stuff, Elder. How do you find the time and money to plan all those special events? I’m not sure I could do all the things you listed!”
“First, Mark, understand that you can only do what you are able to do. Smaller churches have less money and people. So you have to use wisdom and not overtax your people. If that means one special service a quarter, make those four your best. If you can do one every other month, or one every six weeks, then do that. But plan them and promote them well.
“Secondly, I could never have these kinds of services without my ministry team’s assistance. They handle most the leg work. I delegate everything but the preaching. They design the flyers, banners, contact the newspaper with news releases, and design my power point slides, all of it.
“And don’t get me wrong. We don’t spend a lot of money on this. Probably our most expensive event is our Easter Drama. Other than that, we invest in flyers, a couple of nice banners – one for outside and one for inside – and a few minor decorations. Most of what makes the service special is the topic upon which I preach. I usually preach with color power-point slides, and I do a lot of audience interaction. I like to use various objects for illustrations. I also have a team that will make special video clips when I need them. I figure that I have forty minutes to touch that visitor’s heart with the Word of God. So I do a lot of praying and preparing – and half the time God moves in and takes the service over anyway, which is fine by me! Seeing an altar full of visitors seeking for the Holy Ghost makes it all worthwhile!”
Mark nodded slowly. “Give your people reason to invite someone…,” he said almost to himself.
He gazed out the window at the now almost empty parking lot. “You know, Elder, we had several return visitors this morning and one first-time visitor. That’s more than we normally have. But I’ve known you were coming to preach for six weeks. I bet I could have made up flyers announcing, ‘Come Hear the World’s Most Amazing and Intelligent Preacher to Ever Walk in Shoe Leather. Miracles! Signs! Wonders!’ We could have had a banner made up, contacted the radio stations, newspapers, canvassed the neighborhood – why, there’s no telling how many visitors we would have had this morning! Hundreds!”
The old pastor threw his water bottle at the younger preacher who, of course, dodged it easily.