Perception and Your Church
By Jim Connell
A crucial part of promoting your church is understanding perception. The church is mainly perceived in two categories: internal perception and external perception. Internal perception deals with the congregation and how they view the church and its leadership. External deals with the way the church is seen by the community. Both of these are equally important to understand.
There are two important things to remember about church perception. First, perception is reality. Your church may communicate in many ways, but how people respond to those messages or pass them along to others is based on what they believe about you. Their perception is their reality.
Second, people’s perception may not match your vision or assumptions. Church leaders have a vivid picture of the kind of impact they want their church to make. That may or may not match up with the perception of the congregation. The congregation may be on the same page with you and they’re just as excited to join you in making that happen, or they may see an entirely different church from the one you have in mind.
When attempting to improve the way that your congregation views your church, there are two things that make all the difference. First, you must communicate extensively. This means making it abundantly clear what the purpose and vision of each project is within the church. Second, you must be transparent. The more “in the know” the congregation is, the more they will begin to trust the leadership they are under. This, in turn, will improve the way they perceive the church.
Community perception is a bit trickier. It is impossible to please everyone. This is especially true with the people outside the church. They may never hear the preaching, know the leadership, or understand the vision. Their entire perspective on the church is rooted in appearances and first impressions. Not every style of church appeals to the same group of people. Therefore, it is impossible for you to be positively perceived by everyone in a community, but aiming for a majority is still important.
A major key to external perception is first impressions. You want to make sure that the residents view your church as valuable or useful in the community. You can do this by connecting with those around you through community outreach, and by simply making a point to greet them and engage with them in conversation when you see them outside of the church setting. The community may think positive and/or negative things about your church that you are completely unaware of, because they view your church from an outside perspective.
Understanding how your church is perceived is two-fold. It helps you identify your church’s strengths so you can develop a strategy that showcases them and matches them to your target audience. It also helps you see the gaps between what your church is and what people think it is so you know where to focus your energy, resources and strategy to narrow those gaps.
Community Impact Matters
A large part of attracting outsiders to your church is making an effort to meet people where they are. This means that the congregation of a church must strive to move outside the four walls of the physical church building and begin to reach out to their surrounding area. This is called community outreach or local impact.
Community outreach is important for the growth and development of churches. It increases that church’s visibility amongst the citizens in the immediate area. People cannot attend a church they do not know about. The more that you reach out into the community, the more you will see people becoming familiar with not only your church name, but also what your church is capable of achieving as a family. Seeing this tangible display of genuine concern and your attitude of care towards others may also help in drawing those who have apprehensions about the church or Christianity. It develops a trust between the church and the unchurched.
Outside of the benefits of church growth, community outreach also helps make your community better. Simple projects that the church can spearhead have the potential to positively affect your community in ways that you never thought possible. It is an opportunity for your church to show the compassion of Christ to hurting people. This demonstrates that the church is in tune with the love of God and knows that feet must be put to faith in order for it to be effective.
Before the church can help in the community, an issue (or issues) must be pinpointed in order for there to be focus. The church leadership can begin this process by contacting local government leadership and inquiring about specific community problems or projects that need attention. Some areas of concern might be the homeless population, city upkeep, neighborhood conditions and beautification, school upkeep and beautification, and school supplies for children. Another way to accomplish this is to address the congregation and ask if they have any suggestions as to projects the church could become involved in.
From here, the leadership must select an issue and form a plan of action. The plan needs to address the issues of time, place, environment and resources. The resources need to be paid special attention. You need to know in advance how much money, how many volunteers, and what kind of materials you will need to accomplish your goal. You do not want the church to overshoot its means.
Putting the plan into action
With your plan of action in hand, present the idea to the congregation. Make it creative and inspiring, uniting the congregation’s passions. Give them plenty of ways to get involved. For example, if the plan is to volunteer at a soup kitchen, make sure it is clear what positions are available for them to participate. It also helps to break down each position into shifts so that more than one person can get involved. Without opportunity, the people of the church have their hands tied. This limits your resources. The goal is to place every willing, able member in a position that they can thrive in. This adds to your unity, purpose, and the achievement of your goal.
When looking at innovative ways to reach out to your community, do not overlook meeting the basic needs of people. Community outreach is not always limited to reaching out to them with the gospel of Christ (though this is important). It also means reaching out to them and providing basic necessities, a sense of community and showing love and hospitality to those around you.
What Message is Your Church Sending?
Studies indicate that first-time visitors will decide within the first 10 minutes whether to return to a church. Here are several areas where a church should make sure it’s sending the right message:
Web site – Your Web site is the front door to your church. It should be attractive, provide helpful content and be updated regularly.
Signage – Too many church signs are inadvertently saying things the church never intended. A sign should be attractive, and clearly communicate who you are and when you meet. See various sign styles at www.stewartsigns.com/church- signs.php.
Buildings & Properties – The attention you pay to the appearance of the church grounds and the exterior of the building transmits unmistakable messages.
Dècor – Décor sets a tone. Make sure your church’s décor is warm and current in style. Be careful about outlandish decorations, but don’t make it too cold either.
Greeters – How a greeter treats visitors is a huge factor in determining what their future relationship with the church will be. Every opportunity for a handshake and a smile sets the tone for the visit. Every missed opportunity diminishes their chances of returning.
Printed pieces – Printed pieces may include the weekly bulletin, flyers and newspaper ads. Be consistent in design/message. Have contemporary, relevant materials that show your style and vision. For high quality brochures that communicate AG beliefs/practices, visit www.ag.org/opr and look for the “AG Resources” link.
Vocabulary – When visitors hear words they do not understand, they can feel alienated and excluded. Churches must communicate clearly with words visitors can identify.
Children’s Ministries – When visitors bring their children to your church/class, they need a strong sense that their child will be safe and secure, and warmly and sincerely accepted into the class.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”
This article “Perception and Your Church” written by Jim Connell, was excerpted from: www.Todayschurch.com newsletter. July 2010. It may be used for study & research purposes only.