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Spread the Word – Outreach Ministry (Newsletter 4-4)

Spread the Word
Gary L. McIntosh

The gospel is still the only key to lasting church growth. -Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr.

Looking for a doctor? Need a home loan? Buying a new car? Selecting a college? Where do you go for advice? Do you look in the paper? Watch TV? Go on the Internet? Or “let your fingers do the walking”? If you are like most people, first you ask a family member, associate, or friend.

Advertisers call this “word of mouth.” It is the most effective way of advertising any organization—even a church! Word-of-mouth advertising is referred to in Scripture as a story, a report, a tiding, a reputation, and a rumor. Rumors are characterized as either good or evil (2 Cor. 6:8). Believers are encouraged to think about and spread good rumors (see Phil. 4:8).

Jesus’s ministry was communicated predominantly by word of mouth. After Jesus raised a dead man, Luke records: “This report [rumor, story] concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district” (Luke 7:17). Jesus’s repu¬tation spread by positive word of mouth, and your church’s ministry will too. Every day people talk about your church, its ministries, and its programs. This talk adds to or subtracts from your reputation.

Bad news or good news, people are talking about your church. A classic example of how word-of-mouth advertising affects a church is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:8. Writing about the church in Thessalonica, Paul says, “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth [echoed] from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth.” People were telling how the Thessalonians had turned from worshiping idols to serving the living and true God. They were spreading the story by word of mouth. It was so effective that Paul confesses, “We have no need to say anything.”

My wife and I were spending a week at a church where I was candidating for the position of pastor. A real-estate salesperson had arranged for us to see several houses in the neighborhood where the church was located. My wife and the real-estate lady were going through one house, and I decided to walk down the block, knock on a few doors, and simply ask people what they knew about the church.

I introduced myself to people as someone who was thinking of purchasing a home in their neighborhood and asked how they liked the area. After a little bit of conversation, I casually asked if they knew anything about the church a few blocks away. Some knew more than others to be sure, but everyone had heard something about the church. One lady said she had heard that the church was going to build a new facility on the vacant land next to it. Others offered insights, such as, “It’s rumored to be a nice family church” and “They reportedly keep to themselves.”
I had not told anyone that I might become the new pastor, but at one house the lady exclaimed, “Are you the new pastor?” She did not attend the church but knew someone who did and had been told that a new pastor was visiting. Most of the rumors I heard that day were positive ones.

Later I accepted the call to pastor this church, in part due to the reputation it had, which I learned that day by talking to people in the neighborhood.

It’s a Small World
A few years ago I was attending a church in Wilmington, North Carolina. Following the worship service, I was introduced to a lady from the church who asked, “I know it’s a long shot, but I have a former college roommate who married a pastor and lives in Palm Springs, California. By any chance would you know her?”

When she told me the names of the couple, I realized I knew them. “In fact, I consulted with their church a number of years ago,” I said.

The woman exclaimed, “It’s a small world, isn’t it!”

Yes, it is a small world. I was connected to this woman by one person who lived more than 2,500 miles away. How close are we to other people around the world?

Part of the folklore that has circulated since the 1960s is that we are all connected by just “six degrees,” or six people—we are only six people away from knowing anyone in the world. We know someone who knows someone else who in turn knows someone else and so on.

The concept of “six degrees of separation” came from a study conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1967.

He studied the “small world” phenomenon by asking several hundred people in Boston and Omaha to somehow get a letter to a complete stranger in Boston. They had to send a letter to a personal friend whom they thought would be able to reach the stranger.

Milgram discovered that in most cases, by the time the letter reached the stranger, it had changed hands only six times. He concluded that everyone can be reached by a chain of friends only six links long.

The study was not as conclusive as most people think. Be¬cause Milgram’s test group was small, there were many unan¬swered questions. Thus researchers at Columbia University, led by Duncan Watts, conducted a large-scale study using the Internet. The Watts’s study asked more than 60,000 people in 163 countries to try to get in touch with one of 18 people located in 13 countries. Of the 24,613 email chains started, only 384 reached their targets. Six reached the target person directly. The success of the other emails ranged from 42 reach¬ing the target person in 2 emails to 3 reaching their destination in 10 emails.

Actually the successful chains required an average of only four steps to get to the targeted person. The researchers concluded that if most of the chains could have been completed, half of them would have reached the target person in five steps, if the sender and the eventual receiver lived in the same country. If the target person lived in a different country, they estimated it would take seven steps.

While the results of the Watts’s study are complicated, it ap¬pears that Milgram’s six degrees of separation conclusion is in the ballpark.

One complication of the study is that of the people who re¬ceived the unsolicited email, 63 percent did not send it on. Evidently many participants ignored the email, figuring it was spam. With only one-third of the recipients forwarding the email, the chains dwindled quickly with each successive step, until only 2 percent reached their destination.

The research appears to point to the small-world phenomenon as not only real but more universal than anyone would have suspected. Amazingly, for anybody you want to reach in the world, it’s likely that someone you know knows someone who knows someone who knows the person.

It cannot be ignored, however, that 98 percent of the emails in the study never reached their destination. Why did the email have such a high failure rate? Of course, the problem may be related to the use of email for the research study. We have all received email chain letters and refused to forward them along to our friends. Yet the issue may go deeper than a frustration with spam and chain letters. When the researchers asked people why they had not forwarded the email, 1 percent indicated they could not think of anyone to send the email to. For many of the rest, it seems likely that the underlying reason the emails floundered is that they just did not want to be bothered.

The study pointed out that, as in most social networks, making the connection is mostly a question of who is willing to help. While it may be true that we can reach about anyone in the world through only six or seven steps, if someone along the way decides not to help out, the chain is broken.

Just because we are only six steps from the Queen of En¬gland does not mean we can get a message to her. We can ask our friends for help, such as through an email, but that is all we can do. If someone along the chain decides not to forward our message, it is not going to get there.

The study on six degrees of separation suggests that we are pretty connected. However, the study also points out that we are not really connected. The bottom line is we have numer¬ous people we can build relationships with – if we want to. We have many people we can share the gospel with—if we want to. We have lots of people we can invite to church — if we want to.

Unfortunately, most of us just do not want to be bothered.

How Rumors Spread
In our society many of us depend on word of mouth to filter through the many products, ideas, and offers that come our way every day. Studies in the field of diffusion of innovation (how new products spread) have found that people do not choose a product based purely on factual information. The overwhelming majority of people depend on subjective evalua¬tions conveyed to them from other individuals like themselves who have previously adopted a product. It appears that potential adopters rely on the modeling of near-peers who have already adopted a product. New products literally take off after inter¬personal networks are activated to spread subjective, positive evaluations.

Churches grow as previous adopters (members and attenders) model their happiness by spreading good rumors (positive word-of-mouth evaluations) to their near-peers who are potential adopters (friends, family, and associates). The spreading talk develops an “echo effect” as word of mouth reverberates back and forth, spilling over to other people who may be interested in your church. Keep the following insights in mind as you consider the impact circulating rumors have on your church and its ministry.

Word of mouth is not based on one thing you do or don’t do. It’s the result of hundreds of little things you do consistently well. Occasionally short-term rumors may focus on one particular aspect of your ministry. The long-term rumors or word-of-mouth-conversations change slowly, since they depend on the history ministry found in your church over many years.

You do not have to sit by and wait to hear what people say about you. You can take control by using some of the ideas in this chapter. Word of mouth can be managed. You cannot stop people from talking; thus you must begin to use proactive strate¬gies to manage what people are saying.

Word of mouth does not replace anything you are doing. It supplements and enhances your current efforts in all areas of ministry. Talk alone will never be enough. Reportedly Ralph Waldo Emerson told an acquaintance, “What you are speaks so loud, I can’t hear what you say.”

The rule of three—thirty-three is always at work. For every three people willing to tell a positive story about an experience with your church, there are thirty-three others who will tell a horror story.’ For some reason, negative talk reaches a wider audience than positive talk. Of course, the exact numbers may vary from one organization to another.

The White House Office of Consumer Affairs finds that a dissatisfied customer reveals the un¬pleasant experience to nine others. A California market research firm shows that dissatisfied automobile customers tell their stories to twenty-two others. A Dallas researcher says that in banking, a in your church. Keep the following insights in mind as you consider the impact circulating rumors have on your church and its ministry.

Word of mouth is not based on one thing you do or don’t do. It’s the result of hundreds of little things you do consistently well. Occasionally short-term rumors may focus on one particular aspect of your ministry. The long-term rumors or word-of-mouth-conversations change slowly, since they depend on the history of ministry found in your church over many years.

You do not have to sit by and wait to hear what people say about you. You can take control by using some of the ideas in this chapter. Word of mouth can be managed. You cannot stop people from talking; thus you must begin to use proactive strate¬gies to manage what people are saying.

Word of mouth does not replace anything you are doing. It supplements and enhances your current efforts in all areas of ministry. Talk alone will never be enough. Reportedly Ralph Waldo Emerson told an acquaintance, “What you peaks so loud, I can’t hear what you say.”

The rule of three—thirty-three is always at work. For every three people willing to tell a positive story about experience with your church, there are three others who will tell a horror story.’ For reason, negative talk reaches a wider audience positive talk. Of course, the exact numbers may from one organization to another.

The White House Office of Consumer Affairs finds that a dissatisfied customer reveals the unpleasant experience to nine others. A California market research firm shows that dissatisfied automobile customers tell their stories to twenty-two others. A Dallas researcher says that in banking, a dissatisfied depositor will tell eleven others about a bank mistake and that those eleven tell five more people — an average of fifty-five horror stories.’

I’m not aware of any studies that reveal how many other people dissatisfied members of a church tell about their displeasure, but be certain that it does take place. Since human nature tends to change little from one organization to another, it is likely that the figures found by secular organizations are representative of churches also.

People seem conditioned to share the negative aspects of their experience. It takes one hundred positive stories to overcome the impact of one negative one.

Word of mouth travels fast. Researchers think that the average person has a sphere of influence that includes 250 people. This means that if your city has a population of 62,500, by word of mouth you are only two people away from everyone in town. If you tell all 250 people in your sphere of influence and they in turn tell all 250 people in theirs, then everyone in town will know what you talked about (250 x 250 = 62,500). Extending this formula two more steps reveals that each of us is only about 4 or 5 people removed from everyone in the entire world, which is the reason we often say, “It’s a small world.” When consider¬ing how quickly rumors spread by word of mouth, it honestly is small.

Positive word of mouth takes place when you exceed what people expect. Think of a continuum of the service you offer to people (see figure on p. 83). It’s not surprising that poor service results in negative rumors. It may shock you to learn that just doing what people expect results in no word of mouth. People won’t talk about it since it’s what they expected, nothing special. When people receive more service than they expect, they spread good rumors. Excellent service results in positive word of mouth as people express to others their unexpected pleasure at being served well by your church.

Some churches have natural word-of-mouth exposure due to their size. In general, a church with a worship attendance above that of the average church in its ministry area will have many positive comments made concerning it. Note the following graph as an example.

There are ten churches depicted in the graph on the next page. The average worship attendance used in the example is 150. For a church to have natural word-of-mouth exposure, it will need to have a worship attendance above 150. It is easy to see that churches B, C, and E are above this 150 mark and will have a natural visibility via word of mouth. Church F is just at the break point of discovering that word of mouth happens quite naturally. The remaining churches will need to work at developing word-of-mouth advertising, since they have too few people for it to develop naturally.

If your church’s worship attendance is below the average attendance of all the other churches in your ministry area, then developing positive word-of-mouth talk will be an important factor in the future growth of your church. Also you need to give serious consideration to this aspect of your ministry if current talk about your church is negative or weak. Is your church known in your ministry area? If not, you will need to develop a strategy to help increase your word-of-mouth image.

Energizing Good Rumors
How can a church tie into the net¬work of previous adopters (church mem¬bers and attenders) to reach potential adopters? As a church leader, you do not need to sit by passively. You can be thoughtful, organized, and systematic about word-of-mouth advertising. Good rumors will develop as present members and attenders sense personal satisfaction with the ministry of your church. Begin by listening to what your members are saying. Energizing good rumors about your church begins inside your church. The word of mouth that is generated by your present members and regular worshipers is a powerful influence on the morale, ministry, and mission of your church. What do your members say about your church to other members? What are they communicating to those outside your church? If you don’t know, find out.

Teach your people to avoid negative talk. Negative talk about your church must be avoided no matter how difficult conditions are. When I was a soccer coach, my number one rule was “Never say anything bad about your teammate.” The minute teammates start speaking negatively about their team and each other is the moment the team begins to fall apart.

By sacrificially serving each other, we work together to fulfill Christ’s command to make disciples of all the nations. Nega¬tive talk about each other and our church, even if done with innocent motives, causes serious damage. Once our members start bad-mouthing our church, nonmembers pick it up and pass it along with more fury, since they heard it right from the source. Make it clear to people what the Bible says about negative talk (James 3:1-12) and how it affects the growth of your church. Train them to say the right things. Explain the proper way to bring disagreements to the church leadership. Don’t bad-mouth other churches from your pulpit. Preach the positive side of things more than the negative. You don’t need to be blind to or totally ignore the negatives but always create an atmosphere that stresses the positive, more produc¬tive side.

Share good news about your church as it happens. A newslet¬ter is a solid way to build a cadre of loyal followers. It is time consuming but is certainly worth the effort. One key is regularity. Many churches put out a newsletter sporadically. If anything, this works against the development of good rumors.

In a newsletter make good use of pictures. Keep it crisp, clean, clear, and upbeat. Feature stories that share good news about what is happening in your ministry. Be especially alert to stories about people who illustrate your loving care and service to each other.

Interviewing people from the platform on Sunday mornings is another way to share good stories about your church. Select new people, those with a fresh testimony and those who have been served effectively by your church. Host an end-of-the-year event when many people who have been touched by your church share their stories. As members hear these real stories, they will naturally share them by word of mouth to others, thus passing on the good news about your church’s ministry.

Reach out in ministry to community leaders. One pastor visited the mayor of his city. After the proper introductions were made, the mayor asked how he could help the pastor. The pastor con¬fided that he simply wanted to know how the mayor was doing. Before leaving, he prayed for the mayor. The mayor was shocked and pleased. Needless to say, this opinion leader has good things to say about this pastor and his church.

Host a thank-you dinner for community leaders, such as fire¬men, policemen, and city council members—not as a time to register complaints but for thanking them for a job well done in serving the people of your city or community.

Build good experiences and memories for your people. The DWYPYWD principle builds trust and promotes positive word of mouth. It means, Do what you promised you would do. Com¬plete projects that are started. Work on small goals that are sure to succeed and publicize their fulfillment. Take pictures of church events. Show them at meetings throughout the year. Develop a video about your church.

Host open houses where members share their desires, hopes, and concerns. At the same meetings, church leaders can communicate their church’s vision and direction, thereby starting good rumors that will be shared again and again.

Remove any negative signs from your church property and lit¬erature. Look around your church and see how many times you count the word no. Do you have “No Smoking” or “No Parking” signs? If you have signs that give a negative message hanging on your walls or posted on your property, take them down. If they are printed in your bulletin, program, or newsletter, take them out. It is difficult to build positive word of mouth about your church if negative messages are hanging on the walls.

Communicate victories no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Print answers to prayer. Share how your church is progressing toward its yearly goals. Tell how ministries are reaching people. Publicly read thank-you cards and letters from people who have been helped by your church. Develop a sense of expectancy by preaching messages that point to hope in the Lord. Describe how God has met church needs over the years and project his certain help into the future. Tell how God has answered your prayers.

Provide business cards for every member of the church as a tool for developing good rumors. Give each person in your church, including children, fifty-two cards. Everyone is important enough for this tiny investment. People feel important when they have a card, and they’ll use it to spread the good word about your church. Encourage people to hand out one card each week with an invitation to attend your worship services. Not only will they hand them to family and friends, but the cards will start showing up in other places too. People will give them to their postman, gas station attendant, and dentist. The first time you find a guest who came as a result of the business card, be sure to make it well known.

Exceed expectations. Wal-Mart has capitalized on this by hir¬ing older people to stand at the doors to greet people as they come in. These grandfatherly and grandmotherly people make a special fuss over children and offer you a friendly greeting along with a shopping cart. At the beginning this service went beyond what anyone expected. Now other stores are offering the same service.

Why not hand out a rose to each lady who attends your church, not just on Mother’s Day but on other Sundays too? Prepare a special coloring book for children. Don’t go out and buy one, have one designed with a story about your church and your children’s ministry. Then give each child who worships with you a small box of crayons and your coloring book as a special gift. Take a video of the children doing something special during Sunday school, then show it after church on several televisions near your refreshment table. Give copies to all parents who want one.

For certain, we know that people tell others—lots of oth¬ers — about their experience at your church. The only action you can take to create positive word of mouth is to offer a ministry that makes every person take notice. This happens only when a church plans on taking people beyond the first visit.

Questions to Ask and Answer
1. How can your church energize good rumors? Choose ideas from this chapter or come up with others and begin implementing them.
2. Spend some time looking over your church’s literature and signs posted on walls and church grounds. Look for any that say, No! Do you have signs with the actual word no in them? If so, make a list of them. Look for:
No smoking
No skateboarding
No parking
No dancing
No food or beverages
No running
No talking
3. Are there other ways you may be saying no to people?
4. What variations of these and other signs are found around your church? What is the message they are relating to people? Are there ways to say the same message in a posi¬tive manner?

The above article, “Spread the Word” was written by Gary L. McIntosh. The article was excerpted from chapter 6 in McIntosh’s book, Beyond the First Visit.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

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.”

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