The Buzz Mandate
By Mark Batterson
It’s September 1989, and you’re asked this question: What would it take to bring down the Berlin Wall dividing East from West for almost three decades?
Most experts would’ve predicted decades of negotiation, billions of dollars or World War III.
All it took was buzz.
A small group of dissidents in Leipzig, East Germany, held a protest rally in September 1989. The following day, another protest took place and the authorities ignored them both. The word continued to spread farther and farther until a million people gathered in the streets of Berlin on Nov. 9, 1989, and tore down the wall.
No negotiations. No money. No war. Just buzz.
Look Who’s Talking
Rewind 2,000 years. Jesus heals a man with leprosy and instructs him not to tell anyone, but Mark 1:45 says: “As the man went on his way, he spread the news, telling everyone what had happened to him. As a result, such crowds soon surrounded Jesus that he couldn’t enter a town anywhere publicly. He had to stay out in the secluded places, and people from everywhere came to Him there.”
No one created more buzz than Jesus. You couldn’t keep people away. Tax collectors climbed trees. Prostitutes crashed parties. And sick people fought crowds.
So if the Church is following in Christ’s footsteps, shouldn’t we be attracting people like He did? For centuries, people have been attracted by buzz. When something extraordinary happens in our communities, it’s usually surrounded by buzz.
I have a fundamental conviction: The greatest message deserves the greatest marketing. That conviction is rooted in Luke 14:23: “Go quickly into the streets and alleys and compel them to come in so that my house will be full.” Since the Great Commission, the Church has been called to “compel” (the Greek says “to demand attention”).
And therein lies the challenge.
Today, thousands of messages are competing for people’s limited attention spans, and it’s easy for our message to fall on overloaded ears. In his book Experience the Message (Carroll and Graf), author Max Lenderman says recent marketing studies show that the average American is subjected to 3,000 to 4,000 advertising messages per day!
So how does the average church demand attention in a white-noise culture?
For the past nine years, I’ve served as lead pastor of National Community Church (NCC, theaterchurch.com) in Washington, D.C., and have seen firsthand the power of fulfilling what I call the buzz mandate. And we’ve grown from a core group of 19 people into a church with five services in three locations.
Although our church focuses on young professionals in an urban metropolis, buzz principles are transferable to any church, regardless of size, location or demographics. Here’s what we’ve learned.
Get Outside Your Building
The best way to create buzz is to practically show the love of Christ to people.
One of NCC’s locations is the movie theater at Union Station, located four blocks from the city’s largest homeless shelter. Our clothing drives, blanket giveaways and brown bag lunches have generated buzz within the homeless community. On any given Sunday, we’ll have dozens of homeless people worshipping alongside young families, congressional staffers and government officials.
It all started when our church realized we couldn’t expect people to come to us unless we went to them. Now, we also conduct monthly events at one of the largest nightclubs in Washington, D.C.; we meet at movie theaters at metro stops throughout the D.C. area; and we host events such as an “Extreme Home Makeover” for a single mom in our community. Our presence in the marketplace gives us direct access to the unchurched.
The Scottish novelist-clergyman George McLeod said it best: “I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap. … And that is where Christ’s men ought to be, and what the Church ought to be about.”
Even if your church is nowhere near a metro stop or a nightclub, the outreach opportunities are as limitless as your community’s needs-. The greatest natural source of buzz is putting a towel around our waists and washing people’s feet like Jesus did.
Use Technology for God’s Purposes
Do you realize that, via the latest technology, we have the opportunity and ability to spiritually impact someone we’ll never meet face-to-face this side of eternity?
About 1,000 people attend our weekend services, but each month our Theaterchurch.com podcast impacts thousands. People across the globe listen to our messages. Uploading your recorded messages into an MP3 format allows anyone with a computer or iPod to download them.
And my blog, Evotional.com, had more than 7,000 unique visitors last month—the majority of whom I don’t know. I take about 30 to 60 minutes a day to write about family life, leadership and devotional thoughts.
Technology advances like podcasting and blogging give us more ways to carry out the Great Commission—at the speed of light.
Brand Your Sermons
John 12:52 is my preaching mantra. Jesus said, “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.” What you say is sermon content. How you say it is sermon branding.
Sermon branding is as old as the ancient prophets using God-inspired props to make their messages stick. But Jesus took the Old Testament art form to a new level, using everything from mustard seeds to Roman coins to brand truth and make his messages stick.
Effective sermon branding is hard work, but it’s not optional. A well-branded sermon series generates buzz, creates momentum and gives attendees the confidence they need to invite their friends the next week. One of the greatest obstacles to people inviting others to church is not knowing what the pastor plans to preach about.
When we start a new sermon series, we follow seven branding steps:
1. Create a series title. It should be catchy (not cheesy), culturally relevant and capture the series’ essence. Some examples: “Wired for Worship,” “The Game of Life,” “God at the Box Office.”
2. Develop a series logo. Visuals are essential. The brain recognizes and remembers shapes first, colors second and content third.
3. Write up an e-vite and print invite cards. Attractive invitations give members the tools to buzz.
4. Brainstorm one big idea. People usually remember only one point, so boil down each sermon to a single idea.
5. Shoot a series trailer (video). The week before you kick off a series, show the trailer during the service and post it on your Web site.
6. Use innovative sermon props. Add anything from nails to Pop Rocks to Silly Putty to make your messages memorable.
7. Add sermon staging. Redesign your stage for each sermon series. During our annual “God at the Box Office” series, we roll out a red carpet and build out the stage to resemble an Oscars show.
Turn Attendees Into Inviters
According to a recent sociological study, the average person has 68 people in his or her circle of influence. If your church has an average attendance of 150, then your church’s circle of influence contains more than 10,000 people. At NCC, we encourage everyone to invite the unchurched and dechurched people in his or her circle of influence.
We’ve found that invite cards are the easiest way to turn attendees into inviters. Some of our invite cards are series-specific. The week before starting a new series, we pass out the cards and remind people to invite their friends.
We also create all-purpose invite cards. NCC’s vision is to meet in movie theaters at D.C. metro stops, so we designed a card to look like a metro ticket. On the back is an actual metro map with our Web site. We also send out a series e-vite to attendees and encourage them to forward it to friends.
When each attendee extends an invitation to people in his or her relationship network—by word of mouth and word of mouse—your church exponentially increases its buzz factor.
Create Internal Buzz
A few years ago, I realized we were really good at generating external buzz, but not so good at creating internal buzz. Only about 30% of our congregation were plugged into small groups, and that’s where discipleship happens at NCC. Although visitors were plentiful, once people walked through the front door, we relied on pulpit announcements to reach them. Not effective.
That’s when we started redesigning all of our print materials. In addition to rethinking our church bulletin’s look, we created a Small Group Guide and gave one to every attendee. It’s packaged as attractively as possible, and I think it’s the main reason why participation in small groups at NCC has doubled over the past two years.
The Buzz Word
Matt. 16:18 tells us that Jesus commissioned His church with these words: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (NIV).”
Christ started a word-of-mouth revolution 2,000 years ago. He told His disciples that He was the Way, the Truth and the Life. His disciples told Jewish pilgrims on the Day of Pentecost. Paul spread the message on his missionary journeys. Now 2 billion people worldwide claim to be Christ-followers.
The gates of hell may seem impregnable these days. But so did a wall dividing East and West Berlin. All it took was buzz, and the wall came tumbling down.
If the Church rises up and fulfills her ancient mandate, the gates of hell cannot prevail.
Let the buzz begin.
This article “The Buzz Mandate” by Mark Batterson is excerpted from www.churchbiz.com website.