Want More Visitors? It Has to Get Personal
The best method and timing for outreach … and the one essential ingredient
“People still respond to the things of God, when the things of God are viewed by us as important enough to talk about.” Have you ever had that nagging feeling that no one was really listening to you? Maybe it was a meeting or a conversation with your kids or (gasp!) a Sunday message. But no matter how great a communicator you are, all of us have been unheard.
Churches are no exception. They have a message for the community but wonder if anyone is listening. So what do we do? Often the only answer has seemed to be: talk louder. For an organization, that often means mass marketing. But do these strategies work for churches? During this time of economic tightening, church leaders want to know if radio, television, direct mail, websites and other means of advertising are worth the expense.
Shout to the Neighborhood, Or Speak to Your Neighbor?
In December 2008, LifeWay Research conducted a survey of 15,000 adults for the North American Mission Board to try to determine which of 13 approaches is the best-received when a church wants to be heard. The best-received means of “marketing” one’s church is the personal invitation. The survey found that 67 percent of Americans thought a personal invitation from a family member would be at least somewhat effective in getting them to visit a church.
Additionally, 63 percent said they would respond favorably to an invitation from a friend or neighbor. Nearly two-thirds would be willing to receive information about a local congregation or faith community from a family member, while 56 percent would be willing to receive similar information from a neighbor or friend.
What about Advertising?
Trailing by a good margin is the reception Americans give to various forms of media advertising. Those who said they were somewhat willing or very willing to receive church information via newspaper ads stood at 46 percent; radio ads rated 41 percent, while television ads were at 40 percent. Outdoor advertising came in at 46 percent, and 45 percent viewed letters mailed to the home positively. How many think such ads would be at least somewhat effective at getting them or others to follow through and visit a church? About 20 percent less than invitations from family or friends. Even “new media” efforts prove ineffective among most Americans. Only 30 percent say email would be at least somewhat effective in getting them to visit a church.
Still, the revolution that has occurred in social media since 2008 [nearly half the U.S. population is on Facebook] has changed the church communications landscape. A LifeWay Research study in September 2010 sponsored by Digital Church partner Fellowship Technologies found 47 percent of Protestant churches actively use Facebook today. The study found that 62 percent of churches use social networking tools for “interacting with individuals outside of the congregation.” We do not know what will be the next great social media revolution, but it will once again challenge the church to rethink how to interact effectively and contextually with our neighbors. Regardless, a critical lesson for us is that marketing and media efforts help but can never replace personal relationships. Marketing while ignoring relationship is inappropriate at best and possibly even unhelpful.
Should We Knock on Doors?
Opinions of door-to-door visitation, which in the minds of many has fallen on hard times, were split in the 2008 survey. Around a quarter of Americans (24 percent) were at least somewhat willing to receive information about a local church in this way, while 31 percent said a visit to their door would be at least somewhat effective in getting them or others to visit a church. Though the activity of neighborhood canvassing is not totally outmoded, it still does not reach to the effectiveness of personal relationships with the unchurched.
How Do People Learn More About God?
Our 2008 survey also sought to determine what action Americans take when they want more information about God. One-third would read the Bible, 19 percent would attend a church service and 10 percent would seek out a Christian friend with whom to talk. One percent would check out the website of a local church, while less than one percent would utilize an anonymous chat room or online community. Though the numbers are low, personal contact still outweighs impersonal mediums.
When Are People Most Receptive?
How to effectively approach people about matters of faith is important to consider, but so is when to do so. The same 2008 survey revealed that 47 percent of adult Americans are more open to considering matters of faith during the Christmas season than at any other time. At 38 percent, Easter was the same as the number who were open following a major national crisis like the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Thirty-four percent were open after a natural disaster, and the birth of a child caused 28 percent to be open to considering matters of faith. Personal crisis is an opportunity for personal ministry to occur.
Bottom Line: Keep It Personal
The survey results teach us that no means of spreading the word about Christ or His church is more effective than personal communication. In short, leaving printed literature for a waiter or waitress is less effective than speaking directly to him or her.
People still respond to the things of God, when the things of God are viewed by us as important enough to talk about. Followers of Christ cannot simply believe that it is important to share Christ—we must actually share Christ.
Ed Stetzer is the president of LifeWay Research and co-author (with Warren Bird) of Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers and Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations, co-authored by Thom Rainer, among others.
This article “Want More Visitors? It Has to Get personal” by Ed Stetzer was excerpted from: www.outreachmagazine.com website, March 2012. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
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.”