When we began The Orchard we had not secured a long-term building lease or use agreement. In addition, the building we had secured for the short-term was a furniture warehouse and people in our culture were not use to thinking of church in a warehouse. One of the crucial marketing decisions we made during this launch phase has been one of the most important we have ever made and it still governs our marketing philosophy today.
We reasoned that while people might be attracted by our marketing, name, or vision, ultimately they would be retained by the relationships they develop in the one-hour they entrusted to us. So instead of a more traditional approach that focused on our name, location or vision, we decided to market our relationships. If relationships are our strongest marketing tool, why do we hide them behind all our marketing? Churches often try to interest people in visiting so that they can show them how much they care. We decided not to wait until we had attracted them! But how do you market relationships?
One of the ways to market relationships is to give your people engagement opportunities away from your meeting space. At The Orchard we encourage our people to throw neighborhood parties and we even throw a couple of city-wide parties ourselves. At these parties no religious theme or public prayer or Christian music is allowed—they are just public opportunities for our people to interact with people in the community. They can invite people they know or show up at the public park where the event is and meet some new people! These personal contacts have brought many visitors to our services.
But there are also ways to prioritize for relationships even in the more traditional forms of marketing. Because we believed relationships to be our most powerful marketing tool, we were careful even in our print material to live by another principle we discovered: Do not preach with your marketing. Attract with your marketing and then preach only when they have come to your service for the whole experience of the Good News. This principle reflects our priority for relationships. Often churches use billboards or direct mail to proclaim. But when that happens, all people get is an impersonal piece of mail or a drive-by-message from someone who doesn’t know them. We all know that the message of the Good News is heard best from someone who knows us, has a relationship with us and is interested in us. Why then would we ever allow a message as important as the Gospel be proclaimed in a way that ignored that relational aspect of communication? I encourage you to evaluate all your marketing to see if it proclaims or attracts. If it proclaims, it probably is not worth the time and money you are investing in it because marketing is not meant for proclamation. Good marketing attracts so that proclaiming can be done in the context of a relational experience.
Finally, once you have attracted them with your relationships, deliver on relationships when visitors arrive. When we began The Orchard, we ordered our service so that families could worship together for approximately 20 minutes at the beginning of our service. We then dismissed the children to age appropriate worship and teaching. As part of this dismissal, we incorporated a five-minute coffee break for the adults. I realize that such a practice is impractical for some congregations either because of convictions about continuity in worship or even because of space. At a certain size this break became impractical for us and we had to invent new ways to highlight and encourage relating. No matter your size or stage there are some practical ways to prioritize for relationships once people arrive at your facility.
- Hand pick greeters who have the gift of hospitality. Those with the gift of hospitality, naturally go overboard to make people feel welcome.
- Offer your first time guests a small gift if they will turn in their information card at the information desk. We give a sports bottle with our logo and vision printed on it. When they stop by for their gift, they will come in contact another friendly face who has the gift of hospitality.
- Develop a ministry of Guest Seekers. We have a group of people at our church that developed a ministry in which people intentionally look for people they don’t know so they can speak to them and welcome them.
- Do something crazy for “Passing the Peace” time. We live in a culture, where many people don’t understand the traditions of the church. So, often passing the peace is little more than saying hello to someone near you. Frequently I will give the people some off the wall instruction about how to speak to the people near them. I might say: turn to the people near you and say, “I don’t think I have met you.” And then introduce yourself. Even if they do know the person it takes the pressure off all those who are sitting next to people that they really aren’t sure if they are supposed to know or not.
Let me say something incredibly cliché here: People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Your relational atmosphere earns you the right to be heard. If people feel warm and welcome they will perceive your message as warm and welcoming.
However, the crafting of that atmosphere begins long before they arrive at your church. Pay attention to your most powerful marketing tool. Because while the relational atmosphere of your church earns you the right to be heard, the relational atmosphere of your marketing earns you the right to be visited!