One of the ministries that have been working with over the past few months is best described as our marketing team. Generally, when the term “marketing” is mentioned within a church setting, many folk automatically shudder and wince. And I understand why the reaction is as it is. We naturally dislike the idea of advertising the church or faith or Jesus as some sort of product like one would beer, cleaning products or sports cars. To which I say “Amen!”
Church Marketing 101, in which author Richard Reising suggests that the question is not whether we will market the church, only whether we will do a good job or a poor job in the marketing that we are already doing. Reising argues that as churches, we are constantly marketing ourselves whether we realize it or not. He suggests that by the very presence of our church building on a street, we are engaged in marketing. More to the point, he writes, whether the condition of the facility looks well-maintained or unloved, whether or not the yard is well landscaped or whether it is rarely mowed and weeds are left growing, whether the signage is clear and informative or hard to find and out of date, are all ways in which we are conveying a message to the community about ourselves. Marketing, Reising argues, is all about our effective communication of who we are as the people of God being about what we believe is the most important work in the world—praising and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is with that understanding in mind that I’ve gathered some folk together who are prepared to offer their energy and talents in helping us communicate as effectively as we can the invitation of St. Andrew’s as a holy and joyful place for people to meet, discover and deepen a life-giving relationship with Jesus. I mention all of this for three reasons. The first is simply as a matter of information. Many of our ministries, one might say, fly below the radar. That is, their activities are not generally visible to the congregation at large, and so it is important to let the church family simply know what all is happening.
The second reason is that as the team proceeds in their work, there will hopefully be some new design work appearing on our website and sign boards. One element to the work of communication is to create a consistent image for St. Andrew’s, and much hard work has been put into this task. So again, I mention this as a heads-up when a new logo is introduced.
But the third and most important reason is to encourage us to be more aware of the perception that our church may give to newcomers or folk in the community at large. Just the other day, someone told me of their experience of worshipping in another Presbyterian congregation on the Island. They went to coffee hour, only to be left standing on their own, unwelcomed by any of the congregation. Guess what their perception was of that church!
It is an old story, of course, that too many of us could repeat from our own experiences. Yet I would anticipate that that congregation would want to describe itself as being a friendly church. The trouble is that too often, we are friendly towards one another, while being far too shyly stand-offish towards visitors. Yet the end perception for the visitor is that of a cold, unwelcoming church.
As an aside encouragement, would it be that every member of St. Andrew’s would recognize, speak to and extend welcome to visitors as they would want to be acknowledged, greeted and respected. Would that we all firmly believe that extending hospitality and grace is not the task of the pastor, or an elder or somebody else or everybody else, but be convinced that it is our responsibility.
In a similar way, every church wants to believe that its worship is clear and accessible for newcomers, that it is welcoming in its communications (i.e., bulletin, signage, information brochures, etc), and that it is a safe place (i.e., no one is going to tell them that they are sitting in somebody else’s place!) But what is the actual experience of a visitor or newcomer at St. Andrew’s. Try coming to church some Sunday as if you were a newcomer to the Valley looking for a church home, or as if you were a person who has had some great tragedy come into your life and for the first time are turning to God. Or recruit a neighbor or friend to come with their “visitor glasses” firmly in place. What would their experience of St. Andrew’s be? What would we want it to be? Would they feel that they had been “ministered unto” like one of the least of Christ’s sisters or brothers? And most importantly, how do we do a better job for the sake of the gospel and for the glory of Christ?
There is perhaps one other reason we need to be intentional about how we market, that is, communicate about the church and the gospel we proclaim. Fifty years ago we could assume most people had passing acquaintance with the Christian faith. Bible stories and prayer still happened in public schools. The overwhelming majority of the population attended church. We may not have been a particularly Christian nation but we were still largely a “well-churched” society.
No longer is that true. We have generations who have no Christian memory, that is, in the sense of knowing an outline of the Christian gospel or of being remotely familiar with any of the Biblical stories. The majority of people in our community have no church connection whatever, and a vast percentage of those have no idea what church means or is about. Our most difficult mission field in the world is the one right in our own community. The challenge is to present the church’s invitation to discover the hope we have in Jesus in ways that are in the language of our society and in ways that will draw their attentiveness, rather than turn them off. We need to bring our best skills and insights in communicating the holy grace and blessing that can be found in a relationship with Jesus, and that St. Andrew’s wants to be a fellowship that is willing to point the way.