Pastors have been through a lot this year. And I’d be willing to bet that back in January, most never would’ve anticipated a “pandemic” that would impact church attendance, contribute to church decline, force them to grapple with livestream technology, and even cause their own congregants to question the importance of church like COVID-19 did. And yet, here we are, with 2021 just three months away and some churches still meeting only online. Indeed, the need for community engagement has never been greater. And, to be clear, I’m not talking about digital engagement — although that’s an equally high priority as I’ve mentioned in several previous blog posts. In fact, digital engagement became even more necessary and critical because of COVID’s effects on attendance. I’m referring here though to physical engagement in the local community surrounding your church. This more closely aligns with your church’s brand, which I discuss in-depth in this post and in this episode of Rescuing Churches.
If you’ve regathered for in-person worship — and many churches have — then it’s time to start thinking about your town, your city, your surrounding neighborhoods, their demographics, the kind of people who live and work there, and the traits that make them unique. These are the people you’re trying to reach in a post-COVID world where the very notion of attending church either conjures up emotions of hesitancy or indifference in many people, including former loyal attendees.
Here are a few simple ways to start making your church an integral part of the local community, rather than expecting the local community to come running to your church begging to become an integral part of your fellowship.
1. Get your foot in the door at local rehab centers.
Pastors and church leaders: I’ve personally seen and experienced the fruit that can come from this effort as I’ve watched my dad build local connections. If your town or city has any faith-based drug/alcohol/relational rehabs, you should not only be well-acquainted with their names and locations, but with the leaders who work there. These places are full of men and women who have battled addictions, abuse, neglect and other difficult circumstances. Ask to be on the chapel speaker rotation and begin forming relationships. Many of these folks are desperately craving the eternal hope, comfort, peace, and salvation that Jesus alone provides. And they could be right around the corner or within a few minutes of your church.
Does it matter that some of them won’t be able to physically attend your church? No. That’s not why you’re there. Don’t go in with a recruitment mindset. You’re there to represent Christ and His Church. Let Him do the rest of the work and trust Him for what it will look like.
2. Open your church’s gymnasium and property up to local youth athletic, homeschool, and/or park sports leagues.
You might be shocked at how many basketball, soccer, football, or baseball kids leagues are in or around your neighboring community. And some of them might be without a place to practice during the week. Whether it’s a homeschool co-op league or a park league, your church can host these teams — free of charge — and slowly begin to build meaningful relationships with parents and coaches. Be sure to occasionally provide snacks and drinks for the kids. Side note: Yes, you’ll probably get burned a few times. Coaches will forget to clean up, trash will be left out, field lights will be left on, keys will wander off, and doors will be left unlocked. But don’t let these issues dissuade you from continuing to work with and love on these people. Who knows? After a few months, some of them may start asking about what you guys do inside that churchy building on Sundays.
Big shoutout here to parents who are volunteering to run the concessions stand at their child's sporting events. Whether your kid plays on the team or marches in the band, this is a phenomenal opportunity to build relationships with other parents, school faculty, and to represent Christ in and to your local community.
3. Free Community Car Wash
Church car washes are nothing new. For decades they’ve been used as a means to raise money for everything from the upcoming Honduras missions trip to fixing that leaky corner of the sanctuary ceiling. But a free church car wash is something else entirely. Round up some happy teens and/or students from your youth and/or college ministries and organize the event on a Saturday when most of them are off work and free from classes. Make sure they dress appropriately and modestly (church logo t-shirts if possible). If you make roadside signs, be sure to emphasize the “free” aspect of the car wash. If a driver happens to ask what church you’re with and where you’re located, be ready to hand them a little invite card. Otherwise, you’re just there to love on the community without expecting anything in return.
4. Network the nursing homes and assisted living centers.
This is a great way to not only bless and minister to the elderly who are lonely and in need of prayer and company, but to gradually build authentic and long-lasting relationships with nurses, staff, and even the family members of the residents. If you’re a pastor, you might be able to speak one evening or even bring in some of your singers and musicians to minister through song. And you never know how it could connect your church to someone in that nursing home. The next time you pray over the elderly lady in room 301 who has terminal cancer, her daughter might inquire about your church and confess that she hasn’t darkened the doors of a church in ages. Or the doctor who felt blessed by your worship singers may want to know when he can hear some more of that great praise music.
5. Fall festivals, Easter egg hunts, and community cookouts
There are plenty of seasonal events that your church can host for the local community and surrounding neighborhoods. Provide all of the food and fun — from bounce houses to face-painting to games, prizes, and giveaways — all free of charge. There’s nothing parents like more than being able to take their kids somewhere that’s both fun and free (especially if there’s a meal involved for their kids.) A few ideas for giveaways:
6. Emergency food distribution after a natural disaster.
I live on the Alabama Gulf Coast and hurricane season can be intense here. Just recently, Hurricane Sally impacted several homes, businesses, and churches in and around our area, leaving many of them without power for a long time. If your church is located in an area prone to natural disasters, then you have an opportunity (and I would argue a responsibility) to not only care for your own sheep, but for the surrounding community as well. So after the storm has blown through and you’ve checked on and cared for your own congregants, mobilize a team that can network with local Emergency Management Officials, food distribution centers, and other nonprofits to help get groceries and supplies to those in need. Start with the neighborhood(s) closest to your church’s physical location so that they know you’re there and that you care.
Ultimately, the overarching goal here is for your church to create successful methodologies for interacting with your specific and unique local community. Remember: your community is special and one-of-a-kind. Some of your attempts at engagement will be trial and error. They will be hit and miss. It will be a learning process. What works for a neighborhood in rural small town Georgia may not (and likely won’t) work for a suburb in California. And when something doesn’t work, it’s ok to toss that event idea out the window and move on to the next one. But don’t stop trying. Don’t stop engaging. You’re in that community for a reason. You have a purpose there. And you can engage if you’ll be proactive about it now, even in a post-COVID world; even in a world of social distancing and masks.
I’m sure I left something out. What ideas do you have? How is your church physically engaging and re-engaging with the local community? What’s been successful for you in a post-COVID world? What hasn’t? If you aren't engaging at all, why is that the case? Leave a comment below or send me a message and we might even discuss it on an upcoming episode of Rescuing Churches.
Need help with all this digital and social media stuff? Not sure how to implement marketing and community relations as a church? Stuck on a project and can’t move forward? Book me for a coaching session.
When Jesus was walking the earth over 2,000 years ago — teaching and preaching to the masses — there was no need to improve upon His sermons or His delivery methodologies. In fact, He knew one of the best ways to connect with the people was to be among them. He didn’t stay cooped up in the Temple or the synagogues like an old fuddy-duddy. The Pharisees were great at that. But, not Jesus. He went to where the people were so that they could hear what He had to say. And, more often than not, they hung on His every word.
Not a lot has changed since then. A great sermon is still a great sermon. What has changed is our attention spans and how we broadcast the sermon beyond the physical walls of the church building. It’s not uncommon for a pastor to struggle with holding congregational attention for a full 30 minutes on a Sunday morning. My dad is a pastor. Believe me, it happens. And it’s not necessarily because his message content sucks or his illustrations aren’t engaging, relevant, and funny. It’s just because modern human nature in 2020 is such that we are easily distracted by the most absurd and altogether ridiculous things like our iPhones, our growling stomachs, or the lady on the adjoining pew who brought her pampered Chihuahua into the service.
Anyway, this is why we often feel that we require visual stimuli in order to engage with the message. That’s where digital media enhancement comes in. Of course, once we’ve heard this great sermon, we’re supposed to share it with our friends, family, and co-workers, right? In Jesus’ day, that meant verbally telling someone about it. And you can still do that today. But, thanks to social media, we can broadcast sermons to hundreds of thousands of people every week — including friends who live thousands of miles away — and share them with a much larger audience.
Here are some tools and ideas you should consider implementing to both enhance your pastor’s sermons while seeking to increase audience reach:
#1. On-Screen Sermon Graphic Design
If your church has the hardware and software means to project on-screen visuals, you should be doing it. PERIOD. This is 2020 folks. Time to stop living like neanderthals relying on cave paintings and smoke signals.
I know some of you are thinking: “Well, we just don’t really have anyone in our church with a talent for graphic design.” That may be true. But this excuse doesn’t fly in 2020 either. Have you ever heard of the Internet? There’s this fairly new website out there called Google. It’s a search engine. And if you search for “free worship backgrounds,” you’d be surprised at how many resources are available. Same goes for sermon graphics and social media graphics. Check out CreationSwap and Church Motion Graphics for starters.
#2. Social Media Graphics & Posts During The Week
And speaking of social media, you should be keeping your pastor’s sermon theme fresh across your platforms throughout the week via quotes, graphics, engagement questions, videos, etc — whatever you have the means to do. This way, the sermon doesn’t die between one Sunday and the next Sunday. This approach is particularly helpful when your pastor is preaching through a long series. Perhaps he’s going to take several months to exegete the book of 1st Timothy. This is going to feel like an eternity, but it doesn’t have to if you keep things fresh and engaging across the church’s social platforms.
Use design programs like Canva, Affinity Designer, InDesign, etc. to create social media graphics that feature a compelling quote by your pastor from the message. Maybe even use a hi-res photo of him teaching on stage as the graphic. Ask your Page followers what they thought about Sunday’s message. I bet you’d be surprised at the feedback you’ll get in the comment threads.
If your church has the means to shoot quality videography packages, you could shoot or livestream a short midweek interview with your pastor asking him to challenge the congregation with something from Sunday’s message. Post these videos to your Facebook, Instagram, and/or YouTube channels and encourage folks to share them with friends. Make sure that something in the video encourages or prompts discussion. When it comes to social media engagement, video is king. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these stats from Wyzowl.com:
Takeaway? Video holds our attention longer, is more engaging, and more preferred by the majority of people online. If you can use the medium of digital video to help your people connect with the sermon throughout the week — even if it’s just a simple bumper video — this is where you’ll see a difference.
#4. Sermon Audio and Podcasts
Of course, no church website is complete without a sermon audio page and corresponding podcast. Just because video rules and reigns across social media doesn’t mean audio-only mediums are to be abandoned. In fact, here are some mind-blowing stats to consider from Edison Research and Triton Digital via their annual study known as The Infinite Dial:
For all you podcast junkies out there — and you know who you are — these numbers should inspire you to churn out the best quality sermon audio possible with your church’s technology. Podcast popularity has nearly tripled over the last ten years. Remember that podcasts are popular because they’re convenient and portable. People listen to them from their smartphones, iPods, and tablets while they’re doing other activities like working out, washing the dishes, or picking their kids up from school. If your sermon audio is available across popular podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, TuneIn, and others, you’ll have a much better chance of increasing your online reach and expanding your audience. And you’ll be getting the Gospel out there as well, which is the ultimate end goal anyway.
#5. Your Church App
If your church doesn’t have a smartphone app, it’s worth looking into acquiring one. After all, there’s over 2.7 billion smartphone users in the world. If your church has an official app sitting in those app stores across iOS and Android devices, that’s a lot of potential audience reach. There’s also about 1.35 billion tablet users in the world, a number which has nearly doubled over the last six years. Make sure that your app offers some things that can’t be found on your website so that folks have an incentive to install the app on their device. Weekly sermon notes, videos, short blogs from the pastor, etc. are all great ideas that will keep people coming back to your app on a regular basis for content. Of course, make sure they can do all the standard things like tithe, listen to sermons, and sign up for events as well.
I'm sure I left something out. What ideas do you have? How are you digitally enhancing your pastor’s sermons and increasing online reach for sermon content? What's been successful for you? What hasn’t? Leave some comments below or send me a message and we may discuss it on an upcoming episode of Rescuing Churches.
Need help with all of this digital and social media? Stuck on a project and can't move forward? Book me for a coaching session.
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