The other day I started thinking about the constraints that we have as churches given today's current economic conditions. With that in mind, I began to brainstorm ways we can continue to improve how we communicate with the people we are trying to reach without spending any money.
Can it be done, even with no budget? Regardless of your church's size, location or community context, you can use the following ideas to engage the people around you, both inside and outside church walls.
1. Improve guest services on Sunday mornings. Stress to your church that Sunday mornings are a time for your hospitality team to focus on guests. Remember that the guest experience starts before they ever come in the door. If your church is large, you need a parking ministry with attendants that make sure guests find parking easy and accessible. Then think through the next phase of the guest experi-ence and make sure you have greeters posted at every exit, as well as clearly marked signs for the worship center/sanctuary, nursery and children's ministries, bathrooms, etc. The No. 1 reason people will come back to your church is if they find the church to be friendly.
2. Follow through with your promises. If someone volunteers to take a next step in a group, serving or attending an event, make sure you have processes in place that easily facilitate effective follow-up. Studies show that churches have only a small window of time (72 hours) for following up with a guest. The longer the time between when they made the commitment and the follow-up correspondence, the less likely they'll follow through on the commitment.
3. Make it easy for people to ask questions. Create a one-stop location, physical or online, where guests can receive more information about your church and its ministries.
4. Create ministry environments that compel people to invite their friends. Excellent preaching and worship music are not enough. Every envi-ronment in the church needs to create an opportunity for life change. When that happens, you won't be able to stop folks from inviting their friends. At the next staff meeting, make a list of environments your church creates on the weekends and during the week, then together evaluate the list, asking, "Does, for example, our pre-K Sunday school foster opportunities for life change?" When the answer is "no," consider eliminating or dramatically changing those areas.
5. Embrace social media. Facebook, Twitter and blogs offer an easy way to engage people in conversation and develop relationships. As relationships are developed, you'll earn the credibility to encourage people to take next steps. For more on using Twitter in your church, see page 60.
6. Be different. Begin an unexpected sermon series, offer a unique worship experience or do something (good) that gets people talk-ing. Some churches I've worked with have finished an evangelistic message series by canceling church that weekend to go out and serve the community.
7. Make your church an active part of the community. Open your building/campus to the community. Can you video Friday night high school football games and open your church for "Fifth Quarter" where students can watch the game and get pizza for $1 a slice? Can you plant a community garden? Look for the needs in your area and find creative ways to meet them.
8. Eliminate the noise. Prioritize what needs to be communicated and eliminate competing messages. The fewer messages we deliver, the more likely the important messages will be heard.
9. Encourage word-of-mouth marketing. Research shows that the No. 1 reason people will show up to your church for the very first time is because someone invites them. If your attendance has stopped growing, your very first question should be this: Why have people stopped inviting their friends and what would have to happen for that to change?
10. Lead by example. Although leading a church can become all-encompassing, find a way to cultivate personal relationships with non-believers. Like it or not, people model their leaders. Are you living a life worth imitating?
Tony Morgan is a strategist, coach, speaker and consultant who works with a diverse spectrum of churches nationwide. This article was adapted from the 2011 e-book Outspoken: Conversations on Church Communication (OutspokenBook.com).