If You Build It, They Won’t Come

Dear Church Leader,

I’ve wanted to write this letter to you for a while now but I never knew exactly how to say this.  However, we’re heading into an incredibly critical season as a church and want to be as clear with you as possible.  Just because you passionately build some new ministry initiative doesn’t mean that anyone will actually show up to be impacted by it.

I’ve made this mistake so many times in my own leadership.  I remember early on staying up so late working on a new project at the office that we actually set the alarm off and the cops showed up to find out what was going on.  This became a sort of proof that we were working hard enough on this new deal to reach people in our community.  But in the end the turn out to this new project was incredibly low from our community.  Or there was the time I thought that this new “newcomers” class would actually be the thing to help people get connected to our church.  We gave it a new name . . . changed the format . . . worked to ensure that the leaders were ready to lead it.  But our first time guests didn’t want the “new” newcomers class anymore than the “old” new comers class. Just because you build it . . . doesn’t mean they will actually come.

It’s our responsibility as leaders to not only build the ministry initiative but also the communication plan and system to ensure that people will actually want to be a part of it.  Rather than do this I’ve seen us respond to this reality in a handful of ways . . .

  • Deny It We will deny that there is a need for us communicate well and simply hope (or maybe pray) that people will somehow find out about this thing and want to become a part of it.
  • It’s “Their” Fault I’ve seen this time and again with various ministry over the years . . . we blame parents for not getting involved with the student stuff . . . we look down on the people for not taking time to come to our event designed to help them grow . . . sometimes we even get self righteous and look down on people from a pious perch.
  • Silver Bullet Thinking When it’s all said and done and we’re ready to roll out this “shiny new thing” we think if we can just get the Senior Pastor to mention it from the stage . . . or if we send a direct mail piece to the right group . . . or if you invite people to a Facebook group . . . we think there is one magical communication form that is going to “do the job” and get people connected.
  • Despair  You didn’t get into ministry leadership to “sell stuff” . . . you just want to be with the people . . . this communications stuff isn’t your deal . . . the cycle of despair is powerful and when things don’t go quite as we planned we can find ourselves spinning around and around.

 

So why am I writing you today?

In the coming weeks you are planning on rolling out some new stuff around here.  You want to see more people connected to the good things happening in your ministry. Fantastic – we all want to see that. But I want to be straight with you . . . you haven’t spent enough time working on the communications plan.  We need you to spend more time working on how people are going to find out about your new initiative and to make it as simple as possible for them to get connected with it.  Here are some starting points to be thinking about . . .

  • Think Drips not Explosions // Stop looking for that one massive communication piece that is going to convince people . . . you’re going to need to reach people at least 4-5 ways in the weeks leading up to the big event.  [Check this out.]
  • Timing is Critical // When you communicate is almost as big of deal as what you communicate.  Are you reaching people at a time that they are open to thinking about your initiative?
  • Make it Easy // You know that form that you ask people to fill out to register . . . it’s not simple enough.  I know it makes it easier for you to get all that stuff up front.  But it needs to be easy for the people we are trying to reach . . . even if that makes it a little harder on us.
  • Think Visually // It’s not that people can’t read . . . they just don’t. How is this new thing going to look to people? (I know the irony that when this letter is already over 600 words!) [More on this.]
  • People Make Decisions with Emotions // I know you have a bunch of logical reasons why what you are doing makes a lot of sense for their spiritual growth.  People don’t make decisions with logic . . . they use emotions when making decisions.  How can we find that hook that will communicate to them? [Interesting study on this.]

 

I’ve probably written enough on this already.  I’m cheering for you!  I’ve seen all the hard work you’ve put into this new deal.  I want it to succeed and make the sort of impact that you desire but I’m concerned that all of you and your team’s work will go to waste if we don’t address this communications stuff.

Can we sit down and work it through together?  

In your corner,

Your Leader

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rich Birch

Rich Birch

Thanks so much for dropping by unseminary … I hope that your able to find some resources that help you lead your church better in the coming days! I’ve been involved in church leadership for over 15 years. Early on I had the privilege of leading in one of the very first multisite churches in North Amerca. I led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 4,000 people in 6 locations. (Today they are 13 locations with somewhere over 5,000 people attending.) In addition, I served on the leadership team of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. I currently serves as Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. I have a dual vocational background that uniquely positions me for serving churches to multiply impact. While in the marketplace, I founded a dot-com with two partners in the late 90’s that worked to increase value for media firms and internet service providers. I’m married to Christine and we live in Scotch Plains, NJ with their two children and one dog.

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COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 
If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 

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