Sometimes when I talk about church websites, social media, or marketing in relation to the church people get their hackles up. Today I want to talk a bit about why I think how we do these things is important and to tackle some of the most popular complaints I hear from folks:
* Our website is fine the way it is. Sure it's not flashy, but we should be spending time and money on more important things!
Your website is your front door. It shows who you are as a community. People need to be able to enter into the story of your church through your website. Without that they might never even come to your services or be a part of your groups. If your website is hard to navigate, if people can’t find the information they need, if people are engaged by your site they won’t join your community.
(here are some tips for your church website)
* We don't do our work in the world to get attention, we prefer to just quietly serve God. Getting media attention is antithetical to who we are as a church.
I get this impulse and if that’s really how you feel as a community then nothing I say will convince you otherwise. But I think this is why our churches are shrinking, this is one of the reasons (though definitely not the only one) for the rise of the “nones”, this is why the right wing has a monopoly of press about what it means to be a Christian in the United States.
I don’t think you have to trumpet every good deed you do to the world, but you do need to communicate who it is that you are and why you exist. If people don't know about you they can't find you. And if they don't know why you exist they can't join in your work.
* Marketing for the church just allows people to be consumers.
Maybe. Or maybe marketing is just a word for the way that you tell the story of who you are as a community. There are tons of churches out there (and more forming every day). Gone are the days where there was only one church per town. Gone are there days where there was only one church per denomination per town. Now there’s a church on every corner and several denominational churches per town. Not only that but people are feeling less and less dedication to denominational ties. They go to the church they feel like they can find a home in. Some folks are upset by that; they say it leads to people who are passive consumers of the services the church has to offer. I tend to think of it as people searching for the community they can feel comfortable in. They are searching for the people they can work with, people they can be in relationship with.
When I’m thinking about the new church start, I realize that what we’re doing won’t be for everyone. There are some folks for whom Catholic liturgy doesn’t resonate. I am feeling less and less convinced that our churches need to be able to meet everyone’s needs. In fact, I would rather have a smaller church of people who are committed to our work and our community and to be able to refer folks to other churches where they can be committed. If people aren’t feeling connected to our mission it might be something that we’re doing wrong, or it might be that they need to be in a different place with people who communicate in a different way.
* The church isn't a business.
You're completely right. The church isn't a business and shouldn't be run like one! However, there are some principles coming out of the business sector (especially from people who are doing creative things) that are incredibly meaningful when applied to the church work that we are doing. I recommend that every pastor read Seth Godin's "The Icarus Deception". It is a message that pastors need to hear and take to heart. (In fact, all of Godin's work has been incredibly helpful to me.)
Here's the bottom line for me: I believe in the story of Christianity. I believe in the church. I believe in the power that Christianity and the church have to literally save people's lives. But if people don't know that we exist, then we are unable to reach them. If the only churches they see on tv are the ones that are preaching hate filled message or a prosperity Gospel then they will stop looking.
Because I believe so strongly in this work I will do whatever it takes to reach people. If that means buying Facebook ads, making sure we have a table at Pride, sending a press release about my ordination, getting a really nice looking logo, learning from marketers, etc. I will do it. I will do all of this as part of my work and my ministry because all of this work IS ministry.
I also believe that we can communicate the same story in a myriad of ways: Through praise bands and Gregorian chant, through screens in the sanctuary and through stained glass windows, in jeans and in albs.
We need to communicate why it is that we exist and who it is that we are.