Archives for March 2013

Why Market Your Church?

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: Quote_Seth-Godin-on-Brand-Storytelling_US-4

 

* 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.

 

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Weekly Bookshelf

When I go into someone’s house or apartment for the first time, I find myself especially drawn to their bookshelves. I want to see the books that they read and the ones they have on display. I like to know which ones have mattered enough to keep, which ones are dogeared and worn, and which are on the stack to be read next.
This week I read History of the Mass by Robert Cabie. He outlines all of the various changes that have happened in the Mass over the centuries. It was a very interesting book. I appreciated seeing how things have shifted and changed over the years and the reasons behind them.

 

Next up was We Are All Weird by Seth Godin. 41MKexE3JeL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX240_SY320_CR,0,0,240,320_SH20_OU01_ It’s a book for marketers that encourages them to embrace the “weird” instead of the “normal”. This was definitely not as a strong as Godin’s other work, but still interesting. His premise is that mass marketing is no longer possible and that instead we need to embrace our inherent weirdness.

I appreciate reading Godin because even though it’s marketing I find a lot of insights into church work (especially new church starts). What this book confirmed for me is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently: not every church has to appeal to all people. In fact, I think it’s better to do a particular style/denomination/whatever really well and refer folks that aren’t interested to other congregations. I envision networks of churches, all oriented toward changing their neighborhoods and cities for good, but that worship in diverse styles.

 

What about you? What have you been reading this week?

 

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Lead With Why

The other week I was watching some TED Talks. I’ve only recently gotten into listening to these, but I am learning a ton from them.

 

I watched a talk by Simon Sinek called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” It’s geared toward businessy folks, but I found a lot of resonance to the work that I am doing with both Camp Osiris and House of the Transfiguration. He talks about how every group communicates the answers to three questions: what, how, and why. Most groups start with the what, move to the how, and end with the why, but Sinek says, great leaders lead with Whysimon-sinek-the-golden-circle

 

As I thought about my own efforts to get the word out about the new church start and the camp, I have often led with the What. Camp Osiris is a camp for queer and/or trans* people who want to talk about the intersections between Christianity and their queer and/or trans* identities. Then I move to the how: We have retreats. We have amazing discussions, we create wonderful community. And then, if there is still time I talk about why. Same thing for the church: We are an Old Catholic community that is open to all. We mix the ancient and the modern. Etc.

 

What happens when you lead with the why instead? It creates a more compelling story. We know that people are drawn in by stories, that they care less about the details and more about the narrative. Leading with why lets people know there is a reason for what you are doing. I think often churches lead with the what and the how. We are such and such denomination. We have all of these programs. We do this cool event or reach out to this group. All of that stuff is important, but it’s not the heart. Why? Why do you do what you do? Even more than that, why are you compelled to do what you do?

 

There is a unique reason for every church or group to exist. There are specific people we are each called to. I would encourage you to spend some time thinking about your particular why and think about how to lead with that why when you are talking about the mission of your church or group.

 

I would love to hear the why’s of your church, non-profit, or other cause in the comments. Why do you feel called to be involved in this work? Why did it start? Why do you exist? Why is there a need for what you’re doing? Why do you think people should be involved? Tell me why!

 

(This post on the Camp Osiris site is my first attempt at leading with the “why”)

 


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Dear Church

Dear Church,

We need to have a talk. It’s about your website. 237809905_640 I can see you rolling your eyes. “Not this conversation again. You youngish folks are always bringing up the website. We’ve done the best we can with it.” I know you hate this conversation, but here’s the thing: Your website matters. And, at this moment, your website is terrible.

 

I know you’ll say that you don’t have the money or the skills to redo your website. You’ll claim that every single group/document/event/bylaws/constitution/budget/history/archives absolutely MUST be on the website. You’ll say that it’s just a website, it gets the information to people so what does it matter? You’ll say your site is at least better than Church A down the street. Those excuses don’t hold water anymore.

 

Here’s the thing: Your website is your new front door and right now your front door is chained shut. Or worse it’s flaking and peeling and looking like it’s about 300 years old (and hasn’t been used in at least 150 of those years). And if your front door looks like that, no one wants to come in. It’s not inviting. I (and other people I know) have not visited churches simply because of their website. You are losing out on reaching your community because your site is so terrible.

 

I know you want to concentrate on important things like ministry, but you need to see your website as a vital ministry of your church. You want to reach people and your website is one of your most important tools to do that.

 

I love you and want you to succeed and so I want to offer these helpful tips:

* Remember who your website is for. A lot of churches are designing websites for folks who are already in the congregation; I think this is the wrong choice. Your website is about reaching folks who aren’t a part of your community yet.

* If you can’t afford a total site overhaul at least keep your design simple. No clutter, just straightforward.

*Have important information on the front page! Service times, address, phone number, email address. People don’t want to click through 17 pages just to get your address.

* Focus on lots of vibrant images of church life and only a little bit of text.

* No animated GIFs (blinking rainbows, angels, or email icons). No automatically playing music or videos. JUST NO.

* In fact, unless they are professionally designed graphics, just leave them out. Put actual photos instead.
Less is more. I know you’re worried about having EVERYTHING on the website, but most people just want the basics. Again, your site is for people outside of your community.

* Don’t lie about your community. Be authentic. If you have ONE young adult, don’t fill your church website with photos of young people everywhere. A young person might visit and they’ll know in about five seconds they’ve been lied to and won’t come back.

* Don’t have a generic contact form: put your actual email address. It’s easier to use and folks can send attachments if they need to.

 

I know you can do this! These are simple things that you can do to take a church website from terrible to helpful. Of course I recommend hiring a web designer if you can afford it, but even if you can’t you can at least make some changes that will help.

 

Our communities need to know who we are, they need to know about the work that we do. We don’t want our websites to be a barrier to folks finding community. That’s why we have to do better!

 

With love,
The Anarchist Reverend

 

Ps, here are some examples of some really good church websites (even though I don’t agree with the theology or practices of all of the churches listed here, they have very effective websites):
Judson Memorial Baptist
Salem Lutheran
Mill City Church
Awaken Community Church
Old South Church
Mars Hill
Mars Hill Chicago
Judson Memorial, NYC
Renovation Church

 


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Weekly Bookshelf

When I go into someone’s house or apartment for the first time, I find myself especially drawn to their bookshelves. I want to see the books that they read and the ones they have on display. I like to know which ones have mattered enough to keep, which ones are dogeared and worn, and which are on the stack to be read next.
This was a week for young adult books!

 

First I read Requiem (Delirium) by Lauren Oliver which is the final book in her “Delirium” trilogy. I really loved this trilogy and this was a fitting conclusion. It cleaned up the loose ends while still leaving you wanting to know more about what happens to the characters next.

 

One of the things I really appreciated about this series (being the Bible nerd that I am) is that way that Oliver takes the Biblical stories and messes with them. The world that she has created has changed Christianity into a new religion, twisting the stories to be used for new purposes. I thought what she did with religion was particularly interesting (in fact, I would have liked to have read even more about that portion of this world).

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Next up I read Pinch Hit by Tim Green. It’s a modern day “Prince and the Pauper” story told using a kid movie star and a kid little league player. I love youth baseball books and so this was right up my alley. While this book didn’t have quite as much baseball as I would have liked it was still a fun story.

 

 

*All links go to my Amazon affiliate page. If you purchase something I get a cut which helps to support this website.*

Want posts by email and occasional extras, including my new ebook “A Guide To Recovering From Fundamentalism”?

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Being Embodied

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at SafeHouse church for their “Being Sexual” series. My talk was entitled “Being Embodied”. I shared some of my journey as a trans* person and talked about the importance of being embodied people. The talk is now online! This talk is really the heart of the work that I do; translating the queer experience and queer readings of Scripture in ways that they are relevant to people who are not queer and/or trans*.

 

Just launch the media player and scroll down a couple talks!

What’s On My Mind

Lately I’ve been feeling stuck. Unsure of what to write about. I’ve been feeling uninspired and bored. Part of it is the depression I always suffer from during this time of the year, part of it is the weather, but most of it, I think, is a sense that this space needs to shift somehow. It needs to expand to hold more of what I do and am. I have no idea what that will look like at this point or when, exactly, this will all happen, but I can feel it coming. try-1

 

I thought that for today I would share some of the things I’ve been thinking about. Some of this stuff might be expanded in the near future, but for today you get the short versions. Consider this a brain dump of sorts:

 

* I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a priest today. How one should move through the world, what that role means and looks like.

 

* I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Catholic; what it means to be coming late to this party and how my world intersects with people who are in the Roman Catholic world.

 

* I’ve been thinking about Camp Osiris. About how to get the word out, how to make it happen, but even more importantly what it should be. I am really, really excited about our May camp. It’s going to be amazing and powerful.

 

* I’ve been thinking about House of the Transfiguration. We have our first launch group meeting set and I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the format and form of those meetings and hoping that people show up!

 

* I’m thinking a lot about the papal election. Even though it doesn’t affect me, I am still fascinated. And especially fascinated by the folks using new media to get the word out. I love the Pope Alarm, the Conclave Chimney twitter account, the papal betting sites, and, of course, the Peepal Conclave.

 

* I spend a lot of time thinking about marketing, new media, and the church. About how we do (or don’t) market the work that we do. About our resistance to using those tools. About false modesty. About the judgment we place on people who use these tools.

 

* I think a lot about aesthetics; both the look and feel of worship spaces and the look and feel of worship. I think a lot about the look of logos and church websites; of the entry points to our communities online. I think about packaging and postcards and stickers and print materials. I think about how things sound and feel and look.

 

* I think about the things we put up with when it comes to church and why maybe we shouldn’t have to.

 

* I think a lot about vision and leadership. About the ways we speak about those things; about ways to have vision and be a leader in a healthy way. I think a lot about what it looks like when we don’t have vision and leadership in communities. I’m thinking about how to hold fast to vision unapologetically.

 

* I’ve been thinking about the ways that I define things differently than other people and how that makes me feel “less than”. Whether it’s defining (and living out) Christian anarchy or Catholicism or being a priest, I’m thinking about the expectations that I feel from other people and how handcuffed I feel when I am not living up to those expectations. I’m trying to think about embracing the fear and doing it anyway: to live my truth even in the midst of criticism.

 

* I think a lot about church planting. About what it means and what it takes. About creating spaces and communities. About finding kindred spirits. About doing things different. About coming home and creating home.

 

So that’s what’s been on my mind. These are the things I am working through and thinking through, the things that are weighing me down and giving me life. These are things that are half-formed or feel fragile. Honestly, I think I’m just feeling a little fragile these days. But also feeling on the cusp of some great work and ministry. It’s both scary and exciting.

 

 

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Weekly Bookshelf

When I go into someone’s house or apartment for the first time, I find myself especially drawn to their bookshelves. I want to see the books that they read and the ones they have on display. I like to know which ones have mattered enough to keep, which ones are dogeared and worn, and which are on the stack to be read next.

 

First up this week was Faith Under Fire: An Army Chaplain’s Memoir by Roger Benimoff. Image.ashx It’s the story of an Army chaplain’s tour in Iraq and what he experiences after he comes home.

 

I don’t think I’ve written about it much here, but for a while, in seminary, I felt a strong call to be a military chaplain. I’m still not entirely sure why as I am someone who believe in pacifism and hates the military industrial complex. But I also have friends and family who have served in the military and seen the ways in which it has affected them. There is also something about doing ministry work in high stress situations, putting aside all of the pettiness and focusing on real issues, that really appeals to me. Anyway, I was denied even having a conversation about serving because I am trans*. I still have some pain over that.

 

This book was incredibly moving. Benimoff endures two tours in Iraq (although the first one is only mentioned) and then comes home and is assigned as a chaplain at Walter Reed Medical center. Along the way he struggles with PTSD and doubts about his faith. I appreciated his candor throughout and my heart just broke for the things that he and the people he served with experienced.

 

Next up was The Archbishop Wore Combat Boots: From Combat to Camelot to Katrina — A Memoir of an Extraordinary Life by Archbishop Philip Hannan. Hannan was a military chaplain in World War II, was part of Vatican II, and served as the Archbishop of New Orleans for decades. There were parts of this book that I really enjoyed: his seminary and early ministry years, his chaplaincy, and some of the sections on his relationship with JFK) but honestly this book was way too long. By the end I just wanted to get it over with. I was more interested in the years he spent in direct ministry and less in the time that he spent organizing building campaigns and managing the diocese.

 

He does have some really interesting stories to tell and I appreciated some of the insider information about Vatican II and the visit of Pope John Paul II to New Orleans. I wish that his editors cut out some of the more political stuff as that got old after a while. Still an interesting read!

 

 

*All links go to my Amazon affiliate page. If you purchase something I get a cut which helps to support this website.*

Want posts by email and occasional extras, including my new ebook “A Guide To Recovering From Fundamentalism”?

Check out Desire Map:

Weekly Bookshelf

When I go into someone’s house or apartment for the first time, I find myself especially drawn to their bookshelves. I want to see the books that they read and the ones they have on display. I like to know which ones have mattered enough to keep, which ones are dogeared and worn, and which are on the stack to be read next.
This week I started out with The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church by John Thavis. It’s a brand new release by a guy who was a reporter covering the Vatican for about 30 years. I’ve long been interested in/ fascinated by the inner workings of the Vatican and this book was really interesting. It consists of a series of chapter length essays that cover some particular topic. The stories are well written and incredibly interesting. 9780670026715_custom-c895b91d8b957f80ee65655732b77bbaa5000ddf-s6-c10
The biggest takeaway for me, though, was in the final chapter which was about Pope Benedict XVI and how reporters struggled to report on him. What was so interesting is that way that folks clearly don’t understand how new media works. They don’t understand how fast it moves, how to create a soundbite (and that if you don’t create a soundbite the media will create one for you), how to present yourself, etc. These are folks that believe strongly in what they are doing but have no idea how to communicate it in the modern world. It was an eye-opening chapter and resonated with much of my experience in mainline churches. I would recommend that everyone working in a church read that final chapter.
Next up was How To Deliver A TED Talk: Secrets Of The World’s Most Inspiring Presentations by Jeremey Donovan. I’m trying to learn more about how to incorporate storytelling into my sermons and speaking and I was hoping this book would give me some good insights.

 

This is a book for folks who haven’t done much public speaking before. It’s a wonderful primer about how to create a talk and how to deliver it. If you are really nervous about public speaking or need an introduction or brush up this book is great. I, however, was a communications major in college and TA’ed several semesters of Public Speaking so all of this was old hat and I didn’t get much out of it. So yeah, great intro book but if you’ve done a lot you might wanna pass.

 

Lastly I read The Twitter Effect: How to increase your follower count and gain exposure on Twitter by Eric Bieller. It was a free Kindle book and I like to read what people are offering as tips and tricks. This is another book I would recommend for a beginner. If someone is just starting out with Twitter or wondering how to use it effectively this book would be a great tool to give them. I didn’t learn a whole lot, though, as I had read most of the information in other places. There were also a lot of typos which were annoying, but for a free book I guess that’s to be expected. Again, great intro and might be helpful for a church communications person who is just trying to get your church up to speed with Twitter.

 

 

*All links go to my Amazon affiliate page. If you purchase something I get a cut which helps to support this website.*

Want posts by email and occasional extras, including my new ebook “A Guide To Recovering From Fundamentalism”?

Check out Desire Map: