In the past, Willow Creek Community Church has done a huge themed event for Christmas. But last year, they tried something new. Instead of inviting someone to something so creative and cute like “Imagine”, they decided to invite their community to simply experience Christmas with them. They didn’t theme it any more than a simple Christmas service. They realized that’s what people were looking for – a Christmas Eve service to experience with their family. So that’s how they packaged their services.
They’ve also been realizing at Willow Creek that their surrounding community is changing. The 15-20 minute radius around the church is a high turnover area. They realized most of the folks in the community didn’t grow up around Willow Creek. The area was full of folks from different parts of the city or country and they had know idea what that giant building on the corner was. Was it a school? Community college? Hospital complex?
Many in the community didn’t realize it was a church – even though the sign said so. It messes with some people’s paradigms of church to think it could meet in such a large building.
That’s why they approached Christmas a bit differently. Though their Christmas services are always incredible, the folks in the community had no experience with them. They didn’t know what to expect.
So they decided to reach out to their neighbors in a new way. They started with a series of direct mailers to the surrounding houses. They were simply Christmas invitations.
We invite you to share your Christmas season with us. This is who we are. We want to be a good neighbor to you. These are our service times and opportunities. Join us.
They also purchased some generic billboard spaces on the sides of trains and busses. They wanted to get the word out that Willow Creek was there for Christmas. It focused more on letting people know about the church since much of the population had no experience with the church.
But the greatest thing they did was to encourage their congregation to personally invite folks. It’s the age-old truth that personal invitations are the strongest way to see new people come to your services. Most people don’t see a billboard when they’re out shopping and decide to attend a Christmas service. But if your neighbor invites you to his church, they’ll consider it.
In communications, depth is much more important than breadth. While the billboards and direct mailers get to a bunch of hands, those invitations are shallow. But a personal invitation or a deep connection is far more effective.
Once they got their congregation mobilized for Christmas they had their strongest communications piece in place.
While they do have a web presence during the Christmas season, they don’t promote the services online very much. They had a few behind-the-scenes snippets – videos and some planning information. They had a dedicated site for the Christmas events – with ticket information and other details. But they didn’t do any live streaming and they didn’t do much online advertising. Again, they knew that the strongest return on their dollar was mobilizing their congregation to invite their friends.
They chose to keep it simple.
Willow Creek has implemented a section leader program at their church to make the big church feel smaller. These folks are responsible for connecting with the people seated in their sections.
So while they didn’t do any formal followup after Christmas, they mobilized the section leaders to follow up. They realized that, again, a personal touch is far more effective than a form email sent a few days after a visitor attends.
They did hand out a brochure filled with service times and upcoming events to give folks an excuse to come back next week. But they opted for organic followup rather than programmed.
What You Need to Know This Christmas
Your best option for getting new folks in your church seats is your congregation. Mobilize them to invite their friends and co-workers. Communication depth is more important that breadth.
Through traditional advertising methods, you can only go so deep. Traditional advertising is a very shallow medium. But if you can get folks who are sold on your vision and proud of your church, they’ll invite their friends.
You just need to give them a reason to invite. Encourage them. Let them know what to expect and how it will impact their friends and family. They’ll take care of the rest.