It’s almost summer, and as the weather warms, I’m drawn to planting things. I grew up in a family who relied heavily on a garden. We usually planted tomatoes, lettuce, peas, beans, onions, rhubarb, and squash. After preparing the soil, we’d hoe in a center groove in order to plant the seeds. Then water, water, water. And wait for whatever we planted to grow.
I learned a lot from those gardening experiences that can be passed on to the church. Galatians 6:7 talks about it like this: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” The quick MacDonald translation of that? “Dude, don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, when you put a seed in the ground, the plant shown on the seed packet will grow if nourished properly.”
What is your church planting?
Church communications and marketing could be seen as planting. We seek a harvest of souls, so we “plant” stories, images, and concepts that attract. We ask God to “water” and “nourish” what we sow. It’s that easy. But what exactly are you sowing? What does your seed packet say you’re planting? Be assured, what you’re sowing, you’re reaping.
- Look around your pews. Who’s coming to your church? Most churches are pretty successful at attracting other believers. We create communications that simply attract the family that’s disgruntled in the church down the road. The problem with this? The church community is shrinking. Our mainly “unchurched” communities are growing while our churches are mostly declining. If we continue showing “happy, beautiful church people” in our communications, we’re only drawing on a shrinking audience. Plus, God calls us to do more: “‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:23)
- Church is about lives changed. Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost—people who are headed down a path that needs a U-turn. That’s the “change” that we should be sowing. And the sole change agent is Jesus Christ. A healthy church is comprised of people seeking that continual change. These people aren’t always pretty. In fact, some are downright ugly (especially on the inside). But if we only show messed up people; we risk only attracting them. Instead we need to discover another marketing principle.
- Church communications is all about problems. And no matter the “product”, effective communicators must either attract by identifying with the person in need (by discussing the longing, the issue, the concern, or the pain) or we need to demonstrate the solution so that people are attracted to that outcome. I believe for the church, we need to change that or to an and. We need to create balance in our marketing communication.
Let’s look at the diet industry. They’ve got it right. Learn from how they’ve created balance.
We live in a world of overweight people (the latest research says about 69% of US adults). Ultimately, it’s affecting the health of our communities. Some people are quite aware that they need to change, while others are quite happy living as they are.
The diet industry wants the community to get healthy. They develop various plans and solutions trying to woo people into their programs. This industry could talk about the science of dropping weight by examining the formula of caloric intake compared to calories being burned. But the industry knows that the information, no matter how truthful it is, does not attract the majority.
They know what does a better job: stories. And even better, stories that are illustrated.
They can show a picture of a happy, healthy person. And struggling people will look at them aspirationally, wanting what is shown. They can also tell the stories of the person’s hard work and the exact process that got them there. But the diet industry knows it doesn’t reach as many as they’d want. There’s a better way to reach more.
Enter before/after pictures. We’re all suckers for them, even if we aren’t struggling with our weight. We love seeing the amazing change that has occurred. But here’s the magic: seeing the differences between the two images, we want to engage with their story. We want to know more. How did they do it? How long did it take? Can it be replicated? Have they kept it off? Perhaps we see ourselves in the before picture, but we certainly want to cheer (and emulate) the after.
Using that information, the church needs to constantly be aware of the images and messages we communicate.
- Watch for stories of before/after moments. The diet industry is selling “health”, but they show how it’s exhibited externally because it’s the quickest way to get people’s attention. We need to find the most obvious ways of showing inner change. Is it easy? Not at all. But it needs to be done. Communicating peace, spiritual growth, and change are concepts that need to be shown somehow. That’s our challenge as church communicators.
- Be aware of creative ways to demonstrate these stories. Watch what other churches are doing and put your own twist on them. The test of whether it works? It needs to quickly engage people to want to know more about Jesus. Just like the message of the diet industry quickly attaches the story to the new-fangled diet method, we need to connect our story of change to the change agent of Jesus.
- Regularly audit your communications to assure balance. No church should look like a beauty pageant. However, I regularly see this approach as I scroll through church websites. At the same time, no church should look like a display of convicts from the local prison. We need to constantly check for balance. I’d suggest erring on the side of showing more “less-than-perfect” people in order to attract the abundance of hurting, needy, people from our communities who are looking for a solution.
Our communities are made of people attracted to the before pictures and the after pictures. Let’s make sure we communicate to both. Don’t be fooled, the person you consistently market to, you’ll draw in. (Gal. 6:7)