When my grandmother was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, our family was heartbroken. For most of us, we knew Alzheimer’s as an incurable disease where my grandmother would begin to forget everyone she knew and eventually her body would forget how to function. Sadly, over the next 12 years that is exactly what happened. But during those first years of her struggle, our awareness of this horrible disease became greater and greater as we learned the stages that she would go through. We met other families who were going through the same thing and talked with doctors who were suggesting new medical treatments and medications to see if anything could slow down the progress of the disease. As with many families, nothing stopped or prevented anything. We watched my grandmother slowly leave us in her mind to where she no longer knew who we were or could communicate to us and longer. And then had the painful years of seeing her body waste away.
The awareness of Alzheimer’s and its effect on a person and their family are very real to me. Because of those years, I have great compassion for anyone who is having to walk through this type of suffering. There are great organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Foundation of America that continually raise awareness of this disease and work to help those who are effected by it. As well as, raise money to continue the research and development of a cure
Awareness for a cause, special event, product or service, can become very recognizable. If you see someone wearing pink or a pink ribbon, what do you think of? I immediately think of Breast Cancer Awareness. If I see a red ribbon, I think of Red Ribbon Week that raise awareness of drug and alcohol abuse. Now when I see a folded American flag I think of the organization Folds of Honor started here in Oklahoma that supports the children and families of fallen American service men and women. These images have been branded into our minds because people and organization have shared their interest, love and passion for the cause or purpose they represent.
When it comes to the Church, it is amazing how most of our local and surrounding communities have no awareness of the churches in their area. In fact, if you stop by a closely located convenient store and asked the person behind the counter where I can find this church that is close by, almost all of them will not know of the church nor heard of it. Let’s take my church, Eastwood Baptist Tulsa, as an example. Here is a great church that had explosive growth in the 60s and 70s. It became the first megachurch in Tulsa, OK. It was the first to have a large bus ministry bring in over 1,500 people. It was the first to have a large Christian school that even had football as an offered competitive sport. It had a large TV and radio ministry. In fact, if you asked just about anyone at that time in Tulsa, have you heard of Eastwood Baptist Church, there answer would be: “You mean Exciting Eastwood? Oh yeah, I know of that church. I’ve been there.”
The awareness of this church and its effect on the landscape of the culture and happenings of Tulsa reached to the poor and disenfranchised in North Tulsa, to wealthy business people, doctors, lawyers, the district attorney office, city hall, professional sports athletes, law enforcement, and even state legislators; and many, many more people. When you drove the streets of Tulsa it seemed that you would somewhere pass one of Eastwood’s buses. Eastwood was always front and center in what people saw. In those days, Eastwood had great awareness throughout the city.
As time has gone on and now 30+ years later, if you ask people in East Tulsa if they have heard of Eastwood or know anything about the church, most will say I’ve never heard of it. Some may know it by the building that they drive by. An even smaller number would say we have gone to their fall festival or community meal. You may meet someone who says they rode the bus to Eastwood when they were a kid or attended there years ago. But the sad reality is the surrounding community knows nothing about the church. They are not aware of it.
There are many reasons for this lack of awareness. Over the years, there has been a great demographic shift in the local community around the church. Both socially and economically the landscape has changed. There also have been church leadership changes, a shrinking congregation size, Christian school closure, and its core membership is aging. None of this is out of the normal of what has been happening for years to churches across America.
The Power of Awareness
Recently, Clay Smith, Lead Pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter, South Carolina shared how his church faced some of these same issues. Pastoring at Alice Drive for now 23 years, he had seen the shift in the culture and demographics around his church. He sat down with the Family Church Network in this podcast and talked about how they began to implement the power of invitation to address the issues that church was facing.
He shared 7 key elements to the power of invitation. Over the next several blog posts, I’d like you to join me as we explore these keys. The first one being the power of awareness.
What can you do to raise the awareness of your church to the community around you? Especially if you do not have a large advertising budget and the means to create vast amounts of media and promotion for your church. To begin to answer some of this, let’s take an “outside – in” approach and let’s use Eastwood Tulsa as a case study.
Ask yourself, what do people see when they look at your church? Today, people visit your church website before they ever come to your church. It is your Front Door. They look for the “look and feel” of your church to see if it even looks interesting and something they would want to visit. When people come to a church they want to see people like them. Simple marketing techniques are a must here. Your church branding needs to have an inviting, pleasant look and is memorable. Phil Cooke wrote a great book on church and non-profit marketing called Branding Faith. I highly recommend it!
Here is a quick checklist:
- Church logo – needs to be recognizable and easy to remember
- Tag line/Slogan/Creed – needs to be easy to say and again easy to remember
- A compelling creation story – how was your church started? How did you get to this point?
- A clear vision and mission statement – you’ve got share who you are and where you are going?
- Define your target audience – you cannot use a shotgun approach, you must pinpoint who you are reaching. Build it and they will come is a nice idea but it never works.
- Talk it up – In everything you communicate, make it talkable and shareable.
Eastwood began making some of these changes a couple of years ago. New branding with a new look and logo, as well as, a new tag line that has become a part of everything the church does: the place to believe, belong, and be loved. Also, it began to clarify the vision and mission of the church. Today you will find that vision and mission statement in everything that is printed and distributed.
The church has also become intentional with the way it communicates through its website, social media channels, and media ministry of its services and teaching. The focus of the church has shifted from just an internal focus to an outward – outreaching focus. When you look at eastwoodtulsa.org today and the church’s app you immediately see the intentionality.
However, just changing your church branding, website, social media, and printed materials will not change the awareness of your church in your community. These delivery methods and materials are only ways that assist you to raise awareness, but they do not do that by themselves. There still has to be a heart-change with the people in your church to go outside the walls of your church and share. You need a culture of sharing and inviting where your people are turning everyday conversations into gospel conversations. They are sharing their faith in Jesus and inviting others to join them in their journey. Inviting them to your church.
This is where Eastwood is presently. We are beginning a cultural change in our church. No longer do we ascribe to the thought that we are here, our doors are open, people should come. That type of thinking is how churches die! God is doing great things at Eastwood and it is worth talking about and sharing with others.
There is no greater or more effective form of marketing and advertising than word of mouth. And in fact, is the cheapest! It is FREE! It doesn’t cost you anything. Yet, you’ve got to have culture and attitude of willingness to share and invite.
There are many reasons why people will not talk about their church to others. Here are just a few:
- I am embarrassed of my church, by the people and the facilities.
- I don’t think others would connect to the style or environment of my church.
- I personally don’t value my church and only come occasionally.
- I don’t share their faith, so church never comes up in conversation.
I’ve personally heard all of these reasons at Eastwood. If you are embarrassed by your church, you will never talk about it nor will you even think about inviting someone. We talk about the things that we are excited or passionate about. If your church is not one of those things…why? Is God working and moving in your life? Is He working and moving in your church? What are you doing to bring a positive and spirit-lead change in the areas of your church that you are embarrassed by? It’s amazing that you can go to a run-down building in the worse part of town to a church where people are passionately in love with Jesus and have a culture and willingness to share and invite and say God is at work in that church and I want to go back. Why? Because you became aware thatGod was at work and we want to be where God is at work.
Culture change is not easy and it takes time. It may take a long time but there is nothing more important. The community awareness of your church will change when your people are consistently sharing and inviting. At Eastwood, to begin this culture change we have joined with Saturate USA to raise awareness of Jesus and our church with our local neighborhood. We are going directly to every home and giving that family the Gospel of Jesus and awareness of and invitation to our church. It takes the whole church to do this. Some to pack the packets. Some to distribute the packets. But everyone is a part of this effort.
You will also hear new statements like: An empty seat is a big deal! Every empty seat represents someone who is not hearing or experiencing the life-changing message of the Gospel. You will also hear: Being the Difference. You and I can be the difference in someone’s life in small and simple ways. Small acts of kindness, gospel conversations, sharing your story, encouraging someone who is hurt, helping someone, and the list goes on and on of ways people are being the difference.
Invite Your One
Invite Your One. Instead of trying to bring a great number of people to church all at once, we are focusing on just one. Who is your one? That one person that you are praying for and talking with and inviting. We want to be the difference just one person at a time.
Raising awareness of your church through branding and marketing will get the ball rolling. But the cultural change to sharing and inviting will be the greatest way your community will know who you are. It’s amazing even in this post-modern, post-Christianity world when you invite someone church…they will come. And you won’t hear when asked about your church…now, who are you again?