#Channels: Sunday Service

There are a few strengths that churches have over other organizations: we create new content every week, we regularly gather together, and our main “offering” is content. Every blogger or content director would love to have their audiences captive for an hour or two each week to hear what they have to say. We not only have that privilege, but we have the duty and delight to be the pillar of God’s truth.

We won’t make the habit of telling ordained church leaders how to do their jobs, but we will echo Paul’s charge to Timothy:

[1] I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: [2] preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. [3] For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, (2 Timothy 4:1-3)

The center of our church ministry must be the exposition of God’s word. Events, groups, parties, and needs for volunteers must always be subordinate to the primacy of the Scriptures. From Calvin, “As a preacher, he could assume the center because he held in his hands that which was the center.”1 Before any other thing is communicated, let’s rest in and herald that which is the center of the faith and remember the main hub that our mission, vision, and values come from. From that foundation, we utilize every channel as effectively as possible.

If you haven’t embraced the other channels mentioned in this series, we can almost guarantee this one is familiar to you. Let’s expand some of the possibilities of the Sunday service.

Space

Aubrey Malphurs said, “The basic tools of the cultural artist (leader) are story, symbol, shared experiences, space, and Scripture.”2 We’ll discuss this more in-depth later, but in saying space creates and communicates culture, he’s articulated a subtle but profound but simple truth: everything communicates something.

“The basic tools of the cultural artist (leader) are story, symbol, shared experiences, space, and Scripture.” – Aubrey Malphurs

Church buildings are a perfect example of this concept. Roman Catholic churches are covered with stained glass of saints and Jesus, holy water cisterns, and crucifixes. All of these things would be foreign to modern Pentecostals, who often have dark sanctuaries with fog and lights, projector screens, and chairs instead of pews with kneelers. The dark room would be a strange setting to medieval Christians who worshipped in buttressed stone cathedrals meant to cast their gaze to heaven.

It’s the privilege and challenge of leaders to consider how to use the space to physically communicate their values. This can be through placards with core values, the amount of light in a room, what is central in the worship space, and – dare I say – the interior design. Depending on who makes up the demographic of your area, this may not be a job best left to volunteers.

People

One of the clearest memories people have when they visit a church is of the people they meet (or don’t meet). Churches normally have the meet and greet section in their order of service, but is that the only time a visitor could interact with church members? We say no. If welcoming people well is the goal, there are many things that can be done to help them feel acquainted: parking lot attendants (even if it’s not a large church), greeters at the door, helpers who want to show parents where kids go, ushers helping them to their seats, etc.

Here’s a paradox: churches who instill in their congregation the value of hospitality don’t need a greeting time. Once the leadership has created a culture where guests are valued and visitors are wanted, it’s actually a sign of trust in the people to remove it. This helps people see that hospitality isn’t restricted to a few minutes in service; it begins when they see someone new. They can take it upon themselves to help those people feel welcomed and part of the family.

“Being supported by official leaders in official channels establishes the legitimacy and importance of any ministry effort.”

From the Stage

How do values and doctrines shape the culture of churches? By talking about them from the pulpit. Imagine a deacon or ministry leader promoting an event and trying to get people involved, but it’s never mentioned on a Sunday morning – they’re left to catching people in the lobby one-by-one. It’s not hard to predict how successful that will be. Being supported by official leaders in official channels establishes the legitimacy and importance of any ministry effort. So when there are artifacts (doctrines and values) essential to the identity of the church, they must be talked about during regular announcements and taught on from the pulpit.

Now, many pastors have done this and not seen real change in their church culture. We’ll concede that’s not just possible but likely. Here’s why: preaching on a core value one week a year will generally be ineffective. Once the identity of the church is solidified, then preached, the artifacts have to be “dripped” into the natural rhythms of the church. Some traditions value the historic confessions and catechisms of the church, so the pastor might preach on their importance but see no change in people’s use of them. In another scenario, the pastor preaches on them and starts using them in service every week. Which is more consistently teaching the value of the catechisms?

Here’s a cheesy one-liner to help remember this: most of what we learn is not taught; it’s caught. Our people learn more about what we believe by what we do than what we talk about. It moves from an ethereal idea to a tangible experience, and when those two come together, a conviction is formed.

“Most of what we learn is not taught; it’s caught.”

The drip can happen through announcements, mini-lessons on core values, telling stories about people embracing the essentials (community, evangelism, Bible study, etc.), sermons, and the songs we sing. This may frame the practice of dripping a bit: it takes consistency more than depth. That’s why weekly recitation of the creeds goes farther than a single sermon on them. Some of these exercises might take a minute or two, but the more they’re placed in front of the congregation, the more they shape and teach them.

 


  • 1.Mathis, David, John Piper, and Julius Kim. With Calvin in the theater of God: the glory of Christ and everyday life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.
  • 2.Malphurs, Aubrey. Look before you lead: how to discern and shape your church culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013.

#Channels: Mail

Here’s a terrible predicament: having endless paper in a paperless world.1 The world is definitely going digital. I know it’s not uncommon for small newspapers to have been made obsolete by Facebook. It’s a lot easier to share an article written by a much larger news syndicate than it is to wait for and read a local paper to tell us about the same event several days after the fact. That doesn’t mean direct mailing is obsolete as well. There are a few special features inherent in direct mail: it’s physical, it’s branded, it’s timely, and it’s local.

There are several memes floating around the worldwide web that show the difference between millennials fifteen years ago and now. We were incredibly excited to have received an e-mail a decade and a half ago; it was novel and digital. We felt like we were adults in an office, getting a glimpse into the weird world of ties and briefcases. Now, we’re inundated with both relevant and irrelevant e-mail all day, so receiving something physical in the mail can be a treat. For those who share this sentiment, the physical experience is refreshing and a break from the digital milieu.

Physical mailers can be designed for a specific event, series, or your church in general. The postcard becomes a physical artifact of the mission and message of the church. This is where great copy and design are necessary. The mailer itself must be eye-catching, and the invite/offer has to be strong. Prayer and quality separate an effective mailer from those that receive the glance-and-toss maneuver. In the same way that a mailer can be designed for a specific event, it can be sent in concert with them to get attention and create some traction.

“Word of mouth is the best way get attention but mailing casts a broader net and actually paves the way for face-to-face conversations later.”

One of the biggest strengths of direct mailing is that they are localized. This strategy is best seen as a way to help locals become aware of your church. They can’t visit if they haven’t heard of it. Word of mouth is the best way get attention but mailing casts a broader net and actually paves the way for face-to-face conversations later.

Some warnings

As we’ve mentioned in another post, “everything communicates something.” This is especially true of actual communiques! If designs are shoddy and poorly created, they’ll let the recipients know that quality isn’t important to your organization. In the same way – and this is more crucial – our designs must be up-to-date. Dated graphics can communicate that what we have to say is also archaic and irrelevant.

“Dated graphics can communicate that what we have to say is also archaic and irrelevant.”

We want to help you think about the last few sentences. A small business owner was at a printing conference and was told that Chick-Fil-A was his competition. He was incredulous and thought the speaker was at the wrong conference, then realized that he had a point. When CFA delivers stellar customer service, they are setting the bar for how customers expect to be treated. Those same customers end up being employees at other places, like the businesses that order custom printing. If their fast food service is stellar, why shouldn’t their commercial printer meet the same expectation?

Brands are pushing their products, services, and lifestyles onto people at an incredible rate. It’s projected that individuals see 5,000 brand impressions on a daily basis.2 And those big brands have a high production level. Now the general populous is becoming more keen to advertising and quality – and they dismiss the unqualified.

Changing how we communicate – but staying faithful to the message – has been the method of Christians since Paul, who became all things to all people, quoted pagan philosophers, and went the extra mile to remove stumbling blocks for his audience. Quality design ends up being a small price to pay to begin to build trust with our communities.

“Quality design ends up being a small price to pay to begin to build trust with our communities.”

An easy way to ruin that trust is spamming. When we discuss social media advertising, we’ll recommend a steady, year-round ad strategy with spikes around special events. Direct mailing should only be used in concert with those spikes, not year-round. Not only is it expensive, but it erodes trust and gets our messages dismissed immediately.

One Guiding Tip

If you don’t know where to start with direct mailing, find significant events in your community for the next quarter, make a postcard calendar of them, and send that as your mailer. Make sure your church’s logo is on the document somewhere, but don’t make your church the main topic of conversation. There are a few benefits here: it will show that you care about the community, and it will get the church’s name out there. Lastly, people who don’t attend your church aren’t likely to put your calendar on their refrigerator, but they will be more inclined to put a local calendar there.

 


#Channels: Print

Most of us remember learning how to ride a bike, the excitement and fear, the uncertainty of balance that made our lives flash before our eyes at every slight wobble. Yet we learned that realized the way through all of that was to look forward, keep the handles straight, and pedal: left, right, left, right, left, right… Communicating as the church is no different. Keep focused and pedal like a communicator: print, digital, print, digital, print, digital.

“Print is a great way to get information into people’s hands when they’re present for a Sunday service, Wednesday evening, or special event. “

We’re not in an either/or world, both print and digital have their place in an overall communication strategy. Print is great when the audience is physically with you, and digital is best used for creating connection points when they’re not. That said, print is a great way to get information into people’s hands when they’re present for a Sunday service, Wednesday evening, or special event.

Here’s what we need to think about before anything is designed or handed out: what’s the point? What is the specific action we want people to take after we hand them this card, flyer, booklet, etc.? Content first, then channel. The goal will always dictate what we want to communicate and how much space we need to do it.

Three Main Options

Once the point is established, we can consider how to communicate it. Here are three main print artifacts: weekly bulletins, calendars, and flyers/invites.

Weekly bulletins keep people in the loop with the most important things happening in your church life. Simplicity and minimalism are key to keeping bulletins effective. The fewer items included, the more attention they will get; conversely, the more crammed into a bulletin, the less focus each item receives. Generally, we recommend including three to four announcements, a list of upcoming events, and a place for notes.

Where weekly bulletins focus on the most urgent and time-sensitive pieces of information, calendars forecast what’s to come. Having a long-range calendar forces ministry leaders to plan out their ministry year (or half-year) ahead of time, which provides stability for the congregation. These can be full-on thirty day calendars that families can add their own schedules to or a minimal design that includes events and their dates, with or without a short description.

Flyers are even more specific than weekly bulletins. They highlight a specific event as a reminder for the congregation and the community. One way to get the congregation involved is to create business card-sized invite cards that they can share with friends. The flyer could be something a member puts on their refrigerator as a personal reminder, whereas the cards go far and wide with friends and family. They’re small enough to not be obnoxious but tangible and unique enough to be a capable reminder.

A Printed Unicorn

There is one thing that we would love to see churches experiment with: a quarterly update. Imagine a church that communicated ministry goals, volunteer opportunities, mission objectives, and praise reports comprehensively multiple times a year. Sections would center around the different church leaders discussing what it looks like to be committed to various areas of discipleship, for parents to disciple their children, for students to grow in grace, for young adults to be established in the faith, and for empty nesters to continue cultivating legacy. It also serves as a place for testimonies from those who have come to know the Lord, matured as disciples, or served in various ministries.

The update would essentially be a magazine that highlights all that the church is, has done, and aims to do. The platform is familiar to everyone and fixes a rhythm of creating opportunities for members to get involved in the life of the church and celebrates what God is doing through the means of grace.

If you decide to try this out, let us know!

#Channels: Website

Most of the competitions at the Houston rodeo last mere seconds. As onlookers, the time flies by faster than the horse around the barrel, but imagine what those few seconds are like for the competitors. Every moment counts. They’re focused before the chute opens, plotting every move, and the event is over before they know it. Precision wass the difference between ranking or going home empty handed.

This isn’t far from what it’s like every time someone visits your church’s website. The average person’s attention span is the same as a qualifying bull ride: 8 seconds. Your website has eight seconds to capture a guest’s attention.

If you’ll allow us to switch analogies, good design is like a suit in a job interview; it communicates that you’re professional, ready to work, and have come prepared. Church web design needs to convey hospitality, the same they would experience walking in your front door to your digital door. Well-thought out web design shows that you understand what visitors are looking for and have plotted out a clear path for them to follow.

“Your website has eight seconds to capture a guest’s attention.”

Your website is your digital hq, your home and castle, but that doesn’t mean it’s a repository for the random. Having a clear direction for your website means that some things are front and center and others may not even be necessary. The freedom of “owning” your website, as opposed to renting on Facebook or other social channels, is that you can structure it anyway you want. Social media channels only give their platform’s standard layout, but a website has endless possibilities. The best one is the one that presents information clearly and fits your church’s identity.

The form of your website should follow the function, and the function is to answer questions your visitors might have about your church. The way you answer those questions will reflect the personality and convictions of your church. Since content is king, let’s talk about what necessary details need to be on your website.

Website Necessities

What do visitors need to know if they’re planning their first visit? Tell visitors whether or not there is special parking for them. Let them know where their main destination is on a Sunday morning, which building and what to do with their kids. It’s also comforting when visitors have an idea of what to wear and what takes place during a service. Start times and locations are more than helpful; end times are only useful if your service doesn’t last the typical ninety minutes. The new visitors’ section is also the place to let them know if there is a connection table or booth where they can ask questions in person.

Who are you as a church? The homepage is the ideal place to put a brief explainer video of what your church’s mission is. Inform visitors as to your goals and what you’re doing to achieve them, and what you’ve done to arrive where you are now. Another page about the church could list denominational or network affiliations, doctrinal statements, core values, and partner ministries. A brief history of how your church came to be can help establish a more personal connection.

“Inform visitors as to your goals and what you’re doing to achieve them, and what you’ve done to arrive where you are now.”

Who leads your church? Staff pictures are not optional. I repeat: staff pictures are not optional. If the overarching goal is to establish trust by answering questions, then having pictures of your leadership goes a long way in doing that; add a short biography, and you’ve essentially run a marathon. Show your top-level leadership, ministry staff, and office staff. The only exception would be in churches that have more than two dozen employees.

How can I get connected? A directory of ministries will show how an individual can get involved in the life of the church. These are your different ministries, Bible studies, and events. Having both a list of programs coupled with a calendar will help introduce visitors to the group and see visually when their next opportunity to join in is.

How can I grow? Every pastor loves to give resources for their church to mature, and the website is the perfect place to host them. These can be organized by either type of media – articles, podcasts, books, and videos – or by topic. Podcast feeds can make old sermons difficult to find, so make sure they’re categorized and searchable.

Design

There are visual elements that should be present on the site: your church’s logo, photos of your people, and any welcome videos you have. Your church’s logo embodies its visual identity and should dictate the colors and scheme of the entire website. As stated before, high quality photos of your people, both staff and laity, will help personalize the church and show how well your church reflects your community. Welcome videos can give a brief overview of everything you are, do, and plan to do.

Half of internet traffic is from a mobile device, so mobile-optimization is unavoidable. Too many people will leave your site if it isn’t easily accessible from their phones. Most sites can be tested by grabbing the side of your internet browser and changing the width. Does your content change and respond to the width? If not, then it’s not likely your site is mobile friendly.

“Half of internet traffic is from a mobile device, so mobile-optimization is unavoidable.”

Focus on new visitors on your home page and have a clear call-to-action (CTA). Invite them to know more or see your page for new visitors. This is how you can drive engagement, by leading people to it by design and asking for it in a CTA. This can guide them through a specific funnel that answers their questions and helps influence their decision to visit.

#Channels: Video

If you need an apt illustration for why we use digital media, think of a megaphone. Simple input, magnified output. The medium that is changing how the world communicates is video. Youtube announced that their users consume over 1 billion hours of video a day1 It’s also one of the world’s largest search engines, clocking over 3 billion searches a month, and over three quarters of people watch a videos weekly online.2,3

“Youtube announced that their users consume over 1 billion hours of video a day”

Why is video so popular? For one, it’s multi-sensory; video includes both auditory and visual content. This gains the traction with those who are primarily visual learners, which happens to be the majority of people. Visuals exponentially multiply the likelihood that the audience will retain the information after the presentation, so it’s actually a more effective communication tool than something that’s simply auditory. Some of these graphics are just simple text, others are event graphics, and others still consist of b-roll footage.

Studies show that one minute of video is worth about 1.8 million words.4

We hope you’ve quickly become convinced that video presents an unprecedented opportunity for churches to communicate and cultivate life. The question that remains is this, “How do we take advantage of it?” There are many ways we can amplify the message and voice of the church. We’ll look at them in terms of where they would be generally shown.

Sunday Service

Video announcements are an easy way to shore up what needs to be communicated on a Sunday morning. They require a script and force the writer to clearly articulate all of the (and only) necessary information. It’s also a platform that allows for graphics to keep that information in the front of the church’s mind; they’re not just hearing it but seeing it as well. Prerecorded announcements in the middle of service also allow 2-4 minutes of time to rearrange the stage without any awkwardness.

Testimony videos help tell stories of God’s grace. The ideas are endless! Some videos we’ve seen have been about salvation, adoptions, the benefits of church membership, and involvement in ministry. These videos are re-playable and can be put in front of countless people if distributed on social media. Video also takes the public speaking pressure out of sharing on a Sunday morning.

“Testimony videos help tell stories of God’s grace.”

Welcome videos help visitors understand what’s happening on a Sunday morning. These are generally played before or at the very beginning of service to announce the order of service and help guests become acquainted with the experience. You can give clarity on where their kids go, how offering is done, and, of course, welcome them.

As a subset of the announcement videos mentioned above, we would encourage event promotional videos. It’s best to have footage from the same event the year before, but clips from a similar event are also helpful. This is a reason to think about having a photographer or videographer at your events – not just for now but for next year. It is easier to get people excited if they have those 1.8 million words telling them how worthy of an event it is.

Sermon intro videos, often called “bumpers,” can be helpful in getting people back into the mindset of the sermon series. They’re almost pre-introduction introductions. They can reflect the mood and tone of the sermon series and visually convey the main point of the study.

Everywhere Else

Most of the videos above are cross-platform and can be shown during the week as well as in service, but there are some that just don’t make sense for a Sunday morning. These are videos can be for the church’s website, operate as Q/A platform, and used to pastor and train people.

One way to engage visitors on your is to have a video. This could point them to the answers for their questions and give them a brief introduction to your church. These force you to boil down the mission and identity of a local church into a minute-long monologue. This still leaves room to tell the viewer what to expect on their first visit.

An easy way to engage with the community around your church is to answer the questions they’re asking. These can be recorded moments from an event or footage shot specifically for this purpose. Depending on where they’re hosted, there’s the option to have discussion and dialogue in the comment sections.

“Some teaching videos are more devotional and shared on platforms, like Facebook and Youtube, but others are instructive and used to train leaders.”

Teaching videos are incredible. They can be concise and to the point, catechism-like, or expanded and comprehensive, giving seminary-level content to anyone who sees it. Some teaching videos are more devotional and shared on platforms, like Facebook and Youtube, but others are instructive and used to train leaders. The possibilities are essentially endless, and they can be used to enhance anyone, regardless of where they are in their relationship to your church. We have personally benefited from video content created by churches and ministries on the other side of the country.

Vision Videos

If your church has gone through the process of identifying your mission, vision, and values, that should be broadcast in every way imaginable. The more it’s discussed and heralded, the more it becomes the bedrock of your church’s culture.

Vision videos are best made in series, between four and six. This allows you to release one a week for several weeks, showing them on social media and in service, then to cycle back through at least once. These should contain a discussion on the vision as well as a call for individuals to get involved with it.