Sign of the TImes - Does Your Community Know Where You Are?
By Russ Ward
At Speiro Communications we are constantly looking at ways churches can improve their communication strategies and challenge conventional thinking so they can become an alternative for God in their community. We look at ways to borrow from other models and apply them when it makes sense as long as the strategy does not violate Christian principles and morals.
The "borrowing" I am talking about is from retail stores. One of the basic principles that often gets overlooked by church leaders when putting together a communication strategy is the role that location and signs play in the way that the local church communicates with their community. When it comes to retail, why do we shop where we shop? A lot of that decision often has to do with the communication value of location and the physical appearance (signs). To demonstrate this, a common formula for determining an advertising budget for a retail store is to take 10 percent of projected annual, gross sales and multiply it by the markup on your average transactions. Then subtract the annual rent from that total. Why would a store subtract the rent from an advertising budget? The assumption is that the higher the rent the better the physical location and increasing the advertising budget should make up for a poor location.
In churches we rarely view how we use resources to impact our community in this cold, math driven way and rarely think about location and exterior signs from that perspective. The predominate thought is churches do not have the flexibility that a retail store would have in changing locations or having creative signage. I could ask, "Why not?" but that is a discussion for another time. The point is does your exterior and location enhance your church's ability to communicate with your community or is it a detriment? And, if it is a detriment, what can you do about it? Here are some steps to take to help you sow seed in your community.
First, measure how effective your current location and exterior signs are in communicating where you are and who you are. A real simple test is to go to several random locations in your community (convenience stores, the library, post office, outside the courthouse, etc.) and ask a series of questions to 20 to 30 individuals.
- Ask if they are from the area. It would not be a very good measure if they were from out of town.
- Ask them for directions to your church. Note if they are right and don't correct them if they are wrong. If they don't know where you are still ask the next question. It will reflect your overall outreach effort.
- Ask them what they know about the church. Don't drop hints by asking them about specific programs! When they finish with one comment just ask them, "What else?" to encourage a continued dialog.
- When you are finished thank them for their help! If they asked why you are asking questions be up front and let them know that you care about communicating with the community.
If you are in a real small town ask an out of town member to do the polling. You can also do a swap with another church in the next town, you poll for them, they poll for you. The last alternative is to hire the polling be conducted from Speiro or other organization. It will be more complete and more accurate but also comes with a price tag. The answers must be tracked fairly and consistently. Look at the results. Are they what you expected? All churches can improve these numbers but, if less than half know where you are, then you have a challenge with location and signage. It can also reveal deeper issues with evangelism and community connections.
Second, gather the resources. I was once called to consult with a church that had declined slowly over several years. Now, they were down to just 25 members with only a dozen or less in attendance week to week. When I talked to a church member I discovered that they had over $40,000 in a rainy day fund that had been sitting there for years. They were so use to the rain that they didn't even realize they were up to their chins in water. Instead of investing the rainy day fund in the Kingdom they hid in the false security of money. Does the Parable of the Talents come to mind? Know what you have, but don't let it limit you.
Third, based upon the response from the polling and the resources available make a plan. Remember if you are in a location off the main street, more resources may be needed if you are staying on the property you currently occupy. If you are on a main road in town, but still poll less than half, a high quality sign may be needed. Also, just because you have specific resources available doesn't mean that you should ignore your plan for something less. Cast a vision. Let your congregation know the resources on hand, the goals, the results of the polling and why improved communication may be needed.
As alluded to above, you may have a deeper problem than what a sign can fix or what a new location can address. The above suggestions are for healthy churches looking to improve communication with their community.