by Eddie Pipkin

I was on at a complex of hiking and mountain biking trails a couple of weeks ago, and down by the informational kiosk at the start of the route, I was delighted to see what looked for all the world like a bright orange parking meter (!) but turned out to be a clever donation portal for those who wanted to support the maintenance of the trails.  What better place to put an easy-to-use device for contributing to the ongoing project of providing superb outdoor recreational opportunities for the very people most likely to appreciate them?  It was on target.  It was fun. It was an example that could be useful for inspiring similar strategies on behalf of all kinds of ministries (which depend on the benevolence of those who believe in their cause).

Right as I finished saying to my hiking buddy what a great time we had been having taking in the natural scenery and the beautiful view from the peak – minutes after we had marveled at how well the trails were maintained and how easy they were to navigate – we were presented with a whimsical invitation to ‘pony up’ and put a supporting donation where our mouths were.  Genius.  And I don’t mean genius simply in the way that it was craftily manipulative (the infamously favored strategy by which churches traditionally wrangle support) but because of the real-time opportunity to respond to our generous, inspired feelings in the moment.  It wasn’t that we felt guilty about not giving (although there was certainly a twinge of that – if we believe in the concept of citizens bearing cooperative responsibility for making good things happen, this was a test of living out our values).  We felt gratitude and a strong sense of wanting to share our delight and carry forward the blessings.

If the people responsible for these trails and this ‘giving meter’ thought of themselves as a trail ministry – as no doubt they should view their lofty and valuable work — we wanted to celebrate, endorse, and empower their ministry.  We wanted to see it thrive.  I have no idea if they have a physical office anywhere, don’t personally know who the volunteers are who are doing the work, or if there is a backstory to their mission, but I felt an immediate impact of the results of their efforts.  They seemed worthy of support – I experientially understood what they were trying to do and how I could be a useful part of the work continuing!

Churches have made great strides in recent years in connecting people with giving and volunteering opportunities that are directly tied to acting in the moment once their passions have been stirred.  Foremost, the idea of narrative storytelling in celebrating ministry successes is more vibrant than it once was, owing largely to advances in technology and the availability of social media.  By posting the stories of our work, including evocative pictures and video, we have made it real for people.  By sharing dramatic versions of first-person accounts by video whenever we gather together, we have given them a sense of being part of the action.  We have provided palpable evidence of the direct impact of our ministries.

But we haven’t quite kept the pace when it comes to giving people instantaneous windows for reaction and response.

Each and every time we share a ministry story, we should provide people with a concurrent (as instantaneous and immediate as possible) opportunity to respond:

  • An opportunity to make a comment.
  • An opportunity to share related experiences and stories.
  • An opportunity to volunteer.
  • An opportunity to give.

You might think this is overkill.  It is not.  If we build the habit of structuring our storytelling with these concurrent feedback / response opportunities, we will build a culture of sharing-and-response that becomes second nature to those in our community.  This is a healthy and productive culture to build.  We learn and are inspired.  We retrain people from their natural stance as viewers and bystanders to a new role as responders, commenters, engagers, and empowerees.  We apply what we have learned and what we have been inspired by.  We grow.  We have impact.  Growth and impact are central to our mission and purpose.  Engagement is our goal.

First of all, let me say that while we have made notable strides as ministry leaders in narrative storytelling, we’re still leaving plenty of opportunities by the wayside.  There are still far too many “newsletter announcement” style posts on our social media, dry reading of lists of upcoming events during announcement time on Sunday morning, and bullet pointed events listings on our websites, with a few sprinklings of engaging video stories and first-person accounts that capture the drama and impact of ministry.  Every time we want to make an announcement, that’s an opportunity for engaging communication.  We should be doing even more storytelling and empowering ever more storytellers.

As far as instantaneous opportunities for response, that seems straightforward on social media and our other online portals, if we take the time to follow through.  Every moving story should include a link to a way to find out more, offer to serve, or give to a cause that has touched a heart.

On Sunday mornings these response opportunities seem less obvious (or maybe all too obvious – isn’t that what the offering time and altar call are for?).  While it’s a great strategy to share a first-hand witness right before the normal offering, it can have even greater impact to occasionally do a special offering at an unexpected moment.  We break the mental habit people have developed of tuning out the offering appeal when we choose an unexpected moment to focus their thinking on their potential impact if they heed our call to get involved with time, talents, and gifts.  We have plenty of technology options to leverage during worship gatherings, small group sessions, and other programming.  Anytime we tell a story of ministry impact, we can offer a real-time code or web address to seize the moment get involved or make a donation.  This can be effective even during a sermon!

In the story I told to begin the blog, the story of the trail complex and the faux-parking-meter-donation-device, note that the mechanism by which the giving happened leveraged technology in a way that made the giving both easy and intuitive.  All you had to do was whip out your credit card and slide it through the device, or even better, just do a “tap” with your cell phone.  There was also a QR code you could scan to learn more (as much more as a person desired) about the cause and the people behind the cause.

If we want to connect people’s feelings of support and inspiration directly to opportunities to give and volunteer, here are things we can be doing:

  • Making sure, every time we share a story, we include a way (a link, a contact, a real-life person standing in the back of the room) to give or volunteer.
  • Stopping the action in the natural flow of things to give people a chance to give or volunteer.
  • Providing a way to give or volunteer whenever we host an event or conduct a program or outreach.
  • Giving people a way to direct their readers / listeners / viewers to volunteer or donate to their personal passion projects.  They should be able to re-share the stories we tell and to give people easy ways to get plugged in if those people are also inspired by the shared stories.

These are some great strategies for also getting your greater neighborhood community involved in your initiatives.  If you are participating in local initiatives that feed the hungry, care for the sick, comfort the suffering, and help children develop lifelong skills, there are people in your community – even if they are skeptical of your spiritual motives – who will help support the practical work you are doing.  You can use signage (electronic or old-fashioned) and even drive-through informational exhibits to invite them to be a part of the good work you are doing.

There are as many ideas to develop in this vein as there are initiatives you are pursuing.  Get your volunteers and participants involved in helping you think up creative ways to spread the news about the impact you’re having, the vision for the impact you see in the future, and the a participation portal for people who might be willing to share their talents and gifts.

How do you think you and your crew do when it comes to providing creative opportunities for people to respond to the good work that you and your ministry team are doing?  If they are feeling emotionally connected or inspired to share the blessings and move your work forward through their support, do they have a way to react in the moment?  Or do they have to make a note to take action later?  Share your ideas and stories of success when it comes to getting people engaged meaningfully in real-time.