By Eddie Pipkin
Time for the Pipkin hacienda to get a new roof. I did all my due diligence, got my estimates (ouch!), and chose a local roofing company we felt really good about. We got to the stage of filling out all the contract paperwork, and when the time came, we were ready with our choice of shingle color. Then the roofing rep asked us a question that stumped us: “What color would you like for your drip edge?” Drip edge? What’s the drip edge? Once he explained to us that it was that first metal piece of flashing at the edge of the roof that keeps water off the fascia, we took a walk around the neighborhood and repeatedly said, “Ohhhh!” There were drip edges of all sorts of colors at the edges of all sorts of roofs everywhere we looked! Just like there are obvious but critical ministry details that are hiding in plain sight (yet so familiar they are disregarded as unworthy of thoughtful analysis).
Everybody has ‘em. Those basics that hold things together and make things work (like drip edges with a roof). Cars have floor mats. Kitchens have sinks. Churches have communion elements and visitor welcome packets. Every small detail of every way we interact with folks who enter our ministry orbit becomes a way to think about how we are projecting our identity and being faithful to the Gospel. Here are a few classics to consider (along with some links to blogs in which I have taken a deeper dive on some of these topics).
I’ve written about this before (so here’s a link to creative usage of signage and banners, if you ‘d like to read more about it), but here are some highlights and two special notes. Signage is a great example of practical necessity and vision casting opportunity. On the one hand, when thinking about our facility signage, it’s important to help people get where they need to go with a minimum of anxiety. On the other hand, the kind of signage we use can suggest how much we value newcomers and how much we value different aspects of our ministry (both facility signage and special promotional signage or banners). Walk around your place with fresh eyes, pretending to be a first-timer, and see how well your signage functions. Even better, recruit someone from outside your normal circle to come and do this exercise.
Just a small example I observed this week: the wonderful mid-week service I attend offers pandemic safe communion (which is achieved through baggies with individual communion supplies which we pick up from a basket at the worship entrance). However, there is no obvious signage for this basket, leaving newcomers in the lurch.
Special Sign Note #1: Vacation Bible School Signage. There are primarily two VBS themes every year all across America – it is uncanny if you do a cross-country drive, how you will see banners for one or the other of these two VBS themes. So, I if you are hanging a VBS banner, you are definitely marketing to your normal participants as well to the families who are cycling their kids through all the programs in the area in search of some free child care (a suburban thing), but you are probably not catching the attention of folks who have no idea what VBS even is or what the special sauce is that your community can offer to their family.
Special Sign Note #2: Digital Signs. As the technology has become cheaper and the options more creatively flashy, more churches are adopting digital signage. Cool! But if you are using that space solely to promote “New Study on the Gospel of John” or “Women’s Group Thursday at 6:00,” you are severely limiting the potential value of that space. Insider language and insider interests are for insiders. Since the possibilities and variety of digital sign messages are endless, use them for more than event announcements. Give the community a shout-out! Celebrate it (not just you). Throw out some positive thinking messages or statements of your core values. Invite the rarely invited. Express gratitude.
Websites and Social Media
This is increasingly the first place that people will encounter you and your church. What are their first impressions? Websites where the “Give Now” button is the predominant feature on the home page, we’re looking at you! Your core values and core mission should be up front, crystal clear, and oft-repeated. Information should be clear and easily accessible, but stories of impact should play a big part of what you’re sharing. And as we have repeated many, many times, don’t make navigation hard, confusing, or frustrating.
Special Website Note #1 Concerning Those Glossy Stock Photos You’re Using: People visiting you online recognize stock photos when they seem them: idealized, airbrushed, smiling families – they see those all day long in a thousand ads and corporate websites. One of the first things you can do to sand out as authentic in your ministry is to use actual photos of actual people in your actual ministries. (Yes, there are some rules for how to do this safely and legally – but they are manageable.)
The View from the Street
What do people see when they are driving or walking by? Think about this for a minute: what is one detail about your property that clearly communicates to people what your ministry is all about. (And if you said the obvious, “Jesus,” probably indicated by prominent displays of crosses on your property, here’s the follow-up question: in a world which is exposed to an endless variety of interpretations of Jesus, how can a passerby tell which Jesus is your Jesus? How can they tell what your core values are as you live out the Gospel (especially as they relate to the community)?
Here’s a link to one of my favorite blogs, which details some ideas for how to use your church property as a community space. Here’s one that literally deals with ways to spruce up your church’s front porch.
The Words We Use
Do the words and phrases we use to describe who we are and what we are doing communicate our intent in a way that is easy for outsiders to grasp, or are the sentences we write and speak filled with insider language? Do the words we use reflect and celebrate our core values? Those values should be repeated often, in multiple contexts, and in many and varied forms. Do we explain things that seem obvious to those of us who have been around awhile, or do we just assume folks will catch on or ask questions if they don’t understand? We should lovingly anticipate those questions.
There should always be easy and approachable ways for people to ask questions and get answers (in person on Sunday mornings, through the applicable channels during the week, and always online).
Here’s a link to a blog about ways we can genuinely welcome people with our words and visual cues.
Logos and Labels
What is our visual avatar? What do we call things (programs and events)? A logo should not only be fresh and creative, it should communicate something clear about who we are and what’s important to us. Likewise for the names of our programs and events. And there is much territory here to make fun of our sameness as congregations as we all jump on the same hipster church marketing bandwagon (which is how we all end up with those indistinguishable generic buzzword tags for every youth gathering and praise service: “relevant,” “essence,” “impact,” “convergence,” “farm fresh” [I made that one up, but you get the drift] – best practice is that we use images and words that honestly communicate what’s happening, what’s valued, and what’s visioned in the unique context of our inimitable congregations.]
What are the obvious details that define your ministry to others? Are there things that just “are what they are,” and have been forever, or are you and your leadership team thoughtful about how others experience them? What would you change if you could? What are you proud of in its current form (once you step back and take a fresh look)? What is an obvious, ever-present detail I missed in this blog? Jump in and share below.