Every Sunday morning on my way to church I run over a newspaper in an orange plastic bag in the middle of my driveway, and every Sunday afternoon I run it over again when I return. It is a weekly staple that has become a metaphor in our house as a literal speed bump on the road to progress.
There is one important detail to note: I have never purchased a subscription to this newspaper, or any other newspaper for that matter. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I sat down and read a physical copy of a newspaper.
As the person responsible for the advertising budget in our church, I am the primary contact person for all of the local advertising sales managers. Television, billboards, newspaper… each one of them has their own set of numbers and metrics on how effective their particular medium is and why we should invest more of our ad-dollars with them. The problem is, I can’t help but think of that newspaper in my driveway that gets delivered (and counted in their “readership”) whether I read it or not (which I don’t). I also think about the television in my home that has no way of accessing the cable provider or local television networks. The same is true for most of my friends.
This begs the question: Is traditional advertising dead in this digital world?
I was in a seminar recently where StoryBrand founder and author, Donald Miller, was advocating for direct mailers. One of the most innovative and forward-thinking marketing and messaging minds of our time was actually suggesting that we type up letters, print them out, put them in envelopes with a stamp and mass-mail them to people’s houses. A bunch of us in the room started to roll our eyes, dumbfounded at the suggestion. Then he said something that changed my view on traditional advertising. It is not about closing the sale, it is about brand recognition. Think about how you handle junk mail. If you’re anything like me, I shuffle through the pile, looking at the name in the return address in the upper lefthand corner and toss out most of it. That’s the key. Everybody has to look at your church’s name for two seconds to process what it is before throwing it away. This means they see your brand name on the mailer.
When it comes to traditional advertising, especially in the local church where advertising dollars are at a premium, it is all about expectations and positioning. When you have those in line, your view (and effectiveness) of your traditional advertising should shift.
If you’re sending out mailers with the goal to increase attendance by __ percentage or to get a specific return, that’s probably an unhealthy goal and a waste of money. For our church, it is billboards. We don’t put billboards up to share a ton of information. In fact, we would never put a billboard up for an event. We do it for brand recognition. It will say the name of our church, the church slogan, and that’s it.
Before putting together an advertising campaign involving traditional media, you have to answer one crucial question:
What do you want to get out of this?
If you are sending a Christmas mailer because every other church is going to send a Christmas mailer, that may not prove to be super effective at increasing attendance. But when a regular attendee shuffles through their mail and sees a well-done, eye-catching panoramic mailer reminding them of our Christmas service times, that’s like a mini billboard in their home. In that instance, when combined with a comprehensive plan, it meets our expectations. Money well spent.
The next thing you have to consider is:
Where your church is positioned in the community?
For our church, we’ve dialed down on worship ads in the newspaper because if you’re in the demographic of a typical newspaper subscriber and you depend on the newspaper to find a church, you’re probably not looking for our church. However, when the newspaper runs a unique feature on the local baseball team, that’s something that we may hop on simply because we want to position ourselves alongside the most prominent hospitals, the best restaurants, most recognizable names, and influential voices in our region. We want our church to come to mind when people think about what makes our local community great.
Traditional advertising can still be beneficial for your church as long as you don’t take a traditional approach.
It is Easter weekend, and your Facebook and Instagram ads are performing nicely. Reach, interactions, and shares are all hitting record numbers. You smile with a hint of an acceptable level of pride – this year is going to be good.
Then it hits you, a push notification from out of the blue:
Instantly your heart starts racing, you begin nervously sweating, and your mind becomes consumed.
This is the new reality many church social media managers in the digital age, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Now, imagine you’re a church leader in the late 90s. The blue hairs in your lobby would go on about the worship leaders and their piercings, baggy flannel shirts, frosted tips, and shell necklaces, but that’s as far as it went. It might go around the table at the local Cracker Barrel, but other than that, it just kind of died there next to the biscuits and gravy.
Now, the conversations that used to happen in sanctuaries, lobbies, and fellowship halls are blasted on the Internet for the whole world to see. Our online interactions have become the new customer service desk, complaint department, and triage unit. Trying to connect people who are reaching out through social media platforms is crucial.
The strategy at our church is to usher people into personal conversations as soon, and as often, as possible because we value the power found in personal connections over the digital dumpster fire of the comment section.
Here are some tips to manage social media, especially when things don’t go well:
1) Rule of Three – This is something that I learned from Dave Adamson at North Point. When that negative post, comment, or review comes in, limit yourself to three responses. That’s it. Each time refer them to a direct message, email, or phone number where you can connect personally. If that doesn’t work after 3 responses, leave it alone and move on. You’re not going to have an in-depth theological discussion (or change their mind) with all the back and forth online. If comments are profane, feel free to delete them, but don’t get in the habit of deleting what you don’t like or what you think makes you look bad.
2) Stay Positive & Find Common Ground – The typical reaction to negative page reviews or trolling comments among Church Communications and Social Media Managers is to delete comments, ban users, or flood their pages soliciting positive reviews from their other followers. RESIST. Take a deep breath and calm down. When we have people saying things like “The church just wants your money!” or “How can you justify having big buildings while people around you are poor?,” we’ll try to find some common ground. Rather than fight them with our facts or freak out and delete comments, we step into it with grace and communicate that we have more in common than they think and we want to learn from them as well. For the most part, that starts to lower the defenses of anyone who’s trying to throw stones at us. From there we can usually begin a healthy dialogue offline.
3) Respond TO the Individual but Respond FOR the Crowd –All throughout the Gospels, Jesus was subjected to the first-century version of internet trolls – Scribes, Pharisees, and teachers of the law that were trying to trick and provoke him with inflammatory questions. Jesus would answer them honestly, but he didn’t give them exactly what they wanted. Instead, he would answer the individual with the crowd in mind. We should always respond in a way that’s going to honor their question, but we also need to care more about what the crowd is learning about your church from that interaction. Is your church defensive, dismissive, or combative, or is your church full of patience, grace, and truth? The crowd online will learn more about your church in the way it handles messy situations than any other branding you throw at them.
Social media can be a mess, but that is because people are messy. Choose to lean in and engage.
Any good personal trainer or coach will encourage you to cross-train to keep performing at a high level. That means, if you’re a runner you should spend some time on the bike or go for a swim because you have to keep those other muscles going so you don’t get bogged down by repetitive use injuries.
I think the same thing goes for us creatively.
As a Communications Director, one of my primary jobs is to write letters in the voice of our Lead Pastor, our Elders, and our brand for official church communications. This has been happening for a while now, but at one point it was so often that I started to lose my own voice. I was basing my worth on how close I could mimic their tone that when I failed to hit the mark, I took it as a personal insult.
What was once welcomed feedback from others became red-hot daggers piercing my creative individuality, and it was then that I realized that I had reached an unhealthy spot in my job. I made my career my only creative outlet, and I was getting burned out.
The Bible talks about rotating your crops, giving your fields time to rest, so you don’t burn out the soil. I think this is healthy, not only for us in the creative realm but also physiologically. It is beneficial for you or members of your team to “cross-train” that way they are not burning out.
For example, there are a few young, super-talented worship leaders at our church and it seems like every Friday night they are playing a gig somewhere. Now, we have 5 services every weekend between Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, and if you’re anything like me, I’m wondering, how are they not burning out and shredding their voices with all that extra work? But to be honest, that’s going to keep them motivated to execute on Sunday because it is a creative outlet that is outside of their everyday job. I imagine it is because of those Friday gigs, where they get to sing their own style, and they have control over the playlist, that they can push through the songs that aren’t necessarily their favorites on the weekends.
By having some creative outlets that are outside of your regular everyday job, you are able to complete the tasks that you don’t have creative control over, and then your career doesn’t become your idol. The problem comes when you start to seek validation from worship leading or creative design that the job can get dangerous. Financially you wouldn’t put all of your money into a single investment, so why would you continue to put all of your creative eggs into one basket? With this in mind, it’s essential to have healthy conversations with your team. Where can you get outside of your comfort zone and do some things in that creative mindset? Do you have a freelancing or moonlighting policy to allow creatives on your team to get experience outside of their regular responsibilities?
Google famously encouraged employees to spend 20% of their hours outside of their usual tasks on anything they want that will benefit the company. I realize that doesn’t always work because you’re probably already leading worship, shooting all the video, editing all the videos and designing them at the same time while checking kids into the kids’ ministry. But think about it, what’s something outside of your job that you could do that’s creative? In the same way that you would counsel someone spiritually to stay engaged in other disciplines outside of their hour on Sundays, I encourage you to find time to learn and grow creatively outside of your regular work responsibilities.