Natural disasters, sickness, violence, heartache — there are so many things that cause hopelessness. People are searching for a voice of positivity, community, connection, grace and meaning. It is important that Christians rise up through the muck of difficult situations and challenging questions with a message of faith.
Your congregants carry this voice of hope into their daily interactions and relationships. Helping them feel empowered to reach out to neighbors, friends, acquaintances, coworkers and family members will make consistent invitation and warm welcome intrinsic parts of your church.
Use the right tools
Providing ready-to-use, easily distributed outreach tools will give the congregation something to lean on when they extend invitations. Kicking off a focused invitational effort during a holy holiday season can also make it easier.
The denomination offers customizable Easter resources that can incorporate information potential visitors might need to know. Resources include:
- Invitation cards, which can be handed out, attached to a bag of goodies before delivery, or left on counters in area businesses;
- Yard signs to boost awareness of the church in area neighborhoods;
- Posters that congregants can hang on bulletin boards in stores, businesses, community centers, gyms, parks — anywhere they might go.
Using these complementary tools communicates a clear, consistent message of welcome from the entire congregation. You can also incorporate postcards mailed to specific zip codes and neighborhoods near your church, bulletins to welcome visitors to worship, and an exterior banner to reach out to people as they pass by.
Sum it up
A meaningful message is a vital part of ensuring that outreach tools are effective. The message needs to offer connection, as well as opportunities to make a difference in the world — things that many people unaffiliated with a church are seeking.
Guide your congregation in developing a personalized “elevator speech” — a 20–60 second invitation that captures the essence of your church’s identity — so that they will be able to share a quick summary of your church. Going through this process will encourage the congregation to clarify the purpose and passions of your church so that they will then be prepared to tell your church’s story to others.
Consider such questions as these:
- Why you are excited about your church?
- What are the unique characteristics and the story of your church?
- How is your congregation at work in your community and the world?
- What other details should be included about how your church helps people know God’s love through its ministries?
Once you have worked through these questions as a group, refine your speech so that it is as concise, clear and compelling as possible. Your speech may be something like:
“Our church is focused on making a difference in the lives of people around us, nurturing faith in people of all ages, and building a supportive community of hope for all. We have worship every Sunday at 10 a.m. and we meet on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. to share a meal and get to know each other better. We’d love for you to join us!”
If the conversation continues, congregants can also share:
- Church location;
- When/if childcare is provided;
- Details about a few of the ministries your church offers (i.e., “We have a thriving children’s program and a wide variety of small group Bible studies.”);
- A couple of mission efforts your congregation is passionate about (i.e., “We are passionate about our community garden that helps feed local families and our nearby elementary school where we provide school supplies and reading tutors.”).
Pop up in unexpected places
Reaching out to people in the community can be fun and meaningful. For example, the denomination hit the road in December 2017 to extend invitations to local United Methodist churches in sixteen states. The 21-city tour was a success not simply because of the number of people reached, but perhaps more importantly, because of the personal connections made — the one-on-one conversations, warm handshakes and friendly smiles that people really needed to see.
Your church can emulate this same concept a couple of weeks before Easter. Ask a local grocery store, retail shopping area or other busy location if a group of volunteers can set up a table outside to offer free drinks, seasonal candy or healthy snacks to passersby.
As people accept your cup of lemonade, chocolate Easter egg, etc., also offer an invitation card with details about your church’s upcoming worship services or events. If people ask, “Why are you doing this? Is this really free?” Be ready to offer a brief answer, such as, “We wanted to show the community we care!” This is then the perfect chance to share your elevator speech.
People will visit your church online before they step foot in the door. Be ready with an engaging, easily navigated website that communicates everything a visitor will need to know, such as worship times, parking options, classes offered, expectations on attire, childcare information, etc. Look to your elevator speech for inspiration as you are thinking of ideas for your website content; this is the story your website should tell!
As people accept your invitation to visit, be sure you have members ready to offer hospitality. This can be achieved via a warm (but not overwhelming) welcome, helpful signage, a quick tour of the church, a brief overview of your mission and discipleship opportunities, and a card or online form to gather contact information.
Be sure to follow up with visitors to thank them for coming, invite them to gatherings and events they might be interested in, and tell them about an upcoming sermon series. An opportunity to plug into a vibrant community is what many people are searching for, so don’t miss your chance to fulfill that need once they walk through your door.
*Laura Buchanan is a Creative Content Specialist at United Methodist Communications