Jay, What do you think about direct mail? I am concerned about the lost in our community that we are not reaching. We teach that the best way to reach people is to teach our friends. But there are many that we don’t have any contacts with.
I have looked into the “House to House” publication but we are somewhat progressive and this may not fit.
Are you aware of other publications that could be useful or other churches that are successful with direct mail? As someone has said: “I believe the lost in our community are worth fighting for.”
I absolutely agree as to the importance of fighting for the lost in our communities. Amen!
And I agree that “House to House” would be unsuitable for any congregation that is moving beyond the word-only approach to the Holy Spirit and wishes to address the questions being asked by the unchurched today.
I’m hardly an expert in evangelism, but it’s true of all advertising that direct mail can be very ineffective. Just ask the members of your congregation how they came to learn about Jesus. Most will say from their parents. The rest will say from a conversation with a friend or family member. Less than 1 in 100 will say from direct mail, from a radio or TV ad, from the Yellow Pages, or even from the Internet. (We’ve done this in my church, and church growth experts say this is very typical.)
Now, I’m aware of some church planters who begin their launch with a massive direct mail solicitation, asking people to join them for their open house and inaugural church service. They expect a yield of about 1/1000 mailing pieces. If you want 50 people at your launch, mail 50,000 direct mail invitations, make them as professional looking as possible, and work with professional church planters on how to fashion the message to your community. Don’t waste thousands of dollars on a poorly designed campaign.
Or you could just encourage 50 of your members invite family and friends to church or to some other visitor-friendly event.
My church used to have an annual “Friend Day,” when we encouraged our members to invite friends. We’d clean up the building and grounds, have a service designed to be accessible to the unchurched, and coached our members to be friendly and not pushy. It worked.
My view — although I’m no expert — is pretty simple —
- Be the church Jesus died for you to be. Love each other. Take communion together like it really matters. Be excellent in all you do.
- Be friendly to visitors always — not just the “greeter ministry” or the staff. This has to come from everyone there and has to be deep in your congregational DNA. My church is actually pretty good at this, and it’s rare. I wish I knew how it happened. It just did. Might be one of those God things.
- Clean up your facilities. Throw away the trash in the pews and stuck in the corners. Look like you care. Ask people who don’t regularly attend to inspect your facilities and tell you what needs to be fixed in terms of cleanliness, signage, information for visitors, etc.
- Get your website up to the state of the art and focus it on first-time visitors. Tell them what to expect, child care, how to dress, and what might surprise them.
- Have regular events that your members can proudly invite friends to, even un-churched friends.
- But remember your members. Don’t get so focused on your visitors that you don’t announce funerals and illnesses of your own people. Visitors may not know these people, but they need to see that we care for each other.
- Encourage responses to the sermon. Invite people down the aisle, and when someone asks for prayer, invite the church to come up with them and surround them as you pray for them. Make the invitation a time of encouragement and love. It may seem strange to a visitor, but the fact that they see healing and comfort in your assemblies will be a good thing. Don’t hide your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Rather, let the world see how we care for each other and how we rely on prayer.
- Announce answers to prayers.
- Have testimonies where members share how God has been active in their lives and helped them. Be raw and authentic.
- Get out into the community and serve in the name of Jesus.
- Re-invent the story of your church. You are not an institution there to serve the members — not primarily. You are church plant, placed in that city by God to bring the lost to Jesus and to bring God’s shalom to the chaos. Read church plant literature. Go to church planting seminars. And act in every way like a plant and not an institution.
- Develop a vital small groups ministry in homes, with communion served as part of the Love Feast you celebrate together. And worship with others at home. That is, your Sunday assembly should be a gathering of smaller assemblies, in which you worship as one and celebrate victories and pray for each other and encourage one another to return to your neighborhoods to be Jesus for friends and neighbors.
- Work with other churches in town to coordinate your efforts as part of God’s mission together. At least once a year, take communion together. You may have to rent a football stadium.
- Be the church that Jesus died for.
Now, do that and you won’t need direct mail — or if you do direct mail, it’ll be far more effective.
To me, it’s about mindset, framing story, that sort of thing. When we approach Christianity as American capitalists, then salvation becomes a product to sell — which we like because we know how to sell. We’re Americans.
But if we re-shape our thinking into a more biblical mold — and see the church as a kingdom within a kingdom, a society within a society, and a family that’s higher and more vital than family, clan, state, and nation — our approach to evangelism completely changes. The church down the road is not competition. They’re family, and we should have an annual family reunion, because that’s what families do. When we invite someone to visit, we aren’t selling rescue from hell; we’re inviting them to join a family of hundreds of millions, thousands of years old, serving together across the world in God’s sacrificial mission to help people become like Jesus, that is, to become what they were always meant to be.
And none that means that direct mail has no role to play. But it would have to be in a way that’s very different from our traditional approach.
But if you think about it, direct mail invitations to church would be like sending out a mass mailing to invite people to your Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s not that you shouldn’t invite people to your gathering, but if it’s family gathering, then the invitations need to be personal. I mean, if you got a card in the mail inviting you to a stranger’s Thanksgiving Dinner, you’d throw it away, thinking how very odd the sender must be. But if a neighbor calls you and invites you to join them for Thanksgiving Dinner, you’d be flattered and open to the idea. It’s all about the story your church lives in, you see. Family or commodity. Personal transformation or rescue from an angry deity. Preparation for life together as family or mastering a book of rules. It makes all the difference in heaven and earth.