Evangelism: Direct Mail?

directmailA reader asks,

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.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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13 Responses to Evangelism: Direct Mail?

  1. David Himes says:

    I confess I make my living producing direct mail … mostly for fund raising purposes. But I’ve been involved in commercial and non-profit direct mail since 1973. So, I have a fairly informed opinion about the use of direct mail.

    In addition, I’ve been involved with evangelistic efforts which have used direct mail.

    With all that said, I pretty much agree with what Jay has said about using direct mail for evangelism. But with a caveat.

    One of the main reasons direct mail is not a good communications channel for evangelism efforts is that those who use it for that purpose produce very poor quality direct mail.

    What most people think they know about direct mail is wrong.

    Direct mail is expensive to do well. And it’s not much cheaper to do it poorly.

    So unless you really know what you’re doing with direct mail, don’t do it.

    For example. Most people think people won’t read long letters. And in a sense that may be true. But what is also true is that the people who don’t respond to direct mail are the people who don’t read long letters. If people are interested in what you have to say, and you say it well, people will read long letters. And the ones who read long letters are the ones most likely to respond to direct mail.

    Conclusion? Write long letters, but write them really well.

    The agency where I work (as COO) regularly tests 4 page letters verses 8 page letters. 8 page letters almost always work better, even though they cost a little more to produce and mail.

    In addition, as Jay implies, people change their mind about issues such as faith, very gradually, typically over an extended time period. And most congregations do not have the financial resources, or writing skills to maintain a direct mail program for a long time.

    Love others the way Jesus loves us — that will change people.

  2. Mark says:

    I want to add one more:
    Google your church’s name and look through the list of links and then read deeply into them if they are message boards and/or posts where people can comment. You might be shocked at what you find and even what you might read about yourself or your (former) leadership colleagues. Some of the comments may pertain to long-gone ministers but no one knows that. Some of the sites can be where mothers exchange info about child care centers, pediatricians, and churches too. Today, a lot of people comment on message boards first if/when they aren’t sure someone in leadership would listen to them or do anything about a problem since it would likely include talking to/admonishing one of their friends.

  3. Alan says:

    I want to suggest one method of direct mail that may be of benefit to some of your readers. At one church where I preached, we did a direct mail prayer campaign (and we are preparing to do the same where I currently serve). We first obtained a mailing list of all families in our community. These can be purchased from several companies. With some companies, you can even put in your church address and get a list of all homes within a 2-mile radius (or whatever other distance you want). We were a small town and there were about 7000 homes in the entire city. The cost was several hundred dollars for the list. We then printed these names and addresses on mailing labels and gave them to everyone in the church who signed up to commit themselves to praying for 50 families every day for a month. At the end of that month, they used the mailing labels to send a personalized letter to each family they had been praying for. We did not see a large influx of visitors as a result, but we did get a good response from the community and I think gave the community a more positive impression of the church. The additional benefit was increasing the church’s awareness of the needs of the community around them.

    The letter we sent:

    Greetings!

    As a member of the xxx Church of Christ, I want to take a moment and let you know that for the past month I have specifically and deliberately included you and all those in your household in my daily prayers. What’s more important for you to know, though, is not who prayed for you, but the fact that you and your household have been covered in prayer every day during the month of August.

    I want you to know that I have specifically prayed for physical protection for you and your family, for broken relationships to be reconciled, for healing of health problems, for provision of financial needs, for reduction of stress, and for God to grant you a greater awareness of His presence in your life.

    It may be that you have encountered some type of blessing or positive experience over the last six weeks and knowing life, you have probably encountered some difficulties as well. It is my hope that my prayer on your behalf has served to bless and strengthen you and all those in your household in the midst of riding the roller coaster of life.

    I hope that you’ll take a moment to reflect on your experiences over the past month and consider the impact of the prayers prayed for you and your household.

    Sunday, September 14th, has been designated as a “Friends and Neighbors Day” at the xxx Church of Christ. I want to personally invite you and your family to join us for one of two special worship services that day. We will have worship services at 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. We also invite you to attend our Bible classes (for all ages) at 9:30 a.m.

    Should you have any questions, I hope you won’t hesitate to call our church office at xxx. Or e-mail us at xxx. May God continue to bless and enrich your life!

  4. eddodds says:

    Jay: I think the opportunity to make the most of your suggestions are around two concepts: 1) are the elders doing spiritual gift inventories of members on an on-going basis; to wit, are they counseling them to see their individual ministries in the congregation and are they laying hands on them and ordaining|commissioning them (ya know, that New Testament stuff we say we practice)? 2) Is your directory updated to modern social media standards? by which I mean, if I need to find a family law lawyer in the congregation can I discover this from the (hopefully online) directory? Can I find out who has the skill to plant a community garden? Can the youth determine who the go to guy or gal is if they need a formal mentorship to learn about college, trade school, unions, guilds, associations, civic clubs (you know that real world networking skill and platform). If these elements exist, then visitors can much more seamlessly and transparently be plugged into the congregational family, imo.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Ed D,

    are the elders doing spiritual gift inventories of members on an on-going basis; to wit, are they counseling them to see their individual ministries in the congregation and are they laying hands on them and ordaining|commissioning them (ya know, that New Testament stuff we say we practice)?

    We used to do this, but stopped a very long time ago. Practice ended before my term as elder began. Maybe it just went out of fashion??

    Anyway, can you recommend a good tool for making such assessments? I took one and came out a “prophet.” Well, the other elders still treated as a fallible human and I was very, very offended 😉 I almost called fire and brimstone down on them. But then God gave me a vision …

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Ed D and other readers,

    Really quite serious about needing a gifts-assessment tool.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Ed D,

    2) Is your directory updated to modern social media standards? by which I mean, if I need to find a family law lawyer in the congregation can I discover this from the (hopefully online) directory? Can I find out who has the skill to plant a community garden? Can the youth determine who the go to guy or gal is if they need a formal mentorship to learn about college, trade school, unions, guilds, associations, civic clubs (you know that real world networking skill and platform). If these elements exist, then visitors can much more seamlessly and transparently be plugged into the congregational family, imo.

    That is such a good idea! I may have to turn over writing duties to you.

    One quibble: Even though I’m a lawyer and represent some members of my congregation, I don’t think people should necessarily prefer members in their business. First, there are a whole lot more Christians who aren’t members of my church, and I’d like to represent some of them, too. Golden Rule and all that.

    Actually, that was second. First is: Don’t we need to interacting with non-members so we can testify about Jesus? I’m lousy at it, but many find it easy to invite the guy cutting the grass or their hair dresser or even their lawyer to church. Then again, I like my friends at church, trust them, and enjoy doing business with them. I just don’t want people to join so they can sell me life insurance. (Can we make life insurance and AmWay ineligible for the directory?)

    What excites me about your suggestion is that it will help the members to learn each other. They can not only learn names but learn that X likes to turkey hunt or hit baseballs in the local batting age or needs help because she has a bad back. The Internet is a powerful thing — which God has given us to serve his Kingdom, in my view.

    PS — Readers, such info should be password protected, especially the names of minors. Lots predators out there. And getting a password should be easy — but only for members. Make sure every week’s bulletin says how — or that the website itself does. If you don’t get passwords out, you’re wasting your time.

    And write me a post 1500 words or less on either topic, I’ll post it or them.

    (Ed caught me in a rare mood. It may not happen again. But I can’t teach what I do not know, and these are fields I need to learn from someone else and that would be powerful for my own church. He got me at “laying on hands on them” — so biblical and so rare.)

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    David and Alan,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m not expert on advertising. I’m astonished — ASTONISHED — that research says an 8 page letter is better than 4. That’s so outside conventional wisdom.

    Then again, when I first moved to Tuscaloosa, the local non-institutional church used to send out a lengthy direct mail piece. I read them all — but I’m odd that way. That church has since closed its doors (many members left to found a church that is doing quite well despite its non-institutional slant).

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    David and Alan,

    I’ll be reposting your comments as a regular post on the 19th.

    Thanks for the excellent advice.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Mark,

    Good counsel indeed. In fact, churches should keep internal messaging behind a password-protected firewall. Too easy for private info to be read by some criminal. Child molesters are very clever that way. And identity theft is bigger than ever. And don’t air your dirty laundry in public, as the old saying goes.

  11. eddodds says:

    Since the command to despise not prophecy shows up inordinately often in the NT, I know you are not making too light of the “prophet” designation just because this is a cause of cognitive dissonance given a Stone-Campbelly background, it does not mean the tool you were using was inaccurate — but possibly that it’s definition of prophecy runs a little closer to http://www.renewgyn.com/Resources/Bickle_Growing-Prophetic(1).pdf Since the Spirit gifts whom he wills, whether it fits our received doctrine or not, I pass along the above link.

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Ed,

    I’m very happy to be thought of as a “prophet” — well, it sounded cool until I read all the stuff God put poor Ezekiel through and that every prophet was martyred. But it’s a great way to win a theological argument. I just pull out the survey results and point to the word “prophet”! Almost as good as quoting from the Greek.

    PS — the Jews taught that there were different levels or measures of prophecy. Not really the same as the McGarvey “measures of the Spirit” teaching. But not all prophets had the same measure of the Spirit as an Isaiah or Ezekiel. Some of us are more on the Jonah level — called but not happy about it. Others are more Agabus — not nearly as authoritative as an apostle.

    PPS — Personally, I see my gifting, if I’m gifted at all, is as a teacher. That was a revered office in the early church and it seems to fit better than prophet. And the odds of martyrdom are much better …

  13. eddodds says:

    Yep, on the martyrdom thing. Teaching Elders (as Pastors [double honored, heavens!!!]) along with outward facing evangelists (vs “Preachers” who largely just edify the already believing) are a needful thing in ‘Murican culture. That said, re: prophet, if Baruch could have gotten Jeremiah to blog his own material instead of having to take dictation… I just began looking into the Bart & Alex tension on the role of Holy Spirit at the beginning of the SC movement. I greatly appreciate your postings, btw.

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