We expect a lot of our digital tools today and many articles on social media and various forms of digital advertising and outreach cause us to assume that if we simply use the latest tool and use it in a certain way, we will have people flocking to our church. While there is no denying that many of these tools are powerful and engaging, if you aren’t getting the response you want, it may not be the fault of your tools. It may be when you are holding your church service. Call it “Retail Church.” Let me clarify what I mean and then offer some suggestions for getting your digital communications and advertising in line with the reality of your church.
I recently re-read Tony Morgan’s, Thursday Is the New Sunday, a thought-provoking article that underscores something I’ve encouraged churches to do for a long time and that is to have a service on a day other than Sunday. From the article, here are some of his statistical reasons for doing this:
A third of the American workforce works on the weekend. At least 60 percent of families with children between the ages of 6 – 17 take part in organized sports, with many of those having weekend events. We are in an area where a large number of people have camps/vacation homes that affect their attendance during the summer. Throw in both parents working and chores to be done, lawns to be mowed and families just wanting to spend time together, and church on the weekend wasn’t always making it on the calendar.
My husband and I have served in churches in bi-vocational roles for many years and now, to support our ministry habits, my husband sells manufactured homes. A majority of his work (and I help) takes place on weekends and Sunday afternoons. With all we do at church I sometimes find myself dreading having to put in the hours at church on Sunday before continuing to work the rest of the day. Though we do it, we don’t have to juggle children at home or in activities into the mix. If we had that, church on Sunday would most likely be impossible.
Work schedules are not a choice for many people today. Most employers today don’t consider wanting to go to church a valid reason to take the day off.
Application to our digital communications
Before I make some other suggestions (and I urge you to read the article above for their great ideas), an important thing for church communicators to realize is that no matter how hard you work to communicate about an event or program at your church, no matter how complete the social media campaign or how compelling the graphic design of your online marketing materials, if the only time your ministry is offered is on Sunday morning, many of your target audience simply cannot attend.
I recently heard a church leader talking about how one program on Sunday morning had very low attendance and his solution to this was to have the Pastor announce it more often and more forcefully. I didn’t even bother to comment as I knew the church he referred to give the announcements before the service started and most people were still walking in and didn’t hear any of the verbal announcements, no matter how important they might be. In addition, pastoral authority to motivate people is not what it used to be — people may like and admire their pastor, but authority figures in any area of life have little influence on behavior today.
Beyond these reasons, even if people did listen to the announcements and do what the pastor suggested most of the time, if their child has a game or they must work on Sunday, attendance simply isn’t an option. Following are some ideas that may help make your church reality something your digital communications can successfully support.
Suggestions for change
Years ago when churches started to realize the importance of church held a day other than Sunday I was inspired by a church that was near a very large mall. Many of their members worked there and always had to work through the weekends. To serve their people, the church had an alternate service on Monday nights (many restaurants are closed then and stores had shorter hours) they called it “Retail Church.”
It was a HUGE success, not only because regular members who worked at the Mall could attend, but because the church cared enough to offer it, many other came who wouldn’t normally go to church.
Your community will likely have specialized needs and you will need to come up with the days or times that will be best for the people you want to reach.
Some communities with large college-age groups who stay up late for social activities or who for other reasons don’t like to get up early, have had success with a Sunday night service. When we were doing Single Adult ministries, for a time we had a service on Friday night that included either a meal or refreshments and it was very popular with Singles who wanted an alternative to being alone on Friday night or going to a bar.
If doing another service seems overwhelming for the staff, you might consider alternate services led by lay people. The staff may not be able to handle all the demands, but there may be many in your church who could do that. Give the service the same status as the Sunday morning service so people don’t think they have to go to both. It isn’t about a “professional” service vs. a “lay” service, but about reaching the largest number of people for Jesus — no matter what day or time we hold the service.
We’ve make extraordinary progress in the tools we have to communicate about and market our church services, let’s make sure we hold church services at times our audience can attend.