As Advent begins, borrow a football strategy: We>Me

Photo courtesy of Martin Davis.

Photo courtesy of Martin Davis.

By congregational consultant Martin Davis

(Read more about Martin Davis’s work at the end of this column.)

On Thanksgiving, after the last touchdown is tallied and the leftover turkey is tucked into the refrigerator, you’re going to head to church on Sunday to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent. Christmas is upon us! And that means every church in America is thinking about how to turn once-a-year visitors who attend on Christmas Eve—the biggest church-sampling opportunity each year—into more-regular attendees.

How do you plan to reach people this Advent? The strategy I’m going to share with you today springs from a slogan used by my son’s undefeated, championship-winning middle school football team. Let me tell you about “We > Me.”

Before this championship season started, my son’s coach developed a rallying cry, as most coaches do each year. We’ve seen a lot over the years, but I particularly liked this one: We > Me. The resonance with football is obvious. It’s a team game—no one player can be responsible for winning and losing. Everyone must pull in the same direction. Win or lose, you’re in it together.

The same is true when converting occasional attendees into regular members of your community. Winning these people over requires your church pulling together in the same direction. Both in terms of message, and in terms of the tools you use to communicate it. In short, you have to ask: How do “We” communicate to those who come to us?

WE VS. ME: TRULY WELCOMING HOLIDAY VISITORS

Welcoming and connecting with visitors begins with examining your current communications and what they say about who you are and how you talk together. As Advent is this coming Sunday, let’s leave the bigger questions for January and instead examine three simple things you can do to find out if you’re communicating to your visitors as “We” instead of “Me.”

COLLECTING VISITOR INFORMATION: Whatever you use to collect information about visitors, are you asking about them and their needs—or pushing your agenda? Compare a “We” visitor’s card versus a “Me” visitor’s card:

  • ME: Your card or welcoming volunteer asks visitors if they want a call or email or pastoral visit; if they have a church home; if they have a prayer request. For visitors, the first two sound like what they are—member solicitation; can we recruit you? The third is asking for very personal information before they even know you.
  • WE: Your card or welcoming volunteer points them to ways to help others during the holiday season—food delivery, wrapping presents, singing in a special choral event, etc. The message? We are a place that serves, and we need and value your special gifts.

SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN: Newcomers frequently bring children. Are you prepared?

  • ME: Shuttling the kids from their parents as quickly as possible for the sake of worship decorum. Or shuttling them out the door after the first 15 minutes of worship.
  • WE: Let the families decide. If they wish to stay together, be prepared from them in worship, in Sunday School, and in-between. If they wish to move their separate ways, make sure you walk them to where they need to go—don’t expect signs to do all the work. The message? We take care of one another.

PREACH IT (EFFECTIVELY)! Don’t be afraid to say who you are, and who you are about, from the pulpit.

ME: Sermons as usual. The message? If you aren’t from here, figure it out.

WE: As actors exaggerate their movements and volume on stage, so should ministers exaggerate who the church is. The message? We care enough not to assume you will figure it out. Take extra time to explain the worship service as it unfolds, point out how to follow the music and readings, talk about what the church is doing in the community. Loop back to what I mentioned above—that “We” message you’re delivering as you welcome visitors.

All for One

These three simple steps will allow you to speak and greet as “We.” Is it more effective? Do some simple math and find out. Did a greater percentage of new guests return in three months than they did last Advent season? If they did, you have a lot to build on. If they didn’t, why didn’t they? Did the message match your members’ actions? If you don’t know, keep better data so you can compare next Advent’s results.

Whether you “win a championship” and get lots of new members, or struggle through a tough season, you will do it together. And learn more about who you are as a community. Either way, We > Me will yield a much stronger team.

LEARN MORE FROM MARTIN DAVIS:

ReadTheSpirit works closely with nationally known church consultant and media expert Martin Davis. We publish occasional columns, sharing his wisdom with our readers—and we are working on a couple of 2014 book projects Martin is assembling, so stay tuned! Right now, you may find some of Martin’s past columns valuable …

Your Newsletter May Shock You—and These Possibilities Will Excite You: Martin writes about the transition to e-newsletters and lessons you’ll want to learn for making your e-newsletter more useful.

4 “Secrets” to a Successful Website for Your Congregation: As Martin lays out the issues, these “secrets” make a lot of sense!

Sorting Fact from Fiction in Church Growth & Social Media: Martin’s trademark style is to cut through the hype and quickly bring readers some common-sense steps toward successful communication.

Care to contact Martin Davis? Visit his Sacred Communication website to learn more.

 (Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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