Over the past few weeks I've had several conversations with colleagues about my efforts at marketing over Holy Week that seem to go kind of like this:
Me: (In my passionate, crazy-Tay voice) You would not believe how easy it was to set up a Facebook marketing Campaign... blah blah blah
Expert: (Cautiously) Yeah, but you can't advertize unless you have something to invite people, to. We need to make our churches more (Holy/Welcoming/Understandable/Word-focused/Sacrament-focused/Jesus-focused/Holy-Spirit-focused/Good-for-Kids/Loving etc.)
That last part depends entirely on the biases of the person I'm talking to, but it always causes me to do a mental check about whether my church is, indeed, the place I say it is. And like many parish clergy I'm probably pretty brutal in my assessment, or perhaps I'm impossibly optimistic. It's actually really hard to tell how many trees are in this forest when you are in it. The point of view of outsiders thus becomes very important for those of us seeking to draw people to a faithful-following of Jesus in our particular communities.
One such perspective comes from NCD (Natural Church Development). It has it's quirks, but is generally a good tool for measuring congregational health along multiple-axis. I know from that my congregation is generally pretty healthy. I know that we are really good at the "Loving Relationships" piece and need the most improvement in "Passionate Spirituality." That is, to what degree do people find that what we do on Sunday connects with their everyday life. Are they excited about God? And over the past year I've done a lot of work on this area, so I'll be curious to see whether our results haven't risen some.
Another is the perspective of church "experts" who encounter our community in their professional lives. An example of this sort of person would be our NCD coach, whom I ran into at the Episcopal Election on Saturday. She was very excited to hear about what I've learned about digital evangelism this Easter and wants to know more. I told her about the Messiah Commons project and that made her even more excited. She then told me about how perfectly that fits into the style and gifts of the Messiah community. She talked about how our community is so open to experimenting and trying new things and I thought to myself, "Yes. That's us." Sure, I've discerned that before, but to hear someone with a bit of distance and experienced-based-perspective is incredibly validating.
Another example of how you can assess what you are inviting people to is the experience of random visitors on any given Sunday. A few weeks ago a visitor, who has since become a member, was deeply impressed at the work I've done to make our church visible in the digital realms. He loved the fact that he got our service times right away from googling, and that our website renders beautifully on his smart phone. That just made my day in a HUGE way.
Today we had a family visiting that I know only from Facebook. The dad said to me when he shook my hand before the service, "This is monumental--I've never come to church just because of Facebook before!" They live outside of the city and belong to a church there, they only attend downtown occasionally. After the service he told me several things that made me glow with pride. First, he talked about our coffee hour: "Yours in a truly welcoming community." I pushed him to clarify and say more and he ended up telling me about how his predominate experience of Anglican Church coffee hours is one of cliquishness and that he was impressed with how open and friendly we all were. Second, he said that "Although you guys are a small church, you are remarkably complete." I asked him what he meant about this, as well, as he talked about how we seem to be doing everything. We have a beautiful worship service, good preaching (!), good community feel, a nice children's programme, and so on. It's the whole package. As he said this, his daughter was playing joyfully with some of the other kids running around the nave. Seeing our parish through his eyes, I just beamed. Yeah, we're small, but we have a really awesome thing going on here, and I'm quite pleased to invite people into it.
So the next time some well-meaning colleague tries to tell me that I need "get my house in order" before my church dare invite people, I'm gonna smack 'em with a rolled up leaflet!