How to Communicate the Launch of a New Church, Part 1
What can we learn about church multisite strategy from the business world? As a communications specialist for churches, I am always looking at what's going on in our culture at large, not just within the church world, to help churches communicate clearly and carry out their mission.
What are companies doing? What are stores doing? What are coffee shops doing? We want to learn from them what we can and apply those lessons to our ministries and churches.
You could say many businesses are already doing “multisite.” Think about Chick-fil-A. In 2017, Chick-fil-A surpassed 2,000 locations with a brand that fosters strong fans of their food, but also their hospitality and service.
How do they do it? Here are two key questions that help point the way to Chick-fil-A’s success in launching new sites:
1. How does their mission play out?
Chick-fil-A’s mission is “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.” In other words, they want to be about more than just selling chicken. They want to be a part of the customers' lives and the communities in which they serve.
Discover the best practices of the church multisite model, including when and where to expand and how to teach across campuses.
You see this in their employees, how they are always ready to serve and never want you to feel like you are asking too much. You see it in the drive-through experience and the way they engage with the community. Their hospitality is a hallmark of the Chick-fil-A experience. In all of these ways, you see the mission in action through their people as well as their product.
2. What are the tactics they use to open a new store in a new community?
When a new Chick-fil-A is opening up, so much happens behind the scenes. (The same is true for churches.) They do market research. They conduct feasibility studies. They work to get to know the community and the local market. They ask what success will be. “What might it look like to be successful in this specific location?” They purchase land, they secure space, they hire and train staff.
The list goes on detailing the work that happens before the doors ever open. Social media, online communication, traditional media, billboards, signage, mailers, events, coupons...all in order to generate buzz and anticipation. (You can read about the three phases of communication in Part 2 of this article.)
Two Lessons for Multisite Churches
How do these strategies and principles apply to churches that are considering going multisite? I see two major lessons church leaders can learn from Chick-fil-A’s success as a “multisite” business:
Lesson 1: Know your mission. Before you can organize or communicate anything about a new church launch, you must understand your church's mission and the vision of why you're going multisite. Why are you launching a location? Know the “why” and then very clearly communicating the “why” to your key leaders, to your congregation, to those who will become your fans. Nail down the why and then start to tell compelling stories about the mission behind your church.
On a regular basis, ask yourself and talk as a team about these kinds of questions:
- What is your church’s mission and priorities for the future?
- Why is your church going multisite?
- Who else needs to know?
- How do you know others—your staff, your congregation, the community—get it?
If the mission and the “why” are unclear for you as a leader, if it's a mist or vague for you, it's going to be a fog to the congregation and the community. It’s not enough to talk about mission once a year or even once a quarter. Consistently and clearly communicate your mission, again and again.
Lesson 2: Know your audiences. Who are the people already in your church that you can challenge to be a part of the launch? Maybe because of where they live or work, their age or stage of life, who is going to be a core part of your launch effort? This is an internal audience you’ll want to identify, and then create on-ramps for them to be part of your launch.
Who are the external audiences? We know that many people come to church for the first time on the arm of a friend. This creates an opportunity to rally your congregation to reach out to friends and family who are in the community near the new location. You can also focus on the neighbors of your new location. What can you do in that geographic community to connect and start building relationships?
A word of caution: sometimes we identify the audiences, but then we jump to what we need to communicate and the tactics that we are going to use. Be sure you’re not skipping the essential question, “What do we know about these audiences?”
Have you considered:
- Where do they live?
- Where do they work?
- Where do their kids go to school?
- What keeps them up at night?
- What unmet needs do they have in their life?
- What brings them joy? What stresses them out?
Answering these questions, along with clearly communicating your mission and vision, will prepare you to connect with your audiences and plan the launch of a successful new location.
About Leah Norton
Leah Norton serves as Director of Client Strategy & Partner at Fishhook, an Indianapolis-based communications agency that collaborates with churches. Her best days at Fishhook are partnering with church leaders to help a church or ministry brand and cast vision, build an engaging online presence, connect with guests and others in the community, and clearly communicate so that more people will take next steps to grow in their faith. Leah’s 20-year communications career has included both corporate communications and public relations agency work. She has been helping to grow and lead the team at Fishhook for the past 12 years. An accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, Leah is a graduate of Anderson University (Anderson, IN). She and her family are active at Northview Church where they helped to launch and serve at Northview’s fifth campus on the northeast side of Indianapolis. They serve each week by helping with set up, guest services, and social media for this location.