How to Make Your Church Relevant Within Your Local Community
What is context in your community? What surrounds your church? Are you in the inner city? Are you in an affluent suburb? Do you have major employers that have moved to town or have moved from town? Is there a big plant closing? What are your demographics? Are you in Jerusalem or Judea or Samaria, or are you the end of the earth? Your context is what surrounds you. It is your culture.
Winning Others Over
Communicating in context is Organizational Woo (Winning Others Over). Woo should always be about advancing the relationship forward. I would challenge that many times churches are more concerned about what they want to say than how the audience will receive it, especially when talking about the community surrounding them. The language churches put on their websites pretty quickly gets to issues of sanctification and redemption—foreign words to non-church-going people. Churches need to look and listen for what their audience is giving them, the people they’re trying to reach and reflecting that back. Speak their language to win them over.
As you think about your language, get specific. If you're using language about the “lost,” that’s not specific. But, the language around people in addiction; people struggling in families with divorce or blended families; people who are suicidal—this gets more specific and people can connect with that better.
Think about how the church tends to talk about helping people who are struggling financially. They offer them “financial freedom” classes. No one that you’re talking to in your context is talking to their buddy saying, “You know what I need? I need me some good financial freedom!” They're more specific. They're talking about the checkbook's a mess, fighting with their spouse around money. I run out of money before I run out of week! Get specific about the language you're using.
You can view Evan's full presentation on communicating within your context here:
When we do discovery sessions with churches who are investing in a new brand, we ask questions about their demographic that helps us understand what is familiar to them. Questions like: Where do they shop? Where do they work? Where do they go on vacation? If you're in a community where the demographic tends to vacation at the same beach in Florida each year, their brand will be much different from the church whose demographic travels to Europe on summer break. Ask your church members about the brands they’re most familiar with. Which ones conjure feelings of excitement? Fear? Anticipation?
Communicating in your context takes a discovery process. One of our clients, formerly known as Seymour First Church of the Nazarene, had some struggles with their own image, that years ago they were (and they would agree with) seen as a legalistic, closed-off kind of church. Their tagline was “we're the happy church that sings.”
They had these heavy feelings that they were still seen that way. So they had spent a decade changing many of those obstacles internally. They contacted Fishhook because they wanted to change their name. But, before we did that, we had to get familiar with their familiar.
We developed a community research assessment tool and interviewed dozens of people in their community to learn what the “outsiders” thought of this Nazarene church down the street. We discovered the community didn't care or know about Seymour First Church of the Nazarene. The church was actually completely invisible. It hardly came up in our conversations when we asked, “Can you name some churches in the area?”
What our discovery found made us and the leaders heartbroken. Seymour, Indiana is a town void of very much hope. People felt life was pointless; there was no purpose; there's no entertainment and there aren't positive free things to do. And, family after family reported that they were messed up.
Communicating in Context
The church eventually changed its name to The Point, with the tagline “Find it here.” They leaned into this hopelessness that their community feels, to offer them something better. They started doing outdoor billboard campaigns that created an invitation. The church’s front yard is full of free community events like Trunk or Treat, day camps and back-to-school events. They're helping people in their community understand that God has another way to do families.
The Point is a great example of a church that took the time to evaluate whether or not they were relevant to their community. They learned what was most important to their neighbors, and what unique value they could bring to the community.
How about your church? Do you know what matters most to the people in your surrounding area? To get familiar with the familiar, just go out and ask.
About Evan McBroom
Evan McBroom sees all of life with God as a great adventure. He wants God’s best for every church and every church leader, believing they can only become their best when they are communicating effectively. Evan is the Founder of Fishhook, a creative services agency, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, that focuses on helping churches and faith-based organizations grow their impact through improved communications. As a part of Evan’s latest adventure, he recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee and accepted the role of Creative Pastor at Connect Church in Lebanon, TN.