This advice is for pastors and churches. I make it out to pastors, but it does not matter who sees it. I may continue this series as I gain more "insight." However, as of today, here are some nuggets for your chewing pleasure. By the way, I have been guilty of many of these on occasion. It is okay if you are guilty today, just know how it looks to others and think about it.
- You are not that cool. So, don't try to be. Just be yourself. As Ben Folds says, there is Always Someone Cooler Than You (read the song, embrace it). Sure, you might be cooler than Pastor Fred from First Antioch Baptist Church of God in your graphic t-shirt, but don't try to impress me with your love of Coldplay, 24 or twitter. I would think you were edgier if you told me you were into Sacred Harp singing, cultural anthropology and folk dancing.
- Don't try to impress me with your technology. Keep it simple and straightforward. You will always be behind the world, so don't try to keep up with Google or U2. It is distracting.
- Wear shirts that fit. Don't raid Ed Young, Jr.'s wardrobe. Please. Heck, put on a freakin' suit if you need to. And, if you like those tight shirts, lose weight.
- Don't make judgments regarding the Christian faith of celebrities, unless they are personal friends of yours. We don't care if you think Bono, Kanye or Jessica Simpson is a Christian. In fact, keep your mouth shut about celebs. It usually gets the best of us in trouble.
- Speaking of clothes... don't dress like an absolute bum. But, conversely, don't look like you spend too much time, money and product on your clothing, shoes, tight t-shirt, hair or glasses. People notice. And they are not as impressed as you think they are. They are looking for a pastor they can connect with, not take to the club. At the same time, you are a role model... Act like it.
- Don't try to do everything. If you are leading worship, preaching, making announcements, praying, telling everyone what to do and leading multiple small groups, then you are doing too much. It tells us you have a huge ego, are not a good leader or you don't trust your people. Spread it around, even if does not go as well as it does when you do it.
- Make people feel welcome, but don't make them walk a gauntlet to get into church.
- Make sure people notice the new people. Don't scare them, but let them know you notice and care.
- Make sure the nursery, child care area is manned by competent, FRIENDLY, helpful volunteers. Don't ignore new kids in favor of favorite kid. Make sure family of new kid feels comfortable leaving kids there... like you have it together. If not, don't offer anything. And for goodness sake, be honest about what you have (or don't have) for kids on your website!
- When people come one time, don't just add them to an email or snail mail list. This is nothing more than spam and it pisses people off. I now have an inbox clogged with crap from churches I will never attend (that is why I always give churches the same email I give marketers).
- When you contact first time visitors (and yes... You Should), make sure it is personal. Make sure it does not sound like a form letter (once we got a letter from the pastor of a medium sized church- it was typed with our names handwritten and the pastor's signature copied). Don't just add them to that list (ask permission!!).
- If a visitor repeats, make sure they feel at home. Notice them. Tell them you are glad they came back, even if (like me) they try to sneak out. Let them sneak out visit one. Catch them on visit two. If they came back 2nd time, you did not offend them the 1st. They put you in the "maybe" category instead of the "no" file. In fact, the 2nd visit is more important than the 1st. If you blow it, it is usually you, not them.
- If a visitor shows interest, don't blow them off. Don't forget about them. Stay on top of the contact and don't play hard to get. You are not the hot chick from 8th grade when they are in 7th. You are the pastor. Pursue, but be respectful.
- Smoke machines and rambling guitar/ drum solos... NO.
- Do not try to sound like the latest hit band. You are probably not as good. Put some effort into your lyrics. Please! If you are not theologically minded, find someone that is. Just cause it sounds good and makes you FEEL close to God, does not mean it sustains or has any spiritual depth.
- Unless you want a bunch of brain dead consumers, the preaching and lyrics of the music must be challenging, but not guilt inducing. Think about the entire service. You have a liturgy. Embrace it and make it better. Don't just sing, preach, take money, tell people stuff. When serving communion, take it seriously. Do it less and do it right! Explain it. Heck.. explain everything. Teach us stuff. Don't assume anything!
- Offer some snacks and coffee, but don't brag about it. Wow! You have Starbucks. I will now come to your church. I mean, you just saved me $2.00 per week. What a bargain. Conversely, if you have fair trade (and you should!), let us know. And, don't just offer fattening donuts. You are a church and gluttony is a sin.
- Be green. Be careful with paper, trash, etc. Recycle and let us know.
- If you cannot preach, get someone who can. Take a class. Don't experiment on me.
- Your church should not try to do everything. You cannot do it all well. And, don't brag about stuff you should be doing anyway. Don't brag about stuff you really are not doing (especially on the website. It should be an honest account of who you are, not who you want to be). Just let us know what you have going on and how to get involved.
- If you actually value the place of women in your church, give them something to do besides greeter, nursery or back up singer. Your words betray you.
- Don't just talk to people you know and like. Talk to new people, but don't pressure them and don't act desperate (apologies for how things are never help).
- Value the feedback of visitors. Don't ignore their ideas. They may teach you something that will help you in your journey.
- Value your people and visitors as much as you value your own voice, insight and vision. If you do not, you may seem like an arrogant -----.
- Borrow from other preachers and churches. However, site sources. Don't steal without giving credit. Someone you stole from may show up and notice. If you borrow from the world (Starbucks, television, etc.), acknowledge it. We already noticed.
And last... stop trying to make your church seem so cool. It is not. It is church. Church does not equal cool. Your marketing should be honest, not an attempt to show how cool and "with it" you are. The more you try, the worse you look. Just tell us who you are and invite us along for the ride. I have seen too many churches trying to be cool and being inauthentic. If you are a suburb church, don't act like a city church. If you are all suburbanites, we will notice when you move your church into the city to be edgy and then drive home to suburbia. If you don't like poor people, justice and art do not fake it just to make us come to your church. You have turned important things into marketing points and propaganda. We notice when you are faking it, probably before you do.
* this comes from multiple visits to numerous churches. Many of the insights surround a church we long ago for a month or so, to never venture back into. If you think this is about you, it is probably your ego. But, then again, it might be because of you. But, it is probably about that other church down the street. But, if this sounds like you, think about it and consider changing.
Understand, this is not a bitter or mean post. This is me wanting to let churches know some of their best laid plans and attempts are not working. They look goofy and fake to many, but people are not honest with you (us). We are the naked Emperor and people are not letting us know we are naked. They are just ignoring us, tolerating it because they don't think the church is capable of doing it beter, putting up with us because they like us or never setting foot back in our churches again.