The fastest way to understand your target audience, is to become them. If you want to reach church visitors, take a Sunday and be one. Do not just attend a friend's church service. Begin your search with online research. Explore their social media presence. Then attend a service and see how well they integrate digital media. As you form your opinions, document your thoughts. Take these notes with you and see where you can improve your own church.
How would you feel attending a church like the one depicted in this article? This church in India looks different than ones in other parts of the world. In fact, you may not have even recognized it as a Christian church. Attending a church as different as this one might put you well out of your comfort zone. Most people reading this are paid staff, or volunteers working at a church. You may be the pastor, communications leader, or the unlucky person that is stuck maintaining the website. Either way, you have not been out of your "church comfort zone" in quite a long time.
In a recently published book titled "Unwelcome", Jonathan Malm asks his readers when they last attended a new church. This question forces us to realize that we are in fact quite comfortable with our current church. The years since we considered ourselves "new" erased our fears and answered our questions. I am asking that you first visit a new church, and document the questions you have. Then attend a service at your own church. In both cases, ask yourself the same questions. Below are some areas to consider.
Before you step foot in the church, check out their website. Does it answer your questions about the church? What ministries do they have? What is their culture? What do they believe? How easy is it to even find directions? These are probably questions you have not asked yourself in years. So get ready to write them down and ask them when viewing your own church website.
Nearly all churches engage in social media. Most display icons on their website to inform visitors what platforms they use. So what platforms do they use? How often do they post? How often are people interacting on those platforms? Do posts encourage conversation or simply broadcast information? If you follow them for a week and are unimpressed, write down why.
How well do they attempt to integrate the digital and physical world? As we know, digital publishing is often cheaper than physical. This is especially true when dealing with larger audiences. Are there nudges to sign up for digital notifications? Do they encourage you to visit them on social media? How easy is their website address to find on printed material? How easy is it to get printed material in a digital format? Hopefully you will see these gaps more clearly when attending a service at a new church.
I think it should be pretty obvious. Prayerfully consider a church to visit.. If you want to feel more at ease, find one that is like your own denomination or style. Take a notepad and pen to jot down ideas, remember names, and write addresses. If you have a smartphone, take pictures of signs and handouts that promote digital spaces. To garner more support, create a presentation to show your team and leadership. Your findings will hopefully spark a string of updates and enhancements.
Inspired by the Church Mag Podcast "Jonathan Malm Talks About 'Unwelcome'"