August 2001, 20 years ago, a very naive Canadian moved from a big secular agency job to the US to work for churches. I was switching audiences: Canadian to American and businesses to churches. Why was I naive? Because I didn’t fully understand that the church focus would be quite different. Here are 20 other surprising things I learned over the 20 years since starting my Be Known for Something agency for church branding and communication strategy. Many are eye-opening!
- Many Pastors are entrepreneurially minded. This is good. This bad. Changing my focus away from CEOs, Presidents, and VPs of marketing to Pastors, I quickly saw similarities. Good Pastors and entrepreneurs have a talent for living in the future. That’s how God allows them to cast vision and reach for goals. The bad though? They often overlook details of today’s tasks and discourage team members tasked with keeping things operating now. That’s why most need help!
- Few understand how difficult it is to Pastor and lead a church. A Pastor has to juggle many things that seminary didn’t prepare them for (ie. communication, marketing, finances, management, team-building) — all while maintaining biblical study and sermon prep. Meanwhile, popular culture is driving people away from most spiritual discussions. Pastors often feel lonely. I’ve loved encouraging Pastors and motivating them towards rewarding communication goals!
- It’s difficult to reach outward when the congregation is so needy. Secular salespeople understand how to concentrate on an external “potential” audience. That’s why churches need to love and serve their community in a relevant way. God placed them in the community to reach them! But often the internal audience requires so much attention that leadership focuses on programs and appeasing members. This will usually kill growth and evangelistic opportunities. Our members need to be trained on how to pivot from inward ministry to outward missions.
- Pastors are slow to criticize internal work but quick to judge outside suppliers. Because of low budgets, much ministry work needs to happen by volunteers and lower-paid staff. Over time, leadership accepts mediocrity. When they finally can pay experts to fix and improve things; they become overly critical with unrealistic goals. Lackluster things they’ve approved for years now have to be perfect. As an outside agency approaching these expectations, it doesn’t feel like a partnership — instead, we feel like we’ll never create the expected miracles (short of Supernatural intervention). What we do will take time. Take the advice of those you hire (you hire experts, right?)
- Most communities aren’t aware of what churches are doing. People living near our churches drive past our parking lots and don’t give you a thought. Studies show that almost half of the people living nearby have very little interest in church activities. What a shame! This is what I’ve invested my life to change. We need to become known for relevant things that connect to Jesus. Let’s become known for love again — like Jesus commanded His disciples (John 13:35)!
- Most Church Members can’t recall a good reason they attend. This is our connected audience! They should know why they attend (or we risk them leaving or not attending regularly). Over the years of asking people in church focus groups, I get silence. The church needs to control the language and reasons by consistently telling members. So they’ll know what to say when a co-worker or neighbor asks why they go to church. That’s what marketing is! It all starts by discovering (and then using) your church branding thread!
- Communication has changed drastically over 20 years. Most churches haven’t adjusted. Everyone consumes information differently now. Thanks to the internet with the amount of available information, people can’t keep up with it all. Even with all the new communication tools available! As an expert who focuses on the changes, I find it difficult to know the new channels and tools; let alone keep up with the psychology and process of communication. It’s unrealistic that a Pastor or church content creator can keep up PLUS do a good job juggling everything else. What’s worse? Communication changes aren’t slowing down. You need an expert to coach you.
- Church websites rarely have good organization. Anyone seeking something online wants the information as quickly as possible. The average web engagement lasts only 30 seconds. Not a lot of time! It all relies on effective web structure and organization. People need to quickly look at menus and instantly know what you’re offering them (what they need). And the hierarchy of content needs to correspond to where they look; prioritizing the top of pages and the left side of pages. Fully utilizing established SEO rules (download SEO Cheatsheet now)
- Churches are good at stopping a conversation and poor at starting one (engagement). I’ve led church improvisational groups. The cardinal rule? Never say something that stops a conversation. Always allow others to pivot from your conversation. Pastors usually preach in a way that ends the discussion since it would be impractical to have instant feedback from the pews. Every church needs to figure out how to start engagement with members and the community; on social, at guest services, on the website. Church communication is all about engagement. Lead it!
- Church logos rarely have what it takes to be embraced. Most church logos struggle with simplicity and design. Would you want to wear your church’s logo on a cap or tee? Your car bumper? Many Pastors wouldn’t do it with their own logo! The true test? Would your community? Your logo needs to be simple and relevant enough that someone near your church would be excited to get (and use) a coffee mug with it emblazoned on the side. It’s a high standard! Here is our portfolio of some logos we’ve created over the years.
Want the last 10 in our 20 surprising things that I’ve learned over 20 years at a Church Branding Agency? They’re posted here.