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Did you know you listen every day with your eyes just as much as your ears? I listen every day as I read through Twitter posts, Facebook statuses, Instagram pictures, people watching, etc. Listening is an art, but it helps to approach it like a science.

I follow a wide variety of people on social media because I’m listening through technology – a science I learned from my friend Tony Steward. Christians, non-Christians, atheists, New Agers, Jews, Muslims, tech gurus, musicians, celebrities, churches, news outlets – you name it, I follow them. I get a pulse on culture and the world via the people and companies I follow and listen to.

“A good listener is not only popular everywhere, but after a while, he knows something.” – Wilson Mizner.

“The first duty of love is to listen.” – Paul Tillich

The thing about listening is it goes hand-in-hand with intentionality. I can only share this concept with you, but you have to put feet to it. I listen because I care. I listen because I want to learn. I listen because I want to grow.

I want to join God where He’s at work.

I often talk about having our spiritual antennas up. If your spiritual antenna is up, you won’t miss opportunities to be Christ to someone in need. In the book and study Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says, “God’s activity is far greater than anything we could aspire to do for Him.”

Listening is another way of saying being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. If we truly believe God’s activity is greater, then we would have to take steps to seek His moving.

“Watch what God does and then you do it.” – Ephesians 5:1 (MSG)

As we open our eyes, ears, and hearts and truly listen with all our ability (again this takes intentionality), we have the great privilege and opportunity of getting on the same page with our Creator and joining Him in His work and mission.

As I said in a blog post for Outreach Magazine: If you want to be truly innovative and start doing new and exciting ways of ministry you must be dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

Jeremiah 33:3 teaches us, “Call to me and I will answer you. I’ll tell you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.”

If we “call to God” and He promises to answer, this inherently requires listening on our part. God will reveal things that we would never figure out on our own, but we have to be ready, available, sensitive and actively listening.

Who are you listening to?

I was at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta recently and was having dinner with two pastors that I coach and they both said they were doing a Trunk-or-Treat this year. I told them of how we did some serious evaluation of the one at my church and wanted to make sure that we had a way of collecting information and being able to follow up with guests (as opposed to just giving out candy).

My friend Chuck Scoggins, who is the Executive Director of the Center for Church Communications (maybe you’ve heard of Church Marketing Sucks) was with me and he decided to write about how to maximize this outreach opportunity. What follows is his guest post. Enjoy!

If you’re going to go through the effort to plan a trunk-n-treat, fall festival, or whatever you call your Halloween-alternative event, make sure you have a plan in place to maximize the event by following up with them afterward. There are a variety of ways to get participants to return to your church, but one of the most effective is through an email campaign.

Below are a few tips for you to consider if you plan on leveraging an email campaign to get your trunk-n-treat families to come back to your church on a Sunday.

Collect Information

There’s no way around it: if your strategy is to use your event to get people to eventually check out your church, you have to collect their info. The key to getting folks to give you their info is to get creative, for example:

  • Give Something Away
    If you give away a compelling gift like an Amazon Echo, Apple Watch, etc. people will be quick to hand over their details as they register to win. Set it up where someone doesn’t have to be present to win as a good excuse to get an email address so you can “contact the winner.”
    Pro Tip: Make sure you state at the bottom of your registration card that by registering to win, people are giving you information to send a follow-up email.
  • Give Away Food
    Cook up some hotdogs and a have a cooler of soft drinks (sodas and water for adults, juice boxes for the kiddos) and ask folks to quickly register (name and email address only) to get their ticket or wristband for concessions.
  • Photo Booth
    Family photos can often be a compelling reason to ask folks for their contact info. Set up a backdrop with hay bales and corn stalks where a professional photographer can take a free family photo. Collect an email address so you can send folks their photo.
    Pro Tip: If you take this approach, you might choose to manually send Email 1 from below (instead of using an automatic send) to thank them for attending and attach their photo. It’s a little more work, but the results will be a huge payoff.

Start With What You Know
As you begin thinking about forming your follow-up email campaign, begin with what you know: folks who came to your fall harvest event were most-likely families. (Pro Tip: Keep in mind that families come in all shapes and sizes, so make sure your emails are mindful of that diversity.) They’re also willing to attend community events that provide benefit for their family. We also know that people will not care about your church until they know that your church cares about them.

When done skillfully, we can leverage what we know about the people in our community to send emails that serve them in such a way that we leave them with a desire to check out our church. We can reach them without a “hard sell” email.

Pro Tip: Consider a mindset shift that your goal shouldn’t be to get people to come to your church, but rather to take your church to them…where they’re at and serving the needs they have. Resist the urge to tell folks all about your church in the initial email(s) you send.

Email Sequence
An email sequence, if you’re not familiar with them, is a series of emails that automatically send at regularly-scheduled intervals when you add an email to the list. You can easily set these up in MailChimp and, for following up on your fall event, I recommend sending one email immediately, then an email once a week following the initial send.

Here is an example of six value-add emails you could send:

Email 1:
Send a very short email simply thanking them for attending. You might want to include one line that tells folks you’re going to send them five more emails that might be helpful to their family.

Let them know they can unsubscribe at any time (by giving them this permission, you’ll show that you’re trying to be helpful and not pushy). Again, resist the urge to talk about your church in this email; make it about them, not you!

Email 2: 

Find another community event that they might enjoy and tell them about it. It there a community fall festival in your area? Or, perhaps you can provide a list of pumpkin farms and corn mazes in your area.

Pro Tip: If you can find a local pumpkin farm to partner with, you might be able to work out a special deal or a free giveaway (i.e. each family gets a free pumpkin) that can be an exclusive gift for your guests.

Email 3: 

By the time you send this email, the calendar will be nearing Thanksgiving. Send an email with “Six Ways to Help Your Family Express Thankfulness Around The Thanksgiving Table.” Include tips such as “go around the table and share one thing you’re grateful for” or, “place butcher paper as the tablecloth and encourage everyone to draw what they’re thankful for with crayons.” The goal here is to be creative and give creative and fun ideas for your email recipients. You might also include a list of area Thanksgiving Day parades or other activities folks can do on Thanksgiving.

Pro Tip: Resist the urge to make this over-spiritual.

Email 4:
Use this email to continue to provide value to your trunk-or-treat guests. This email could be something simple like a generic “Keeping Your Sanity While Parenting During The Busy Holiday Season” or something similar. Make sure it’s valuable to them and not about you (it’s okay to include a few spiritual tips such as, ‘find a good church with a good children’s program,’ but avoid making this list too churchy). Your goal here is to continue to keep yourself top-of-mind for them by giving them something they can use in their everyday lives without talking to them directly about your church.

Pro Tip: Get your children’s ministry staff and volunteers involved in creating this email. They probably have a better grasp on what families struggle with during the fall holiday season than you do.

Email 5: 

If you time your emails just right (a week apart, beginning after Halloween), you should be getting close to Christmas. Use this email as a chance to give folks something like “Five Ways to Avoid Christmas Gift Overload.”

Again, make this a practical piece—not a spiritual brow-beating—where you help families navigate the pressure to go overboard. Perhaps you introduce them to the 4 Christmas Gift Challenge:

  1. Something they want
  2. Something they need
  3. Something to wear, and
  4. 4. Something to read

Perhaps you introduce them to an alternative Christmas concept like Advent Conspiracy. Or, perhaps you point them to some meaningful local charities where they can use some of their Christmas budgets to serve another family at Christmas.

Pro Tip: The most important thing to do in this email is help them navigate pressure, not add guilt or give them more stuff to do. Approach this email carefully!

Email 6: 
After you’ve provided a TON of value to your fall event guests, you now have permission to start introducing your church. However, avoid simply making this a pitchy piece inviting people to church. Instead, make an introductory statement like, “If you’ve enjoyed these emails, we’d love to introduce you to our children’s ministry.” Then, explain the benefits of your children’s programming (talk about how it’s fun, safe, etc.). Introduce your children’s ministry staff (with photos) and let people know what they can expect when they arrive (children’s check-in process, etc.).

If you can get these families to bring their children to check out your children’s ministry, you stand a great chance at getting the adults to attend your worship service and have a great shot at getting guests from your fall event to your church.

Follow-up Emails:

Christmas

If you’ve done this process well, you are probably okay to send people a simple email to invite folks to your Christmas service(s). I would encourage you to send this email 7 to 10 days prior to your Christmas service(s) and think about how to include language that talks about how folks can enjoy the traditions of Christmas while celebrating at your service(s). Help them understand the benefit to them (think: warm and fuzzies, not spiritual transformation) if they go through the “hassle” of bringing their family to church.

January

Think about some on-ramp events or programs you can invite people to with a seventh email after a few weeks have passed (maybe in January). Financial Peace University or a Family Life Marriage event or something similar is a great option.

Final Pro Tips:

  • Make sure your church’s web address is in the footer of the email in case someone wants to find out more about you on their own. Don’t make it gaudy or overbearing, but don’t neglect the opportunity to provide someone an opportunity to get more info.
  • Speaking of the website, make sure your website is stocked up with everything a newcomer would need to get the information they want. See this post about what to include on your website to help first-time guests. 
  • In the final email you send (sixth, seventh, or eighth email), include a single line at the end that says “This is the last Trunk-or-Treat follow-up email we’ll be sending you. If you’ve enjoyed this valuable content and would like to add your name to our main church email list, click here [with a link to join your main list].”
  • Use an email system, such as MailChimp, that helps you follow the CAN-SPAM laws.
  • Please don’t go cheap on your candy quantity, the quality of your soft drinks (don’t buy cheap discount store off-brand sodas), etc. Nothing is worse than a family taking the risk to bring their children to your event and them going home disappointed that they got less candy than their friends did by going door-to-door.

My prayer is that God would send many, many people to your event and that He would give you wisdom in how to best follow up with folks to eventually grow your church.

Are you a pastor or church leader with a full schedule and only limited hours in the week? If so, are you struggling to find ways to reach more first-time visitors with the limited time you have?

Being a pastor isn’t just preparing for Sunday’s message every week but the scope goes much more beyond that. And on top of all of that, you must find a way to reach more visitors and to spread the message of Christ.

There just isn’t enough hours in the week for everything a pastor must do.

And with that, I am so excited to invite you to the Church Hacks Summit to Reach More First Time Visitors!

They’ve assembled 25 of the world’s leading church first impressions, guest services, and marketing experts to teach you their secrets on how to reach more first-time visitors and grow your church.

I’m honored to kick off the Summit with the opening talk on why hospitality matters. I’ll be making the Biblical case for why you should take this area of ministry seriously.

This is going to be a free online event (no travel) for equipping your church with proven systems and strategies to connect with new first time visitors in your community! We’ll show you how your church can be a magnet for first-time visitors without being gimmicky, breaking the bank, or setting unrealistic expectations.

And the best part of the Church Hacks Summit is that it is 100% absolutely free! If this is something you’re interested in, just click this link and register today! And if you know somebody that would benefit from this Summit, make sure to let them know.

I spend a lot of time with pastors around the country. I get asked all kinds of questions. I’ll write another day about more in-depth communications strategy. Today, I want to write about one of the most common things I say to churches. Here it is:

Always point people to your church’s website. Always. 

Before I finished this post, I took a quick poll of pastor friends of mine. I texted them and said, “Am I the only one that says this or is that what you also do with your church’s strategy?” They all agreed it’s the same for them, too. It’s what I always encourage pastors with when I consult with their church.

Think mobile. Why? Because people will check your mobile website out (most likely) first – before they sit at their computer and look. I’ve written in the past about being mobile. Let me just say this is HUGE. You have to have a mobile website or responsive design these days.

What are some examples of how this aforementioned principle plays out?

  • Your church’s receptionist and voicemail: When I call your church’s voicemail (and I do), I want to hear your service times and directions FIRST and then point me to your church website. You can list the departments and team members’ extensions later. When I call during the day and talk to your receptionist, she needs to be friendly, personable and knowledgeable. She shouldn’t have to ask someone for help answering a question. They need to know the services times, directions/address and they should ALWAYS say, “Please check us out online at www.yourchurch.com.
  • Social Media: Your social media reaches out to your community (and the world) and allows you to connect with your members, their friends, and family. How you use social media is a topic for another post (and others have covered this in great detail), but make sure your social media points people back to your church’s website.
  • Bulletin or Worship Guide: Guests don’t want to be overwhelmed with too much information on their first visit. It’s too much. Always remember: Less is more! Be selective about what you put in your worship guide and ALWAYS list your church’s website and point people to it. That is where they sign up anyway.
  • Announcements: Whether or not a church should have announcements in their service is a topic for another day, but whether you do live announcements, announcement slides, or pre-recorded video announcements, make sure you ALWAYS point people to your church’s website. Don’t stand up and make 10 announcements. Please stop. Please don’t. If you say anything, say something like, “If you’re looking for ways to get involved or plugged in here at Your Church, check us out online at www.YourChurch.com and you can find out what’s going on.” It’s concise, succinct, efficient, and effective. It’s actually more concise than that last sentence and more effective than if you announced each and every one of your announcements or listed them all in your bulletin (see above). To read some really great and well-thought-out thoughts on announcements, read Phil Bowdle’s blog post on the subject. I agree with everything he said.

Why?

Because we get such precious little time in front of, or on the phone with, or via social media to make a connection with people. The stage or platform, the phone, and your church’s social media channels are not the places to hit people with a ton of information or announcements.

What does a pastor speaking, a phone call, and a church’s social media channels all have in common? They are all highly relational. The worst thing you can do with any of those outlets is bombard people with tons of information. Please don’t be broadcast-only on social media.

Dave Adamson recently said that at North Point Church they strive to use more questions marks than periods. “Facebook is a social network, which means that conversation is central to the platform and the best way to create a conversation is to ask a question.” – Nils Smith

Communication matters. How and what we communicate matters more. 

Do I believe in social media? Absolutely! Check out my social media channels. They’re very active. I use social media to connect with people – your church should, too. Church Facebook pages are wonderful. Interact with your congregation and community and respond to all comments.

However, your Facebook page doesn’t have a listing of your staff (with pictures) – it doesn’t have your Vision, Values, Beliefs, your church’s story, What to Expect page, etc. I could go on and on. Your church’s website (when used properly) is a gold mine of really important and relevant information.

Next Level:

Once people come to your church website, please encourage them to sign up for email updates (this is a genius add-on idea from my friend Nils Smith) and THEN you can keep the congregation informed on all that’s going on. Get it? There is a time and place for everything. And your church’s website is THE place to point your people to. You’ll get more “bang for your buck” – if that makes sense.

I’m telling you the same thing I tell all churches. I hope you’ll take this to heart and make the necessary changes. Let’s be clear, concise, and effective communicators of good news!

*** I go into more detail on this and other things I consult on in my book Secrets of a Secret Shopper.

It’s 2pm on a Thursday and you are knee-deep in your sermon preparation and coming down the homestrech. The energy, caffeine, and momentum is just right – you feel you’ll finish before 6pm and make it home in time for supper.

Then it happens: You get that knock on your door and look up to see someone standing in your doorway saying, “Do you have a moment?” – they’re not interrupting your work. They ARE your work.

Ministry is about people;  it always has been and always will be.

One thing that bugs me is hanging out with pastors that say (not jokingly), “Ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people.” It pains my heart that pastors and Church leaders don’t get this simple truth. We are the Body of Christ and every member is important and special. We are called to shepherd God’s people and that involves getting our hands dirty and yes, being bothered and interrupted.

IMPORTANT: This isn’t about being an introvert or extrovert. This is about being sensitive to the Holy Spirit, who is always at work around us.

As ministers, we should seek the opportunities to show and express Christ’s love to those we lead and serve.

Speaking of seeking opportunities: You have to be intentional. What does your weekly schedule look like? How many breakfasts, coffees and lunches do you schedule each week? I fill lots of my calendar with people meetings and have for 22 years.

If you go from administrative meeting to meeting and never schedule any time with your congregation members, volunteers and staff, and people in the community, you’re missing a crucial part of leadership and the opportunity to be God in the flesh to someone in need.

Please note: It is very important to set boundaries. I used to do all sorts of late night meetings. Now, I make people schedule a meeting during office hours. There is the rare exception/emergency, but that’s to be expected in ministry.

My encouragement and exhortation to you is to leave some margin in your schedule for the unexpected. Have time set aside in your calendar that is empty, so when the interruptions come (and they will), you’ll be able to get back on track.

So where do you go from here? Here’s an action item:

When you notice someone down, frustrated, hurt or just not themselves, you should take the initiative to ask if they need someone to talk to or how you can pray for them. When you’re in the midst of busy/office work and someone calls, texts, emails, IMs, or drops by your office – take the time to listen and serve.

Be the hands and feet of Christ to those you come in contact with – it’s what we’re called to do and you’ll be a better and more trusted, respected and loved leader because of it.

So – confession time: Have you ever been in the midst of busy/office work and had someone drop by unannounced? How did you handle it? Do you have the presence of mind to be sensitive to the Spirit?

 

*** This is an excerpt from my bestselling book Church Leadership Essentials. Get copies for your team HERE.

I once asked Pastor Derwin Gray how he stayed so passionate and fired up about his faith, his ministry, and his relationship with Christ.

He said, “I just think about what Christ has done for me.”

I’ve been taking a little time to do some soul searching and reflecting. I think because I became a Christian so young, I have lost the “wonder” of my salvation and stopped singing a “new song.”

Our faith and the Gospel story is a very old story, but it should never get old to us. I know that in my mind, and am trying to live it out in my heart.

Pray for me, that I “stand amazed in His Presence” and sing a “new song” once again. I will pray the same for you.

Nationwide survey shows many churches saw declining or flat giving in 2015, while at the same time seeing the need for modern digital giving solutions.

For a copy of the 19-page report with ten key findings, seven graphs, and recommended resources to increase church giving go to our Sponsor, Tithe.ly’s page here

In the 6th installment of the ground-breaking research on church giving authored by Brian Kluth of Maximum Generosity, we asked nearly 1,600 survey participants from mainline, evangelical, non-denominational, and other Christian groups to report on their giving patterns and practices.

The findings from the 2016 survey reveal a dramatic shift in giving over the past three years, compared to the last time the survey was conducted in 2013.

Giving has flat-lined or decreased for the majority of those surveyed, which has many churches scrambling to implement more modern giving solutions.

Key findings from the 2016 State of the Plate survey:

  • 59% of churches surveyed reported flat-lined or decreased giving over the period 2015 to 2016. (A previous survey from 2013 revealed 53% of churches had an increase in giving that year.)
  • Only 41% of churches surveyed saw giving increase by 5% or more.
  • 79% of churches surveyed offer website giving (up from 29% in 2010), 46% offer cell phone/text/app giving (up from 4% in 2010), and 32% have a kiosk/iPad in the lobby for in-person digital giving.
  • Generous church giving is not limited to the older generations. 63% of those in their 20s-30s give 10% or more to their church.
  • Only 41% of those surveyed said they give weekly, while 46% give once or twice a month.
  • The top five reasons for missing church services are: out of town (74%), sickness (42%), serving during the worship service (16%), social commitments (13%), and had to work (14%).

DOWNLOAD REPORT

 

*** Go here for more about tithing in the bible.

Is everyone welcome at your church? I know you’re thinking, “That’s crazy. Of course, everyone is welcome.” Don’t be defensive my friend. I mean, really, really welcome. Like not just in theory, but in a practice. If we want to be welcoming we have to be on the offense. We need to be proactive but we need to go deeper. Sure everyone may be welcome to come through that door, but what happens next? Entry is just the first step.  I’ve been working in the field of disabilities for over 10 years, and I’ve also been a youth pastor. I can tell you that people with disabilities don’t want to be treated like they’re special, in fact, some people even hate that word. They just want to be treated like everyone else. So the best approach is working in advance to ensure that guests at your church of all abilities feel welcome.  So aside from guests, what about church members with disabilities? One of the most prominent truths that is pointed out to me by my disabled friends is this:  They don’t want to just feel welcome to attend the service, they want to be able to participate in the service. Worshippers of different abilities want to be able to lead or teach or sing and experience God in as many ways as their nondisabled believing friends.  Below are 17 Tips to make your church more accessible for everyone in the New Year.

  1. Resolve to take your disability access to the next level in your church. Church members take their cues from their leadership.  If the leadership makes accessing worship and all the benefits of your church seriously, then the congregation will follow suit. (Well, most of them, but we can pray right?).  Also, some churches may need to adapt or enrich their philosophy from “providing services for respite” for families touched by disability (which certainly may be important) to finding more ways for them to worship together as a family.
  2. Remember this! Disability access is more than just accessible parking. After all, it’s getting everyone into the church and then helping them find ways to engage with God that’s most important– but of course improving your grounds and parking access is a great way to start. Make sure you have plenty of “Accessible Parking.” The term “accessible parking” is becoming more common and is the most acceptable term.  Ensure that the designated accessible parking is located closest to the most accessible entrance and that it’s clearly marked.  As an aside, be sure to offer accessible parking for individuals in cars, and for people in vans or larger vehicles as well.
  3. Look for a Sign. Signage and directions are important and helpful for everyone.  You really can’t overdo the signage as long as it’s clearly labeled. It’s also not much more expensive to add braille to your church doors inside the building as well for your blind or visually impaired guests—especially on the bathrooms.
  4. Let Your People “Go”. Speaking of restrooms. Individuals with a variety of disabilities need the appropriate bars and handles and adequate space. Many churches still don’t have adequate bathroom stalls for disabled members and guests.  Accessible bathroom stalls are non-negotiables really.  Guests won’t be back if a prospective church doesn’t offer a private, adequate space to take care of basic needs. Besides, everyone can benefit from more spacious bathrooms, better signage, grab bars, and appropriately sized sinks, right?  The most intuitive tools are best: example, touchless faucets that don’t require twisting, towel dispensers or dryers that don’t require pushing or pulling.
  5. Labels! Ok so it’s one goal of the church to avoid labels maybe, but not where food is concerned. It’s really best practice for everyone to label foods and snacks that are made available especially at official church functions like Homecoming Dinners, Christmas, and Thanksgiving feasts. When there are ten bowls of potato salad on the table, it’s always good to know which bowl of potato salad is your favorite, like the one made by your Aunt Ethel, right? Some people have strong food sensitivities and listing a name for the dish, the ingredients, and who prepared it is just another way to make the event, and your church all the more welcoming for everyone. It may be awkward at first, but it’ll soon become a helpful tradition.  Important note: visitors with strong or life-threatening allergies beyond simpler sensitivities may not even attend, but just in case they do, show that you care by warning about nuts, eggs, and other serious allergens.
  6. Stop cramming! Make the written word accessible. I’m not talking about THE WORD, (that should always be easily accessible), I’m talking about church bulletins, handouts, and anything you put into the hands of people in your church.  Big tip–white space is always helpful.  We’ve all seen church bulletins that are crammed so full and the words are so small they’re almost illegible. It’s frustrating for everyone, especially anyone over 40 (Yes, I went there).  White space is not only pleasing, it helps readers visually organize information, and it helps those with visual disabilities as well.  No font should ever be smaller than 12pt. in a church-wide bulletin, and yes that means, you may have to use more paper. Remember, it’s about being welcoming and accessible. When it comes to font styles and themes, some fonts are better choices than others for people with visual disabilities, and for learning disabilities.  Avoid using curly, squiggly fonts that can be confusing. Times New Roman, Arial, and Verdana are all good choices, but there are many out there.  Also, it’s super helpful to spread the information around. If you offer information in written form on paper, offer it on the web, and project it onto screens. Why not go wild, and add an audio file on your church webpage, too!
  7. Project your welcome too! Much of what was said in number 5 applies to what you project on your worship screens as well.  Add lots of space between what’s written, and remember certain fonts are better than others while keeping your font size readable.  It’s easy enough to add more slides.  When it comes to your screen projection, pay attention to color contrasts also. Of course, if you have announcements on your slides, try your best to have those same announcements represented in other places as well. Above all make it a point to encourage speakers and worship leaders to describe what’s on the slide as they’re presenting at any opportunity.
  8. Caption this! Add captions and transcripts when and where you can. This one can be controversial because of the costs involved. Many churches are on a limited budget and most churches don’t have captionists or transcription experts on staff (or even in the congregation for that matter). Consider this: when something is spoken, whether on a video or in your church service, there’s probably someone present who can’t hear it.  Captioning and transcription helps everyone, not just people with disabilities access and appreciate the information.  There are some very quick and easy captioning services.  com is a great and quick resource. While sites like Rev may be considered reasonable in the everyday captioning world, captioning is still not cheap (think a dollar a minute on a minimum).  Online services can take your sermon or your church video (with a link or uploaded file) and have it captioned or transcribed literally in a few hours. Captions take your videos and services to another level and everyone can benefit.
  9. Untangle your web. Church websites are becoming increasingly valuable, helpful resources, but many church websites are still not accessible to people with a variety of disabilities– especially those with visual impairments or blindness.  Ask your church web designer to add an accessibility checker widget to your website. Some enhancements are really quite simple.  If you add photos to your website, go in and add a photo description and “alt-tags”. If you upload a PDF, be sure it’s an accessible PDF. Otherwise, a blind person using a screen reader to surf your website will only see a random “image” message rather than the words you intend for them to read.  Also, fancy flashing photos and moving web pages are often inaccessible. Some such effects can even cause seizures. If you have videos or audio on your website it’s always best to caption them. Ask yourself this: Is your website meant to be entertaining or informational? Don’t sacrifice the message for fancy features. You can have a classy, clean or fun site without sacrificing accessibility. It’s about making everyone feel more welcome and letting them know you took the time to make a difference just for them.
  10. Amplify the Word. Many churches are providing headsets, FM systems, or small pocket amplifiers for checkout during service hours. Even a small church can have a couple of those on hand. They don’t have to be expensive. In fact, many have become very reasonable.  It may be as simple as the speaker wearing a transmitter around their neck or pinning it to their lapel which amplifies the message to the person wearing the receiving device.
  11. Adapt Your Curriculum, Programs, and Resources. If you want to be welcoming, look into a variety of adaptable materials. Many are even reasonably low-cost.  For example, people of different abilities and ages may have trouble with small pens, pencils or crayons. It’s best to have a variety of sizes available in the pews and in the classroom. Also, your recreation department may want to have adaptable recreation equipment on hand. It is also thoughtful to have alternative instructional materials, and enlarged print copies of materials or at least the ability to get them.  Assess the needs of students and participants in your classes, courses, and programming. Unfortunately, many people hold back on their needs until they’re asked.
  12. Most church leaders already try to find ways to engage the congregation more. This is particularly helpful for people with attentional issues, and people who like tactile, hands-on activities. Consider purchasing a clicker system (an automatic audience response system).  These systems are integrated with your projector.  Wanna survey the flock or check for understanding? Do you want to gauge your congregation’s opinions or thoughts on a particular subject or check to see if their views are anywhere close to in-line with the latest research? Clicker response systems will give you immediate feedback that will post results and project onto your screen right as you ask the question. Just be sure to purchase an accessible clicker system so everyone can be involved, and remember to read the results with the congregation, otherwise, your visually impaired guests and members won’t be able to participate and that will defeat the purpose right?  Some clicker systems can be easily integrated with your members’ and guests’ cell phones with little to no other equipment needed.
  13. Get Feedback! Speaking of surveys. The best way to know what your congregation needs or wants is to survey them regularly. If there’s something you need to know, take a survey. There are some great free online survey resources. Be sure to offer your survey on paper too.  You might start with topical surveys. “How welcoming is our parking situation?” or you might choose a comprehensive approach about facilities, programs, and services.  Some churches are incorporating online anonymous comments and suggestions.  Be sure to listen, and let people know you used the surveys in your decision-making, and remember some responses should be taken with a grain of salt, and others with expedience. They key is letting them know the feedback matters.
  14. Make your welcome official! Consider making a welcome packet for families with connections related to disabilities or at least make those resources available in your current welcome packet. Sometimes people just need to know they’re welcome, and they need to hear it and see evidence that you really care.
  15. Assume competence! Train your staff to always assume that people with disabilities no matter how seemingly simple or complex the disability, are competent and able to participate, they just may need some adaptations.
  16. Check it out! Church libraries and media centers should provide a variety of materials and resources. It’s great to have plenty of audio resources and books on hand as well or at least a way for members to request or order them. The church library is also a great built-in resource to start a request or check-in/check-out service for assistive technologies.
  17. Go Team! Start an access team, or dare I suggest, “committee”. An access team or committee can address accessibility in your church and find ways to make your services and programs more accessible. If you initiate a team, it’s great to have some people with differing abilities on the team for perspective.  If your church is larger and has the resources, nothing would say you care about these issues more than adding a paid staff member to your leadership—maybe a Pastor or Director of Welcome and Access. These teams or individuals can consistently address not only needs of people with varying abilities, but they can also assist in plugging people into the church service and leadership roles and making sure the facility, events, and resources are accessible to everyone.

 

In the end, the most welcoming aspect of a church is the attitudes, openness, and compassion of its people. Taking action by doing any or all of the tips I’ve listed will begin to send the message that everyone matters at your church and that everyone is not only welcome to attend, but to participate in sharing a message that will impact hearts and ultimately change the world.

 

BIO: Dr. Chester Goad is a university administrator and graduate instructor, a former K12 principal, and teacher, former US Congressional staffer, author, and blogger.  He is co-author of Tennessee’s “Dyslexia Is Real” law and he has presented on disability and leadership-related topics from Appalachia to Africa.  He sits on nationally recognized disability related boards.  A leader in education, non-profit advocacy, parenting issues, access and policy, Chester has been quoted in major media outlets such as CNBC, Yahoo, the Washington Post, Forbes Leadership, and others. He is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and Edutopia. More importantly, he loves God and is an active member of his local church. You can learn more about Chester by visiting his website at www.chestergoad.com. He and his wife live in Tennessee with their teenage son.

Twitter: CGOAD09

I thought I’d take a look back at the most popular blog posts of 2016. Important to note is that there are a few that are targeted to pastors and preaching. There are also a few focused on Easter – which is good for this time of year.

There are also a couple on my church secret shopper ministry. You can go here to learn more about hiring me to evaluate your church’s weekend experience.

Also, please check out my new book Secrets of a Secret Shopper – which goes into great, practical details on how to turn first-time guests into second-time guests.

HERE ARE THE TOP 20 POSTS FOR 2016:

Leadership and the Power of Momentum

Ministry, Leadership, Worship, and Expectation

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Life, and Lies

Preaching and the Power of Imagination

5 Ways to Improve As an Active Listener

Digital Real Estate Matters

Always Point People to the Church Website

The Seasons of a Church Secret Shopper

Help Your People Say “No”

5 Tips from a Church Secret Shopper

7 Tips for Guest Worship Leaders

Easter 2016 Review and Learn

The One Thing You Must Do this Easter

3 Ways to Still Have a Team After Easter

Don’t Quit! We Need You.

Don’t Tell Me Men Don’t Sing

You Don’t Always Have to Hustle

Have You Ever Considered a Church Secret Shopper

7 Lessons from Peyton Manning for Pastors

99 Questions When Hiring a Worship Pastor

little-drummer-boy

Some close to me know my favorite Christmas song is “Little Drummer Boy.” Something about it resonates deeply with me.

I think we all long to see Jesus smile at us and know that he loves us just as we are.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Little baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum

Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum