February 7, 2024

Reaching New People Through Events – Episode 334 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

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Reaching & Connecting New People

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As we jump into a new month, we’re also kicking off a new series on reaching and connecting with new people.

Churches are telling us that there’s no shortage of new people walking through their doors each weekend—but they’re struggling with how to connect and mobilize them into next steps.

That’s why this month, we’ll focus on how to use strategic events to reach new people, how to truly connect with new people once they’ve attended your church, how to mobilize your congregation to reach others, and how to structure your church staff team to reach and connect with your community.

REACHING NEW PEOPLE

In this episode, Amy and I are going to explain how churches can use strategic events to reach new people.

If you’ve been around our content for awhile, you might be surprised to hear this—after all, I’ve never been a big proponent of putting more events in the church calendar. That’s why this week we’ll explain:

  • How events can actually hurt the church
  • Distinctions between healthy vs. unhealthy events
  • Best practices for strategic church events

Reaching & Connecting New People in 2024

At this free webinar on February 29, the Unstuck team & special guests will walk through proven strategies and best practices for creating intentional weekend services that reach and connect with new people.

Church events are often targeted for people who are already connected to the church, but they don't help people actually take a next step towards Christ. In other words, they keep church people busy, but don't help people become more like Jesus.… Click To Tweet Multiple events compete with each other for people's time and attention, drain the team, and shift the focus from key mission priorities. [episode 334] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet For the sake of your staff’s time and energy, the already-busy schedules of everyone you’re inviting, and the success of the event, choose your all-church events wisely. [episode 334] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Are the events your church is designing to reach new people actually reaching new people and connecting them to church and faith? Can you measure the success of the event by something other than attendance? [episode 334] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet
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This Episode is Sponsored by SecureGive:

Giving presents challenges for growing churches. Cumbersome donation forms and dated administrative features of most giving systems leave you lacking the tools you need. But, SecureGive’s 7-in-1 system makes donating easy and secure, provides in-depth analytics and management tools for your team, and integrates with your Church Management System. It’s the system that scales to fit the needs of growing churches.

For our Unstuck listeners, SecureGive is offering 6 months of free software to get your church started. Visit SecureGive.com/unstuck to learn more.


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Transcript

Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Church events: good strategy or outdated approach? Well, of course, it depends. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy begin a new series on reaching and connecting with new people with a conversation on how strategically executed events can help you connect with people in your mission field. Before we get there, though, if you’re brand new to the podcast, head to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the episode show notes. When you do, each week you’ll get resources to go along with that week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide and access to our podcast resource archive. Once again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before we get into this week’s conversation, here’s a word from Tony.

Tony (00:55):

Giving presents challenges for growing churches. Cumbersome donation forms and dated administrative features of most giving systems leave you lacking the tools you need. But SecureGive’s 7-in-1 system makes donating easy and secure and provides in-depth analytics and management tools for your team. It also integrates with your church management system. It’s the system that scales to fit the needs of growing churches. For our Unstuck listeners, SecureGive is offering six months of free software to get your church started. You can visit securegive.com/unstuck to learn more.

Amy (01:36):

Well, welcome back to our listeners, and Tony, it’s good to see you today. Have you been busy lately?

Tony (01:41):

Yeah, it’s, it’s been a fun beginning of the new year, helping a lot of churches in recent weeks. But, specifically, I was in Houston working with two great churches, helping them consider a merger going forward. And so this is a merger that is also going to allow the larger church to extend their multisite strategy into another location. And I love it because these are the types of mergers that actually could potentially work, when two healthy churches are considering coming together. And so, and then, getting help upfront, too, because, Amy, as you know, we’ve seen churches try to do mergers in the past. But without a clear picture of what that needs to look like on the other side of the merger, it’s kind of like going through pre-marriage counseling. The marriage is gonna be healthier if you have a good plan going into the marriage.

Amy (02:34):

Mm-Hmm.

Tony (02:34):

Same thing holds true for mergers. And so, it was fun to be a part of those conversations.

Amy (02:39):

Yeah, that’s such a good analogy. You know, early, the church that I was a part of here in Minnesota for many years, we had what seemed like a great opportunity to merge with another church. And I honestly feel like God protected us because we had no idea what our multisite model was going to look like. And it was such a great thing that we paused and took a step back. And again, we weren’t that smart, so I have to believe it was God’s hand giving us that pause. But we ended up being a much more successful multisite church working those plans. So, I like this month because I’m in Minnesota and I got California and Florida this month, so that’s a good thing for a January Minnesotan. So happy to help those churches, great teams there. Well, Tony, as we jump into a new month, we’re also kicking off a new series on reaching and connecting with new people. Churches are telling us, many of our team members that there’s no shortage of new people, right, walking through the doors each weekend. But they’re struggling with how to connect and mobilize them into their next steps. And so that’s why this month we’re gonna focus on how to use strategic events to reach new people, how to truly connect with new people once they’ve attended your church and then how to mobilize your congregation to reach others and how to structure your church staff team to reach and connect with your community. And so, today, Tony, we’re gonna address the first topic of using strategic events to reach new people. And honestly, I was a little surprised to see this on our podcast schedule because from your previous writing and our work together, I know that you’ve not really been a proponent of like more events on church calendars in the past. So what’s the shift here?

Tony (04:12):

Yeah, that’s very true, Amy. And there are a few reasons why I’ve not been a proponent of a lot of events on church calendars. First of all, events are oftentimes targeted to people who are already connected to the church, but they don’t help people actually take a next step toward Christ. In other words, they keep church people busy, but they don’t help people become more like Jesus. And so, that’s one of the reasons why I’ve not been a big fan of events in the past. Secondly, churches tend to overschedule events, and because all church events, family events, women’s events, men’s events, couples’ events, singles’ events, groups’ events and so on, they, they start to compete with each other. And when you have multiple events like that on the calendar, it’s pulling for people’s time and attention. It drains the team, and it really begins to shift focus from the key mission priorities of the church. And then, maybe lastly, one of the reasons why I haven’t been a big fan of events at churches is that when churches do host events for people who are not connected to the church or to faith, the focus tends to be on how many people attend the event rather than if the event actually helps people connect to faith and connect to the church. And let’s face it, big events, they make us feel like we’re making a big investment in the mission. But if it’s not ultimately leading people to faith and connecting people with church and community in the church, it’s probably a, a poor investment of our time and resources. And that’s why I wanted to do this episode to be clear on how healthy, strategic events can be used to reach new people and connect them to your church. And if the events you’re planning this year don’t fit into that category of healthy and strategic, I would advise against them. We don’t need to add more noise. We don’t need to add more, more events to the church calendar.

Amy (06:11):

Yeah, I think that distinction is really helpful. So, let’s actually dive deeper into that, Tony. What are some of the key differences that you’ve observed between healthy events and unhealthy events?

Tony (06:22):

Well, to begin with, I believe there should be a clear win that’s been defined before the event is even designed.

Amy (06:28):

Mm-Hmm.

Tony (06:29):

And if it’s a healthy event, the win is actually helping people take a next step versus the win being attendance in the event itself. And assuming that this event is part of the reach strategy, the target audience would be people who haven’t yet connected to your church or to the ministry. So that next step should be tailored to that audience.

Amy (06:51):

Yeah, that makes sense. You know, typically the goal of your event would be to connect people back to your church, and hopefully that means through attending a Sunday service. But maybe it’s just a means of getting the email address or contact information for everyone who showed up. But if you don’t have any next step in mind, Tony, I think we set ourselves up to put a bunch of time and effort into an event in the community, but then after the event, really those people never hear from us again because we didn’t get to know them. We didn’t take that next step.

Tony (07:21):

That’s exactly right, Amy. And, and another distinction is that with healthy events, personal invites drive attendance versus in, in unhealthy events where promotions, advertising, things like that we’re using to drive attendance. Because if you think about it, who are the people that are most likely to see and respond to your promotions and advertising? Probably the people who already attend your church.

Amy (07:48):

Yeah. And even if your promotions are reaching people outside your walls, we know that for a fact they would be way more likely to accept a personal invitation versus, say responding to just a Facebook post or a billboard that they drove by. That personal invitation always seems to be the best way of connecting new people to exploring faith in church.

Tony (08:08):

Yeah, that’s right. And that’s why we have to start with the end goal in mind. We’re trying to reach new people, which brings me back to another distinction. When we talk about healthy events, it’s where guests are expected and every element of the event experience is planned with guests in mind.

Amy (08:24):

Mm-Hmm.

Tony (08:25):

We’re prepared for new people to show up, and in unhealthy events by comparison, since guests probably aren’t expected or they’re not the primary audience, it’s, it’s people that are already connected to the church. Certain elements don’t get, they just don’t get as much attention as they should have. So the assumption is that most of the people who show up are already a part of or familiar with the church when it’s an unhealthy event.

Amy (08:52):

And Tony, as you’re saying that, it just actually reminds me of our Secret Shopper Experience as part of The Unstuck Process. You know, every weekend is an event, and if we are viewing that event as a reach strategy, that, that phrase, I think you said, “If we’re a healthy event, we’re prepared for new people to show up. But in unhealthy, guests aren’t expected, so certain elements don’t get attended to.”

Tony (09:15):

That’s right.

Amy (09:16):

And it’s so true. I think about communion at church when it’s not explained to a new person, when they aren’t welcomed until 30, 35 minutes into the service. So, just for, for our listeners, keep that in mind—that your weekend is an event that you’re talking about as well, Tony.

Tony (09:32):

That’s right. And then, Amy, another characteristic of a healthy event is that after the event, there’s a debrief to make sure the win was accomplished, and we should be able to measure the success of how many people and who actually took the next step we wanted them to take. Versus in unhealthy events, we just blindly communicate and celebrate how many people showed up. And in reality, attendance is really a small part of the big picture when it comes to reaching new people.

Amy (10:01):

Yeah. And can I add one more to the list?

Tony (10:03):

Sure.

Amy (10:04):

I think when an event is healthy, it’s actually reevaluated every year to make sure it’s still fulfilling the primary purpose. Whereas I think most unhealthy events just get rescheduled every year because they’re just expected to be there. I mean, we’ve heard some pastors even go as far as to say that they have to keep a certain event around or so-and-so will leave the church or this group of people, they’ll stop giving financially. And that’s where really those methods start to become more important than the mission so.

Tony (10:32):

Yeah, Amy, you’re right. I mean, we’ve heard that sentiment before, and I agree every event needs to be regularly evaluated. An example of this, this is from years ago. One of the churches that I was a part of used to do a big Christmas production every single year. And you know, originally that that Christmas production was the type of healthy event that we’re describing because its original intent was to connect with people who were not already a part of the church.

Amy (11:03):

Yeah.

Tony (11:03):

And many cases, not a part of the faith. And what they would do was they would prepare a fantastic Christmas production, and it was kind of like a dinner-theater situation. And people would get tickets to invite friends that weren’t part of the church to come, to come to the Christmas production. But this was kind of like a, a key front door to actually connecting to the church. But over time, what ended up happening, it was still a great Christmas production, but over time, it became more for the people that were already a part of the church rather than its original intent, which was to reach new people outside the church.

Amy (11:46):

Mm-Hmm.

Tony (11:46):

And because of that, the decision was made, we need to stop doing this and start giving more focus to things during the Christmas season that will help us reach new people. And the reality is that’s a very important time in the Chris, in the, in the church calendar to be aware of opportunities to invite new people because even people outside the church and outside the faith still celebrate Christmas. And it actually is an easy first-step connection to people outside the church to invite them to something that your church is doing during the Christmas season because our culture still celebrates Christmas.

Amy (12:26):

They do. And as you’re saying that, I, I have a dozen churches in mind that have Christmas productions that probably started with that same intent. And unfortunately, as you’re saying, Christmas, that event is actually even more invitable because of the nostalgia and people’s willingness to come to church. But guess what? Most of those churches left all their creative energy and juices in that production, that Christmas production, and the Christmas services really got some leftovers. And so it was just a miss.

Tony (12:54):

That’s right.

Amy (12:54):

Yep.

Tony (12:54):

That’s right.

Amy (12:55):

Okay. So, we’ve explored what healthy and unhealthy events look like, and it seems like one of the characteristics of healthy events is that they’re designed to reach outsiders, not just, you know, cater to insiders. So, Tony, what are some of the best practices you’re seeing with churches that are effectively leveraging events to reach new people?

Tony (13:14):

That’s a good question. And actually, I can think of a few best practices here. One is that these churches limit the number of all church events throughout the year. In fact, I think the ideal number here is only four; once think, you can think about it once a quarter. So, an event we were just talking about around Christmas, and that’s probably gonna be your Christmas Eve or Christmas services. Something around Easter, because again, that’s an easy invite. Something in the summer to just celebrate being off and just being able to have fun, especially if it can be something outdoors. And then, something in the fall, something that really, it’s a time when families kind of get back to their normal routines. And because of that, I think there was an opportunity in the fall to connect with new families especially. And the logistics, when you try to do all church events, I know they can be very consuming of time, energy, the, just the leadership resources to volunteer resources. And it takes more effort to market them effectively. It takes, it takes a bigger investment of time and resources to make the event successful. So, for the sake of both your staff’s time and energy, the already busy schedules of everyone you are inviting and the success of the event, you just need to make sure that you’re choosing your all-church events wisely.

Amy (14:38):

Mm-Hmm.

Tony (14:39):

A second best practice that I’ve seen is that churches reassess ministry-specific, specific events. And so, here I’m talking about events that are targeted to just a segment of your church. So, you can think of women’s events, men’s events, maybe it’s group events, singles’ events, and just you just wanna make sure that the win is helping people take a next step towards Jesus and that win is actually being accomplished. A lot of these events, what I’ve noticed in the past, Amy, is they tend to fall under the category of we’ve always done them and they typically cater to insiders. And the win tends to be, as we’ve discussed previously, just getting people to show up to an event rather than trying to encourage a next step in the spiritual formation strategy. So, if you’re gonna do an event that is ministry specific and it’s actually targeting people in your church, just make sure that the event leads to a next step. It might be a group connection; it may be something that’s encouraging people to serve more, whatever the case is.

Amy (15:45):

Sure.

Tony (15:46):

I think there’s a place for events like that in your church. It just, there just needs to be a clear next step coming out the event. And then, the third best practice that comes to mind is that you do, you have to map out all these events at the same time so that events don’t compete with each other and they don’t compete with your primary mission strategy. And that mission strategy is probably built around some things that are also time consuming, like worship services, like groups, like serving opportunities, like missions engagement. And you just want to make sure that those things that are the highest priority for people don’t get crowded out by the additional kind of one-time events that you’re putting on the calendar.

Amy (16:30):

Yeah. And especially, Tony, as churches get bigger, that one is so key because more events with more promotions to encourage people to attend means there’s also going to be more noise in the system. And that’s why we have to make sure every event can be directly tied back to a defined ministry goal or strategy. Because if it’s not adding to that, it’s taking away from it. And just to get real practical, I remember when our church, we were just starting to get a lot of calendaring issues, right? We were getting big enough in our growth that we started to have events overlapping. And so, we pulled high control back to rebuild our event process. And our leadership team was responsible for blacking out certain times where we were not gonna have any events because it was close to like a Christmas or close to something big that we were doing. And then, each one of us around the leadership table, if it was a ministry under our care, they had to go through a process of what is the event, what’s the win, those types of things. And we actually brought it to leadership team for a season to get some control back of those events. And eventually, that went, decision-making went back down, but our whole team had to build this muscle of going, we have to have purposeful events, not just keeping people busy events.

Tony (17:43):

That’s right.

Amy (17:43):

So yep.

Tony (17:44):

And then, Amy, maybe, just to, one, one more best practice to highlight here. So, just a great idea to think about how could we connect our big events that are trying to attract new people directly to the weekend services? Meaning rather than inviting someone to an event and then trying to invite them to attend a worship service, maybe the event is kind of built-in and around your worship services. So, let me give you a couple ex, of examples. One you may have heard about, Life.Church has done this for years. During the summer, they do a series called “At the Movies,” and just Google it. I mean, there are all kinds of pictures and messages that they’ve shared and things like that. But, they do a fun series during the summer around current movies and ti, tying the themes of those movies to spiritual principles. And it’s just people now have expected it every year, and it’s an easy invite. And rather than creating a separate event, they’re actually creating the event around weekend services. And last I heard, their “At the Movies” series is as big if not bigger than even the Christmas holiday, if you can imagine that.

Amy (19:01):

Wow.

Tony (19:01):

Another example, a church I was a part of in the past used to do men’s retreats. And I don’t know; I think men and women look at retreats a little bit different. I know for a lot of women they appreciate that time away. For men, it’s just, it’s tough to go away for a couple of days with a bunch of guys. And because of that, we just found that our engagement, our connection to men’s retreats was declining year after year. And so we kind of backed up and just asked the question, “If we were trying to get as many men as possible to hear some of the key teachings that we wanted to provide during the men’s retreat, what, what’s a better way that we could approach that?” And so, what we decided to do is, rather than having a men’s retreat, we did, it was called the “Man Series.” And it was built around weekend services. And initially, of course, the concern was, well, if we do this for men on the weekend, women are either not gonna show up or they’re gonna get upset that we’re focusing on just men for a series. Well, here’s what happened is we did the series. Number one, thousands of guys came to that. It was an easy invite for other guys to come to that series. Far more people, I mean, probably 10 times more guys heard the content from that teaching than would’ve heard it at the men’s retreat.

Amy (20:29):

Mm-Hmm.

Tony (20:29):

But to our shock, what we heard from the women was finally, you’re talking about the stuff that I wanted my husband to hear, that I wanted my sons to hear.

Amy (20:41):

Oh, sure.

Tony (20:41):

And so, the women actually appre, appreciated that focus, as well. But those are two examples of taking what could be separate dedicated events to target new people and instead building those events around weekend services so that it’s only one invite—getting people to come to the event/service rather than two invites that have to happen.

Amy (21:06):

Yep. That’s great. All right. Well, we stated that when it comes to events, we should start with the end goal in mind. So if the goal is to reach more people, Tony, what’s your best advice for churches when it comes to events?

Tony (21:20):

All right, so first, make sure the events have a purpose and that they’re accomplishing that purpose. And that means the purpose needs to be measurable. For example, we’re hosting this event to reach this many new families and connect them to our church database. When you gather to evaluate the event after the fact, then you know for sure whether you’ve achieved that goal, or maybe if it’s an event targeted to people in your church that are already connected to your church, the goal would look like this. We’re gonna host this event to connect as many people to the event, but the win is going to be how many people we can get to go to a small group for the first time.

Amy (22:04):

That’s right.

Tony (22:05):

And then again, after the event, you can go back and clearly identify: did we achieve that goal?

Amy (22:11):

Mm-Hmm.

Tony (22:12):

Which leads me to my next piece of advice: Create solutions to capture contact information for new people. And that could be preregistration. It could be using QR codes at the event. It could use, be using texting at the event to capture contact information. But if you’re designing an event to reach new people, the win is gonna be: can we follow up with those new people?

Amy (22:38):

Mm-Hmm.

Tony (22:39):

And Amy, we’re going to dive into some of these strategies in our episode next week, so stay, stay tuned for that. But not planning this out ahead of time is a huge miss.

Amy (22:49):

Yeah, that is so key, Tony, because like I said earlier, you might throw a great event that reaches tons of new people, but if you don’t have a way to follow-up, really they’re, they’re not gonna be able to hear back from you, hear from you again.

Tony (23:01):

That’s right. That’s right. And then because you took our advice and had a way to capture contact information and actually do follow-up, encourage people to come back to a service, don’t wait too long and don’t let this fall to the back burner. And again, we’ll talk more about the follow-up strategy a little bit in next week’s episode. But, finally, another best practice here, one of the goals for a healthy event is to track the data. Are the events your church is designing to reach new people, actually reaching new people and connecting them to church and faith? I mean, can you actually measure the success of the event by something other than attendance? And if the data isn’t showing what you hope to see, it’s really time to brainstorm creative ways to engage people besides events.

Amy (23:48):

Tony, that advice is so good, and it really follows the strategic planning we do with churches. We always help churches lean on what does success look like before they start talking about how they’re going to do that. So, your example, you know, if our groups’ numbers are low and someone wants to have an event, we can actually brainstorm around how do we get people into small groups? And if it fails, if it falls short, like you said, it’s just time to bring it back to R & D and brainstorm those creative ways to try it again.

Tony (24:16):

That’s right.

Amy (24:16):

All right, well that’s great, Tony, and so helpful. You know, I’m glad we’re talking about this topic early on in the year because even though it’s only February, it’s not too late for churches to take a second look at their events calendar for this year and identify some events that maybe need to be pruned going forward. But any other final thoughts that you have before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (24:37):

Well, first of all, Amy, were you a little bit shocked that I was talking about events could have a purpose in the commission that we’re trying to . . .?

Amy (24:45):

I was, but you sold me.

Tony (24:46):

Yeah.

Amy (24:46):

It was great advice.

Tony (24:47):

All right, well good.

Amy (24:47):

Because it’s good to get together with people, Tony, you know?

Tony (24:50):

That’s right. That’s right.

Amy (24:51):

I know your introvert self maybe doesn’t like that, but events, events can be really helpful to help people connect.

Tony (24:57):

Well, as we’ve been discussing today, many churches still use events as a major strategy for community engagement. But are the people who are attending your events also coming to your church? And if they do show up, are you connecting with them? Here’s the deal. We’re gonna be diving a lot deeper into those topics in an upcoming webinar. The webinar’s on February 29th, and you can learn more and register for that free webinar through the link in the episode show notes.

Sean (25:25):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony mentioned, we’d love to have you join us on our upcoming free webinar happening February 29th on reaching and connecting new people to your church. To register and learn more, follow the link in your show notes, and if you don’t yet have the show notes, just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to register. Next week, we’re back with another brand-new episode. Until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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