Reaching New People (Part 3)
“Churches that leverage their weekend services as both a reach strategy and a discipleship strategy are connecting with four times more new people than churches that don’t.”
The mission of the church is to reach the lost and make disciples in our communities—but it’s all too easy to become insider-focused if we aren’t intentional in our reach strategy.
In Part 1 of our series on Reaching New People, Amy Anderson and I sat down with Chad Moore and Paul Alexander from Sun Valley Community Church to discuss the uncommon results they’ve been seeing in their efforts to reach new people. Then in Part 2, Amy and Sean talked through some incredibly practical steps for helping your church reach outward using digital strategies, provided by Katie Allred from Church Communications.
REACHING NEW PEOPLE: WEEKEND SERVICES
We’ve heard many people try to make the case that Sunday services don’t work when it comes to connecting new people to faith. But our data from working with hundreds of churches suggests otherwise. (Part 2 of this episode on reaching new people through weekend services is now available).
Every time we engage with a church, we begin by experiencing their Sunday service as an outsider would—as a “secret shopper.” In this episode, I sit down with Amy and Sean Bublitz, Ministry Consultant for The Unstuck Group, to unpack some of that “secret shopper” data from our time in churches across the country and give practical advice from the churches who are winning on the weekends. Join the conversation to hear:
- New data from our secret shopper reports
- 3 things growing churches do every weekend
- Planning your weekends with “outsiders” in mind
- 5 key components for your Sunday sermon
EVENT REPLAY: 3 Strategies for Reaching New People
Rather than focusing on who left, we need to get refocused on the true mission of the Church: reaching the lost people in our communities. In this free webinar, hear from leading church voices Dave Ferguson, Chris Hodges, and Jerry Sen and continue this conversation on how you can reach new people in 2022 using practical strategies.
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. My name is Sean, and I’m your host. And this week we’re continuing our series of podcasts on reaching new people with a conversation about how churches can and are still reaching new people through their weekend services. I had a chance to sit down with Tony and Amy for this conversation. We had so much to say about it that we’re actually splitting it into two episodes. Before the conversation, though, if you’re new to the podcast, I want to invite you to head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast, and subscribe to get our show notes in your email. When you do, you’re gonna get resources to go along each week’s episode. That includes our leader conversation guide and some bonus resources as well as access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s jump into this two part conversation. Here’s Amy Anderson.
Well, isn’t this fun. Our listeners are getting three for the price of two today, Tony.
We are joined by our good friend, Sean Bublitz, one of my fellow ministry consultants at The Unstuck Group. And this is the guy who works all the magic behind the scenes to produce our podcast every week. And more importantly for today’s conversation, he’s someone who spent years in ministry leadership helping churches design weekend services to reach new people. So, Sean, it’s good to have you here today for today’s conversation.
Thanks, Amy. Looking forward to it and looking forward to hanging out with you guys for a while.
Yeah. Sean, is it a little weird that you kind of had to introduce the podcast where you also introduce yourself? I don’t know if that’s weird or not.
It’s always a little weird. I try to get creative with it, but we make it work.
So, I also want to thank you, Sean, for being the primary person who connects with the pastors and the church leaders who are interested in learning more about how The Unstuck Group can serve their churches. And I know you tend to do a little initial coaching on those calls as well. So I’m guessing that’s a fun part of your job.
It really is. I feel like I get to sit in a pretty unique seat in the world of church ministry. I get to talk with pastors from all over North America, even into other parts of the world. I hear about their challenges. I hear about their successes. I get questions from them that they have about the church and just ministry in general. I had 311 calls with church leaders in 2021.
And through those calls, I mean, I really, hopefully I shared some encouragement, some practical ideas with them. But here’s the thing, I learned so much from those conversations myself. So what I’m learning, I try to bring that to all of my other conversations and bring some of that to the podcast, too.
You know, Tony, Sean has told us many times that he is classified as a geriatric millennial and that’s probably good cause he’s willing to actually get on the phone and talk to people.
That’s right. That’s right.
Well, Tony, as we dive into today’s conversation, it sounds like you’ve been analyzing some data related to today’s topic. Will you tell us a little bit about what you discovered?
Does that surprise you? Yeah. Yeah. But before I do that, the data that I’m going to share comes from the secret shopper experiences that we do with the churches that we serve. And I mean every church that goes through The Unstuck Process, we go through this, we call it a secret shopper. It’s not really much of a secret, but our consulting team, they’re very good at this. And I’ll explain why in a second, but Amy, will you kind of unpack what this secret shopper process looks like?
Sure. Our first part of the engagement, we often call the perspective part of our process, meaning before we dive into making plans for the future, we want to understand what our starting point is. Where do we have health? Where do we have challenge? And we have conversations with the church about that. But a key aspect of perspective is understanding what that weekend experience feels like to someone who’s not currently connected to your church or connected to faith even. And that’s the persona that we put on when we attend a church’s weekend service. We put on the persona, I don’t go to church. This is something that’s new for me. Something brought me to check out the church, maybe a friend, maybe a life circumstance. And then we do. We come on campus, and we attend their church service and then provide feedback to them on what that experience was like. And we specifically address things like the pre-visit, you know, their website. What does it look like drive by their building? Their facility itself? What’s that like? Guest services. Children’s ministry. The worship experience. The teaching, the message, and then the overall experience. And those 7 areas, we actually provide scores for them as well. So that the pastors that we’re serving can see how they compare to other churches in those areas.
Yeah. And those scores, there’s basically a win tied to each of those areas that our team is looking for. Is that right?
That’s right. Yeah. So for the pre-visit let’s start there. The question we’re trying to answer, the win was, was I drawn to attend the church? Did the website, the online presence, draw me to check out the church? And did their facility and the signage, was that a draw as I drove by their church? The facility itself, we answer the question, did clean, organized and aesthetically pleasing environments facilitate a smooth and appealing experience? And Tony, Sean, you know, this you’d be surprised what fresh eyes can bring to this area. You just, in your own house, you don’t see the clutter. You don’t know what the parking experience is like. The feel design of interior stuff. So, you know, we also easily habituate right to our environments that it’s difficult to see those things. So that brings a great perspective.
Amy. One of my favorite findings during a secret shopper was a coat of arms, a medieval coat of arms, sitting in the corner in a church in the hallway. And I really have no idea why it was there, but it was there.
The third area is guest services. And so the win there, Tony, is did the guest service experience put me at ease? Did they answer my questions? Did it create a positive impression of the church? You know, we’ve had this. Sometimes you can be over greeted. You can be under greeted. You know, is it clear where I need to go? Where do my kids go? How might they connect? And so we score in that, against that win. And then children’s ministry itself. We answer the question are the kids’ spaces easy to find? And do they create a clear expectation of safety, security and fun?
I was just gonna say, related to that, I mean, I don’t wanna just gloss over this area because it’s amazing how some churches get this right. And other churches, again, I don’t know if they’re even thinking about how parents view the experience.
And just to illustrate, especially the safety and security part of this, one of our teammates at one point, who’s a very large man, was able to somehow make it into the children’s ministry area. And not only did he get into the area, he got into one of the classrooms and he actually sat down with the kids in the classroom and no one asked him who he was or why he was doing that. So we do need to pay attention to this.
Well, I will say this feedback is really, in the children’s area, is really appreciated by the pastor because they rarely get an opportunity to get a feel of what a first-time attender experiences in that area. And Tony, you know, that’s a funny story. That was from probably six or seven years ago. I’ve actually changed my approach in children ministry that I leverage their guest services for someone to give me a tour. Because even just this last weekend, I was addressing some security issues and they said, oh, there were probably three people around you with guns. So I don’t try to break into kids’ spaces anymore.
Why are we laughing? Okay, let me move on. The worship experience, the fifth area. Again, this is from the perspective of a new attender, but the question we’re asking did the worship service create this come see experience that engaged people, built trust and pointed people to God? And again, you would be surprised by how many churches missed the opportunity in this space. Things like just simply greeting new people and giving them cues as to what to expect during the service. We’ve all been there, right? People just stand up, people just sit down, people start doing things. We don’t even know what’s going on. And so we bring fresh eyes to what is that experience like for the new person? The teaching, the message portion, the win here is did the message present God’s word in an engaging, compelling and helpful way so that everyone listening, everyone is the key there, both the outsider and the insider will be glad they heard it and know how to take their next step. And then lastly, really the final question is a really important one. It’s just the overall experience. It’s did the overall experience compel me to return next week, and would I invite someone to return with me? So we give churches a score in each of those seven areas. They see how they compare, and they also see their strengths, and they see where they have some gaps.
Yeah. And I can tell you, our consulting team is very, very good at this. And let me explain why. Number one, we get customer satisfaction survey feedback from all these churches that we’re working with. And you know, some of it is just that anecdotal when we’re on site, it was, and you said it, so helpful for the pastor in particular to hear about what’s happening in these different areas. But our scores also would suggest that. And then secondly, and I would argue more importantly, when it comes to just the quality of this part of our engagement, our Unstuck consultants rated the Sunday service experience 44% better in churches reaching more new people. And this may sound obvious, but what the data confirms is that our consultants are very good at differentiating the churches who are intentional about leveraging their weekend services to reach new people and those churches who don’t do that as well.
So let me just jump in. I think what you said is that when we secret shop, we don’t know about them reaching new people, we just score them. And you pulled in data to actually confirm that the instincts that our consultants brought actually called out the churches that were better at reaching new people. Right?
That is what I said. And you just said it much better than I did, Amy. So thank you. And here’s what’s even more remarkable. The gap is significant. So the churches that leverage their weekend services as both a reach strategy and a discipleship strategy are connecting with four times more new people than churches that don’t. So this is significant, and I’ve often and heard some people try to make the case that Sunday services don’t work when it comes to connecting new people to faith and the church, but the data that we’re collecting suggests otherwise, and this is what we need to realize. There are people searching for answers to life. And many of these people believe the answer may be spiritual. And some may reach out to a friend who they think may have answers. Some may try to find answers to these questions online or begin to investigate the Bible even for themselves. But there are still a number of people that will show up at churches on Sunday mornings, expecting that the church is where they need to go to get their answers. And maybe more importantly to find people that they can engage with that will help them walk through this journey. And it seems like we should be grateful that they were willing to step out of their comfort zone, to show up to an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, to pursue the answers to the spiritual questions that they’re asking.
And Tony, that confirms what I’ve been hearing from the pastors that I’ve been working with. They are seeing new people show up in the midst of the pandemic. They’re still seeing lots and lot new people and families showing up.
Yeah. Here’s the crazy thing though, Amy. For the life of me, I don’t know why, I hear many people. And honestly, it’s primarily coming from people in full-time ministry and not people who are seeking answers and relationships around their spiritual questions. I hear many who think people won’t show up at a worship service to get answers to their spiritual questions. I mean, we’re the gathering of the body of Christ. Why don’t we expect this? Why is it that we don’t expect to take this opportunity to point people to Jesus if they happen to show up on Sunday morning? I mean, why don’t we expect and prepare for people who have spiritual questions to be with us when we gather as the body of Christ? Now is a service at the church on Sunday the only strategy churches should be engaging to reach people for Jesus. Absolutely not. And that’s why we’ve covered several strategies in this series to reach new people. The point is we should have a reach strategy. And for now, the data at least confirms that churches that are reaching more new people, leverage their Sunday services to help accomplish this part of our mission. So let me take this a step further. The data also indicates that churches that prepare for guests and intentionally design services with new people in mind, not only are they reaching four times more people, but they’re seeing twice as many people say yes to Jesus and then going public with their faith through baptism. So, I mean, this is our mission, isn’t it? We’re supposed to be making disciples of all nations and baptizing people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And the churches that are baptizing more people are also more intentional about how they’re designing their Sunday worship services. So we need to kind of have this expectation in mind that new people are going to show up on Sundays.
You’re kind of preaching there, Tony.
Yeah. You’re passionate about this, aren’t you?
Well, can I get an amen?
Amen. All right, Sean.
I like it, Tony.
Sean, I mentioned earlier that you worked several years for churches that were very intentional about designing their weekend services for both believers and new people, including people who may not yet be following Jesus. And you’ve also done many secret shopper experiences through the years as an Unstuck consultant. So what are some of the practical things you see churches doing to design their services to reach new people while also helping believers take their next steps towards Christ?
Well, there are a few things that come to mind. And interestingly, I think these are true for churches that are really reaching people through their services, no matter the denomination or worship style or the context of the country that they’re in. First thing. They’re designing experiences that are for their mission field. You know, they’re creating an environment that speaks to their community in a way that’s applicable and understood by the people in their community. And that’s gonna be different from church to church because each mission field is different and even more unique, I think, is the mission field that God is calling your church specifically to reach, you know, each individual church specifically to reach. A church that comes to mind, I think about our friends at City Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s an awesome church I had a chance to work with last year. One of the best musical experiences that I’ve been in in a worship service in a long, long time. City Church is in a very ethnically diverse area of Fort Wayne. The most diverse zip code, their pastor told me, in their community. And that’s really reflected in what you see in their church. The people on their stage really reflected their community, meaning they were just as ethnically diverse and their music ranged, you know, from funk to pop, to even some of the modern worship songs we kind of all know. It was done with a very high level of excellence and a lot of energy. And they just, it was obvious they had really intentionally designed the experience for their community to reach their community.
I was just gonna say, I’m a big fan of funk music, and I had no idea there were any churches that did that. You would be surprised at my playlist, Sean.
So Tony, there is a little Bruno Mars influence in some of the music that you heard at this church. I think you’d really like it.
I’d love of that. Yes. Thank you. Yeah.
The second thing I’d say is that they’re really clear about what they want people to do in response to the experience. So if sitting in a service for 60 minutes doesn’t move people to some sort of action. It feels like we’ve missed a huge opportunity, right? I don’t know. Would you spend an hour of your life on something that doesn’t make any sort of difference for you? Probably not. The churches that are the best about this. They’re super clear about the next steps that you should take out of the service experience. And of course there are a ton of specific next steps that you might think through and want people to take. But I think specifically about our friends up at onechurch.to in Toronto, Ontario. They are running this initiative called “Love Army,” where their goal is to see a hundred thousand acts of love accomplished in their community in the next five years. And that’s a consistent next step that they’re doing week in, week out with people, encouraging them to be, I like this tagline, “unignorably good.” And who wouldn’t want to do that, whether they’re new to the church or whether they’re a seasoned veteran of the church as well? The last thing I’d say, and this may seem obvious, but based on our secret shopper data, which Tony you noted earlier, our team seems to be excellent at assessing churches, having an engaging and relevant message in your service is a differentiator. So I actually went through some of our secret shopper responses specifically to the messages from all the churches that we’ve assessed. And what’s unfortunate is that the messages far too often have lower scores. But I wanna highlight a recent message that got really excellent scores, just to kinda identify some of the things that set, you know, the really engaging message experience apart. Here are a few. The pastor told a relevant story about the uncertainty that we’re all personally facing in this last year. And it was relatable because we’re all collectively experiencing that. The pastor injected some humor early in the message that just made them seem more relatable and more real. They actually broke from the teaching from time to time just to tell a personal story. And that made the teaching even more sticky and memorable. They showed vulnerability in the message. They used scripture that was written obviously thousands of years ago, but then they directly applied it to our current everyday life today. They communicated in a way that spoke both to insiders and outsiders, avoiding churchy kinda insider language. And then lastly, they didn’t speak for a long time, which left people, left our consultant, actually wanting a bit more. And I think that’s a really good thing as part of the message. So these are just a few of the things that stand out. Maybe they seem obvious, maybe not. But from what we’ve seen in the data and from our onsite experiences, there is still room for improvement in a lot of churches.
Amy, you’ve also done many secret shopper experiences through the year. Maybe you could speak specifically about the teaching. I mean, how do pastors approach their messages in a way that helps the church reach more new people while also helping Christ followers experience spiritual formation?
Yeah. I actually think that the things that came to mind instantly applies to both people who are new to faith and people who are already following Jesus, and Sean, I’m probably echoing some of you, but as a communicator, you need to start strong. You need to help me get to know you and trust you. So tell a story, draw me in, you know, Tony, you had pastor Greg Laurie on the podcast a few weeks ago, and I had the job last year of evaluating his message. Now that wasn’t terrifying at all at all, but he did a great job with this part here of starting strong. He opened up his message with a story about his dog, and it was hilarious. His dog, by the way, got sprayed by a skunk out on a walk and then ran back directly into the house all the way upstairs. And anyways, it made me laugh. The room was laughing. It made Greg seem like this normal person with normal problems. And then he linked it to the point of what he was gonna be teaching about, which is how you can’t get rid of the effects of sin in your life. And everyone just leaned in. You have to remember new people don’t know you when you’re teaching, and they come with some of their own filters on what they’re thinking or projecting on you. So that humble story, that funny story, whatever it is, will help us get to know you. So start strong and focus on engaging people through story. The second thing I would be is focused on being continuously engaging, continue to use storing illustration throughout the message. You know, there’s a reason Jesus taught with parables. Stories help us so much with understanding and digesting the teaching. When some people just teach and teach and teach, you know, if you could see my hand, you’d see me dropping it down. The energy just declines in the room when we’re just getting words. We’re human, right? We have attention spans. Great teachers know how to re-infuse energy and engagement through well placed stories and illustrations. The third thing I’d say is, again, address the real, everyday needs of the people and use everyday language to do it. I like, Sean, what you just said a few minutes ago. If I give you an hour, I would hope that I would be challenged to believe, think, or do something different in my real life as a result of the message. I just don’t need more information in my life. We’ve got plenty of that. Two more. Provide a clear next step. Answer the question, what should I do next based on what I was taught? Again, information alone is not helpful. I need to have clarity on what to do next. I need clarity on that application piece. And lastly, again, I’m echoing you, Sean, but less is more. When it comes to overall length, less is more. The number of verses you share. I don’t know if you remember this, Tony. One pastor I had to give feedback to, he used 57 different scriptures in one message. And it’s just a lot, right? Now that’s way outside the bell curve. I know that most of our listeners, you don’t do that, but you know, let’s steep in a concept and not jump all over looking at different verses. Just as you said, Sean, leave me wanting more. You know, that’s always a great place to end a message. And, you know, Tony, just came to mind. I should add, when we do the secret shopper experience, we fill out a whole report that we send to the senior pastor. We write that summary for the senior pastor. And while we might share some of the feedback that’s safer, you know, with the room when we’re onsite with a church, we really give all of the details to the senior pastor and let him or her decide what they want to share.
Yeah. And I think that’s particularly important around feedback with the message because it’s our desire to help the pastor take steps forward in the teaching and the connection with the people that they’re reaching, and then the believers that they’re encouraging to take next steps toward Christ. But where we sense there might be some helpful suggestions to improve the teaching, we’re not sharing that with the rest of the team. We’re sharing that with the pastor. And oftentimes what we hear, Amy, is, I mean, pastors teachers, they want that feedback as long, as long as they get to process that one-on-one with our teammates.
And by the way, it’s not just the sharpening things. I think many pastors need to be affirmed in what they’re doing. Well, I think so many people come up after service, “Nice message pastor.” And they’re like, I just gave like 30 hours, blood, sweat and tears. And all I get is the “nice message pastor.” So I think it’s also an opportunity for us to affirm these great teachers. And if we’ve got a nugget or two to help, we share that as well.
Well, Amy, we wanna say thanks to everybody who joined us on the podcast this week, and don’t forget to come back right here next week, same place, same channel for part two of this conversation. And if this episode or maybe past episodes have been helpful for you, we would love your help in getting the content out farther. And you can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling somebody else about the podcast. We’ll see you next week.