one
Spacer one
Welcome,
Guest
|
You are not logged in: Login
Find a Church and Register for Updates
one
one Donate
Spacer
Section Navigation
top
bottom
Spacer
Advertising
Spacer
Spacer
one
one
The Power of Invitation and Welcome

More Than a List -- Welcome UCC Style!

Enhancing a Welcoming Congregation
dot  
  dot
bottom

Inviting others into the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is one of the greatest gifts we can offer. This tool kit can help you achieve a warm and engaging presence in both areas. Each bar below is like a chapter in a book.

Consider the ideas presented here and adapt them to your particular situation. Experience the joy of being a welcoming congregation.

Welcome to this adventure in faith.

Join us in sharing the good news of Christ's Gospel as it is expressed in the United Church of Christ as, together, we witness the evidence that God is still speaking,

Some Background

Poet Muriel Rukheyser reminds us that "the world is made of stories, not atoms." There are exciting stories occurring within our church right now, and it is important that you embark upon this venture with songs in your heart and stories in your head.

Winds are stirring in the United Church of Christ – and here are three brief "elevator speeches" you can offer to others as anecdotal evidence of these stirrings:

  • The Stillspeaking Ministry's "Voices" campaign, which encourages UCC members to sign-on to be attentive to God's voice in the world and in others; listen for appropriate moments to share a Stillspeaking word; share the good news of extravagant welcome; and invite others to church.
  • Since 2008, the StillSpeaking Devotional has been helping thousands of subscribers start their day on an uplifting note. The inspirational devotionals, written by a diverse group of UCC pastors and authors, are based on lectionary-based and are emailed directly into subscribers' inboxes seven days a week.
  • The UCC is actively working with the Center for Progressive Renewal to recharge church vitality and provide a catalyst for new-church starts. The Center has established a proven process for assessing, recruiting, training and coaching church leaders. A national database of more than 4,000 prospective church leaders represents more than 20 denominations.

 

What is one of your congregation’s success stories? What activities are you involved in that demonstrate how God is speaking in your community? How can you tell that story with enthusiasm to those who are unfamiliar with the United Church of Christ?

Quantifying the Challenge

We all have challenges in our midst. But it is important that we look positively upon these challenges as opportunities for growth and development within and among our own ranks and within society at-large.

"Mainstream denominations are affected by the culture and demographics, but all the evidence suggests that they would be declining less if they put more emphasis on outreach and new-church development," say authors Kirk Hadaway and David Roozen in their book Rerouting the Protestant Mainstream.

Many United Church of Christ members have not been comfortable with the term "evangelism" in recent years. Our anti-evangelism bias became so strong that a campaign emerged with buttons bearing the message "Evangelism is not a dirty word."

In the past,"[church] attendance was steered by heritage, habit and social status," says Peter Drucker, noted business guru. According to Gallup polls in the 1950s, 49 percent of the U.S. population polled said they had attended a church or synagogue within the past seven days. However, large numbers of baby boomers on church rolls stopped going to church around college age — and failed to return. Many who did return, especially after their children were born, discovered that in the 20 years since they had last been in church, not much had changed.

Failure of the Church To Adapt

Baby Boomers became religious consumers, often opting out of church life altogether. Failure of the church to adapt to this trend and encourage Boomers to return has resulted in Boomers getting religious meaning elsewhere.

 

"The fading of Christian or other religious tradition as a constraint and guide for choice means that individuals are increasingly on their own in developing what we call a lifestyle," says Hadaway.

According to Hadaway and Roozen,"A sizable proportion of church members in mainstream denominations don’t care whether their churches grow or not … they are uncomfortable with evangelism and they like their church the way it is."

If the church, for example, was to see itself as being in the transportation business for Christ-driven spiritual journeys, instead of converting people to participate in its 1950s model of “church,” imagine how different it might look. Think of the many people who desperately crave “transportation” for meaningful spiritual journeys.

Many of our UCC congregations offer viable and exciting "transportation" that would appeal to people — if they knew about it. Do you want to offer it to them? Do you want that for yourselves?

If we are to be effective change agents, we must recognize and name this tendency to resist evangelism and expect it to continually re-emerge within us and in our community. Resistance will re-emerge for at least three very important reasons:

  • Old habits die hard — especially when they have served us well in the past. We must honor their past usefulness, respectfully retire them and move on.
  • Evangelism is invitation. Invitation can be scary because it makes us vulnerable to rejection. Most normal people avoid rejection at all costs. The best salespeople in the world go to selling seminars each year to remind them to do something we all avoid — invite people to buy or to participate. You will be tempted to keep avoiding it as well. It’s natural. Remember the words of the apostle Paul, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but will with the temptation also provide the way out ..." -- I Corinthians 10:13.
  • We have negative associations with overzealous and fanatical evangelists who lack respect for the deeply personal nature of each person’s unique spiritual journey. Let’s trust ourselves enough to know that, because of who we are, we will not make these mistakes. Let's also recognize that the assumption that people already know who we are, and have already been invited, is a false assumption. You will prove this by inviting people who will tell you they never knew that a church like ours existed and wish someone had told them about it a long time ago.

 

As we prepare ourselves to be in touch with our own discomfort and the discomfort of other members in our community, let us be filled with compassion for ourselves and our community — ever moving forward. James 1:2-6 says it all:

"My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. Ask God in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind."

Successful Tendencies of Churches

UCC research has found some surprising and hopeful phenomena for church growth. Churches having one or more of the following qualities are more likely to grow:

  • Liberal or progressive members
  • Use of contemporary music
  • Social justice work
  • High proportion of new members
  • Members who are excited about their church’s future
  • Congregation that is spiritually vital and alive
  • Exciting worship services
  • Lack of conflict

     

How many of these qualities does your congregation have? Remember that few congregations will exhibit all of these criteria, so it is appropriate to use this list as a motivating factor for your church, not as a list of unattainable goals. Celebrate your strengths while working to build up other aspects of your corporate life.

Let’s Build “Come to the Party” Churches

The theological foundation for the "come to the party" concept is found in the sacraments, in our Reformed tradition and in such scriptural passages as the parable of the heavenly banquet for the prodigal son. Come to the party!

The Prodigal Son

A Modern Retelling


A mother had two sons. Both sons were handsome, well educated and confident.
The mother and her two sons ran a highly successful vineyard in a pleasant, pastoral
setting. They lived in a wonderful community, had many friends and all of
the modern conveniences. Both sons were computer literate, enterprising and hard
working. Things were going well until the younger brother started becoming more and more distant.
He kept up with all of his duties, but somehow his heart just wasn't in it anymore.

The younger brother summoned up the courage to approach his mother
about his unhappiness. He asked her for his portion of the family inheritance so he
could try his wings and explore the world on his own.

After much thought, and with a heavy heart, the mother gave in, not wanting to
hold the son back from discovering his pathway in life. The financial arrangements
would be difficult and complicated. It would take some of the family’s working
capital, but with additional effort, she thought that she and the elder son could
probably make it work.

The dreaded day of her son's departure finally came. To the last day, she and
the elder son tried to gently persuade the younger son to stay. They could not.

The mother stood and watched as the younger son drove off in his luxury convertible.
The younger son took the winding road, down a hill that led through the
fertile valley where their vineyard was located. The mother stood there until she
could see his car no longer.

Each day at break times, the mother could be observed looking out the huge window in her office. The window faced the long open road, on which her son departed and on which she hoped he would return.

Years passed. Not only did the younger son not return, but eventually
they stopped hearing from him altogether. Though she and the elder brother
sometimes feared that the younger brother might be dead, the mother continued
to watch for him.

One summer day around dusk, the time of day when everything seems to stand out more clearly against the dark and intensely blue sky, the mother saw a car coming from off in the distance. It was noticeable because it was blowing clouds of smoke. To her disbelief, the car pulled up to the front of the house. A thin, shabbily dressed and sickly looking man emerged from the exhaust. The mother realized at once that this was her younger son and, running toward him, she shouted, "My child!" She grabbed him and held him close. She laughed and cried with joy.

It was her son. He was home. They sat down to a meal and he told his story. He told her how he’d lost everything, that his health was failing, and that he had no other place to go. He apologized for leaving and for losing everything, but most of all, for being such a huge disappointment. He asked his mother to forgive him and begged for any job he could have — no matter how small.

Hearing his story, the mother said, "Enough of this talk for now. Let’s get some food in you, and get you back on your feet. There'll be plenty of time to discuss how you get your life back. For now, the only thing that’s important is that you’re alive and that you've come home."

After dinner, the younger son went to his old room and was surprised to find everything just as he had left it. Meanwhile, his mother was on the phone to call doctors, a barber, a clothier and others to help her son right away. She also called a group of his old friends and invited them to a dinner to be held the following Friday night. Within 48 hours, she had managed to pull together the biggest party anyone in the area had seen in years.

She suddenly realized that she had not called the eldest son — who was traveling on business — to tell him of his brother’s return. She dialed his cell phone and told him the good news. There was silence on the other end. For a moment she thought the line had gone dead. "Are you there?" she asked.

"Yes. I guess I was just a little distracted."

She continued ,"Make sure you're back by 6 p.m. on Friday night for the celebration."

That Friday, the house was extravagantly decorated and filled with guests. But the elder brother was not there. Just as the mother began to get anxious, she saw his car drive up. She ran to meet him. As he got out of the car, she put her arms around him. She could see that he was upset.

"What's wrong, honey?"

He paused and said, "What's wrong? I'll tell you what’s wrong. While your 'baby' was out wasting his inheritance, I've spent all this time trying to earn back what he has cost us. Now he shows up and you expect me to act as if nothing ever happened? After all the work I've done, you’re throwing him a party!"

Her eyes filled with tears as she listened. She thought about both her boys. She remembered them playing together, working together on homework and even fighting as boys often do. She remembered them carrying their dad's casket and comforting her as they all said their last goodbyes to a good man they all loved.

With the sounds of laughter and music around them, she placed her arm in her son’s arm as she'd done so many times. Clearing her eyes and holding her head high, she looked at her son and said, "Your brother, whom we feared to be dead, has come home — alive. The one we thought was lost has been found."

Letting go of his arm, but clearly expecting him to follow, she turned toward the house filled with music and laughter. Moving toward the house and gesturing to him all the while, she said, "Come to the party!"

A Theological Foundation of Welcome

The Sacraments:

The sacraments are more than mere rituals.


In baptism — whether by sprinkling or immersion — we affirm that, by faith, we belong to God as sons and daughters, and to each other as sisters and brothers. We are connected to one another and to the worldwide community of faith. This community promises to love, support and care for the baptized. We vow not to take back that promise, because God does not take it back, no matter where the faith journey leads.

In the sacrament of communion, we come to Christ’s table, where we reaffirm our baptism. Breaking bread and pouring the cup reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice and the discipleship to which we are called. Just as grains of wheat are gathered to make one loaf and many grapes are gathered to make one cup, so, too, the many people of God are made one in the body of Christ, the church.

This "welcome table" says, in effect, "No matter who, no matter what, no matter where you find yourself on life’s journey, you belong to this community.
Come to the party!"

Our Reformed Tradition

The Heidelberg Catechism, published in


1563, is a central creed in the Reformed tradition. The core concepts in this document were inspired by John Calvin. The opening words ask us to consider the question, "What is our only comfort in life and in death?" The answer remains the same for us now as it was then:

"I belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."


You might read or sing the hymn, "I Was There To Hear Your Borning Cry" (#351 in The New Century Hymnal), as testimony to the sense of belonging that you feel to Christ and the church:

 

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I'll be there when you are old
I rejoiced the day you were baptized to
see your life unfold

I was there when you were but a child,
with a faith to suit you well;
I'll be there in case you wander off
and find where demons dwell.

When you found the wonder of the Word,
I was there to cheer you on;
You were raised to praise the living God,
to whom you now belong.

Should you find someone to share your
time and you join your hearts as one,
I'll be there to make your verses rhyme
from dusk til rising sun.

In the middle ages of your life, not too
old, no longer young,
I'll be there to guide you through the
night, complete what I've begun.

When the evening gently closes in and
you shut your weary eyes,
I'll be there as I have always been
with just one more surprise.

I was there to hear your borning cry,
I'll be there when you are old
I rejoiced the day you were baptized
to see your life unfold
When the evening gently closes in
and you shut your weary eyes,
I'll be there as I have always been
with just one more surprise.

John Vlvisaker, 1985.Tune: Borning Cry 9.79.6D

It is in this spirit that we are glad that
you and your church have decided to be a
"come to the party" community. This is a
holy and sacred action. It also is a celebration.
Welcome to the party!

Selecting Your Team

The first and perhaps most critical step in this process is to establish a high-energy team that will initiate, implement and tweak the strategy until it works.

Be sure to include team members who represent different parts of your congregation’s life. It will be important for your whole church to feel included in this process. If you have any marketing, public relations or advertising professionals in your congregation, make certain that you recruit them. Don’t forget to make this fun! Your team members should be able to:

  • Work together.
  • Think of "out of the box" ways to invite and welcome.
  • Embrace those aspects of your church’s culture that make it unique and valuable to your community.
  • Connect all promotional and hospitality items with a similar look, feel and philosophy.
  • Establish themselves as a clearly identifiable presence of the welcoming Christ.
  • Give your team an interesting name. One church calls its welcoming team the "Good News Team." What would be a catchy phrase that would appeal to "seekers" in your setting?

 

P-s-s-s-t: a word of caution . . .

Let's be honest. All


human groups have different factions within them — including congregations. Failure to recognize and work with this principle will doom your plan to failure. Your welcoming team will need to "sell change" to everyone in the congregation. Leave no faction behind without doing everything humanly possible to bring them along. Carefully select representatives of your team — even those from difficult factions. Make certain that you go out of your way to include them; there is a good chance that some of them may already feel excluded. You may discover that this is the first and most invitation within. Although this is not always possible, it may begin a process of healing relationships that have been wounded for years.

Keep It Fun

Regular meetings are essential, but meeting-oriented groups lose creativity quickly. Covenant to meet for not more than one hour. Keep the brainstorming brisk and fun. End your meetings with assigned tasks and plans.

Remember, meetings can be "fun" without being "funny." A team holding quickly paced meetings that accomplish interesting outcomes generates fun — automatically. Don't forget to use prayer as an essential part of your meeting agenda.

Perhaps because the stakes are so high, religious people are often very serious. This needn't (and shouldn't) be the case! One of God’s greatest gifts is the gift of joy. Life is meaningless without laughter. As theologian Frederick Buechner reminds us, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet" (Wishful Thinking, p. 95). Rejoice and be glad as you welcome people into God's love.

Critical Tasks

  • Build fun into the process.
  • Clearly define and state "the business your church is in" in 20 words or less.
  • Think strategically about becoming a welcoming presence in your community.
  • Plan specific tactics to implement your vision.
  • Set reasonable and measurable goals relative to a workable time frame.
  • Determine the best time and method to sell the plan to the congregation.
  • Track progress and flexibly adjust goals when appropriate.
  • Visualize both the positive and negative impact of success.
  • Prepare for success.
  • Establish new rituals that celebrate milestones of accomplishment.
  • Mark progress.
  • Honor the team’s work and thank team members.
  • Strengthen team members and other church members when the going gets tough.
  • Give God the glory.

 

A Word About Strategic Thinking

Think of a strategy as a plan for a trip where you map out the road ahead of you. Answer these questions:

  • What business are we in?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • What do we want to take along? In other words, what do we love and value most about our congregation’s ministry? What do we do best? Are we thinking big enough? Are we willing to sacrifice to have the kind of bold vision our church deserves?
  • How soon can we get there? How will we know when we are there? What measurable criteria will help us mark our progress?
  • What if we need to change our plans along the way? What process have we built in to enable us to be flexible?
  • What are the tools from our marketing kit that will work best for us? How will we customize them for our use?

 

Remember the old spiritual that says, "Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't goin' there"? The same is true for strategies. They are worthless without concrete tactics to turn measurable goals into measurable reality.

Making Your Entire Church A Welcoming Community

It won't happen. There's a Buddhist saying, "All unhappiness comes from unreasonable expectations." People come to church in varying moods and with varying abilities. Here's what you can do: You can create a welcoming team that "works" the fellowship hall and other greeting areas; ensures that visitors are welcomed and invited back; and introduces guests to members. "A little leaven leavens the whole loaf." Over time, others will catch on. In the meantime, the intentional, fun, energetic and creative group can change the welcoming climate in your congregation – overnight.

Sample Answer to the "What Business Are We In" Question

"To be a visible witness and an active presence of God’s radical and all-inclusive welcome." (15A words)

A Sample Strategic Goal

By faith, we trust in God’s promises and believe that if we are a visible witness and an active presence of God’s radical and all-inclusive welcome, God will increase the active membership of our congregation by 25 percent with people under the age of 40 over the next five years.

Strategic Outreach Tactics

First, ask yourselves, "Is there a population within a 10- to 20-mile radius that is under the age of 40?" Locate them.

Next, have team members identify and speak with two or three people from your target population. Tell them you are working on a research project for your church and ask them if to answer a few questions for you. Secure their permission to take notes. Ask such questions as:

  • Do you think of yourself as being on a spiritual journey?
  • How is this important to you?
  • How could you best be supported in that journey?
  • Do you think churches are places where people can get this sort of support? Why or why not?

 

Report your results back to your team. Develop specific outreach programs based upon your findings. Promote these programs by sending brochures, postcards and press releases about the events. Advertise in local newspapers and on radio. Encourage the congregation to invite younger people they know to attend worship.

Time these events in ways that build momentum, creating a "buzz" about your church in your community. Assess the response and impact. Refine the approach based upon the outcome and the feedback. Restart the process.

Worship

Making people feel welcome at worship requires special skills. Many people who have no history with the church, or who have been away from the church for a long time, will have a natural reluctance to enter a sanctuary for worship. Many, too, have been hurt or humiliated by the church in the past. These wounds can be very deep.

 

Yet worship is central to a congregation’s life, so it is essential to invite people into the worship experience. Remember to offer a truly welcoming presence without "pouncing" on unsuspecting guests.

Develop a careful tactical plan for this important invitational effort. For example, ask a person or group of gracious people (your welcoming team?) with unobtrusive but winning personalities to be responsible for passing out name tags. Encourage members to wear a certain color name tag (i.e., white) while guests receive a different color (i.e., pale blue).

The team seeks out blue name tags and offers a gentle welcome and warm hospitality, provides information about the church, and makes sure no guest wearing a blue name tag is standing alone. Introduce blue name tags to one another and to white name tags; offer tours of the church; express a genuine interest in listening to guests; and ask guests, if they are comfortable doing so, to sign a guest book, providing their addresses.

Follow-up is critical. Send a handwritten note or card to visitors. If possible, refer to information learned during conversations before or after worship. Reach out to all newcomers (and old-timers you haven't seen in awhile) without regard to race, gender, physical ability or sexual orientation.

Know what to say when a visitor asks, "How can I get involved in this church?" For example, it is important that your church offers people an opportunity to join frequently, even every Sunday. To those unfamiliar with it, the church can seem like a difficult place to join.

You may want to look at language like "receiving" new members. Do such phrases send the message that people can only join when we’re ready? Many of our churches ascribe to the (once valid) assumption that most members are born into our congregations through generations of continuing membership.

By not printing in the bulletin each week the "who, what, where, when, why and how" of becoming a member, congregations may seem off-putting, even while trying to be friendly.

The story of the apostle Philip and the eunuch is an appropriate marketing model. In marketing terms, it is important to "close the deal" when the interest is expressed. Invite your team to read the story of Philip and the eunuch and discuss its relevance (Acts 8:26-40). In this story, the question the eunuch asks — "How can I understand unless someone guides me?" — is the central question before us.

Offer a non-threatening gathering time for people interested in participating in your congregation. It is not necessary to wait until there are enough people to make a large group. When there is interest, seize upon it right away. Even if you have only one interested person, if she or he is open to the idea, have a couple of current members meet with the person, including someone from the professional ministry staff. Keep the conversation non-judgmental and non-threatening. Focus on relationships rather than programs.

A Checklist of Important Do's and Don'ts

 

  • Do watch your language. In your team’s visioning process, avoid language that makes "the old" seem bad.
  • Don't leave people out who are likely to be the most resistant. Rather, find ways to include someone who can represent alternative views without scuttling the process.
  • Do avoid tension. Keep it friendly. While there will be disagreements along the way, constant tension creates an unhealthy congregational environment.
  • Don't make immediate and radical shifts that alienate longtime members. Congregations need to blend the new into the old in ways that allow everyone to feel a part of the process — even in the midst of change.
  • Do deepen your connections with the denomination. Show congregants and visitors the “big view” of the work of the United Church of Christ and the ways they fit into it — financially and structurally.
  • Don't be surprised if your church does not feel quite as cozy after it grows.
  • Do anticipate some failure. Take the setbacks in stride and restart the process.
  • Don't be deceived about the costs of change — emotionally and financially.
  • Do ask yourselves if you are sure you are ready for new leaders with new ideas. Try to ascertain if the current power centers in the congregation are truly willing to step aside to, and share power with, newcomers.
  • Don't fail to make a long-term (five-year) plan, and don’t be afraid to stay with it. That said, make it a living plan that your team revisits at least quarterly and modifies as needed.
  • Do get a broad-based buy-in before you begin implementing your plan and spending your church’s resources. Remember, relationships will grow your church.
  • Don't forget to reduce terms and practices that are widely unfamiliar to non-church-goers. For example, what do “Responsive Reading,” “Doxology” and “the Lord’s Prayer” mean to non-church- goers? If terms are important to retain in your church’s bulletin, add a word of explanation.
  • Do invest in good and innovative music.
  • Do develop centers of excellence and work from your strengths.
  • Do design an engaging and compelling brochure that tells your congregation’s story. Invest in sharp writing and interesting graphics. Seek professional assistance in designing this important piece.
  • Do recognize that the first impact of your work will be to energize existing members. Create a sense of expectation among them.
  • Do establish opportunities for members to have non-threatening "excuses" to invite friends and family to church. Studies show that the No. 1 reason people come to church is because someone invites them to attend.
  • Don't be afraid to provide every visitor with a no-pressure invitation to join your church. Studies show that the No. 1 reason people join a church is because someone invites them to join.
  • Don't be afraid to take in new members as often as you have them; don't make them wait. The ritual of joining a church is important because, each time, it allows current members to reconnect with their spiritual journeys. It also provides a visible sign on an ongoing basis that growth is happening. Momentum comes as more people join and there is diversity among those joining.
  • Don't fail to acknowledge that many people are afraid to invite others to church. We all fear rejection. There is an important selling maxim: "Salespeople live in a world of failure." In this way, selling is very much like the realm of God, where primary focus is on the one who comes home — not the ones we've lost. However, people can become active in the life of the church without joining. Ironically, in many of our growing congregations, participation is the goal, not increased membership. Most people who participate will eventually join when the moment is right.
  • Do acknowledge the great mystery that if you build a process of invitation, the "right people" will come. The "right people" are those who do feel called to join your congregation. By embracing the rainbow of God's creation, your congregation will be enriched.
  • Do seek the presence of God to fill you with more grace than you ever thought possible.

 

Reach Out / Reach In

Reach Out

Give your members non-threatening opportunities to invite people to church:

  • Hold "What if Everybody Came?" Sundays.
  • Hold "Invite a Friend" Sundays.
  • Invite special speakers, guests with a big draw.
  • Encourage families to bring their family reunion to church.
  • Sponsor (alone or with other like-minded groups) non-church-related events.
  • Hold art openings or concerts celebrating the creative spirit in each of us.
  • Become a “safe place” where the community comes to deal with difficult issues.
  • Start a speaker series.
  • Organize a day care center.
  • Do everything you can to break the "empty church" syndrome.

Reach In

 

  • Nurture a caring and loving church; it is the best witness.
  • Watch the "party mix" — strive for a mix of young, old and in between.
  • Don't forget about the children; places without children seem strange.
  • Don't just count heads — note who is absent; we appreciate knowing we’re missed.
  • Nurture the spirituality of the church in small groups.

Quantify Your Goals

and Measure Your Progress

Stay with a strategy long enough to see your "faith become visible" (see Hebrews 11:1). But also, don’t be afraid to abandon a tested strategy that is truly failing. Share your successes and failures with others. If you are not failing at some things, you are not stretching yourselves enough.

Connect with the "God Is Still Speaking" Campaign

In everything you do, connect with "God Is Still Speaking" identity images and slogans. For example, many churches begin worship with the welcome statement "Good morning to XYZ United Church of Christ. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."

 

This is important. People who come as a result of seeing the commercial – or hearing one of our TV or radio ads, or seeing our billboards – will need reassurance that they are in the right place. Some pastors have included these words in the invitation to the table.

God Is Still Speaking images, symbols and posters should be everywhere. Don't worry about overdoing it. It is more likely that you will under-do it. It takes a lot to get people's attention.

The Tools

A description of the tool kit is last because, in some ways, it is the least important thing. These tools will not grow your church. Your relationships with each other and your community will grow your church.

In a popular sermon, author and religion professor Marcus Borg says, "I believe it is exegetically correct to replace the word 'commandment' with the word 'relationship' in the following passage: This is the greatest and first relationship, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second great relationship is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Borg goes on to say that we can keep the commandments and still be "jerks," but we cannot have a relationship with the Divine One without being transformed. Once we establish right relationships with God, with each other and with the communities that surround us, then the tools in this packet will be helpful.

It is useless to invite people into a church where there is no welcome or hospitality. Prayer has been called the hospitality of the soul entertaining the most high. Similarly, a vibrant presence of invitation and welcome is the hospitality of the soul of the congregation entertaining the returning sons and daughters of the most high. We are all God's sons and daughters.

Public Relations Strategy

Both internal and external public relations are important to growing your church. Internal public relations strategies help churches keep members and friends informed. External strategies keep significant events, news and feature stories in the forefront of your community.

Internal Public Relations

 

  • Newsletters give members and friends the heads-up on schedules, events, news and other activities at your church.
  • Pastoral letters, committee reports and a church's annual report also are opportunities to keep members and friends "in the know" and feeling upbeat about the life of the church.
  • "God Is Still Speaking" themes should be integrated into the liturgy, in banners, stoles, robes and rituals.

 

External Public Relations

News is free advertising. Get into the news every chance you can.

  • Create a "niche market" and "work it" via regular contact with the reporters who cover the beat.
  • Send press releases — event, news and feature story releases.
  • Follow up all press releases with phone calls to the media outlets to which you send them.

 

Make certain that your press release contains news. A common error concerning press releases and getting the word out is that we forget that the people receiving our releases do not love our issues as much as we do. It is our job to interest them. It is not their fault that they are not interested.

At the end of this resource there are three press release examples that you can use as models.:

  • Basic event release
  • News story release
  • Feature story release

 

Here are a few steps to aid you in the public relations process:

  • Build an accurate media list, and cross reference it by media type and news covered.
  • Establish one contact to communicate with the media. (Multiple persons create confusion and dilute your message.)
  • When you receive a call from a reporter, have someone other than the pastor find out what the issue is about before the pastor responds. This will give the pastor time to prepare a response.
  • Plan early. Send releases to magazines at least two months in advance of publication dates.
  • Know the who, what, when, where why and how of the release. Make certain that this information is in the first paragraph or two.
  • Target your release to the people interested in or specializing in those areas.
  • Get to know the key media players, their likes and interests in your town.
  • Follow up every release with a phone call and be prepared to do a 10-second pitch that states why the reporter would want to be there. What's in it for the reporter? Is it a real scoop? How can you make it sizzle for the reporter?
  • Be prepared to retransmit the information when you make your follow-up phone call.
  • When reporters show up to cover an event, thank them for coming. They just might seek you out the next time they want to feature a church in a story.

 

How To

This is where the rubber hits the road — this section tells you how to use the tools in your kit. We will take you step-by-step through the process of getting your commercials aired on local TV, how to go about getting a billboard placed, how to get customized posters and postcards, and how to order additional mugs, T-shirts and decals for fundraising campaigns. It's easy! And we've done most of the work for you.

Placing Your Commercials on Cable Television

First and most important, in the words of a host of angelic voices in scripture, DO NOT BE AFRAID! Studies have shown that the most prohibitive reason for mainline religious bodies not to be on the airwaves is because people are afraid to approach the media with requests.

Remember that you will be looking to buy time. This is important. Do not go expecting something for free. However, do not be surprised that if you go in looking to buy air time, you may be surprised as to how sweet a deal you can cut!

  • Find a cable company. You will find cable TV company listings in the Yellow Pages of your local phone book under "Cable Television."
  • Ask for the local advertising/sales department.
  • Tell the advertising representative that you have a finished 30-second spot that you would like to place. Confirm tape format requirements and get an idea of the placement costs. (Your ad rep will work with you in determining the number of placements you can get for the amount of money you have to spend.) You may find that these rates are surprisingly reasonable, especially if you let the cable company determine when the ads will run.

 

Note: Not all cable stations offer local placements. Research this before ordering a broadcast tape from the UCC national offices. Also, be advised that networks are possible broadcast outlets for your stories as well, but network ad rates are usually much higher than cable rates. Basically, however, the same process applies for placement.

Placing Your Commercials on Local Radio

 

  • Find a local radio station that appeals to the demographics you are trying to attract in your welcoming campaign. You will find local radio stations listed in the Yellow Pages under "Radio Stations & Broadcast of the Companies."
  • Ask for the advertising/sales department.
  • Tell the advertising representative that you have a 60-second spot that you would like to place. Confirm the format requirements. Many stations will accept your ad via CD or even over the Internet.
  • Ask about minimum order requirements and request a rate card.
  • Work with your ad rep in determining the best number of ads. Use the radio spot text on the CD to help shape your local radio spots.

 

Social Networks

 

Don't forget to use Social Networking, you can find some ideas here that were recently shared with the Illinois and Illinois SOuth Conferences.

Hospitality Basics

Most people make up their minds whether they will return to a church within the first four to eight minutes of their initial visit. – long before the pastor enters the pulpit! How would you want to be treated as a guest at church? What are some of the congregation's barriers that prevent newcomers from feeling welcome? (courtesy of Wisconsin Conference, wcucc.org)

Ahead of time:

  • Recruit and train warm, friendly, knowledgeable volunteers.
  • Develop a welcome packet (pastor letter, note from follow-up team, brochure, newsletter, catchy item, tickets to upcoming events, all in a plastic zip bag).
  • Announce and use pew pads that everyone signs.
  • Encourage the congregation in generous hospitality (leave close-in parking spaces and back pews for latecomers; wear nametags).
  • Note the worship time on answering machine, outdoor signage, Yellow Pages listing and web site.
  • Post clear signage for parking, injury, restrooms, child care, etc.

Before worship:

  • Give out colored nametags to identify guests.
  • Greeters are in place and ready to go.
  • Watch actively for visitors.
  • Consider having greeters in the parking lot or outside the front door.
  • No church business while on duty; make eye contact and smile; bend down to talk with children.
  • "Hi, I'm _______ . I don't believe we've met yet." (Not "Are you new?")
  • Know the basics (nursery, restrooms, coat rack, building layout, communion practice).
  • Make sure everyone has a nametag.

During worship:

  • Let latecomers slip in without calling a lot of attention to themselves.
  • Distribute a visitor-friendly bulletin that lays out all the responses and songs that only the regulars know.

After worship:

  • Welcomers invite but do not force guests to come to coffee hour.
  • Welcomers may introduce guests to the pastor or other church members.

Follow-up Plan:

  • Lay team visits guests within 36 hours of worship (some churches are "mugging" guests with "God Is Still Speaking" mug and candy on a short visit).
  • Pastor mails a letter on Monday or Tuesday.
  • Bonus points: Call guests on Saturday to invite them back.
  • Feedback forms:

  • Keep track of guests who visit in response to The Stillspeaking Initiative.
  • Share stories with Stillspeaking staff via stillspeaking@ucc.org.
  • Focus on the compliments and work on the criticisms.
  •  

    Tactical Plan for "Come to the Party" SAMPLE NEWS STORY RELEASE

    United Church of Christ
    Gregg Brekke, press contact
    (216) 736-2177
    brekkeg@ucc.org

    On the web: ucc.org/news

    For immediate release March 2, 2011

    UCC clergy, members rally
    in support of workers' rights

    COLUMBUS, Ohio – As tensions over collective bargaining rights for unions and state workers escalate in locations around the country, UCC members and clergy have added their voices - along with declarations of the UCC's General Synod - decrying legislative efforts underway to strip workers of their negotiating power.

    Hundreds of homemade placards dotted the Ohio Statehouse lawn March 1, each hoisted and waved energetically by a vocal and deeply concerned opponent of Ohio's version of such legislation, Senate Bill 5.

    "I don't know when I've ever been in a crowd of people who have felt so totally thrown away," said Janice Resseger, UCC minister for public education and awareness, of the estimated 8,500 people gathered to protest a bill aimed at restricting collective bargaining.

    Passage of the bill – similar to the high-profile bill being debated in Wisconsin and others throughout the country – would weaken legal protection for public employees such as police, firefighters and school teachers; prohibit public workers from striking; and might eliminate binding arbitration for some.

    Proponents say passage will effectively address Ohio's massive budget shortfall.

    Speaking to the crowd in Columbus, Resseger told of a friend who recently asked her, "What kind of society turns on its school teachers?"

    "We also need to consider what kind of society turns on a wide range of its state and local public servants," said Resseger. "Not only school teachers, but also those who care for parks, collect our trash, maintain public records, drive school buses, protect and patrol our streets, put out fires, provide transportation for the disabled and elderly, plow the snow and fix water lines when they freeze.

    "These people are woven into the fabric of our communities. They are us. It is a tragedy for us to undermine who we are as a society."

    The UCC's 1997 General Synod declared "affirmation of the heritage of the United Church of Christ as an advocate for just, democratic, participatory and inclusive economic policies in both public and private sectors, including… the responsibility of workers to organize for collective bargaining with employers regarding wages, benefits, and working conditions, and the responsibility of employers to respect not only worker rights but also workers' dignity, and to create and maintain a climate conducive to the workers' autonomous decision to organize."

    For more information, please visit .

    -- ## --

    SAMPLE FEATURE STORY PRESS RELEASE

    United Church of Christ
    Gregg Brekke, press contact
    (216) 736-2177
    brekkeg@ucc.org

    On the web: ucc.org/news

    For immediate release October 12, 2011

    Leadership role a perfect fit for
    Native American UCC member in Rhode Island

    PROVIDENCE, R. I. – The Rev. Nicole Grant Yonkman figures 45 years is long enough.

    Lifting up Paulette Littlejohn for her long-standing membership in and service to Beneficent Congregational UCC in Providence, R.I., Yonkman's strong sentiment is succinct.

    "It's high time she got some recognition for what she does in the church."

    Yonkman and her husband, the Rev. Todd Grant Yonkman –– co-ministers at Beneficent for the past 16 months –– proudly presided over the Native American Ministries worship service Sept. 26 at which five members of Littlejohn’s family were baptized.

    "She's been a member of this church for 45 years and has never been asked to be in leadership," says Nicole. "It's crazy, because here she is an elder of a tribe and the tribe has 1,500 members. This year, for the first time, she is a deacon in our church."

    A council elder of the Northern Narragansett tribe, Littlejohn counts more than 300 –– including 12 great grandchildren –– among her family. Self-identified as Native American, she also has African-American blood.

    "Our Native-American family is providing the leadership that is revitalizing and helping us to turn around this downtown struggling church," says Todd. "Our ministry is about empowering groups, building leadership and affirming what they bring. This is not ministry to, this is ministry with."

    Littlejohn, 64, was first drawn to Beneficent in 1959 when the man who became her husband brought her there to see "that huge, beautiful chandelier" under which they were married in 1964. She’s wanted her family – all of it – to be a part of the church ever since.

    "My family is everything," she says. "They are all I have. I've been there when they've needed me, and I've been there when they didn't need me."

    In 1965, the year after her wedding, her husband, McGeary, became the first African American from Rhode Island to be killed in the Vietnam War.

    As a wedding gift, her grandmother gave her a handmade basket filled with records compiled by her great-grandmother about her family’s history at the time the Pilgrims arrived in Rhode Island.

    "[She] somehow learned to read and write, and was trained to write in English and whatever the Narragansett language was," says Nicole. "In 1637, the Pilgrims converted her family to Christianity. Of course, the Pilgrims became Congregationalists. And that is where it all began."

    Today, Littlejohn is keeper of those records.

    "She is the one who keeps the family together," says Nicole. "She has inherited her culture. She says her life is her family –– and keeping that family and that culture alive, getting her kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren involved in the tribe and its leadership."

    Among Littlejohn's cherished family are the five baptized Sept. 26: great-grandsons Octavius Littlejohn, 11, and Taizayah Littlejohn, 5; great-granddaughter Aviyonce Littlejohn, 8; great-niece Neveah Washington, 4; and great-nephew Christopher Washington, 1.

    "She is raising her great-grandkids," says Nicole. "It's just amazing. Octavius, at 11, is a brave in the Northern Narragansett tribe."

    Todd says he was mindful to include elements into the baptism service that honor family culture. While the children wore Native American dress, jewelry and vests, Littlejohn was cloaked in humility. She wanted no fuss about her ancestry, only recognition of her family’s belief in Christ.

    "I thought I needed to plan this with Paulette," says Todd, "but when I called her, she says, 'Pastor Todd, we are Christians. That’s all.'"

    Littlejohn is on the teaching committee of the church's new teaching parish for Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass. "It gives everyone chills when she speaks," says Nicole. "She doesn't speak much, but when she does, everything is in gold. She has a way about her. This role of being on a teaching committee, this wise elder, is just perfect for her."

    Littlejohn's role as leader of the largest family in the tribe means her tribal influence is considerable, says Nicole.

    Equally powerful is Littlejohn's faith. "As recently as the 1960s, Providence was taking urban land from Native Americans and African Americans," says Nicole. "Paulette's mother's land was taken –– after her previous land had been taken. Yet they remain Christians, a part of the church; a loyal, great example of faith."

    Littlejohn's emergence as a leader comes at an opportune time for Beneficent, an Open and Affirming, Just Peace congregation that includes Asian Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, Euro Americans, Latinos/Latinas and LGBT persons.

    Weekly worship attendance has doubled in the past year and a half.

    "We're up to about 100 in weekly worship," says Nicole. "We used to have two-to-five kids, now we're at 20 to 25."

    As for being asked to be a deacon, Littlejohn feels so much, yet says little. "It makes me feel so good," she says. "I don't know any other words to put it in."

    Recognition of her gifts demonstrates Beneficent's intentionality about being multicultural and affirming of all cultures' value and leadership, says Todd.

    "We're taking those voices that have been on the edge and putting them front and center."

    -- ## --

    SAMPLE EVENT PRESS RELEASE

    United Church of Christ
    Gregg Brekke, press contact
    (216) 736-2177
    brekkeg@ucc.org

    On the web: ucc.org/news

    For immediate release January 19, 2011

    UCC pastor to preach on
    national 'Day1' program

    SOUTH HOLLAND, Ill. – The Rev. Ozzie E. Smith, senior pastor of Covenant UCC, will serve as guest preacher Jan. 23 on the national Day1 radio program.

    Each week Day1 radio – hosted by Peter Wallace and formerly known as "The Protestant Hour" – presents an inspiring message by an outstanding preacher on the radio and online.

    Smith, who founded Covenant UCC 14 years ago, will deliver a sermon based on 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. It is entitled "What Are We Doing Here?"

    Smith earned his M.Div. from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, where he serves as an adjunct professor. He holds a D.Min. from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

    A native of Memphis, Tenn., Smith is well known for his heart-provoking saxophone playing, frequently leading revivals across the country.

    The Jan. 23 program will air on Day1 radio affiliates and will be available online.

    Day1 radio is dedicated to keeping the mainline church present in the vast public marketplace of ideas. In the midst of the proliferation of various new media, Day 1 bills itself as unique among national ecumenical voices.

    -- ## --

    SECTION MENU
    CONTACT INFO

    Ms. Christina Villa
    Acting Director of Publishing, Identity & Communication
    700 Prospect Ave.
    Cleveland,Ohio 44115
    216-736-3856
    villac@ucc.org