The Power of Invitation and Welcome
More Than a List -- Welcome UCC Style!
|Enhancing a Welcoming Congregation
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,
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
- Congregation that is spiritually vital
- 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
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 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
- 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 —
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- Strengthen team members and other
church members when the going gets
- 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
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."
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
- How is this important to you?
- How could you best be supported in
- 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.
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
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
- 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
- Don't be surprised if your church
does not feel quite as cozy after it
- Do anticipate some failure. Take the
setbacks in stride and restart the
- 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
- 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
- Do recognize that the first impact of
your work will be to energize existing
members. Create a sense of expectation
- 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
Reach Out / Reach In
Give your members non-threatening opportunities
to invite people to church:
- Hold "What if Everybody Came?"
- Hold "Invite a Friend" Sundays.
- Invite special speakers, guests with a
- 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
- Start a speaker series.
- Organize a day care center.
- Do everything you can to break the
"empty church" syndrome.
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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
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.
Don't forget to use Social Networking, you can find some ideas here that were recently shared with the Illinois and Illinois SOuth Conferences.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Welcomers invite but do not force guests to come to coffee hour.
- Welcomers may introduce guests to the pastor or other church members.
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.
Keep track of guests who visit in response to The Stillspeaking Initiative.
Share stories with Stillspeaking staff via firstname.lastname@example.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
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 .
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SAMPLE FEATURE STORY PRESS RELEASE
United Church of Christ
Gregg Brekke, press contact
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."
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SAMPLE EVENT PRESS RELEASE
United Church of Christ
Gregg Brekke, press contact
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.
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