April 04, 2006

Winning Gen-X for Christ, Part I

Last week at staff lunch Clif's wife Laura joined us, and had a great question. How do you get in front of people of Generation-X? I'd never thought about this in-depth yet, so it immediately intrigued me, and I mulled it over a great deal last week and this weekend.

People of my generation have installed "salesperson filters" within our heads. For the most part we hate spam, direct mail pieces, and tv advertisements, and dismiss them immediately. I'm not sure about the majority, but I won't even answer an unexpected knock at my door most of the time. If you think about it, we're a really hard audience to reach! So how does a growing church-start get in front of Gen-X and let them know the church exists?

My wife and I discussed this and decided upon the two most effective ways of reaching us. Google.com, and word of mouth and outreach.

For those looking for church, most of us will hit the Internet. This is a passive method for the church of course, because we have to be looking for church. Your church should be on the first page of results when searching for a church in the local area. From there, you need a website that reaches us, and has a primary goal to get us to show up. (There are entire books written on effective websites. Don't Make Me Think) We will not pick up a yellow pages to look for a church. Also, make it easy for people within the church to reach out to others. Electronic invites, monthly newsletters, online conversations, etc., that we can forward on to others.

The active methods are word of mouth and outreach. Direct mail pieces will probably be thrown away as another advertisement. Don't spam with e-mail, just don't do it! We like person to person interaction, but beware the salesperson filter. Think of creative ways to tell them you are there and care about them. One thing my wife thought of was leaving a gift outside their door. (If you knock, we probably won't answer the door.) Perishables are tough in the summer but use some critical thinking. Small baskets with mugs (my wife collects church mugs believe it or not), Kool-Aid or lemonade mix, candy molds / Popsicle molds, etc. This has cost limitations, but it's that compassionate outreach we will respond to.

It sounds silly, but I'd give a church a chance if they left outside my door some beef jerky and a note of what they're about and their Web address, because it's outside the norm and took some creative thought. OK I may be weird, but you get the idea.

These ideas are nothing new, admittedly, but what I'd wager to say is different is the way of approaching us. Don't go out selling the church or prodding that we should really come visit. Salesperson filter switched to ON. Go out making us aware the church cares about us, hopes we are well, and is a we can come to. Compassionate outreach. Appeal to the challenges we have with faith. It's that difference that will touch us over missing us. Be prepared to touch us a few times too, because like most people it's easy for us to dismiss a one time event.

4 comments:

Laura Guy said...

Hey Brian!

Thanks for doing so much thinking about this and sharing your thoughts with us pitiful pastors who don't have a clue what we're doing. As Clif already told you, we also thought it would be a great idea to leave little gifts on our neighbors' doors as a way of saying, "We're the church next door, and we care about you!" We actually did this at another church I served with an apartment complex, which is known in church "marketing" circles as a black hole . (I hate the term marketing, but it does communicate that we're trying to make people aware that we exist and that they would be welcome in our community.) Even after seven deliveries, including Halloween candy, hand-made Valentines, Easter eggs, etc., we did not have one visitor from any of the 98 apartments.

Sigh. I understand the cynical nature of pomos because I am one myself. But it makes it so difficult to let people know that we might have something that would interest them and ultimately make a huge difference in their lives. That's why our primary strategy has been to develop an outstanding presence on the web. We want people to be able to learn all about us -listen to sermons, hear some music and read about who we are - so that they can check us out on their terms before they come in person. The jury is still out as to whether this will ultimately prove to be an effective strategy for growing a new church.

Keep thinking and posting, and maybe all of us together can find a way to connect the ancient faith of the Church with contemporary people who need us so much.

Jim Walton said...

Brian,
Good stuff, I hear ya. I don't know that I'm hoping for beef jerky on my front porch, but I'd probably be happy to get anything.

We visited a church recently and filled out their form and intentionally did not leave our phone number because we did not want them calling. Of course that led to the visit, which was nice, but it was a week and a half after the fact. By that point, we had already visited the church we are now attending, so the discussion with the church guy in our living room was a little awkward. I don't think we actually told him we have since been to a church we felt was a better match for us.

We enjoyed talking with him and hearing more about their church. It honestly is a good church and had some intriguing points about it, 18 month old church plant, growing, etc., but it just wasn't what we were looking for.

I like your idea of just leaving a small gift, without intruding or making you feel obligated to justify yourself or flatter your visitor even if you have no intention of returning. I know of a church here where I am that my friend goes to and they do leave a coffee mug with some stuff in it on the porch. (Maybe your wife should visit, add to the collection)

You've said it well, it's almost like the best approach is for the church to establish a relationship with it's visitors, slowly, no pressure, on the visitor's terms. Ultimately, trust needs to be established between the visitor and the church.

Hey, I missed seeing you yesterday when I dropped by, hopefully I'll catch you next time around!

Brian Slezak said...

Laura,

Thanks for the comment. Reaching pomo / Gen X is certainly no easy task, which is why it interests me. We must be reachable somehow ....

Brian Slezak said...

Thanks Jim!

Yeah I was surprised to hear I'd missed you. I was working from home. :) Catch you next time.

I like your point about the church that visited a week and a half later. I believe that's a lot more critical than people realize. We are used to a lot of choices, and rapid fire selection. You have about 5 seconds to get our attention online, and a few days at best to touch us in person, before we've visited something else - and possible made a choice.

The Internet has accelerated the speed of information so quickly it's unbelievable, and we do not give it enough credit for how much that's changed how we think.