Monday, May 05, 2008

Why churches gotta do previews

This morning, I'm reading Reason magazine (I'm in a semi-political snit because the North Carolina primary is tomorrow, and my wife was good enough to do some research on the more obscure races -- judges, etc. -- and help me out) and I read a review of Matt Mason's book The Pirate's Dilemma. It looks like a good book, but Amazon has no preview. None! And since I'm wary of buying a book I haven't seen (the problem is not the $15 or whatever it would cost; it's the time I would spend finding out that a book is not worth reading) I was teetering on not putting the book on my wish list, so I go over to Google, and check their book previews, and there it is! A preview -- limited, but still a preview -- of The Pirate's Dilemma. And it looks good, and I put it on my wish list.

But that's not my point. The point is: is your church providing "previews" for people who might want to visit? It used to be that denominational labels were the only preview most people looked for: Baptist, Catholic, LCMS, whatever. No more.

In the first place, the labels have become less than helpful. Identifying a congregation as LCMS can mean a whole panoply of things, so people want to know more.

A visit can be a preview. However, churches need to know that some people simply won't visit without knowing more. And beware: if you are a small church -- meaning less than 100 people in church, which covers most American churches -- lots of people simply won't show up unannounced. They feel too conspicuous.

Which means that small congregations can -- and must -- provide previews that will allow new folks to feel comfortable with them.

The most obvious way is a website. A church that doesn't have one is likely dying, serving an increasingly aging group of people, and, honestly, probably doesn't really welcome new people. A website is the first thing, the must have for church life in our time.

Another way: put your services on youtube. Watching services on youtube (or television, or listening on the radio, or whatever) is not a substitute for gathering with the people of God. But putting out video of services shows newbies what the service is like, and gives them a feel for it.

Another way: put teaching videos on youtube. If you have distinctives (and if you don't, why not?) talk about the distinctives. Or do Bible studies on video. Or whatever. The point is not to have a large presence on youtube (although I think it's important for there to be more orthodox teaching on the site) but to demonstrate to new folks what your congregation is about, and why.

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