Thursday, August 28, 2014

How Sunday School Can Sell Well

by Reba Collins
Said no kid ever -- Mom, I love school. I can’t wait to go back! I love having to sit still for 5 hours learning new Math skills and all that interesting stuff. I feel smarter already just thinking about it. I can’t wait to leave my friends after 20 minutes at recess—it was so boring spending three or four hours with them every day this summer. And I can’t wait to get up earlier, stand in line for my lunch, and then do my homework. School is great!
Even though I’ve never heard one of my kids say anything like that, it’s still what I want to hear from them because I am wise enough to know what going to school can do for them.
So, if going back to school isn’t the high-five, let’s-all-celebrate event for every kid, why do we think that the start-up of fall Sunday School for kids and youth will be any better? Really, why is that? School is “school” – and that’s a really tough sell all around.
Regardless of how hard a church tries to make its Sunday School program sound like the BEST THING EVER, it’s still a struggle for parents to pitch to their kids. So how do we reach our goal of getting our kids to want to go to Sunday School? It’s not as hard as you’d think. Simply look for a church that is doing the same kinds of things that good teachers are doing to motivate their students Monday through Friday. 
So, what do good churches do to make Sunday School appealing enough to make kids want to go back to school on a Sunday?  
They engage more, and teach less.
Here are three ways the good churches apply and practice these key Sunday School concepts to make their Sunday morning programs sell well:

1. “Community” over classes. One of the first things good teachers do is establish a sense of “community” with their classes. Values, beliefs and behavioral expectations lay the foundation for community. Good teachers, though, build community with student-to-student, student-to-teacher relationships. Good churches don’t offer classes; they offer community for their Sunday School kids. The Sunday School community is shaped by only a handful of faith beliefs and values, such as:
  • Jesus Loves Me
  • I Can Trust Jesus No Matter What
  • I Need to Make a Wise Choice
Kids see the same group leader week-in and week-out – sometimes for years. Peer-to-peer relationships are built on time spent learning and discussing in highly relational groups, not researching scripture and regurgitating answers in a workbook.

2.  Co-learners Over Controllers. Today, parents and kids are co-learners, and their teachers as guides. “Learning community” is a common term for teacher-guided, peer-led, parent-assisted learning environments. Good churches create learning communities, too. These are often called “small groups.”  Equipped with cues and good communication provided by the church, parents support these engaging discussions by carrying on conversations at home.

 3.  Techy AND Touchy. Technology has made phenomenal educational content accessible to both students and parents. Good teachers use technology to spark imagination and creativity. Churches have tons of options for using technology to access the Bible, sing worship songs, and engage in learning, knowing, and experiencing God even after they leave church on Sunday. Check to see how a church uses technology to connect kids in their faith journeys beyond the classroom. Good churches use technology to enhance a faith experience; they don’t rely on it to create the faith experience. Touching people was Jesus’ preferred way of sharing the Gospel with others, and good churches know that Jesus’ way is still the best. 

“School” simply isn’t going to experience a warm reception during this time of year. No one, especially kids, wants to go to school for an extra morning, no matter how fun you make it sound.  Many churches realize this and stay away from tagging their Sunday morning experience as “school.” Instead, they give parents and their churches a motivational advantage by offering “programming” or “kids’ communities.” And that just might get your kids to go once. But to get them to go again, look for churches that lean toward interaction and exploration and offer relationships over rote learning practices.

Sunday mornings at church shouldn’t feel like something kids have to do, or are supposed to do. Good churches create engaging environments and experiences so that kids want to be there.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

College Bound

by Reba Collins

It’s over. Summer, that is. Time to stop playing around, breathing deeply, and languishing the time away. Time to get serious, knuckle down, and get back on schedule.
For many of us, school is back in session. It’s transition time once again to a familiar routine of homework, extra-curricular activities, attending church, and for us at The Church Guide, blogging. (Yep, we took the summer off this year, too.)
But for others of us, back-to-school time is elevated to a whole higher level with new transition challenges. It’s called college, and there is nothing familiar about it.

So, in support of all of you students (and parents) who are facing the new-to-college experience, we kick off our fall blogging with a slightly different twist on church searching.

Tips for Starting College Right is an insightful blog by Belmont University Campus Pastor Guy Chmieleski and offers helpful advice to the college-bound student on how to keep your faith growing. You may or may not find a church community during the next four to six years, but you can always find God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and guidance.

To the families and churches these young people leave behind, we pray you will do your part to support their journeys, so they may graduate stronger in their faith and bolder in their pursuits to sustain the work of Christ in this world through a local church.

Blessings for the learning ahead!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Boring Begone!

The 7 Secrets of Church Communication that Works               
Boring Begone!

by William Cowles

Preachers, do you ever wonder why people check their sports apps and glance at their watches right when you’re revealing your most important theological insight? Ministry leaders and communicators, do you often wonder why people don’t respond to the requests, invitations, and change notices you send out?

There must be something wrong with them! Right?

Probably not, and let’s not sugarcoat it – they’re simply bored. Nobody intends to bore their audience, but it happens to the best of us.  Is there a cure? A preventive formula that insures every word is a sparkling, magnetic inspiration? Again, probably not.

There are, however, five tools you can use in your communication planning that will give you the best chance of capturing your audience’s attention and interest, holding it through the end of your message, and inspiring them to the action you want!

Our tools are light and easy to use, so hike up your communicator coveralls and get to work on your next incredible message. (We won’t take the space or time to lay out a bunch of examples here, but will create that resource and post it on our Website soon. Yes, we’ll let you know when and where.)

So here are the tools…

1.       Humor – A lighter approach is always easier to swallow. Laughter releases positive juju that encourages people to stick with you longer. One joke at the beginning will not do it. Humor is not joke-telling; it’s an attitude and a style. It's about putting people at ease in ways that they can see and laugh at themselves in a situation that has an odd twist or turn.
2.       Surprise –Everything I’ve said so far, by the way, is a lie. Uh-oh, did you expect me to say that? Did you think I’d deliberately try to deceive you, and now you’re shocked that I’ve turned on you? Good. That’s the idea. Use an unexpected story or reference that re-initializes the listener’s/reader’s antennae. Take a left turn when the road goes right. Jump up -- literally – when everyone thinks you’re starting to climb down. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can re-ignite interest and attention with a simple surprise.
3.      Stories – What do you most remember from the Bible? Noah and the ark? Jonah and the whale? The prodigal son? Whatever your best memory, chances are that it caught your favor because it was a story. Parables, the theologians call them. Your audiences/readers won’t care what you call them as long as you use them. And, whenever you can put yourself in the story, the more interested your readers/listeners will be. This, by the way, is a great lead-off device.
4.      Variety – People learn best – they listen/read best – in small chunks. Sound bites. 140-character tweets. When you change the pace and tone of your writing or speaking, people will pay closer attention because you’ve made the effort easier. Show a picture. Cite statistics. Just break down your communication bites into easily digestible portions.
5.      Secrets – Let your listeners/readers in on something you discovered or that you’re going to share before the rest of the world gets it. People love to peek behind the curtain, so feed them some insider information – this kind is not only legal, it’s also highly communicable. You know the power of gossip -- people will spread a secret faster than a Facebook post. So give them good secrets to share.

Breaking boredom is not as hard as Breaking Bad, but it does take some effort. Take a long look at your next sermon script, newsletter story, event flyer, worship bulletin, or social media post. Where can you use some humor, a surprise, a story, variety, and a tasty little secret to draw your listeners/readers into your message? Don’t settle for boring; they won’t.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Too Much? Too Little? Just R.I.G.H.T.!

The 7 Secrets of Church Communication that Works
Too Much? Too Little? Just R.I.G.H.T.! 

by William Cowles

“If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

That familiar apology, popularized by the very quotable Mark Twain, captures perfectly the tension every communicator faces – how much should I include?

Whether it’s a sermon, a memo, an email, a flyer, social media post, or a newsletter notice – when is enough, enough? Or not enough? Or too much? 

Here’s the ironic long and short of it. Communicators who know a lot about their topics often don’t share enough because they assume you know as much as they do. On the other hand, communicators who are uncertain about their content usually run on and on and on to try to cover up their gaps. Neither is effective. 

So, how do you know? How much do you need to say to make your point?  Another old adage sums it up nicely – “Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.” Content and intent. And, yes, it takes more time and effort to plan and execute a clear, concise, action-inducing message. 

Because there is no set formula, we’ve come up with a simple “R.I.G.H.T” approach to help church communicators – preachers, staff, ministry leaders, newsletter writers and editors – forget the message’s length and concentrate on its meaning. 

·         R – Relevant. Does it speak to the interests of your listener/reader in terms that are familiar to them? You must meet your readers/listeners at their points of need. Preachers joke about “preaching to the choir,” but that’s too often true. When you tailor your messages to “insider” knowledge and understanding, you shut out, turn off, and send away everyone who isn’t part of your inner circle. And unless your congregation consists solely of the same 20 people from the last 20 years, they are not part of your inner circle.

·         I – Insightful. Does it have you in it? What do you think and believe about the topic? Your readers/listeners will better understand your topic when you share your ideas, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes about it. Especially when you’re trying to influence or inspire, your position needs to be clear, and your interest will intrigue your audience.  

·         G – God-Centered. Does it honor God? Don’t forget who’s at the center of your church. God is all too often left out of our messages because church communicators assume their audiences already know and understand who God is and how He works with us. Frankly, it’s not true and we can’t take the chance of not delivering His message.

·         H – Heartfelt. Can the reader/listener feel your emotion? Be passionate about your message; not wishy-washy. People will respond according to how committed they sense you are. If you’re indifferent or “all business”, they’ll be equally or more indifferent and unemotional. If you’re excited, they’ll be excited, too. If you’re getting some satisfaction from what you’re doing, they’ll want to share it.

·         T – Targeted. Is it laser-focused on what you want to say and to whom? When you’re talking about the benefits of confirmation, communicate in the language that parents of youth are most familiar with using. Mine your group for specific talents, gifts, ages, and interest by being upfront about who you’re looking for. Give others a pass on what doesn’t interest or fit them. Then when something does pique their interest, they’ll pay attention. Making 1-3 points and making them well is far more meaningful than throwing out a laundry list of everything that’s on your mind to everyone who’s on your list.  

When all is said and done, I prefer shorter church communications because readers/listeners have so many other messages clamoring for their attention. 

When a church’s messages are aimed at people in ways that will cause them to pay attention, understand, and then act, you’ll have done it R.I.G.H.T.!