“Churches can brand themselves so much that they forget about making things simple for new people.”
“Closing the back door” has become a pretty common catch phrase for churches. As guests come and go, churches have realized how important it is to get people connected. Growth Tracks, Next Steps and other pathways to get people plugged into serving opportunities and small groups can commonly be seen almost everywhere we go.
Keeping people and helping them grow should obviously be a priority, but it can quickly consume so much of our time that we can forget about expanding our front door to reach new people. Though closing the back door is critical to church health, at The Unstuck Group, we find more churches struggle with opening the front door. They don’t have an effective strategy for attracting and welcoming first-time guests.
Recently, I connected with Jason Vernon to talk about how Free Chapel has kept an outward focus as they recently launched their sixth campus in Midtown, Atlanta. Jason serves on the Free Chapel leadership team and helps with strategy, marketing and communications.
Tony: Tell us a little about Free Chapel’s newest campus.
Jason: Pastor Jentezen has always dreamed of having a campus in the heart of Atlanta. When the Center Stage Theater became available, we knew it would be a fantastic opportunity to reach brand new people. We launched the campus in April of this year, and it has been an amazing journey. New people are connecting with our church every week.
Tony: As you launched the campus, how has the team been able to maintain an outward focus?
Jason: We have been very intentional about this. In fact, as we were preparing for the launch it came up in nearly every conversation. Our church meets in a venue that is primarily used for concerts, and we are in a location close to many people who have never been part of a local church. Sometimes churches can brand themselves so much that they forget about making things simple for new people. Click To Tweet
Our pastor has a very large following from our TV ministry, so we obviously utilize that, and the Free Chapel brand as much as we possibly can, but we also wanted to create a very welcoming culture that makes it easy for new people to come through our front door.
Sometimes churches can brand themselves so much that they forget about making things simple for new people. Our directional signs just say, “Church tonight at 6pm.” Outside we have hand-held signs that say, “welcome to church” or simply have a picture of a cross. This mindset has always been a priority for our Midtown campus. We wanted this to be the focus of everything all the way down to coffee cups and signs in the bathrooms.
Center Stage obviously doesn’t have a steeple….we don’t even have a permanent church sign so we have to keep thinking of fresh and innovative ways to help people understand that we are a church and that they are welcome to be part of what is happening.
Tony: So now that it’s been four months have you seen any results from this strategy?
Jason: Absolutely. We share stories about this all the time. Recently a woman had come to a concert next door that happened to be sold out. As she was walking out she saw our signs and was invited to come inside. Later she shared what the service meant to her and how it was such a welcoming environment. We hear similar stories like this all of the time.
Tony: What would you say to a leader who wants to have more of an outward focus?
Jason: I would say to start running every decision through the eyes of a first-time guest. I think catering too much to your current people is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching new guests.
Sometimes you have to start over and take a completely different perspective if you are going to experience new impact.
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Honestly, I would love to see churches taking more risks in this area.
It’s very easy to get so accustomed to what you are doing that you forget to take a step back to evaluate where you are. Would someone who has never been to church before understand your signage? Are you using “insider” language that could be confusing? Do you ask people to take next steps without clearly explaining exactly what you want them to do and how to do it? These sound like easy questions but they are frequently overlooked. It’s very easy to get so accustomed to what you are doing that you forget to take a step back to evaluate where you are. Click To Tweet