Monday, November 30, 2009

Christian Advent

This blog is not financial in nature - just spiritual.

Advent is the time of the Christian calendar that is a time of mental and spiritual preparation ("waiting") for Christmas - the anniversary of the birth of Jesus the Christ. Many churches have the practice of lighting candles during the four Sundays before Christmas and then, on Christmas Eve, lighting a fifth candle at the center of the wreath holding the other four. The fifth candle is always the Christ candle.

As I sat in worship yesterday and watched a couple light the first Advent Candle, I commented to my daughter, age 10, about the different symbolisms Christian worship has attached to these four candles. The most popular are the Christian Concepts:
  • Hope
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Love
But we also have the people associated with Christmas:
  • Shepherds
  • Wise men
  • Angels
  • Mary and Joseph
Another version is for the animals present on Christmas Day:
  • Sheep
  • Donkeys
  • Cattle
  • Camels
Yesterday I thought of a variation I'd never heard before - the cities in the Christmas narrative:
  • Nazareth - where Mary & Joseph were living
  • Bethlehem - where Jesus was born
  • Jerusalem - where Mary, Joseph, and the Magi passed through
  • Babylon - where the Magi came from
The church has five main functions:
  • education (see in teaching the Christian concepts),
  • worship (seen in the actions of the people at the nativity),
  • service (seen in the humble but important work by the animals),
  • evangelism and fellowship (seen in the cities where so many people live).
Here is a direct link from the purpose of the church directly to the Christmas story. But too many times we focus only on one aspect when the story is so rich with other details. As Christians we need to dig deeper into this story - God's incredible story - to see the phenomenal nuances.

Lead On!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

First Impressions - part three (and last)

This is a list of physical first impressions. There are whole books devoted to the Sunday morning volunteers. Let me give a brief list of these “personal” first impressions:
  • Your website was created by people for people. Make sure it is saying the right things about your church. Most visits to church websites are by church members seeking information about church programs. But does your site give non-members what they need (including a positive first contact)?
  • You may have police directing traffic in the street near your main parking lot. Are they courteous or surly? Make sure they understand they, too, are part of the image of the church.
  • Some churches have greeters in parking lots helping drivers find spots and directing them to a door. That is an excellent way to impress people – especially if those greeters accompany young families all the way to the welcome desk.
  • The front door greeters should have assigned doors – they’ll get to know the people coming in their door and vice versa. Make sure the greeters have the latest church directory so they can call people by name – it will really impress guests who see people greeted by name.
  • The Welcome/Information Desk volunteers should be extroverts off the scale: warm, friendly, and anxious to go out of their way to help people. Don’t let these critical volunteers burn out. Heap praise on them but also let them know how much is riding on their actions.
  • Parents want to know their children are safe – volunteers need to explain the safety (a better word than “security”) measures in place. Print up a card explaining the details – what to do when you drop off your child and how to retrieve your child. The Welcome Desk volunteers can explain these details en route to the classroom.
  • The Welcome Desk volunteers also need to walk with guests to their Bible study (Sunday School) room or the worship center. But the volunteer also needs to explain to the guest how to find their way out of the building after worship (many church buildings resemble rat mazes) or perhaps the Welcome Desk volunteer can ask a member sitting nearby to “host” the guests.
  • Names are powerful - guests will notice as they walk with their Welcome Desk volunteer when she greets passing members by name. It says a lot that these volunteers learned members’ names and greets each one by name.
You get the idea. If you don’t, then ask a fellow administrator to visit your church as if for the first time and give you a report with this checklist. Don’t shoot the messenger – she’s trying to do your church a favor by giving guests a great first impression of your church. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression – make it count.

Lead On!

First Impressions - part two

  • Lawn care
    o Is your grass cut and leaves raked on Thursday or Friday, especially during your growing season? Do your trees have mulch beds? Every three months, walk the entire church grounds with your lawn care provider – let him know your expectations clearly.
    o Dead trees and dead branches are dangerous to people and cars – cut them down. It’s cheaper than a lawsuit.
    o Trees are great – they help the church’s “green” image and provide shade. But, get trees with color (maples, cherries, crepe myrtles) instead of pines – people driving by will notice colorful trees. Avoid oak trees, they’ll tear up your pavement and sidewalks. Ask your city nursery for advice – you might even get trees for free (I did).
  • Flowers and color beds
    o You need to have something in your color beds year-round (unless your winter flowerbeds are covered in snow). Flowers say a lot to guests – get flowers with lots of colors. I guarantee it will get attention.
    o Get rid of bushes in islands because they block the driver’s view as she looks for an empty spot. If you want bushes, put them against the building (and use azaleas or hydrangeas).
  • Marked entrance doorso Are the doors you want guests to enter clearly marked? If you have multiple buildings, how do guests know what door to come in? Perhaps some clearly visible wording over the door like “Main Entrance” will cut through the confusion.
    o Regular attendees may enter through “short-cut” doors. If a guest follows a member into one of those side doors, the guest is immediately lost – not a good first impression. Help guests know which doors to use (and which not to use).
  • Appearance of entrance areao The main guest entrance lobby should be busy with people and signs to convey an image of an active, on-mission church but not cluttered with “funeral parlor” furnishings. Make the first impression an attractive, warm, colorful visual experience.
    o Word of caution – the furnishings in your lobby telegraph the demographic your church seeks to reach. Your grandmother’s furniture, while pretty, will appeal to, well, your grandmother and not 20-somethings. What does your lobby say about your target audience?
  • Welcome desk location
    o Your Sunday morning welcome desk should be visible instantly and not crowded by workers talking to each other about Saturday’s ball game. Get the desk as close to the primary guest entrance door as you can – maybe even out on the sidewalk! If guests don’t know where to go, they’ll go somewhere else or go home.
  • Interior church signage
    o Is your interior signage coordinated? Is it in clear and large print? Is it visible down hallways? Some churches have color signage for different buildings or different age levels such as green carpet and green signs for elementary school classes. Just don’t make the mistake of changing your signage style with every new building.
    o New signage is expensive – but it can have a “wow” effective both on members and guests. Use color – it is very effective in all areas of your church buildings.
Lead On!

First Impressions - part one

Years ago a survey said the number one thing church guests remember about their first visit was (drum roll, please), the landscaping. That’s right – the church lawn. Not the sermon or the greeters but something most members take for granted (until the weeds take over). Guests speculate that if a church takes care of its grass, it is probably doing a good job on other things such as worship, childcare, etc. So, use this list to help ensure you are giving a good first impression.
  • Street signs o Make sure there are street signs on the corner(s) nearest your building. If not, ask the city or county to install signs on your corner (not one of the other three). Make sure people can clearly see your church is at the corner of Elm and Main St. and not the other church at Elm and Second St.
  • Exterior church signs
    o Ensure that the road-side signs with the church’s name are uniform. Some churches have signs of different architectural styles (Gothic, Baroque, Mission) reflecting the committee in charge at the time. Nice lighting is critical.
    o “Keep it simple, stupid” works for church signs, too. The signs should have “just the facts” – after all, there’s only so much fine print you can read at 35 mph. Somewhere the church’s website should be on the sign.
    o Signs with changeable lettering are not bulletin boards but are marketing tools – the messages must be a positive reflection on God and your church. Pithy messages are cute but what are you communicating?
  • Parking lot entrance signs
    o Can drivers see quickly (at 35 mph) where and how to get into your driveway?
    o What about coming in at night, in snow, or rain – is the driveway marked with reflectors, poles, or other visual aids?
  • Parking lot maintenanceo Every other year get your parking lot re-striped. Well-marked lines help people park cars properly. It also cuts down on “creative parking.”
    o “Creative parking” can lead to fewer actual parking spaces and to a bad impression to guests. It is also a hazard if it blocks access to emergency vehicles.
    o Some first-timers come to an evening performance. Light the parking lot so they can see how to get back to their car and continue their positive experience after the special event. Of course, residential churches need to consider the impact of lighting on neighboring houses and turn off parking lots at a reasonable hour.
  • Guest parking
    o Ensure your guest parking (not “visitor parking”) is near the main entrance doors. Label these clearly so members don’t park there.
    o Some churches replaced “handicap parking” with “Special Needs/Sr. Adult Parking” so police cannot ticket non-handicap vehicles. It serves the same function but gives more flexibility.
Lead On!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Photos on Websites

Okay, I'm not a Web guru - far, far from it. But I keep getting asked this question, "What is a policy or guideline for churches regarding posting pics on their Websites and other communications materials?"

Here's my answer: I don’t have a policy on this matter but I do have some guidelines. To be completely clean and clear, you should have a permission slip from every person in every picture. In reality, that is impractical at best and impossible at worst. I use judgment – use pictures of your members only for in-house slide shows and publicity. Any publicity on the Website or mass-distributed materials (postcards, brochures, etc.) has purchased stock photos. Those pics are better quality and you don’t have to remember every person in every pic on your site in case a person dies or moves away.

I want to believe that difference is sufficient to ward off any problems yet is a reasonable solution. What do you think?

Lead On!