When people have negative experiences in life (and the baggage to go along with it), it can be a great opportunity for us to provide a positive experience that counters the negativity and helps promote healing. But, the first step is to recognize and acknowledge the problems that exist.
It has little to do with this post, but as I was reading, there was a little section that paints a pretty accurate picture of the state of mind we are meeting people at when they come to our church. Dude, it's the state of mind I'M AT.
"Honesty is certainly in short demand these days, in politics, in the media, and in business. This lack of rectitude has left us all jaded and cynical, often leading us to doubt nearly everything we hear. With high-profile court cases, political cover-ups, corporate scandals, and extra-marital affairs becoming so commonplace, we're sometimes left scratching our heads wondering if anyone tells the truth anymore. We're bombarded with spam, promising bigger this and smaller that. Diet gurus promise instant weight loss, and drug companies promise instant relief (at an outrageous price). Computer viruses come to us disguised as friendly messages from our closest friends. Politicians spin facts in order to get a rise in the polls and use the polls to compensate for their own lack of honest opinion. Will it ever end?"
So, are you running ministry decisions and your promotional efforts through this filter?
These simple, practical examples from real church promotions seem harmless enough...
- "Come to this year's women's retreat where you'll develop friendships that last a lifetime."
[Ok. This is out of your control. Don't promise something you just can't guarantee. I had a woman complain to me that she joined a ministry team to make friends. She was upset because the team didn't have a lot of women and she hadn't made any friends. She held the church responsible for false advertising. Yes, her opinion is a little extreme. And, yes, it's a little outrageous and unrealistic. However, it's a recurring perspective we experience with people on their journey. What can we do to help them along?]
- "Come experience a community of grace."
[Again, this is your goal, but you can't deliver on the promise. I had promised a safe environment for a friend of mine and she joined me at church one weekend. In the middle of service, her cell phone went off. When the the part of the service came for us to greet others, my friend turned around to shake hands with the man sitting behind her. Instead, he scolded her for being rude and selfish. Asked her not to come back if she couldn't have the decency to turn her phone off during church. True story. Yes, it's a distraction for others when a cell phone goes off. Obviously. However, what isn't obvious is whether or not my friend was taking a gigantic step by attending church for the first time in years. What isn't obvious is whether or not my friend already felt judged by Christians and was disinterested in joining a community of hypocrites. What isn't obvious is whether or not my friend will ever give church a chance again and whether she thinks I'm a liar because I promised her a safe environment. She doesn't look at that man as an individual, she looks at him as the church. Right, wrong or indifferent.]
Hey, are you being honest with yourself? Look at everything you're promoting again and how you're doing it.
- What are you "putting out there" that you should really cut?
- What expectations are you setting that are unrealistic and out of your control?
- If people think we're liars anyway, what are we doing to diffuse this perception and build trust?
- Are we making statements as if they were facts, when in reality they are subjective and left to personal interpretation?
- Are you promising something you can't deliver on?
- Are you baiting people with exaggerated benefits?
- Are you talking too much and saying too little?
It's our job to make decisions in the context of people's life, regardless of the type of church we're in. The context of emotions, cultural perspective and real-life baggage is relevant to all of us.
A lot of times, the solution is as simple as providing "just the facts" and nothing else. Remove the fluff. That's the first step towards turning a potentially negative experience into a great one.