Church: Let’s stop playing the hero
“I Love My Church!”
It seems like every church has some version of this shirt. The goal is obvious, to show love and pride for our church community. We want people in our neighborhoods and community to see how much we love our church and hopefully inspire some interest in our church in them.
Question: Do these kinds of statements send the correct message or do they feed into a stereotype the Church already has?
The pastor of one of the churches we work with recently spent most of a year introducing himself to the locals in a small town where he intended to plant a church.
Over the course of a year, he had meaningful conversations with hundreds of residents. Some already Christians. Some not interested in church at all.
One note that came out of all of those meetings was most people didn’t have an aversion to God. Many believed in a God or were open to belief in God. However, they did have an aversion to the Church as an institution.
The church is perceived to be self-centered: Pastors are more interested in collecting the offering and filling pews than caring for the orphan and the widow.
Merely being a pastor or representing a church can be an impediment to truly reaching people unconnected to a church.
Even for people who trust God, there is still a good chance they don’t trust pastors and churches.
Naturally, this can make it difficult for church people to invite others to worship or tell their faith story.
Playing into Perceptions
A tool Clear Church Communications uses for helping churches communicate is the StoryBrand messaging framework.
StoryBrand is a 7-part narrative framework for marketing. Essentially, it helps you understand your audience (the character/hero), position yourself as the guide in their story, and give them a plan to find success or avoid failure.
The idea being, we all see life through our own lens. Each of us is the default hero in our own story. None of us is seeking another hero. We’re seeking guides to help us succeed in life and faith.
I wonder if, as churches, we’re getting this backward. We create all kinds of branding material with “I Love My Church” (or similar ideas) on it thinking we’re going to create a positive brand in our community with all the love.
Instead, we inadvertently position ourselves as the hero in the story. We make the story all about us.
When we (maybe unintentionally) make the story about us, we play right into the perceptions of people in our community have of the church. We make it look like we’re pumping up our own egos and just trying to grow the church, not serve the community.
Do you think it positions the church in the wrong way when we send 100 people into a community to serve those in need with “I Love My Church” shirts on?
Are the shirts we wear on large scale service projects like dawning a superhero cape with our logo on it?
Reposition Your Church as the Guide
Maybe we need to play a different role in our community’s story.
To be sure, there are a lot of layers to this onion. Too many to consider in one post. It’s not all about our service day shirts, of course.
We can do some simple things to reposition our churches as the Guide to our community’s Hero.
- Flip the Script: Simply change the language you’re using. Instead of flooding the community with “I Love My Church” shirts, change the copy to “I Love My City/Town.”
- Change Your Social Media Focus: Instead of telling stories of how your church is serving your neighbors, tell your neighbors’ stories you learned while serving them. Amplify their story, not your own (with their permission, of course).
- Say “you” more than “us”: Look at everything you put out about your church. Is it focused on “join us” and “we” this and that? Or, are you intentionally talking about the story your neighbors are already living and how you help THEM win the day?
Don’t read this the wrong way!
I know the pushback to this will be the idea that somehow by suggesting we enter the story our neighbors are already living somehow makes this a “seeker-sensitive” model of church or I’m downplaying the Gospel.
Simply, I’m trying to help churches find ways to more effectively communicate the Gospel.
See, people in our communities today are less likely than ever to trust church people. So often we neglect the story they’re already living because we’re so eager to tell them our story (the Gospel).
The problem is people want to feel heard and seen before they will let themselves be led.
When we position ourselves (the church) as the guide to their hero in the story, we’re simply showing them we honestly care about who they are and want to help them live a better life.
When they understand that message, it opens the door to sharing the Gospel with them and inviting them into both a relationship with Jesus and into our church communities.
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