Buzzzzzzz. It can happen on any given day. Buzzzzzz. It may be at the grocery store, soccer practice, or my children’s school when I enter into a conversation. Someone asks where I work and I tell them. Buzzzzzz. Almost every time I smile as I listen to them. They know about our church, they’ve heard of it, and now, they want to know more. There’s no question, a little marketing and publicity can go a long way in creating a buzz.
So what’s the “buzz” all about? It’s no mistake that people are buzzing about what God is doing at our church. Getting people talking about our children’s ministry is a key component of our ministry at Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Arizona. We purposely seek to create an environment of excitement and celebration in the community we serve, and that produces a buzz not only among people involved in our church, but also in our entire community. By publicizing who we are and marketing what we’re about, our ministry has flourished beyond the walls of our church and its people.
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Has your children’s ministry’s reputation been broadcast throughout your church and community? Have you dreamed of people buzzing about your children’s ministry because it’s such a great place for kids? If so read on to discover how you can create a buzz for your ministry.
5 Reliable Ways to Easily Create Community Buzz
1. Know Your Community
“The customer is always right.”
More than likely you’ve heard that adage. And if you’ve ever been a customer wronged by a company, you’ve hoped that they’d have the same motto too. Obviously, there are limits to applying this theory to children’s ministry, because the customer may want you to do something that contradicts Scripture. However you can target your ministry to better meet needs if you listen to your customers-parents and children-as you design new programs.
Nearly five years ago, several parents of preschoolers came by our church to see if we offered any programs for young children during the summer. We live in a community with many young families, and after doing a little research, we discovered that there was virtually nothing offered outside of a school setting for preschool children. After much prayer, we made a decision to offer Kindercamps for young children in the summer. This past summer, our camp program reached over 1,000 preschool and elementary children in our community. We also met parents’ needs by offering parenting classes, craft camps, and aerobics.
Take your community’s pulse.
Find out what makes your community tick–or not tick. Check out the schools, malls, city recreation programs, and local family pizza hangout. Schools can teach you what kids are learning about, what the hot topics are, and what kids are interested in. Malls are a great place to listen. Grab a soft drink and sit in the food court to find out what kids are talking about. Window shop at stores that attract young shoppers.
Our church recently noticed the lanyard craze–canvas necklaces with hooks to attach keys or charms. We found a place where we could purchase lanyards with our Kid Kountry logo on them. Kids and adults alike have caught onto our version of the latest craze.
The key is to be a good listener and observer whenever you’re out and about, always keeping a watchful eye on what may be attractive to people or may meet the needs of your community. It doesn’t matter whether your ministry is located in the inner city or in a rural area, knowing the community you serve and the people you want to reach is essential in marketing your ministry.
2. Marketing in Ministry?
Okay, I know what happened when you read that last sentence. You probably cringed. Perhaps you think that marketing has no place in the church. It all depends on what we mean by marketing.
Ministry Marketing Defined
“Marketing is simply a way of understanding the culture and then finding a way to speak relevantly to that culture,” says Pastor Tim Wright, executive pastor at Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Arizona. “That’s what Paul did in Athens. He got a read on the people and their religious culture and then tailored his message to reach them. If we’re going to reach new people, we need to understand them and speak their language. Marketing is the tool that helps us accomplish that goal.”
In 1 Corinthians 9:20-22, Paul explained his “marketing strategy.” He said, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews…I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
The Business Side of Ministry
We’re in the business of building relationships which is the essence of Christianity. Publicity is a way to build healthy relationships with the community you strive to serve. For our children’s ministry at Joy, it’s important for us to build relationships with our target audience–unchurched families. We’re deliberate in planning events and programs that appeal to the average family in our community.
Our Family Fun Night in the fall offers families in the community a safe alternative to the trick-or-treat scene, a need in a community that’s growing and spread out. Parents Night Out, a childcare program that provides structured and quality programming for kids while their parents enjoy an evening out on the town, is another event that helps a community with lots of transient families who don’t have a solid network of baby sitters or child care.
Not all events take off, and learning what works and doesn’t work is important in making sure the quality doesn’t suffer. For example, our church has a large Dads and Daughters Dinner in February, complete with a wonderful meal, speaker, and after-dinner dancing. Girls can come with their dads, uncles, or grandpas. All daughters are welcome, whether they’re still in a highchair or already moms themselves. Since this event was such a huge success, we thought it would be appropriate to have a Moms and Sons Dinner. The event flopped. We surveyed moms in the church to find out why they didn’t come and discovered that the need for this event wasn’t there. We’ve learned through our poor experiences that an event isn’t beneficial if it’s not meeting a need and if it’s not consistent with our mission.
Making Ministry Contagious
We want our ministry to be contagious. Part of marketing to our community and creating an identity is that we’re excited about the ministry we’re doing. This past August we showed a video during worship to help recruit volunteers. We had lots of shots of kids and talked about our values. After every service, people came to find out how they could got involved. Our energy and the excitement was contagious!
At our church when spring rolls around, we start a publicity blitz for summer camp registration. We advertise to our immediate audience of church members. From there we douse the community with what we’re doing for kids in the summer. Within a one-mile radius of our church, we send out fifth and sixth graders on Rollerblades to place door hangers on homes. A flier for the public schools and area preschools emphasizes the camp programs in a very generalized way to enable the church to advertise in the public schools. We place posters in area fitness centers, dance studios, community centers, and community colleges and universities to target our community.
We call and send faxes to local newspapers to let them know what we’re doing. This has prompted newspapers doing stories on what we have for kids in the summer. Because many communities are looking to churches to provide alternatives for kids, local newspapers and even schools have given us the freedom to publicize our church-sponsored activities. Many newspapers are looking for stories or information for special sections. If you provide the information, it’s free advertising! Find out who does the “news beat” in your area and send everything to this person.
3. Never Forget Your Mission
Have you ever watched 5-year-olds play soccer? They look so cute in their uniforms and mini cleats; no one can herd a soccer ball like a bunch of 5-year-olds. Watch these youngsters long enough, and you’ll see it; there’s nothing quite like it. It may be a blade of grass, a butterfly passing by, or just plain boredom, but it’ll happen–the ever-present soccer distraction. And while it can be quite humorous at a peewee soccer game, it can be devastating to a ministry.
Keep your eye on the ball! I mean, never forget your mission. “Your mission statement is everything. It’s the rudder that guides the ship. It shapes everything your church does. It provides the grid whereby effectiveness is measured and decisions are made,” says Tim Wright. And distractions are numerous in ministry.
Joy’s children’s ministries team has the mission and vision for our ministry posted throughout our building. Our mission is “To impact the children of our community with the message of Christ’s unconditional love; encouraging children to grow in a personal relationship with Christ and to foster growth through biblical teaching, role modeling, and self-esteem building.” We set goals by our mission and we measure effectiveness by it. We evaluate every event and program, using our mission as a guide. We survey our volunteers, kids, and parents to assure that we’re in line with the mission. Finally, we ask visitors what they think–especially if they don’t return. Most of all, though, our staff lives, believes, and is excited by our mission.
There are many things that could distract our team from our mission, but knowing who we are and what we’re about helps our ministry stay focused and accountable. In turn, the people we reach know what we are and who we represent.
4. Create an Identity
Promote Your Brand
Our children’s ministry is called Kid Kountry. Okay, so we spelled part of it wrong, but ask someone in Community Church of Joy’s neighborhood what Kid Kountry is and most people can tell you something about it. We have it “branded” on our Christian education building in big, bright letters. It’s in our literature, our nametags, our T-shirts, and on everything that’s distributed to our community.
We seek to create a living identity for the name of our ministry. When people see Kid Kountry anywhere, we want them to understand who we serve and what’s important to us. Articles in our church newspaper let people in the congregation know what kids are doing at Community Church of Joy. Pictures speak a thousand words, so we use them! We take kids’ pictures and interview them about what they like about Sunday school, what they’re thankful for, or what a special holiday means to them. We post kids’ photos and interviews on bulletin boards. It’s a great way to show how God is working in our ministry.
We highlight our volunteers and let them speak through our church newspaper. It’s an awesome way to honor them and tell others about what’s happening. We also have our kids serve in roles throughout our church and in outreach projects in the community.
Follow Through Is Key
Publicity without follow through, though, will get you nowhere! You have to deliver what you promise. We’ve designed our children’s ministries building to be inviting and to fit everything that people have heard about us. Throughout the building we have pictures of kids participating in programs we offer at Joy. Tables, chairs, and hands-on manipulatives such as Lego tables are not only in the classroom, but also in the lobby areas where kids get their first glimpse of our programs while parents chat. On Sunday mornings we have a snack bar with a variety of foods that kids enjoy. This has been an incredible opportunity for families to hang around after services and get to know each other while their kids enjoy being in our building.
Make Safety A Priority
We know that safety and security are highly valued, so we take every precaution possible to make sure kids are safe and secure in our programs. The fence that surrounds our building has alarms on the gates to sound if an intruder enters — and to bust little escapees! Pagers for nursery parents provide them the comfort of knowing they’ll be reached if there’s a problem. We also have strict sign-in/sign-out procedures that volunteers are trained to follow, and all volunteers and adult visitors have special name badges to assure that their presence has been cleared by staff.
Deliver On Promises
Our identity is that Kid Kountry is kid-friendly, family-friendly, and Christ-centered. And we deliver on all three points! Parents and kids have a lot of choices today. We want to create an environment where kids and families have fun together, learn together, and form lasting relationships with Christ and others. We’ve created a place where kids are celebrated every day, where fun is always close by, and where love encompasses all that we do. Our children’s ministry is a place where people want to be involved and want to serve. So the circle is complete; the people we once were reaching out to are now partnering with us to minister to others.
Recently at the end of a weekday, I closed my office door behind me. A dad rushed in the front door, “Oh! I’m glad I caught you! Our neighbor told us you have something for kids here this Friday night. Is it too late to sign up?”
I opened my door again and invited him in. I smiled. It’s the buzz again.
Carmen Kamrath is the associate editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine.
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