The “Field of Dreams” Syndrome in Church Outreach

Frankly Faith_Field of Dreams

In 1989, the film Field of Dreams opened in just 22 theatres with low expectations of success, but it went on to become a runaway hit with audiences. It was nominated for Best Picture that year and is now considered one of the classic baseball movies of all time. The film’s tagline became a part of our popular culture: If you build it, they will come.

All Kevin Costner’s character had to do was craft a baseball field out of his Iowa cornfield, and the long-dead Shoeless Joe Jackson and his teammates would show up to play on the field.

Field of Dreams was a wonderful bit of fantasy, but there are churches and ministries all over the country who are suffering from the “Field of Dreams Syndrome.” If we build it, they will come.”

We’ve all seen the Field of Dreams Syndrome in ministry. A church assumes that just by building a building or having programs and services, people will come. However, unlike in the movies, in real life, simply providing the place or the vehicle for something does not guarantee the desired outcome. Nowhere is this truer or more apparent than in ministry.

Success in ministry is like any other worthwhile endeavor – It comes as the result of planning, execution, quality content, creativity, and promotion. Far too often, the part of that equation that gets left out is promotion. Moreover, while all of the parts of the equation are critical, in some ways, promotion may be the most important. You might have all of the other parts right, but if people don’t know you are there, they won’t find you.

The fact is that there are people in your community who are looking for a church to call home. They are looking for you, but they don’t know you are there. So how should you go about getting the word out about your church or ministry? Here are some promotional resources you should consider:

Your website: Your church’s website is a “front door” to your church. You should be using it to help people to get to know you. Don’t have a website? You really must. No matter how small your church or how limited your budget, you need to have a website. Years ago, websites for churches might have been optional, but not today. The first place people are going to look for information about your church is on the web. Your website needs to be the focal point of all of your outreach efforts. Your social media posts should point back to your website. Your advertising should connect with a landing page on your website. Your web address needs to be on everything that comes from your church. Moreover, I mean everything. Any publication, flyer, letterhead, church sign, business card, bulletin/worship guide, advertisement, welcome center gift – EVERYTHING should have your web address displayed prominently.

Here’s a useful way to look at your church’s website – Years ago, church growth guru Harry Piland said, “Your church exists for people who are not yet members of it.” By extension, the same is true of your website. Your website should be designed for people who are not yet attending your church. Make sure your site is not used as a high-tech bulletin board just to keep your members informed of what’s going on. Your website is potentially one of your most effective outreach tools. Make sure your site’s content gives people a clear, compelling invitation to come worship with you, tells them how to find you, and gives them a way to connect with you if they are so inclined.

Once your website is in place and properly positioned as an outreach resource, you need to take action to insure your website will show up prominently in search results so people can find you easily when they are searching on the web. You may not know yet what SEO stands for (it stands for Search Engine Optimization), but you need to be aware of what it is and why it is really important for your church.

Social Media: Just like your website, your church’s social media accounts can be an effective outreach tool. You should be leveraging Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to tell people the story of your church, and to let them know your doors and your arms are open to them. Churches who effectively use Social Media find a way to make every post an implied (and occasionally an overt) invitation to be a part of your church. Encourage your members and regular attenders to share your posts and tweets. Shared posts help to expand your social media reach exponentially. As mentioned above, your social media posts should drive traffic back to your website, where interested people can learn more about your church – and where there are fewer distractions tempting them to navigate away from your content.

Digital advertising: For years, creative churches and ministries have leveraged advertising to help get the word out. In the past, newspaper ads, radio spots, billboards, and direct mail campaigns were effective ways to leverage advertising, but these methods can be expensive, and it’s hard – if not impossible – to quantify the results. The advent of digital advertising (advertising that is delivered digitally to computers, phones, and tablets) has been a game changer for ministries of all sizes. It is highly cost-efficient, easy to target your desired audience, and every aspect of a digital ad campaign returns statistical information (metrics) that can be used to help you more effectively reach people in your community. When you utilize digital advertising, you can know exactly how many times your ad was displayed, what kind of devices those ads were displayed on, where those devices were located, and how many times your ad was clicked on. There is even a way to track if someone saw on your ad and then showed up at your church on a Sunday!

One church we work with ran a digital ad campaign to invite people in the community to worship with them on Easter Sunday. When the day arrived, they had 50 people attend as a direct result of that ad campaign! In terms of both impact and affordability, locally targeted digital ad campaigns are one of the best opportunities available to any church regardless of size.

Your people. The most impactful invitation to visit your church will be one that results from one of your people inviting their friends and neighbors to come to church with them. That always has and will always be true. It is also true that your people are the key to visitors feeling welcomed and valued when they visit your church. With this in mind, you need to do everything you can do to instill an outreach mindset in your people. Encourage them to invite their friends. Encourage them to use their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram account to post things about their church that would be appealing to potential visitors. Teach them to look for new faces in your worship services and go out of their way to make them feel welcomed. Your people are hands down your most important outreach resource, so make sure you communicate to them the vital role they play in helping your church grow.

A pastor recently told me he realized they needed to be doing something to get the word out about their church, but they were a small church with a limited budget. He was shocked to learn that many of the churches we work with are new church starts or churches that have weekend attendance of fewer than 200 people (some even with less than 50 in attendance!) We have helped many churches come up with a plan that fits both their requirements and their budget. The important thing is to do something.

Is your church or ministry suffering from the “Field of Dreams Syndrome?” Are you assuming that because you are there and have programs, ministries, great preaching, and friendly people that new people will visit your church? If so, how is that strategy working out for you? Chances are – unless you are a very, very rare exception to the rule – the answer to that question is “not so well.”

Let’s talk. We’re here to help! We would love to learn more about your church and explore ways that you can more effectively get the word out. You can click here to share your info and have one of our team members reach out.

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