Let me be clear. I want to say something really dear to my own beliefs. I truly value the church.
Convincing, aren’t I?
The church is valuable to me and my own christology and theology. But that sentence is loaded with performatives. Performativity and performative utterances are ubiquitous in our society from political debates to sporting event announcers. Even though I say that “I truly value the church,” I’m creating another reality with that opening sentence. I’m asserting my authority to do so, and establishing my credibility as an independent and trustworthy source of identity and relevance.
Similarly, churches that use their Facebook pages, “eBlasts” (ok, I’ll stop using that term if you agree to do the same), and tweets to broadcast all the cool meetings and offerings that normally occur on Sunday mornings but are canceled because of a snow shower here in the Carolinas are performing in a way that (consciously or subconsciously) is marketing their services. And doing a poor job of marketing because it’s based in associative grief, something that a Madison Ave marketing agency would seriously warn you against employing in your messages. It’s the same reason you don’t see Apple or Boeing announcing that Monday morning yoga classes have been canceled because the instructor is sick or it’s raining really hard on their Facebook pages and social media accounts (or “eBlasts”).
I follow a number of large churches from all denominational and polity stripes in both the Washington D.C. area as well as New York City on social media. I do that because I’m curious (and remember, I truly value the church). I’ve seen only one social media post by one of those churches to the effect of “we’re canceling this or that service tomorrow because of the incredible amount of snow.” Sure, New Yorkers know how to deal with 24 inches of snow compared to Carolinians who flip their lids with a dusting, but there’s a deeper message there.
“Well I won’t argue about the matter. You always want to argue about things.”
“That is exactly what things were originally made for.”
– Oscar Wilde, Importance of Being Earnest
Yes, churches should be concerned about their congregants and visitors getting to church. However, there’s a better way to communicate that.
Church marketing is hard. Churches see how community business groups or community garden clubs or other nonprofits use tools such as social media and want to emulate that “success.” However, church marketing should be counter-cultural. It should be *different* (and I don’t say that just as a millenial, Gen X’er, Gen Y’er or whatever category I’ve been placed into by Madison Ave).
I’ve had similar conversations with schools and education instutitions that were our marketing clients. More often than not (especially with independent schools), school websites would be intranets meant more for the families who were already sending their children to the school rather than the correct intended audience. School, and church, websites should not be public facing intranets filled with drop downs of available forms, opportunities, committee assignments, or inside contact information. School, and church, social media accounts shouldn’t be used for important announcements about changing event times or closings or opportunities for insiders already participating. It’s a common and rookie marketing mistake that groups who try to “in-house” their marketing often make.
Websites, and increasingly social media accounts, are front doors to the public. Make your messages intentional and authentic. But don’t fall into the easy trap of doing unconsciously bad marketing through associative guilt because it’s the perceived “easy route to get the message out about the winter weather.”
I’m not sure if my church is open or closed tomorrow. My pastor hasn’t contact me to post up a Facebook status update, even though I’m on the Outreach committee. But I’ve had fun today with her on our “snow day.” We’ve drunk a lot of coffee and caught up on the new season of Top Chef. We’ll see how she does with getting the word out about tomorrow (or God).