Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Open Source Outreach: Enlisting Your People for Fresh Outreach Ideas

If you're tired of the same ol' marketing tactics, or the previous post left you a little cold, you may want to try an "open source" approach to finding creative outreach ideas for your church community.

Despite the relative success of many of our outreach marketing pieces at Artisan Church, it sometimes felt a bit stale. At one point we also worried our people might be losing their edge, relying too heavily on external efforts, clever tools, and letting the "professionals" do the heavy lifting. So being a creative community, we decided to unleash the wisdom of the crowd (with some simple guidance to keep it from mob rule and complete mayhem :)

  • First, the pastoral staff created a message series worth inviting to called "Failed Christians" to run during the Easter Season (an excellent time of year to focus on outreach and evangelism).
  • One month before the series we presented the "open source outreach" idea at The Gallery (our quarterly ministry showcase for celebration, evaluation, Q&A, vision-casting, and future plans; members expected, everyone welcome).
  • The end result was very encouraging. With the members of each design team truly feeling invested in the process and seeing tangible fruit from their creative efforts. We easily saw as many new people come and get connected as we had from any other outreach efforts, with relatively little expense, and far more people involved.

Here's a modified version of the handout we presented:

Real-Life Example of How It Worked:

I found an old email thread I had with some Eastman School of Music students as they formed a design team and put something creative together. Here's the synopsis of their initial Brainstorming Session:
  • Some Key Descriptors of Eastman Students
    • 17-22 years old
    • Spiritually Curious (eg aware of 'Easter' but not church-goers)
    • De-churched (busy, new place, disconnected, lack of transportation)
    • No 'green space' to enjoy on campus
    • Musically savvy :)
  • Top Outreach Ideas
    • Feature the Eastman musicians at one of the service where Ben's "Failed Christian" story is shared [Ben was one of our our band leaders and a Masters student at Eastman that many of the undergrads knew and looked up to; he's featured in the videos with the beard, wearing a grey "Geneseo" sweatshirt - great guy]
    • Facebook event
    • Posters around campus
      • tear-offs or invite cards attached [here's the final simple poster]
      • create webpage: www.artisanchurch.com/eastman
        • contact info and rides details
        • Cheryl, Jonathan, McKenzie all listed as the key contacts
        • Facebook event listed
      • use humor!
        • rough example: "Come hang out with "Failed Christians" of Eastman! (they're just more fun)"
    • Cookout and Games on the Artisan grounds (thought it might be a great follow-up when weather is consistently better)
In the end they put together an incredible music ensemble and even performed an original composition for their particular Sunday. Following that, many more continued to come from Eastman and get connected.

The other "design teams" had similar success stories, though using very different ideas - part of the beauty of this "open source" approach!

Outreach Print Materials: Tips & Tricks, Files & Resources

Feast in the House of Levi (detail)
by Paolo Veronese, 1573
When it comes to inviting friends, family, and neighbors, nothing beats personal invitation and word-of-mouth.

Yet you can significantly turbo-charge those efforts with supporting marketing pieces. Done well, they can inspire your people to invite more, and can effectively intrigue those being invited. Using multiple approaches that all reinforce the same event, theme, and look & feel adds even greater impact. 

Starter Files & Examples: bit.ly/marketingpieces (giant online folder)

  • This is a large pile of some of the better ones from Artisan Church (and a few other sources).
  • The file names are hopefully self-explanatory. Formats include Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, PDF, and JPG.

Invite Cards:

Simple and cost-effective. I prefer Business Card size (3.5in x 2in) or fold-over Business Card size (3.5in x 4in). Post Card size has more print real-estate, but is far more awkward to carry, put in a pocket, wallet, purse, etc - so only use if there's some other benefit.
  • Tips & Tricks:

    Keep it simple. Use very few words... then go back and remove some more. Make sure words are big enough to read. Use simple engaging graphics, don't make it busy. Always include your website address*.  
    • Hand them out first during a worship service, perhaps as a concrete response to a message on outreach or as part of a prayer time for those that people may invite. 
    • Have extras available for the super-inviters, but doen't overwhelm "normal" people. You may actually get more fruitful responses by handing out only 2-3 per person at first, and challenging them to pray for and invite just one or two people. 
    • Hand them out at small groups and ministry team meetings where you can talk and pray about specific people to invite. Model invitation as leaders.
  • Vendor:

    www.ClubFlyers.com/print/business-cards/product.aspx. We used them extensively. Excellent quality, very inexpensive, fast turn-around. They provide layout templates for all their print formats.


If you have the right kind of population density around where your church meets, these can be very effective. Best areas seem to be densely packed single-family homes, duplexes, triples, and quads, with actual front doors that people use. May not work as well in suburbs or rural settings because of the added distribution work. Apartment complexes may be difficult as well because of entry issues.
  • Tips & Tricks:

    Just like Invite Cards: Keep it simple, use very few words. Make sure words are big enough to read. Use simple engaging graphics, don't make it busy. Make front attention grabbing, put details on back (but not too much text). Include a map if appropriate. Always include your website address*
    • a couple dozen people can put out thousands in just a couple hours or so. For those nervous that they'd have to talk to people, we always gave the simple instructions, say "oh, it's just for an event being sponsored by Artisan Church in the neighborhood, the details are right on there. Thanks!" - and then keep on walking :)
    • we always broke it down into sets of 150-200 pieces, printed out two sets of zoomed-in google maps throughout the area (that usually show house lots), outlined the blocks with a highlighter and kept track of who went where on the master maps. This also let us prioritize blocks and neighborhoods closest to worship meeting space or meeting other criteria to make sure those were hit first
    • We also treated the distribution as a prayer walk for the neighborhoods and households
  • Vendor:

    www.ClubFlyers.com/print/door-hangers/4x11/product.aspx. Found them to be the best. Excellent quality, reasonably priced, fast turn-around. They provide layout templates for all their print formats.


4 x 12 - Outdoors
Great for drive-by & foot traffic, helpful for internal marketing to your own people, and can greatly reinforce the effects of other marketing materials (but only if you keep the event, theme, and look & feel consistent between different media and pieces).
  • 2 x 6 - Indoors

    Tips & Tricks:

    Same thing goes: Keep it simple, use very few words. It is vital that the words are big enough to read when driving or walking by. Did I mention? ... Always include your website address*.  
    • Even if you don't have a 24/7 space, these are fairly easy to set up and tear down, and usually worth the effort
    • Tall banners (say 2ft x 6ft) are great for indoor use
  • Vendor:

    www.HalfPriceBanners.com. Great quality, excellent price, fast turn-around.  
    • Always do a google search first for "banners" to get their deeply discounted price by clicking through their google ad - make sure any ad blocker is turned off (I just tested this to compare the prices on a 4x12 banner: visiting site directly was $192, clicking through google ad was $91!)
    • This is also where we bought our 2ftx x 6ft Quick Stand for setting up tall banners indoors.

What about Mass-Mailers?

In short: hated them. For us it was an obscene waste of money. We stumbled onto door-hangers in part because we had no real marketing money left after a failed mailer campaign for our Grand Opening. No exaggeration, the door-hangers were literally 1/10th the cost and brought in 10x the people, making them 100x more cost effective for each person reached that actually stuck around. Others have had great success with mailers, go figure :)

* If your church website is embarrassing or non-functional, please fix that first. I'm of the opinion that every single print and digital piece you create should have your web address irrevocably embedded.