During one of our recent marriage ministry webinars, a church leader asked how she could better work with the communications staff at her church. She was having trouble getting marriage content added to the website and social media. Maybe this is a challenge you can relate to.
Luckily for you, I worked in communications at churches for a few years. And I still work with a few different church communication organizations. So I know how most church communicators work and think. I know how you can work with them to increase visibility of your marriage ministry.
Because believe it or not, marriage ministry and church communications have a lot in common. Mostly because they’re both under-appreciated and overlooked. Leaders in both fields are overworked and under resourced.
So what if we worked together to serve one another?
Have a Strategy
Most churches don’t have an organized strategy to reach married couples. In the same way, most don’t have much of a communications plan. These are two areas where everything seems last minute and guesswork.
This is something that frustrates church communicators. Because they can see how ineffective unplanned communications work can be. They know the data behind the church’s website, social media, and event promotions.
They try to be more strategic, but that can be difficult when every ministry is equally as disorganized and makes non-stop communications requests. You can help alleviate this burden by creating a strategy of your own. This will make both of your jobs easier.
Last-minute requests are one of the most irritating and challenging things about a church communicator’s job. We’ve heard all of the excuses for last-minute stuff.
- “I know it’s Saturday, but can you just add this to the bulletin?”
- “Would you mind promoting this event that’s happening tomorrow?”
- “This needs to be posted to our Facebook page as soon as possible.”
- “What do you mean you can’t design a sermon graphic in 15 minutes?”
But you can be different. Your ministry can be the exception to the last-minute request rule. Make requests from your communications person early. They may not be able to get to it right away, but they’ll appreciate the time you gave them.
When I worked in church communications, I always noticed the ministries that sent me their stuff early. And I liked working with them a lot more than those ministries that were perpetually late.
One of the things that makes last-minute requests so frustrating is how disorganized they are. That’s what happens when you don’t have a ministry strategy and wait until the last minute. So one of the cures to both of these is to get organized.
Don’t just make a rushed, vague communications request. Be specific with what you’re looking for. And then provide all of the files and information the church communications person needs. For example, if you’re promoting a marriage event, at least give them the date, time, location, contact person, and an image to post to the website and social media.
Even better, see if you can get a quick planning meeting with the communications team before the event. That way, you can find out what you need to get organized to send to them. They’ll take your event a lot more seriously because you took the time to get your stuff together.
Build a Relationship
No matter how many communications requests you have to make, don’t let that be your only relationship with the communications staff at your church. Don’t let the only times you talk to them be when you need something from them.
Instead, take some time to get to know them better. Learn more about them personally and everything their job entails. Take them out to lunch at least once—because nothing forms relationships quite like free food.
If you have a good relationship with the communications person at your church, it will be easier to make those requests. You’ll know when are bad times to ask for stuff. And they’ll be a lot more understanding when you do.
How can you better work with your communications staff to promote your ministry?
Robert Carnes is the editor on the MarriedPeople team. He’s worked in marketing and communications for a number of churches and nonprofits. Robert lives in Atlanta with his wife, Victoria.
The only thing more frustrating than trying to get married couples to commit to a regular small group is convincing them that your group needs to multiply.
A few years ago, our church started its first marriage small group for couples. These couples had some friendship history, which helped get things started.
But despite having known each other for a while, there was still the awkward tension of starting structured and intentional time together on a regular basis.
Start with Leadership
A critical component to the early days of any small group is leadership.
Inevitably there will be a moment when everyone in the room needs someone to give organization and direction to the conversation or activities of the evening. The leader doesn’t have to be the smartest or most biblically trained person in the room—he or she simply has to have a clear understanding of the purpose of small group.
People attending small group want to feel as though they belong, have a group of people who care about them, and aren’t wasting their time. If all three of these areas are met, something amazing happens.
Not only do the couples prioritize the time together, they actually start to see the group as a place other people they know need to be.
Getting on the Same Page
A few things need to be established in the early days of a marriage small group. Each member of the group must be on the same page concerning the status of the group. Is the group open or closed? In other words, are we open to adding new couples?
If the group is open to new members, a process needs to be established and followed by all current members. If this isn’t clear, it could become a limiting factor to the transparency and relationship of everyone in the group. There might be seasons of life, or certain curriculum topics that may lead to a pause on the addition of new couples.
Expectations for participation and confidentiality need to be established up front. While some folks have zero hesitations about pouring his or her heart out, many people take a while to open up. There might even people some who seem as though they only sit and listen week after week.
Regardless of any individual’s willingness or ability to share, respect and care need to be high priorities.
Create Leadership Opportunities
The current leader of any group needs to lead group in such a way that provides opportunities for members to step up. This will help the group become less leader-centric, and develop potential future leaders.
If your intention is to multiply your group in the future, this topic needs to be a regular part of communication. Unfortunately, even if you cast vision from the very first gathering for multiple groups in the future, any group that has grown close and walked through challenging circumstances will initially resist change.
After our initial group of four couples grew to nine, we knew it was past time to multiply. Content and geography can help cast vision for the need for new groups.
Even if someone doesn’t want to change, seeing the need for a group discussing a specific topic, or establishing a group in another part of town helps people take the leap into the unknown.
Pick a Time to Launch
Launching these new groups at an optimum time of the year also helps.
Many groups take summers to slow down the frequency of meetings. We also make these summertime gatherings intentionally more social. This gives a prime opportunity to invite new families to meet the current group members without the intensity of deep spiritual or personal conversations.
Fall and first of the year tend to be seasons in which people are open to trying something new, and self-improvement. Creating a clear and easy on-ramp for small groups in these seasons can help stimulate growth and create a natural lifecycle for small groups in your church.
I firmly believe that life change happens most effectively in the context of a small group. In the end, the willingness of small group members to attend and engage will ultimately determine the overall success of a group.
How does your church point married couples to small groups?
Phillip is a pastor in Rock Hill, South Carolina. After two decades of family ministry and worship ministry in churches across the southeast, Phillip planted Grace Collective Church in 2014. He and his wife, Anita, were married in 1999, and are the proud parents of four children.
Dogs usually love groups. Dog parks, dog beaches, and pet-friendly restaurants were all created so that our dogs can get together with other dogs to be in community. Dogs are social animals.
On the other hand, cats tend to hate community. They seem to dislike people, other cats, dogs, and anyone in between. Cats are anti-social animals.
If you were to invite a dog to your next marriage event, they would instinctively introduce themselves to everyone and discuss the best chew toys and strategies for avoiding baths. And everyone would listen, because it’s a talking dog.
Although your marriage events won’t have any actual cats and dogs, you will likely have both social and anti-social people. And here are three lessons we can learn from dogs when building community with our large events.
1. Pull some chairs together
Community grows when it is void of rows. Placing people at tables is the best way to generate conversation. In addition, placing people together who share the same life stage will help to generate a lasting connection.
When tables are assigned and groups are deliberately organized, people will have less anxiety about where to sit. They can feel at ease with people who share the same life struggles, and generally feel comfortable and welcomed.
There will always be a token few who would rather grab an extra chair from a stack in the hallway and sit at the back of the room. Help them to participate also.
2. Find a common subject
Talking is easier when the subject is simple and engaging. Provide your groups with easy-to-answer questions that are void of provoking too much thought.
Creative questions can lead people into discussions that will prepare them for the discussion topic. Or can simply be a way to laugh, talk, and find common ground without having to deal with awkward silence.
Depending on the variety of the ages in the room, present questions that are appropriate for all audiences. Millennials don’t want to be thinking about how they will see themselves 20 years from now, and those with grey hair will have difficulty arriving at an answer to whether they would rather bungee jump or trapeze. (The answer is neither.)
3. Have fun
Games on stage or up in front are fun but create an environment where everyone else is watching couples on stage play, laugh, and win prizes but not enhance community.
Instead, create a multiple answer game where the couples at each table discuss the best answer to the question and pit their answer against other tables.
Another option for game play would be to have the individual couples compete against other couples in the room, or one where all of the individuals are competing against each other.
Providing couples an opportunity to work together and to have fun helps them to forget for a moment the struggles of career, kids, and car issues. Some couples haven’t had fun in years. Let this be a no-stress time for couples to re engage in fun.
What about the cats?
People who are reluctant to participate, (the cats in the room) can still enjoy their evening. Create a countdown clock so that they are aware of how much time they have to talk, when the game will end, or how the program for the evening will unfold. Eliminating the guesswork builds confidence and reduces anxiety.
Whether your event is filled with dogs or cats (or both), the success is more visible when you place them in circles, engage them with easy questions, and allow them to have some fun.
Although you don’t need to supply treats, both cats and dogs would appreciate something sweet or savory (as long as it’s made for human consumption).
Linda Vujnov is the Family Ministry Director at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA. She is a speaker, and author of Spilt Milk-Devotions for Moms, and writes for several for magazines, blogs, and devotionals. She and her husband Greg have been married 27 years and have four children.
My church began our marriage ministry in 2014 after being introduced to the Married People strategy at the Orange Conference. Since then, it has been an amazing ride. We’ve tried new things, failed at some things, and have continued to tweak things along the way. I believe this is how good ministries become great—by constantly evolving!
Perhaps your marriage events have hit a stale patch on road. You feel like the events look identical to the one before it. You’re ready to change things up and take these events to the next level.
Since we’ve gone through the same experience at my church, I wanted to share a few things we’ve learned along the way. Hopefully you can learn from our mistakes and not hit as many potholes and detours along your marriage ministry journey.
Small changes can make a big impact
I’m not sure why we believe that to “innovate” and “evolve” we have to do a complete 180°. As if spending more time and money will automatically lead to better results. That’s simply not true.
Small changes or upgrades to your event can make a huge difference—if done intentionally and effectively. Here are a few examples that you can try for yourself:
- invite church members who own businesses to donate prizes
- bring in live music if you’ve been using recorded music
- have a local amateur comedian come in and do a 10-minute opening skit
- have dessert made and handed out by the children or youth of the church as a special gift
- make each centerpiece a unique prize that one couple at each table will win
Change up the games
We learned early on that games are one of the most critical pieces of these marriage events. Over time, we’ve allocated more resources and energy into quality games (and prizes!). And these efforts have paid off.
We found that playing a stage game and a table game is a must, because this accommodates the different personality types of people in attendance. “Minute to Win It” type games have been the most successful.
Thankfully, the games that come in the Married People events have all been very good. Put a little extra effort into personalizing the games and prizes at your event and you will reap the rewards. Couples want to have fun—so give them the fun!
Make it personal
Find a professional videographer and interview several of the couples attending the event ahead of time. Ask them to share a story in relation to your theme. For instance, for the “Have Serious Fun” segment ask them to share a story about a vacation they went on that was super fun.
Likewise, for “Practice Your Promise,” interview a couple in your church that’s been married over 50 years. Ask them what their secret is. Be sure to pick a lively couple for some great laughs!
Make these couples your special guests at the event dinner. After a while, couples will ask to be a part of your future videos. Remember to give them the video as a keepsake afterwards. And, if these are professional quality, you can use the videos to promote your ministry later.
It doesn’t always have to be what it’s always been
This was tough for my team. After a couple of years of successful marriage events, we felt comfortable in what we were doing. But, if we were to evolve, my team would need to feel safe trying new things and stepping away from what we’d always done.
It’s not always easy to implement change—especially in the church.
Last summer, we held a group wedding vow renewal ceremony instead of the traditional “Practice Your Promise” event. I officiated the ceremony in a robe. We decorated the event like a wedding reception. The couples dressed up and we had a professional photographer there to capture photos of each couple.
By far, this was one of the most popular events we’ve ever held. And, it took us stepping away from what we “always” did to make it happen.
Whatever you choose to start with, just start with one thing that changes for each event. Remember—small changes are good! Before you know it, your event will be a fun surprise for participants and something all couples enjoy attending. The anticipation and excitement of what you’ll do next will entice more couples to come check it out!
How do you plan on taking your next event to the next level?
Monica Humpal is the Director of Grow Ministries at Williamson’s Chapel UMC in Mooresville, NC, and has more than 20 years of experience serving in the ministry.
What Millennials Want
I’ve been working with married couples through the local church since 2001. During that whole time, marriage statistics are everywhere. Many of these stats can be discouraging for those of us who greatly want marriages to win.
But recently, a friend and researcher shared a report from Pew Research about the millennial generation. According to that report, here are the top eight priorities for millennials:
- Being a good parent
- Having a successful marriage
- Helping others in need
- Owning a home
- Living a very religious life
- Having a high-paying career
- Having lots of free time
- Being famous
Millennials get such a bad rap about everything. I know previous generations have always bemoaned the current one, but millennials seem to have gotten some extra moaning.
Much of the team I work with are millennials, and I’m really big fan of this generation. Millennials not only make up the largest part of the U.S. population, they are changing the world they inherited.
Unlike the previous generation, they long for experiences instead of stuff. And what’s their biggest experience? Their family. They want to have a great family. They want to be great parents and have a great marriage.
What This Means For The Church
This is great news for church leaders. Because if we get really strategic about creating experiences for married couples, we can create a solid bridge for millennials to walk back into the church, or maybe walk in for the first time.
I’ve seen it happen all over the country—great marriage events and resources connecting people to the local church.
My wife, Nancie and I experienced this recently. We spoke and hosted a fun date night event at Mariners Church South County in San Juan Capistrano. This is in Orange County, Calif., where the divorce rate is a staggering 75%. This stat does not seem to discourage the Director of Marriage, Amanda Maguire. It actually seems to empower her.
Through her fun and strategic marketing, this event was filled with millennials. After the event, a young man approached me and said, “My wife and I are really struggling. We thought this would help. It did. We’ll be back here.”
At the end of the event, Amanda did an amazing job to ensure the group that the event wasn’t the only thing for marriages at their church. She told them it was part of an overall plan to pour into the marriages of Orange County. She gave them a reason to come back.
Bottom line: when a church leverages millennials’ love of experiences with their desire to have a great marriage, powerful things can happen.
And I’m not just talking about increasing millennials’ marital satisfaction. I’m talking about leveraging marriage to draw people to church, and ultimately Jesus—something no statistics can ever describe.
Ted Lowe is a speaker and the director of MarriedPeople, the marriage division at Orange. Ted is the author of two books—one for marriage ministry leaders (Married People: How Your Church Can Build Marriages That Last) and one for married couples (Your Best US: Marriage Is Easier Than You Think). He served for almost 10 years as the director of MarriedLife at North Point Community Church. He lives near Atlanta, Georgia, with his four favorite people: his wife, Nancie, and their three children.
Every month, we send out MarriedPeople Monthly to church leaders so they can encourage and equip the couples at their church. We’ve shared posts in the past telling you how to use MP Monthly. But we also know that this knowledge is useless without having an email list to send it to.
Maybe you’ve already got a huge email list from your church’s married couples. Maybe they all love to open the emails you send them and never unsubscribe. But that’s probably not true for most churches. Many of you may struggle to collect emails.
If that’s you, we’ve pulled together a few ideas that can help you to collect emails from married couples and grow a healthy marriage email list.
1. Website Forms
The first step to getting people to sign up for your email list is to add a sign-up form on your church’s website. This makes opting in to your email list easy and highly visible.
If your church has a specific marriage ministry web page, that’s a great place for the form to go. It may not result in a huge rush of people signing up, but it gives you a quick place to point interested people to.
If you use MailChimp for sending out emails (which we recommend), they’ve got step-by-step instructions for how to add forms to your website. MailChimp also gives you the ability to create sign-up landing pages.
2. Promote at Events
If your marriage ministry hosts marriage events or retreats (which we can help you with), that’s a great place to tell people about your marriage email list.
At a marriage event, you’ve got a captive audience. You know they care about marriage, at least enough to attend an event about it. And by the end of the event, they’re probably wondering what to do next. Signing up for your list is a fantastic next step to leave people with at the end of your event.
Marriage events are great at giving people short-term ideas and inspiration. But they usually run out of steam after about a week. Monthly emails will keep that inspiration going through the rest of the year. Send them less content, more often.
3. Personal Referrals
People trust the recommendations of their friends and family, even over the church. It’s easier for other couples to convince someone to sign up for your emails than it will be for you.
So encourage people who are fans of your email content to share it with their friends. Make it easy for them to forward the emails and get more people to sign up. You could even include a message in each email, telling them to forward it to a friend.
4. Social Media
To reach people, you have to go where they are. And for better or worse, people are increasingly spending their time on social media. So why not give the occasional plug for your email list there?
One key to promoting email sign-ups through social media is to not come across as purely promotional. People are already being bombarded with messages online. It’s easy for you to get lost in the white noise, unless you share content that is unique and/or valuable.
This could be sharing a piece of content from an email—like a link to a blog post. Tease people with valuable content and then let them know where they can get even more like that. Do ask them to do something without showing what’s in it for them first.
How does your ministry get people to sign up for your email list?
Robert Carnes is the editor on the MarriedPeople team. He’s worked in marketing and communications for a number of churches and nonprofits. Robert lives in Atlanta with his wife, Victoria.