When it comes to making decisions about re-opening our churches, we're starting in the wrong place.
A few weeks into the quarantine, I spoke with a church leader about their strategy to weather the storm and re-open. Like many churches, the first couple of weeks was a scramble to get worship content online so that members didn't have to 'miss a Sunday.' I asked him what the plan was for making progress while not meeting physically, and he looked at me like my hair was on fire. The leadership's primary objective was to put together a timeline to re-open as quickly as regulations would allow so that members could start attending worship again.
Their whole focus was on the metric of attendance.
The church had a decent small-groups culture prior to March. But no structure was put in place to provide opportunities for connection and relationships digitally. Volunteers that served faithfully on Sundays have been all but completely sidelined instead of equipped and redeployed for new opportunities. Aside from weekly teaching moments, creative opportunities for children and students have been ignored. And rather than providing parents with resources to engage their kids and teens while everyone was stuck inside, the staff remained focused on what they couldn't control--getting people back in the building.
Then church started meeting again a few weeks ago. Attendance has been well under 50%, even though they made accommodations for a 100% return while still abiding by guidelines. The staff is stressed out, trying to shoulder the load of pulling off Sundays, both physically and digitally. And no pivots have been made to invest in new strategies to fulfill the church's mission in this very new season.
Where did they go wrong? They weren't thinking like marketers.
Several years ago, I directed a Social Media & Communications Innovation Lab with some great church teams from across the country. One of the resources we brought in was Eddy Badrina, co-founder of BuzzShift, a digital strategy agency for mid-sized brands and organizations.
Eddy shared with the Lab a marketing framework that BuzzShift used to help clients develop a strategy. He called it POSTMO, and I think it can teach us something about how to approach the post-quarantine season of ministry.
You've probably figured it out, but POSTMO is an acronym that outlines a process for setting up an effective digital strategy. It stands for the following (forgive me, Eddy, if I misremember some of these after 10 years):
- Persona(s) – This is all about the people you are trying to reach. Who are they? What do you know about them? What are their likes and dislikes, needs, etc.? What messages appeal to them?
- Objectives – What are the outcomes you are aiming for? With any marketing campaign or writing, there should be a call to action, a 'next step' you want people to take. What do you want your audience to feel, think, or do?
- Strategy – Based on your audience and objectives, what strategy will most effectively reach them where they are and help them get to where you want them to go?
- Technology – Only after you've worked through the first three items should you evaluate which platforms or tools are most effective for executing your strategy.
- Metrics – How do you know you are winning? What data do you need to collect and analyze?
- Optimization – Based on insights from your analytics, how can you increase the effectiveness of your marketing to move more customers along their journey?
What is important about POSTMO isn't just the individual elements, but the sequence in which you approach them. Thinking strategy before understanding your audience and having crystal clear objectives will leave you unable to influence your target market properly. Choosing your technology before having a well-planned strategy can lead to a colossal waste of time, energy, and resources.
What's true for a marketing strategy is also true for a church strategy.
Here's the thing: in almost all the conversations, webinars, blog posts, and other content I see focused on post-COVID ministry, we seem to be forgetting the importance of sequence by starting near the end of the POSTMO process. Like the church above, most leaders appear to focus on a single metric, attendance, and then attempt to reverse-engineer strategy from there.
Can you understand why that's a bad idea?
As Carey Nieuwhof articulated in a recent post (In-Person Attendance vs Online Attendance and the Emerging Trap of Doing Nothing Well), starting with the wrong metric (or ignoring the metrics altogether) leads to a trap that can result in tremendous waste and high-opportunity costs in a season where leaders can afford neither.
Instead of starting with our assumptions and predispositions toward a single metric, we should instead take the time to understand the people God has called us to reach and grow. How can we better understand our people and our city, using data (both quantitative and qualitative) to draw out actionable insights that help shape the way forward?
Instead of focusing on the "output" of how many show up, leaders need to step back and review the core objectives for their churches, allowing outcomes and desired impact to shape strategy and metrics. I think we would all agree that the mission isn't attendance, right? Then why are we operating like it is?
The circumstances we are in now have provided a powerful testing ground for new strategies to reach, grow, and send out people that probably should have been deployed a decade or more ago (but let's not dwell on the past). Leaders need a framework or process for evaluating current realities in a way that leads to new insights, ideas, and actions.