Expectation vs Reality – Making sure your communications reflection your church
You may have seen the rise of expectation vs reality memes on social media streams – captions alongside two contrasting images with the tagline ‘how I think I look; what I actually look like’. It seems we’ve gotten used to poking fun at the things that don’t match up to the way they are portrayed. We are saturated with enticing imagery in advertising but are left disappointed with the reality. When we browse news streams, scroll through Twitter, even read or watch mainstream news, we’re increasingly presented with questionable information. As a designer and communicator it got me thinking about how the Church, in subtle ways, might be doing the same and how we could be better at what we communicate to our communities…
Here at CPO, the team has the privilege of serving, equipping and resourcing a wide range of churches across the UK. Nationally, there’s an invisible perpetuating drive for the Church to ‘catch-up’ with the digital age and appear relevant. Of course this is very important – for too long the Church has been hesitant to take the lead in creative disciplines, however, I wonder if on a local scale churches have become too focused with being on trend (whatever that means). This national focus on relevance often outworks in churches portraying a false sense of their individual identity, so much so that if a non-christian decided to enter their church they’d think they had walked into the wrong building.
Why is painting the right picture of your church so important? Whilst the Church has been racing to remain relevant, the narrative of today’s culture is has shifted and we’re surrounded by the themes of authenticity – or being true to ‘who we are’. There’s a strong distrust in the phoney and fake around us, and many view the churches progress in communications and even Christian faith itself with that same skepticism.
This certainly poses an interesting creative challenge for churches: with such a need for churches to remain relevant and present in a modern and image focused culture, how do we find a balance between contemporary design and communication that authentically reflects the reality of each particular individual expression of church? As those who wish to speak the truth of Jesus Christ to our friends and families, our focus should be to present a truly authentic individual expression of church, so from the outside in our friends are not hindered or distracted from hearing the truth of the gospel. We are a beautifully wide and diverse Church – that should not be lost by the notion that we need to appear contemporary.
Here are a few ideas to help your church find a balance between remaining relevant and reflective of your expression of church:
Gain a better understanding of your area.
Find out about your community. What outreach activities do your church already engage with — is it relevant for your church? Show your community that you want to be authentically relevant – you could even take a street questionnaire and ask people what they think of your church, what they need and what would make them feel comfortable exploring church? Use tools like datashine.org.uk and http://www.theology-centre.org.uk/my-context to help.
Resist the pull towards the ‘innies’.
When creating outreach designs, the CPO team often talk about ‘innies’ and ‘outies’ – resources that are more outreach focused and helpful for outsiders, and those that existing Christians would appreciate and relate to (‘innies’). Make the voices of outside the church be heard – they are after all, the people you are trying to serve. In the book Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley talks about the importance of resisting an invisible gravitational ‘pull towards becoming a church for church people’.
As you gain a better understanding of your churches reach or local community, focus on them and pitch your communications and services towards your findings.
Picture your outreach, events or services from the view of someone who has never been before. When you do, you see the small confusing and unusual social nuances that are hard for unchurched people to follow. No church sets out to make newcomers feel uncomfortable, but it can easily happen as we listen more and more to those already inside the church.
The worst thing would be if a unchurched member of your community walked in and it was nothing like you described visually or otherwise. Don’t try to be something you’re not. A survey of over 1,000 churches using CPO, showed that more than 70% of churches had below 100 people in their congregation – so using imagery that shows bright lights and festival sized crowds, when in reality your church is small isn’t an accurate depiction of your reality. Paint a picture of what it’s like to be a part of your church. What are your ‘expectations vs reality’? What false views of your church could you look to debunk? If you are a slightly older demographic of church – focus on showing the community and support you can provide.
Our digital culture is not going away. Engage with digital — set up a Facebook or instagram. Use it as a way of showing your community. Cultivate it and add to it. Churches have a brilliant community which the world needs to know about and feel apart of! Post weekly and show people what it’s like in your services and small groups… Which leads us on to:
Take photos and document church life.
Images are the best way to be authentic. They don’t have to be amazing, most phone’s do a decent job for online platforms. In a visual and digital age it really helps to show what happens at church, what to expect and even what to wear! Use free imagery sites- but be careful of staying true to your area, as mentioned above. If you are using images of people within the church, please ensure that you are complying with GDPR and checking that people don’t mind being photographed.
Written by Head of Design at CPO, Piero Regnante