During my youth, I spent many weeks at summer church camps. Although it was never one of our favorite free-time activities, sometimes we would play a game of touch football together. I was not particularly athletic or fond of running, so I did my best to avoid being a receiver. (My kicking and punting skills were far better!) Technical details about the game – like play patterns – were all but foreign to me.

One play sticks in my head to this day. Somehow I became the quarterback for a few drives. During the first huddle, we decided to run a basic “Hail Mary” play. All of the receivers ran toward the end zone, and I threw the ball hard and high…and hoped someone would catch it. The play caught the other team by surprise. Amazingly, one of our receivers caught the ball in the end zone for a touchdown! I was elated, and we tried running the play a few more times when we got the ball next. It didn’t take long for the other team to figure out our “strategy,” and it quickly stopped working well.

Patterns vs. Strategy

Churches and church leaders are masters at repetition. Worship services follow the same format for years, maybe even decades. A youth group may use the same mission trip company year after year. A church secretary may never recommend using color in the church newsletter or bulletin because a habit of printing it in basic black has been formed over decades. But here’s the thing:

Doing something repeatedly in a certain way for a long time is a pattern, not a strategy.

What’s the difference?

A pattern is a reliable and repeated action, tendency, trait, or other observable characteristic of a person, group or organiztion.

A strategy is a careful and organized plan or method.

“Reliable and repeated” vs. “careful and organized”: that’s the key here. Do you do something because you can and have relied on it for a long time, or are you “full of care” with regard to your plans and methods? Do you keep on throwing the Hail Mary, hoping against all odds for a touchdown, or do you consider fully your plans and methods?

One of the things we’ve repeatedly noticed at Aboundant since we started a few years ago is that most churches lack a coherent strategy when it comes to their church website and communications. Instead, they have patterns. For example, do any of these remind you of part of your playbook?

  • A common church marketing pattern is “Put this article in the weekly bulletin, and the Friday email, and the monthly newsletter. Oh, and maybe make a poster and send out some postcards too.” (a.k.a. “The Jackson Pollock Scattershot Approach to Communications”).
  • A common church outreach pattern is “Post the link to the sermon audio on facebook on Sunday afternoons” (a.k.a. “Worship for Slackers”).
  • A common church website pattern is “I haven’t updated that ministry page in over two years” (a.k.a. “Set it and forget it.”)

Many things can be unclear with patterns, such as…

  • the purpose (of this event, type of promotional effort, etc.)
  • the audience (the specific group you want to reach)
  • the role (i.e., the way it fits in the larger system at play)
  • the goal (what you hope to accomplish)
  • the evaluation timeline (how and when you’ll review for effectiveness)

Here’s the really terrific thing about a strategy: Everything you do has two possible outcomes. The first is success. The second is learning.

Either your strategy leads to something positive (like growth), or you learn something about what doesn’t work. Note that I didn’t use the word failure, by the way. Failure is a demotivating term. Learning creates new energy.

Digital Ministry Strategies for 2020

As you head into 2020 – and a brand new decade! – why not begin with a focus on your digital ministry strategy? Some possibilities to ponder:

  1. A strategy for building your digital ministry team.
  2. A strategy for keeping your church website fresh and up-to-date.
  3. A strategy for targeting your messages to the people who will care about them.
  4. A strategy for measuring and monitoring your website hits, social media engagement, and advertising effectiveness.
  5. A strategy for telling more stories instead of simply sharing details.
  6. A strategy for creating engaging content that’s really useful to people in your community.
  7. A strategy for using video to promote events and tell your stories.
  8. A strategy for growing your skillset and utilizing your new knowledge.
  9. A strategy for bringing digital communications into your ministries.
  10. A strategy for upgrading your digital tools.

The poet/author/singer Tuli Kupferberg once wrote,

“When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.”

What patterns are ready to be broken – or at least fully reconsidered – in your church so that new worlds are able to emerge?

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