Rick Warren successfully built a following of 40,000 members. We can take lessons from his book and create purpose driven communication.
One thing that’s not well known is that there was a time advertisers looked at cults for inspiration. In The Persuaders, Douglas Atkin observed that participants in his focus groups would talk about brands like the World Wrestling Federation, Apple, and Nike in evangelical terms and expressed cult-like devotion. The challenge was to find what pushed a person from fan to disciple. So he looked at how cults worked. He concluded:
… there is a very, very close relationship between cults and the best cult brands in the sense that people join and stay with cults for the exact same reasons as people join and stay with brands. The reason why is pretty obvious if you think about it: The desire to belong to something, to make meaning out of something, is universal.
That’s what brands have become. They are no longer a typeface and colour palette — they fill an emotional gap in our lives.
It occurred to me when I watched The Persuaders that brands and movements can also learn from the church, specifically megachurches. Both are concerned with attracting new members to their cause.
It hindsight it seems obvious. Megachurches attract tens of thousands of people. Lakewood Church in Texas attracts 43,000 people every week — they must be doing something right. What I wanted to know is, ‘how do they communicate?’ Luckily, there’s a book that tell us: The Purpose Driven Church.
Rick Warren started the Saddleback Church in 1980. It began with a handful of people meeting in his home as a bible study; his first public service had two hundred people. Thirty years later that number has swelled to almost 40,000 members — 22,000 people attending each week.
The Purpose Driven Church is a manual for pastors that covers everything from mission to strategy, the choice of music to evangelism. But there are lessons for anyone who wants to communicate effectively.
Purpose driven communication
Have a clear purpose
Communication that’s simply tacked on to a brand, product or campaign will probably fail. As a communicator you need to be guided by a clear set of values and a goal. A clear purpose provides the platform for a sound strategy and focus.
For instance, by focusing the power of the sun through a magnifying glass, you can set a leaf on fire. But you can’t set a leaf on fire if the same sunlight is unfocused.
Understand your purpose
Answer these four questions:
- Why do we exist?
- Who and what are we?
- What do we do as a brand/organization/campaign?
- How will we do it?
Take this information, pull out the major themes, and state them in a paragraph. Then edit out all the unnecessary words and distill this down into a sentence. It’s not easy, but when you get there you have a memorable, clear, and concise purpose.
Define your target
You’re not going to appeal to everyone.
Imagine what would happen to a commercial radio station if it tried to appeal to everyone’s taste in music. A station that alternated its format between classical, heavy metal, country, rap, reggae, and southern gospel would end up alienating everyone. No one would listen to that station!
Saddleback Church defines its target in four ways: geographically, demographically, culturally, and spiritually. Think of it this way:
- Geographically: are you focused on a specific geographic area? If so, how big is this area? Are there physical barriers to people’s engagement?
- Demographically: age, gender, income, education etc
- Culturally: understand the cultural environment you’re working in. Are people despondent? What are their values? Do they believe in the same things you do?
- Spiritually: their level of passion and commitment.
Understand your audience
I recommend conducting research to understand more about your audience: surveys, focus groups, and depth interviews will give you a good picture of your audience. Create a single persona that encapsulates the person you are trying to reach. This will make it easier for you and others to understand who it is you’re targeting.
Rick Warren was on to something when he said that they focused on people with whom they already had something in common. Robert Cialdini, author the well-known book Influence, says there are six principles of persuasion: reciprocity, commitment or consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. A 2005 study by Randy Garner showed that something seemingly insignificant as a name increased, “perceptions of liking, perceptions of similarity to self, and the expressed intention to engage in tangible behavior (viz., agreeing to do a favor).”
The lesson is this: focus on those you share something in common with first and get to know them.
Here’s the survey Rick Warren asked as he went door to door before he started his church:
1. What do you think is the greatest need in this area? This question simply got people talking to me.
2. Are you actively attending any church? If they said yes, I thanked them and moved on to the next home. I didn’t bother asking the other three questions because I didn’t want to color the survey with believers’ opinions. Notice that I didn’t ask, “Are you a member?” Many people who haven’t been inside a church for twenty years still claim membership in some church.
3. Why do you think most people don’t attend church? This seemed to be a less threatening and offensive wording than “Why don’t you attend church?” Today many people would answer that question with “It’s none of your business why I don’t go!” But when I asked why they thought other people didn’t attend, they usually gave me their personal reasons anyway.
4. If you were to look for a church to attend, what kind of things would you look for? This single question taught me more about thinking like an unbeliever than my entire seminary training. I discovered that most churches were offering programs that the unchurched were not interested in.
5. What could I do for you? What advice can you give to a minister who really wants to be helpful to people? This is the most basic question the church must ask its community. Study the gospels and notice how many times Jesus asked someone, “What do you want me to do for you?” He began with people’s needs.
When I took the survey, I introduced it by saying: “Hi, my name is Rick Warren. I’m taking an opinion poll of our community. I’m not here to sell you anything or sign you up for anything. I’d just like to ask you five questions. There are no right or wrong answers, and it will only take about two minutes.”
Recognize who will be most receptive to your message
For evangelism to have maximum effectiveness, we need to plant our seed in the good soil — the soil that produces a hundredfold harvest. No farmer in his right mind would waste seed, a precious commodity, on infertile ground that won’t produce a crop. In the same way, careless, unplanned broadcasting of the Gospel is poor stewardship. The message of Christ is too important to waste time, money, and energy on nonproductive methods and soil. We need to be strategic in reaching the world, focusing our efforts where they will make the greatest difference.
Know what you are fishing for
The kind of fish you want to catch will determine every part of your strategy. Fishing for bass, catfish, or salmon requires different equipment, bait, and timing. You don’t catch marlin the same way you catch trout. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to fishing. Each demands a unique strategy. The same is true in fishing for men – – it helps to know what you’re fishing for!
You will reach new people through a variety of means. You may reach some people through social media, others through events. There are many ways to grow your audience, customers, and supporters. Use them.
Go where the fish are biting
It is a waste of time to fish in a spot where the fish aren’t biting. Wise fishermen move on. They understand that fish feed in different spots at different times of the day. Nor are they hungry all the time.
If you find one of your communications channels isn’t working, fix it or move on. Focus your energy on the channels that are working.
Learn to think like a fish
In order to catch fish it helps to understand their habits, preferences, and feeding patterns. Certain fish like smooth, still water, and others like to swim in rushing rivers. Some fish are bottom crawlers, and others like to hide under rocks. Successful fishing requires the ability to think like a fish.
This is an important point. Many organizations communicate from an inside point of view and miss the mark because the message has no relevance to the audience. You need to learn to think and speak like the person you are trying to reach. You need to understand how the world looks from where they stand. The best way to do it is to talk to them.
Rick Warren found four main complaints about the church that came through in his survey:
— “Church is boring, especially the sermons. The messages don’t relate to my life.”
— “Church members are unfriendly to visitors. If I go to church I want to feel welcomed without being embarrassed.”
— “The church is more interested in my money than in me.”
— “We worry about the quality of the church’s child care.”
His response was brilliant. He mailed an open letter to the community addressing their concerns. He didn’t mention Jesus or the Bible. The letter:
March 20, 1980
A new church designed for those who’ve given up on traditional church services! Let’s face it. Many people aren’t active in church these days.
– The sermons are boring and don’t relate to daily living
– Many churches seem more interested in your wallet than you
– Members are unfriendly to visitors
– You wonder about the quality of the nursery care for your children
Do you think attending church should be enjoyable?
WE’VE GOT GOOD NEWS FOR YOU!
SADDLEBACK VALLEY COMMUNITY CHURCH is a new church designed to meet your needs in the 1980s. We’re a group of friendly, happy people who have discovered the joy of the Christian lifestyle.
At Saddleback Valley Community Church you
– Meet new friends and get to know your neighbors
– Enjoy upbeat music with a contemporary flavor
– Hear positive, practical messages which encourage you each week
– Trust your children to the care of dedicated nursery workers
WHY NOT GET A LIFT THIS SUNDAY?
I invite you to be my special guest at our first public celebration service EASTER SUNDAY, April 6 at 11:00 a.m. We are currently meeting in the Laguna Hills High School Theater. If you don’t have a church home, give us a try!
DISCOVER THE DIFFERENCE!
Rick Warren, Pastor
Catch the fish on their terms
I’ve noticed that whenever I go fishing the fish don’t automatically jump into my boat or throw themselves up onto the shore for me. Their culture (under water) is very different from mine (air). It takes intentional effort on my part to make contact with fish. Somehow I must figure out how to get the bait right in front of their nose in their culture.
Catching fish on their terms means letting your target determine your approach. When you go fishing, do you use the same kind of bait for every kind of fish? Of course not. Do you use the same size of hook for every kind of fish? No. You must use the bait and hook that best matches the fish you want to catch.
Jesus captured the interest of large crowds with techniques that you and I can use. First, he told stories to make a point. Jesus was a master storyteller. He would say, “Hey, did you hear the one about . . .” and then tell a parable in order to teach a truth.
- hold our attention,
- stir our emotions, and
- help us remember.
Put another way, stories:
- are memorable,
- are easily shared, and
- inspire action.
Use simple language
…Jesus used simple language, not technical or theological jargon. He spoke in terms that normal people could understand. We need to remember that Jesus did not use the classical Greek language of the scholar. He spoke in Aramaic, the street language of that day. He talked of birds, flowers, lost coins, and other everyday objects that anyone could relate to.
Ask for commitment confidently
Ask confidently for a big commitment. Jesus always asked for commitment clearly and confidently. He was not at all reluctant to ask men and women to drop everything and follow him. It is an interesting phenomenon that, often, the greater the commitment you request, the greater response you will get.
Be specific in asking for commitment. Another key to developing commitment is to be specific. Tell people exactly what is expected of them.
Explain the benefits of commitment. Another key to developing commitment in people is to identify its benefits. God does this time and time again in the Bible. So many of the commands in Scripture have wonderful promises attached to them.
Build on commitment rather than toward commitment. Even though you tell people where you are taking them (by challenging them with a big commitment), it is important to start with whatever commitment they are able to give, regardless of how weak it may seem. We challenge people to make a commitment and then grow into it.
We can learn from the megachurches
Megachurches attract large numbers of people because the people running them are smart. Their communication is human and personable, and they know what their audience wants. We can learn a lot from the people behind these movements, and The Purpose Driven Church shows us how it can be done.
And the next time I’m in California I’ll see how it’s done in person. That’s an opportunity too good to miss.