Whether they’re potlucks, special voters’ meetings, or trunk-or-treats, last-minute events are bound to happen (sometimes more often than we would like!). The idea of driving attendance or gaining support for a last-minute event makes most of us cringe. While it is sometimes easy to explain to a volunteer that they should consider moving the date to ensure the event is successful, it isn’t as easy to tell the church president or pastor.
So, what do we do with these last-minute requests? How do we pull off a successful communication effort in a short time frame? We must dig into our toolbox of available resources and communication knowledge. We must become creative and not panic in the moment of slight (or maybe big) frustration.
There are tools we use every day that are the go-tos in our communication routine, but when it comes to a last-minute event or activity, we must dig deeper in our toolbox. How can we use these tools differently, or what tools are available that we don’t always use? What can we do that is effective and won’t take valuable time from other important tasks? Because let’s face it—we don’t have time to spare!
When the Bulletin Insert Is Not an Option
I am going to assume that for many churches there is a weekly bulletin insert or a page that includes important announcements. And for many of us, we know this is one of the most effective ways to communicate with our congregation. This little section has so much weight in our communication effort that after it is printed, we basically say that whatever is not in it is not happening. Well, sort of.
But that last-minute event happening next Saturday was presented to you at noon on Friday. It is not going to make it in the Sunday morning announcements page—not even once. Here are some other tools I utilize in the face of a last-minute event!
One of my special tools is snail mail. Since the majority of our congregation lives in the same town and our church doesn’t send out a lot of mail, I know our members will get the information in one or two days, and they will open it because it’s not “just another piece of mail from church.”
Another way I make sure this tool is effective is by looking at who the event is targeting. Does it really need to go to everyone in the church? Or can I send it to a specific audience?
Additionally, I normally don’t send a fancy letter on our letterhead. I have formatted post cards that I can easily adjust. Then our lovely secretary prints and labels them and quickly gets them out the door. These cards include basic information and a call to action, such as to register online or contact the church office with questions.
Our weekly e-news goes out on Tuesdays. This is a summary of our weekly bulletin insert that points people to our website for more information. I also include things that didn’t make the bulletin insert, like last-minute events.
But when it comes to last-minute items, I think this is when it is ok to send out that extra email that is focused on that event. Again, if this event is targeted for a specific audience, I hone in on it and send the email to only those individuals. Making the subject line catchy and including an image in the email really helps the open and click-through rates. For instance, on our trunk-or-treat email asking for volunteers, I made the subject line “Your Parking Spot Is Saved” with a little car emoji.
It’s important to not only think outside the box on tools for communicating events but also to be creative in sharing the message.
Screens and Flyers for Sunday Morning
So the bulletin or bulletin insert is printed. There is one Sunday to communicate this event. How are you going to do it Sunday morning?
If you have digital screens, use them! Don’t be afraid to have a graphic or image on the projection screen while the pastor is making an announcement before the service. This gives a visual element that some people might need to remember things. (I also think that having a volunteer make a quick announcement is sometimes more effective than having the pastor do it—just make sure it is someone who knows all the info and isn’t long winded.) We also have TV screens in our main narthex and lobby areas. Even though the announcement didn’t make it into our bulletin insert, I can easily add information in this outlet.
Going back to knowing the audience. If this event is targeting parents, make a half-page flyer to send home after Sunday School. This places your message directly in the hands of those whom you are targeting. If the event is targeting adults, have the announcement be passed out after the adult Sunday School class. It may not get to everyone, but word of mouth is your best friend in these situations.
Social media is a great tool and can really help with getting the word out for a church-wide event, especially if it is used correctly. Simply typing a post on Facebook and posting it is not going to do the trick. Without getting too deep into how social media algorithms work—not everyone in your congregation, or even the majority of them, may see the information.
At Holy Trinity, I do my best to keep the content on our social media accounts applicable to not only our members but also visitors. I don’t post about voters’ meetings or things that visitors looking at our page wouldn’t want to come to or would feel out of place at. That is my personal decision, as I think the goal is to be social and not exclusive.
With that being said, if this last-minute event is a church-wide “anyone can come” type of event, I would consider paying $20.00 or so to boost the event. In boosting the event, I would choose my audience carefully. Although this is a community event, I will more than likely choose people who like our page as well as those people’s friends. My hope in doing this is that my money will go further, and our members and their friends will share the event. This allows the event to get more exposure for free because it makes use of my existing network.
The other day, we were contacted through Facebook by another LCMS church asking us to share their upcoming event. Of course we shared it, and hopefully we helped them get the word out. I had never thought about personally messaging other churches in our district to share a community event. But that is the beauty of social media—we can share things quickly. Kudos to that church for reaching out and thinking outside the box!
Many times when something is last minute, we throw in the towel on any type of design work for the announcement. But a block of text on a screen is not going to catch anyone’s attention or entice people into wanting to know more.
I think even simple designs (no clip art, please) can still be effective. Put the announcement on a textured background with easy-to-read text, bolding or enlarging the font of the date and time, and include a short description. Ta-da! You have something for your screens and social media channels that will grab the attention you are wanting.
I have “website” listed last, but it is probably one of the most important items. This is your home base. Don’t neglect it and don’t forget to use it.
Your website should be set up so that you or someone on the staff can easily go in and change things. This enables you to make a landing page with more information about the last-minute event, possibly including the option to register for it. By having a landing page, you are creating an easy-to-share place for all the information. This will get more people to your website and hopefully share other things your church is doing. Depending on how important the event is, you can link to the landing page from the home page or any other high-traffic area.
You Can Do It!
Last year, we had an event that was organized by volunteers of a specific ministry, and it came as a surprise. They wanted to add it to the calendar and get the word out only two weeks before the event. I quickly sat down with the leaders to get more details. From there, I made a quick video (in iMovie) with a voice-over and photos to show before our worship services. The event was for one of our mission teams, and showing photos of the work they were doing was more impactful than standing up on Sunday inviting everyone to come to the event. I know not everyone has the capability to put together videos, but I used it in this case as one of my special tools.
We each have special tools that fit our church. Take a day to think or brainstorm with your staff about what tools are available to you. That way when something last-minute comes up, you can decide what fits that event and make it happen!
Last-minute events don’t have to be the worst. The fact that we can overcome the immediate frustration, think outside the box, and, most importantly, support the ministries is why each of us has been given the responsibility of communicating for our organization. So dig deep and find that perfect tool to get the word out!
Hear from Stacy Yates live as we chat with her about best practices for communicating about last-minute church events.
Thursday, November 1 at 11:30 a.m. (CDT) on Facebook