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Saturday, April 8, 2017

A Cure for Church Apathy: Better Flyers Part 1

As an ice breaker at a recent church luncheon I asked the audience, 
"What's the biggest problem in church fellowship today?" 

     "Apathy," replied a retired minister sitting at a front table.

      Around him other church people non-apathetically nodded agreement.  Me, too.

      While I was looking out at an assortment of happy faces at well-filled tables, I have faced other kinds of audiences and been sitting in the midst of audiences that were sluggish, disinterested, snoozing--enduring a church event in the name of good church citizenship or duty.

      Since then I have paid attention to ways we could change that dynamic, and though I am now a writer of books and on a speakers bureau, once upon a time I was a teacher of business writing, and there was one central idea that I used year after year in a college classroom which was:   Understand that the purpose you have in writing a document may not be the benefit an envisioned reader or audience will need to respond to that document.

     In any business document, you need to accomplish your purpose while providing a projected benefit for a reader, or in the case of churches, congregants.

That is sometimes hard to do, if you have not stopped to think about the benefit for the reader or church member. Sometimes in the planning of an event we are simply focused on trying to get the date, time, occasion and name of the speaker spelled correctly that we forget that the audience we are inviting is not obligated to care about our event.  We must give them a reason to care--we must provide the hope of personal gain, a promised advantage.

       This goal is further stymied by the now heavy reliance upon word processing templates to produce flyers, and these pre-designed formats with blanks to fill in are a seductive tool of business writing in churches and elsewhere.  They create attractive documents and are often prepared by people who are donating their time.  Their time and efforts of volunteers are appreciated and the attractiveness of the produced documents so unembarrasingly good that we think the result is a good flyer. So often, the flyer itself fulfills its potential as a template design and lets us mark a check by the box:  job to do: create template.  Job done.  But that purpose completed does not always meet that sister goal of providing a benefit for the reader or invited audience.

        Most likely you will simply add the name of the event and factual pieces of information.  To install a benefit for the reader you are going to have to look carefully at the various blanks or modules you can fill in and choose the place where you can attract the reader's eye and interest with a benefit of attendance linked to the subject of the event. Sometimes the benefit is information needed. Sometimes the benefit is entertainment.  Whatever the benefit is, know it and couple it with the title of the event.

     As for artwork, it is tempting to simply use a head shot of the guest speaker. But unless that speaker is famous or especially attractive, that head shot will not necessarily do more than introduce the face of someone to strangers.  If you are hosting the event to build fellowship and introduce members to one another even that is not enough of a benefit to create an audience. Personal loyalty and politeness to other church members wears out as fast as emotional appeals and requests for money.

      To strengthen the appeal of the event, consider which part of the story of your event you want to emphasize, and find artwork that does that.  The head shot can usually be placed in a less prominent position somewhere lower on the flyer or left off altogether.

      If the head shot is an extract from a church directory, most likely the speaker would prefer you don't use that picture at all.  For example, I recently gave a talk at a church luncheon on Will Rogers.  The preparer of the flyer used my lackluster picture from the church directory; an easily obtainable picture of Will Rogers holding his signature lariat would have been a much more effective art choice for the wisdom and humor of Will Rogers was the draw to the event--not me. I was just the one talking about him.

     That's the real dynamic of the presentation I give, and as I think about ways to help future preparers of flyers for this talk create those flyers, I think about churches, which struggle with church attendance to various very worthy events, and I think, 'Apathy could be overcome, if you remember to add a benefit while you are fulfilling your own purpose in planning the event.'

      Don't just tell them about an event.  Give them a reason to attend, and if they can see a benefit for themselves, they will come.   According to Will Rogers, they have time: "Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save."

      A template will help you save time in preparing a document, like a flyer; but unless you add a benefit for the reader that helps you fulfill your purpose, you are simply filling in blanks that will perpetuate apathy--not solve it.

Daphne Simpkins writes about many subjects, but her novels are about church life.  The most recent is about raising money in a church  at Christmastime, Christmas in Fountain City

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