This is part two of a four part series where Church Marketing Sucks discusses marketing with successful church planters. In part 1 we talked with Pete Hixson of Vinings Lake Church. In part two, we will be talking with Don Record of actionchurch.
Church Marketing Sucks: Thanks so much for joining us for a bit, Don. Give us a quick, two-sentence intro of who you are and what you do.
Don: My name is Don Record and I am the pastor/planter of actionchurch. We launched on Sunday Morning, February 10th at Fat Daddy’s Nightclub here in York, Penn.
CMS: After starting, how did you get the word out about your church plant?
Don: We did a few commercials on local rock radio before launch, but other than that all of our “advertisement” has come through word of mouth or news stories (print and television) about us. Looking back, even though it seemed “crazy and ill-advised” to put actionchurch in a very notorious local nightclub–the controversy was probably the most helpful tool to help us get the word out. We recently moved to a larger nightclub in York, once again without any budget for mailings or advertising and once again had a great turn-out. I am 100% in favor of advertising, but if it comes down to creating an experience worth talking about, or “talking about ourselves” through advertising, we’ll sink our resources into the experience and “give em’ something to talk about.”
CMS: That’s great. Just between us (and everyone reading this), we’re huge fans of word of mouth. Did you guys experience difficulties transitioning from the excitement of a launch to the normal church routine?
Don: I’ll let you know if we ever get into a normal church routine. Seriously, yes we experienced tremendous difficulty after launch–survival. I describe actionchurch’s launch as “pushing our homemade flying machine off a cliff.” We had no cash reserves and very little backing of any kind. We basically opened the doors and believed that there would be enough “people who didn’t like church” who would come out and support us. We had no idea that “you can’t do that!”
By God’s grace we survived until Easter and things sort of took off from there.
CMS: Continuing to grow, what big challenges do you see ahead of you?
Don: I see our biggest challenges in the future as coming from fostering growth, while guarding our “outsider” DNA. Finding larger, suitable venues is going to be a challenge. Traditional venues such as High school/civic auditoriums and theaters are not a good “fit” for actionchurch. We just moved into a larger club but we will still soon be out of space, in the children’s area particularly. Our next step is to go multi-service, complicated by the fact that our crowd considers 11:00 a.m. to be “early” on Sunday Morning. What’s the next step after starting a 12:30 “hangover” service? Multi-site? (More bars in more places…) Renovating a warehouse? It’s going to be exciting to see what God has for us next.
CMS: Ha! More bars in more places is a great pun. It’s a good problem to have to be growing so fast. From here, how do you plan to close the back door so you get committed followers instead of transient visitors?
Don: Maybe it’s just me but I see those as two separate issues. Our number one goal is to help people transition from serving themselves to becoming committed followers of Jesus. The name “actionchurch” comes from our obsession with encouraging everyone to put the teachings of Jesus into action. I never want to “settle” as a pastor or leader for just providing “Bible information” or “Bible teaching.” I see my primary job on Sunday morning as being the person who encourages the crowd to take an action step (even a small one) toward being part of God’s kingdom plan for earth, whether that person is a “curious observer” from another church, a “regular” or a first time guest.
As far as “closing the back door” of the church, that’s not a high priority for us. We don’t offer church “membership” (ever), small groups (yet), youth groups, counseling or even what most would consider “pastoral care.” Because of my job, I don’t do evening meetings or “get togethers.” (As I’m writing this I am wondering why anyone would come to actionchurch!) We do “assimilation” at actionchurch much more like the clubs we meet in (and the bands that play there) do, than the way churches normally do. I’ve never had a club or a local band give me a follow up call or visit me at my home, yet they both are in the business of attracting a following. Clubs and bands put most of their energy into creating an experience and atmosphere that people will find the “best part of their week” and tell their friends about. Our strategy is much the same. We simply put on the best Sunday morning experience that we can, share the good news of Jesus in a way that most attendees have never experienced, the Holy Spirit does his thing, lives are changed and they bring their friends and family. Over time we find that many begin to serve on Sunday mornings or at our community service opportunities. Those that show true commitment become leaders and the cycle goes on.