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How to Draw a Crowd: 21 Ways to Increase Attendance at Your Next Event
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By Celeste Ryan Blyden

Drawing a crowd doesn’t begin the day you decide to have an event. It starts with building a foundation for effective communication with your members, publics and target audiences. Doing that work first is key and sets you up for long-term success. Consider these options, delegate responsibility and build from there.

1.    Build a database. Start with your members and keep adding anyone—new members, former members, visitors, and others near and far---who wants to be informed about what happens at your church.

2.    Establish relationships in the community. It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. In addition to connecting with “interests,” connect with the public, community leaders, public servants, media and clergy of other religions so you get to know them and they get to know you. Then, when you invite them to an event, they may be more inclined to attend or support.

3.    Support community events and needs. March in parades, attend meetings, sponsor events, and go where disaster strikes or violence occurs to hug, pray and serve. When the Baltimore riots happened in 2015, Dave Weigley, Columbia Union president, and the community services directors from the North American Division, Allegheny East and Chesapeake conferences spent the next Sabbath in Baltimore. After worshipping at the historic Berean Temple with pastor Maurice Taylor and his church family who are in walking distance of the CVS drugstore that was burned, they hit the streets of Baltimore to meet and pray with people. Pastor Taylor and his members parked a big red ACS truck on the block where the riots happened, donned bright yellow ACS shirts and began singing to and serving the people hardest hit.

4.    Introduce yourself to the neighbors …. Does every home and business within walking distance of your home, church, school and organization know you are there? I recently heard from a young man, a new member, who found his way to Adventism by surfing the Internet and learning about our beliefs. When he decided to start attending a church, he Googled our name only to discover there was an Adventist church just two blocks from his home. He was raised in that community but never knew we were there.

5.    …And pray for them.  Jose Cortes, Sr., president of the New Jersey Conference, has a good habit of visiting and praying with the local businesses near his conference office. All I can say is Amen to that, and may more of us do likewise.

6.    Use social media—for ministry. Thanks to the Internet and social media, your ministry is now global. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and myriad others are portals to the world. If you want to connect with more people, especially younger generations and people of color, use these free networking tools. Michael Kelly, senior pastor of Mt. Rubidoux church in Riverside, Calif., is an active tweeter. He has about 1,000 members in his church, but more than 4,000 followers on Twitter. He tweets in church and they tweet back. He tweets sermon previews and it draws people to church. It’s true you can’t do it all. But can you choose one platform to work in?

7.    Create a blog. Before you skip this one, think about this. How many sermons have you researched and written during your career? Where are they now? On your computer hard drive collecting cyberdust? Dust them off, polish them up, create a blog on Wordpress.com or another free service (takes like 10 minutes and the hardest part is choosing a design template and coming up with a name that your kids won’t find embarrassing), and start posting spiritual nuggets, extra sermon fodder as often as you can or maybe after each week’s sermon. To get some ideas, check out Ohio Pastor Mike Fortune’s blog, “Fortune Cookies,” at mike4tune.blogspot.com.

Once you’ve done the work, try some of these old and new ideas to promote your next event.

8.    Develop a promotional plan for each event. If you have a communication director at your church, ask them to develop and coordinate the plan. This would include identifying target audiences for your event, writing a press release or announcement, overseeing development and design of any promotional materials and sharing the information through all available communication platforms.

9.    Make an announcement or simple flyer.  And don’t keep it to yourselves. Share them with area church clerks of all faiths and businesses in your community. Also, print and post them on bulletin boards in laundry mats, community centers, grocery stores, local public schools, libraries and wherever you see other announcements posted.

10.    Create an App for your church and event. This is a lot of work and still quite expensive, but if you know a techie or have a member with experience in App development, you’re in luck. The Cole Bay church in St. Maarten has a great App for their church that members download to their smartphones. It helps the church keep them informed and connected throughout the week and keeps church events on their radar.

11.    Evite people. If it works for baby showers and birthday parties, for your next event, why not send an Evite? It’s free and user-friendly at evite.com and keeps you abreast of how many people are coming.

12.    Create an event on Facebook. This is another free and easy way to promote your event to all your friends, the friends of your church members, and all those who have ever “liked” your church’s Facebook page. (You do have a church Facebook page, right?) You might also consider purchasing ads on Facebook or “boost” your posts, for a fee, to specific audiences.

13.    Create and mail postcards to your database. This is an oldy but goody that still works, especially if your database is current and your postcard is designed well.

14.    Advertise in pubic media outlets. I always wonder why more Adventist churches aren’t listed in the church events section of newspapers. Religious news and sections typically run on Sunday, which still draws the highest weekly print circulation in many towns and cities in North America.  Promoting your next event or next week’s sermon title may help increase attendance and simultaneously raise public awareness of our faith. By the way, to stretch your money, always include your church web address or Facebook page address in your ad so readers can find you online.

15.    Advertise in Adventist media outlets. Place announcements and ads in your conference newsletter and union magazine print, online and email editions. Because it goes directly to homes, the union paper is still the most reliable way to reach the most Adventists (and former Adventists) in your area and beyond. And the reality is that each month, your union paper reaches more homes than you and I can visit in a year’s time.

16.    Make your news “sharable.” In the old days, when people heard information they wanted to share, they picked up the phone and called a friend to chat. In today’s world, that sharing happens online and on social media. Post your news and promotions on Facebook and “tag” friends and church members so the information appears on their pages, or better yet, so they can “re-post” your post on their personal pages (by choice) and tag their friends. Encourage members to “share” church news, photos and upcoming within their social networks.

17.    Create and distribute a print brochure. This is another oldy, but goody. But, before you go this route, decide if the event is worth the financial investment it will take to design and print a quality piece. Cheap looking, homemade brochures can diminish the positive impression about your event and may hurt attendance more than draw a crowd. Do it well or don’t do it.
 
18.    Create a social media campaign around your event. To create buzz and draw attention to your event, consider creating a special page on your website, Twitter hashtag and even a Facebook page. The social media campaign for the last GC Session was impressive and proved quite popular on the trending scale with so many people around the world sharing the URLs on their personal, church and organizational platforms.  See http://2015.gcsession.org/en/, #GCSA15 and https://www.facebook.com/GCSession.  

19.    Try TextAlertz. Pastor Jorge Coxaj from New Jersey Conference’s Hackettstown church told me about a mobile marketing service called TextAlertz, which enables one to text groups of people who sign up, in his case church members. According to their website, 97 percent of people open text messages immediately. I know I do; don’t you? Until he found it cost prohibitive, Pastor Coxaj considered it a useful tool in his resource arsenal. Check it out at https://church.textalertz.com/ and see if it works for your church.

20.    Create a promo video. Videos are hugely popular these days, and people love to watch and share cute, short videos. Think kittens and babies. And now that smartphones and tablets come equipped with high quality video recording options and editing Apps, it’s doable. Consider posting a short commercial about this week’s sermon topic or a video invitation to your next event on YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Facebook or your choice of social media pages.

21.    Call the media. Ellen White said, “Our name alone, conveying as it does the significant features of our message has power to arrest and convict men and women.” So don’t be afraid to seek coverage for your community or service-oriented events. Write a press release and seek live coverage from local media (print, broadcast, and online) and if possible, be flexible. In 1999 I was tasked with coordinating media relations for the NAD’s first camporee in Oshkosh, Wis. It was great to work with director Ron Whitehead and his massive team who did whatever was necessary to accommodate our efforts to garner media coverage. One day we even moved the location and time of the Pathfinder drum corp parade so the local media could feature it live on the news.  If you want to draw the media and a crowd, it may help to be flexible and accommodating.


Celeste Ryan Blyden, Vice President for Strategic Communication and Public Relations for the Columbia Union Conference, started working for the  Seventh-day Adventist Church 23 years ago as a volunteer. Her goal is to find creative, innovative and practical ways to help the church and its entities raise awareness and communicate effectively about who we are, what we believe and how we serve.