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An Interview with Jason Lombard
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Spencerville’s Communication Strategy

Editor’s Notes: Jason Lombard, a small business marketing expert, has recently been hired by the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church, to oversee the marketing and administration of the church. In this interview he sits down with David Kim, associate pastor of the Spencerville Korean Church to find out if there are any marketing principles that can be adapted for his congregation. This is a transcript of that interview.

DK:       So, Jason, thank you for making some time for me.

JL:        Sure, good to see you.

DK:       So what is your role here, as we get started?

JL:        I was hired to be the associate pastor for media and administration.  So I handle all of the communications of the church, as well as the administrative oversights of taking care of the church plant, the physical plant itself.

DK:       And would you mind telling me a little bit about your theology background?

JL:        I actually have very minimal theology background as far as formal training, but I served as an elder in California before being called out here, and the, the conference has asked me to take, to continue my education, to take the Master of Pastoral Ministry program through Andrews University, which I’ll be starting in the spring.

DK:       So your skillset, your background is very different from many pastors that come into churches.

JL:        Right.

DK:       Could you elaborate a little on that?

JL:        Sure.  I came out of the, the business world.  I’ve been working in small business marketing for the last ten years.  And I had felt the Lord calling me to ministry, and was finally given an opportunity to act on that when Pastor Chad took the job out here.  He called and offered me the opportunity.

DK:       So small business marketing—how does that relate to church, the church marketing?

JL:        Churches, I think, traditionally have been not the best at communication, both internally and externally. I don’t want to discount the leading of the Holy Spirit, I believe that He’s the one who ultimately opens doors.  But there are quite a few things coming from small business marketing that can definitely benefit a church as well.

              For example using video, not just as a recording for those who attend but using social media to share it. 

DK:       What are some of those methods that you’re bringing into the Spencerville church and its communication?

JL:        Social media is a big thing that I believe in.  We were already using Facebook here at the church but we have really expanded into social media as a part of our social media plan.

              We're developing  a full-on communication strategy which includes understanding the demographic of who you’re trying to reach as a church and who you are as a church.    And then using social media and some of these other avenues, whether it’s print, marketing, direct mail, to connect with the people that fit squarely into that demographic.

DK:       How have you ensured that the communication that’s being presented is consistent in all the different methods?

JL:        I think that at the core of that question comes down to the church’s brand, and establishing a strong brand that you can leverage across multiple different communication channels.  With the Adventist church we’re blessed because we have a fairly strong logo. The same logo is used across multiple organizational levels of in the denomination.

              We decided to take their lead and kind of riff off of their logo, and use it in a slightly different way for our church.  Not only must we have a strong logo, but we must use the logo consistently. We must make sure that what we’re producing is recognizable whenever it’s used. It’s not one thing over on Facebook and one thing on a video, and then one thing in print communication, but that there’s consistency both in usage, in color, in position, all of those things across all of these different communication channels.  It makes you recognizable not only to your church members, but also to the people in the community that you’re ultimately trying to reach.

DK:       Not every church is going to be able to bring someone with your skill-set in.  Are there some things that smaller churches can do?

JL:        There are.  I’d say the first thing that you can do is pray for someone with that skill set. I think that God is preparing people outside of normal pastoral ministry to be able to step in and fill some of those roles for churches that are ready to utilize them. 

              The second thing I’d recommend is the use of free tools.  Social media doesn’t cost anything, and with probably a few hours’ worth of training or reading from somebody who actually knows what they’re doing, you can be shown how to use social media and be effective at it in very little time.  You know, take 15, 20 minutes a day, and you can have a fairly substantial and effective social media outreach.

DK:       What are some of the design pieces you've worked on so far?

JL:        Pastor Chad is really big on direct mail, so for each major event and major series that we’ve done, we’ve done a direct mail piece to go along with it, to invite our external community members, maybe friends of church members, those types of things.  So Pastor Chad’s doing a neighborhood Bible study on Tuesday mornings, and he wanted to make sure we sent out a piece to invite the neighborhood around the church. 

              When we changed service times here earlier this year, we sent out a postcard to the people in the general area.  Again, it’s this same list that we keep going back to for the neighborhoods that are around the church, to make sure the people knew that we were changing service times.  It seems maybe obvious to those of us that had been in church life for a long time, but I think it’s so obvious sometimes that we forget to do it, that every little point like this is a potential connection point for the community member, it’s a potential connection point for outward-focused evangelism.  You know, new service time.  It’s not that big a of a deal to us, the services shifting a little bit in time, but it may be that difference, 8:30 versus 8:45 versus 9 o’clock, it may be just that difference in time that gives somebody the impetus to want to, to come.  Eight-thirty’s a little too early for me, but 9 o’clock, I can do that.

              So that’s kind of the direction that we headed with a lot of this.  Um, we’re also going to be changing our tack on our first service, worship service, coming up here fairly quickly.  We wanted to make sure not only that we inform the community about that, but we also wanted to put together a piece that would communicate the change to our members, to make sure that they understand.  And the way that I think about communication is that it’s, it’s two-pronged, but they’re very closely joined.  You’ve got internal communication, you’ve got external communication.  If you do a good job internally, it improves your external communication. 

Again, coming back to that person-to-person relationship that you’re looking for.  You want people to invite people.  The most effective way to get people to invite people is to make sure those people are informed.  So that’s the core of why we have done some of these printed pieces.

DK:       Jason, what makes you passionate about communications?

              Effective communication is necessary for outreach.  And since I come from the same place and the same methodology that Pastor Chad comes from, I also am very passionate for evangelism, and where he’s the up-front guy that is actually doing the preaching, I typically am the behind-the-scenes person that’s setting everything up to make what he does possible.  To do a lot of the outreach previously, and making sure that these pieces are, are distributed in a way that, that is effective.  And what I mean by that is they look good, they’ve got a nice look and feel to them, they’re warm, they’re welcoming, it’s something you would receive in the mail and say, oh, I’m interested in this, because it’s, it’s appealing, it looks appealing.

              At the core of all of this, this work, all of the branding, all of the marketing, everything that I do, ultimately it’s about reaching people and being able to share the message of Jesus.  And the long and short of, of marketing is that it’s more difficult to reach people with a specific message now than it was 20 years ago.  People are bombarded with advertising and messaging thousands of times a day, consciously and subconsciously.  And so it’s more difficult to reach into the hearts and minds of people and plant that seed, and that’s again coming back to where I think the Holy Spirit is still a very necessary and vital part of church marketing.  But there are things that we do from within the church that also, I think, that can be effective at reaching people.  And evangelism, reaching people with the Good News, that’s ultimately what’s at the core of why I do what I do.

DK:       Now, in the last ten years or so, social media is the big tool in communication.  How is that used here?

JL:        Social media—if someone had predicted that social media would play the role that it plays within, within small business marketing, church marketing, life, if someone could have predicted that ten years ago, I would have stood up and applauded them as a genius, because I don’t think that anybody really saw how widespread social media could become in our everyday lives.

              The reason that I like it is because it’s, it’s an organic part of so many people’s lives, we as a church would be foolish not to use it to, to be able to, even if it’s speaking some simple truth, you know, a Bible verse, an encouraging word, a short clip of video, something like that, to be able to speak that directly into somebody’s life on a daily basis, what a powerful tool.  Something that people couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago.  So I’m passionate about social media specifically because of that, because of the reach that it has.  Obviously, every platform is a little bit different.  Some people like Facebook, some people like Twitter. 

              I’m, I get asked a lot, well, by other pastors, how would you recommend that I move forward with social media?  And really, you, the most important thing about social media is speaking to people where they are.  If your people are using Facebook, use Facebook.  If they’re using Twitter, use Twitter.  If they’re using both, use both.  But don’t go using a social media platform just because you feel like it’s the next big thing and you want to be an early adopter for a social media platform.  But it’s a very effective tool, and I’d say it’s probably our most effective tool for internal communication.  We also use it for some external stuff, but what we recognize is, especially with Facebook, less so with Twitter, but with Facebook specifically, that it’s how you can reach the largest swath of engaged community members for free, the most easily.  So that’s why we use it.

DK:       So can you show us some examples of how social media is being used?

JL:        Sure.  So like I said, we have a Facebook page, and we use the Facebook page for many different things, primarily for promoting events, and then repurposing some of the content that we’re already putting out from the church, whether that’s bulletin content or sermon content.  Typically when I get a large number of requests for a sermon, I know that it hit, it resonated with people, and so rather than just leaving it on our traditional audio outlets, Soundcloud, iTunes, those types of things, I will actually go to social media and promote the sermon and say, hey, I got a lot of requests for the sermon last week, so I thought that it might be valuable to more people.  Because if it speaks to a felt need of the congregation and it starts to, you start to get that sense that people enjoyed it and then they want to listen to it again, or share it with friends, I go straight to social media and make sure that it gets the, has the largest reach that it can possibly have.

DK:       So Facebook you use primarily for internal communications.

JL:        By virtue of the fact that they’re public, you do get a certain amount of, of bleed beyond just internal communication, because everybody has access to it.  And when we post something that resonates with people, they’ll share it.  And we trust that if they’re sharing it, that there are other people beyond the walls of the church and beyond the walls of church membership that are able to see and connect.  And we actually have had some people that have written in to us and thanked us for posting a particular thing, that it spoke them and God used it to grow their walk.  So it’s a powerful tool.

              When it comes to using social media, there’s a lot of free tools as well that help with scheduling, timing of events.  One of the ones that I use, one of the tools that I use is called Buffer, and Buffer allows me to take Facebook and Twitter specifically and set up a schedule of posts.  Let’s see if I can show you here.

I go through the bulletin, I go through our calendar, I find events that people are probably going to want to know about, and this allows me to sit down and in 15, 20 minutes craft a post for each of those events and schedule it.  So, for instance, next Tuesday Pastor Chad will be doing his Tuesday morning Bible study.  I’ve already done a Facebook post that will hit the night before for our membership at 8 o’clock, and then there will be a follow-up post with one hour to go at 9 o’clock Tuesday morning, letting people know that it’s one hour to go until the Bible study.

              Sometimes it feels like over-communication to mention an event multiple times, but the reality is that not everybody is seeing every instance of an event that you post.  So posting it several times, there are probably a small percentage of people that will see both posts, but a majority of people will only see one or the other, and may not see it at all, the way that social media works.  So we want to make sure that we’re consistent, and Buffer is a great tool that allows me to do that, to schedule a lot of my regular weekly outreach.  Or if there’s a special event that I know is coming, and it’s been on the calendar for a month, I can go up and set up a post in advance.  So I’m not having to do it, I’m not having to sit down at the computer right at that given moment, oh, I have a post that needs to go out at 7 p.m. on Friday.  I don’t have to stay here or sit in front of the computer at 6:59 so I can hit post at 7 o’clock.  I can actually schedule it in advance.  And it’s a very valuable tool for being able to do so.

DK:       Did you mention, is it a free resource?

JL:        They have a free version.  We use the paid version here, but they also do have a free version that will allow you to do 75-80 percent of what we use it for.  It will allow you to do all of the advanced scheduling for posts.

DK:       Now, what kind of social media tools are there for reaching outside of the congregation?

JL:        Well, like I said, I think that all social media gets a, you get that bleed effect where it bleeds beyond the borders of the church congregation into the, into external communication, reaching the community. The most important thing to remember is that what you’re sharing needs to be created and messaged such that it’s valuable content that people will share. 

              Because ultimately when it comes to social media, people will share what speaks to them.  And that’s how you get out beyond the confines of your following, you know, we’re blessed to have, I think, just over 1100 Facebook followers.  But when we share something that resonates with people, we’ll see our reach go to 15 or 16 thousand people.  And that’s above and beyond. I know that the quality of the message and the, the importance of the message, that it’s a Gospel-centered message that’s going to reach that many people, and that it was this free tool that allowed me to do it, it’s just, it’s an amazing thing, it’s a very humbling thing.  It’s beautiful, beautiful to watch it work.

DK:       So the communication matrix, that sounds intriguing.  Can you expound on that a little more?

JL:        Sure, why don’t I show you on the white board?  So up here we have level 1 communication, level 2 communication, and level 3 communications.  The idea is that not every event or every message is going to be relevant to every person within the church.  So we need to tailor the methods that we’re using to be, to reach the audience that’s most appropriate for it.  And so over here we would put our, our methods of outreach.  So we’ve got social media, we’ve got the website, we’ve got our, our sign out front.  We’ve got the foyer screens that show, that display, that run in the church foyer.  So we’ll just use those for example.  Level 1 communication is, is outward focused. It’s the one that’s most relevant to the widest number of people, both internally and externally.  So we’re going to use social media, we’re going to use the website, we’re going to use the sign.  But the foyer stream is not really relevant to a lot of people; unless you’re actually standing in the building on Sabbath morning, you may not see it.  So there are instances where we might choose to use it, but more often than not we’re probably, we may skip over that one.

              Level 2 communication is something that is relevant to a subset of our, our people inside, but may not have any relevance to people outside the body of the church.  So we can still use social media, we’ll probably still use the website, but we’re not going to use the sign, but we may choose to use the foyer signs because it speaks to the people that are within the church.

              Level 3 communication is to a highly specific subset of people.  So in that instance, we would probably use—so let me give you an example.  I’ll back up and give you an example.  If the Pathfinders have an internal event that they’re, it’s for them, it’s a training session, it’s a training seminar type thing, that’s no relevant to the wider church body.  It’s only relevant to the Pathfinders and the people that are part of Pathfinders.  Now, we want to make sure that it’s well communicated  to those people, but I’m not going to use social media or the street sign or the foyer screens, most likely, to talk about an event that only speaks to a small subset of our church audience.  But, what I probably would do is use the website to create a post in a specific area that would speak to the people that visit that area. 

              That’s kind of how, in a very broad sense, that’s how the different, the communication matrix will work.  Obviously, there are far more tools that we have access to than just these four.  I’m just using this for simplicity’s sake.  But to break it down, this is the simplest and easiest way to understand how to divide up a communication strategy so that you’re speaking to the audience that’s most interested in what you’re talking about, whether it’s an event or a news article or whatever it is, and not giving a lot of bleed-over into demographic groups that are not going to find the event as relevant, or the news item as relevant.  Does that make sense?

DK:       Yeah, so it sounds like you’re trying to make your effort have the most effect.

JL:        Correct.  We’re trying to maximize—we want to spend the least amount of time and maximize the impact, get the most impact for our communication, and this is what allows it to do that.

DK:       And I would imagine you’d use it to evaluate how to tailor your communication to the different demographics…

JL:        Correct.  And this is constantly in flux.  We’re always looking at the metrics and the data we get back, both from the website, from social media.  These two are a little bit more difficult.  You rely on in-person feedback from.  But these two specifically, we can measure, using analytics and metrics, we can measure the effectiveness of each of those platforms and figure out, okay, how can we more effectively use those tools to, to reach these people.  Are there aspects even beyond this that we, you know, halfway through the year, there may be some new method that we discover that we may need to use to communicate with people.

              So it allows us to create a 30,000-foot view, a big overview of our marketing plan, our communication plan, and then figure out how to use, how to drill down and get down to the specific methods that we’re using to actually reach the target audience for each of them.

DK:       What about tools like e-mail, telephone calls, how does that play into your communication strategy?

JL:        Actually, we use e-mail fairly heavily within the church.  It’s one of our primary communication tools.  And I actually just surveyed the church body via social media, and they told me that that’s actually the primary way that they want to receive updates on calendar items, news events, or news events, things of that nature, is via our weekly e-mail newsletter that goes out every Wednesday.  So I’m a big believer in e-mail.  We also use e-mail to promote events.  It’s another thing that would fit into the matrix that I drew onto the whiteboard.  We have not gotten into text messaging or heavy use of phones.  The reason that we don’t use phones is that it’s not something that’s easily scaled.  And when you’re dealing with a church of this size, it becomes very cumbersome to deal with, how do you reach the largest number of people with the minimal amount of time.  And, excuse me, phone is not something that’s easily utilized that way.

              Text message is something that we are looking at for this next year.  We’re actually looking at a piece of software that will dovetail with our church management software that will allow us to create groups and communicate each group using text message.  Our Sabbath School teachers are very excited about this, because it’s where, it’s one of their biggest challenges is rounding up the people that are their volunteers and trying to let them know, you’re on duty this Sabbath, these are your responsibilities.  And being able to effectively reach people where they’re at.  You can send somebody an e-mail, it can languish in their in-box for three to four days before they see it, and you have no idea if they’ve actually even read it.  With text messaging you know that it’s going to somebody’s phone, and the odds of them reading that message are very high, virtually assured that they’re going to read that message.

              So it’s something that we’re evaluating right now to figure out how we plug it into our, our communication plan.  But we’re likely going to use it this next year.

DK:       How do you solicit feedback from members and how do you process that?

JL:        The easiest way to gather feedback is to ask for it.  People are generally not going to voluntarily give you information unless you ask for it.  It seems somewhat intuitive, but that is the truth, that is the, the reality of it.

              We have several mechanisms in place for measuring feedback.  And I mentioned one of them a few minutes ago, where I actually sent out a poll, a survey to our church members, asking them how they would like to receive communication, and a number of them completed the poll and sent me the results, and I’m, I’m tallying that in a, in a spreadsheet.

              The other way that we get feedback is something I alluded to at the whiteboard, which is using metrics and data compiled from social media tools and the website.  They will tell me which pages, which articles, which posts for social media, they’ll tell me which ones were the most relevant, because the ones that are the most relevant are the ones that have the most views.  So it becomes a very easy way of determining, okay, this one, people found this very relevant, and they didn’t find this so relevant.  Okay, we’ll do less of this.  Or we’ll do this at times where, uh, not where we’re reaching less people, but where there are less people online.  So we would do it at a, first thing in the morning or something like that, where, where we, we want to make sure the message is there, but we’re not going to get our highest audience, first thing in the morning on social media.

              So our primary audience is an evening audience, 7 to 9 o’clock is when our messages are most effective.  So we know that.  So any message that has to be heard, we want to make sure it goes in, goes out within that window of 7 to 9 p.m.

              As far as other methods of measuring, I’m a real big believer in polls and surveys, but often there is a group of church members that’s left out of that if it’s executed digitally.  Not everybody has a computer, not everybody has access to e-mail or to web.  So any time we do a survey that asks people how they want to receive communication, we always make sure that we’re going to follow up and do a paper version of that survey that would either be a bulletin insert or something that’s going to be at our welcome center in the church lobby, to make sure that we’re giving everybody access to be able to, to give us that information.

DK:       You mentioned that you send out materials to people in a one-mile radius.  How do you get that contact information?

JL:        Well, the U.S. Postal Service actually has an extremely valuable tool called “Every Door Direct.”  And we don’t actually get the contact information for each of these houses, but they will allow us to assemble a mailer and identify demographically who we want to reach, and will target those houses.  Now, I generally do a broad brush, and I identify a radius around the church, and I say, okay, we’re going to send to all households within a mile, or two miles, whatever it is.  But their tool will allow me to structure it such that I can, I can order a list that only has families that have moved in the previous six months.  I can structure the list where people, I can identify households that have income levels of a certain range.  I probably wouldn’t do that, specifically in this area, because I want to reach everybody.  I’m not looking to identify income levels in order to determine whether they’re worthy of receiving our communication.

              But specifically, there are ways that I feel we can be more effective with both the dollars that we’re spending.  I mean, let’s face it, these things are not cheap, they’re not free.  It costs money to send these.  So we want to make sure that they are as effective as possible. And I can see a lot of instances or use cases for putting together a list that would go to, say, somebody that just moved to the neighborhood, because typically when people move, especially in evangelical circles, they may be looking for a church.  And although Adventists will drive great distances to go to an Adventist church, the majority of evangelicals will go to a church that’s close to them.  Well, if that’s a felt need for them and they’ve just moved to the area, we should do a good job of identifying who those people are and making sure that they get a mail invitation from us.

              So Every Door Direct is the name of the tool.  They call it EDDM, Every Door Direct Mailing, and it’s available from the U.S. Postal Service.