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To liven up your recruitment, break free of Sunday signups

Here’s an example of the need to think freshly — in a “multichannel church” way — about a familiar process.

On the second Sunday of September, the church where I participate offered its annual Ministry Fair in the parlor after the 11 a.m. service. A ministry that I coordinate was among a dozen ministries (both inreach and outreach) offering brochures, sign-up sheets and conversation.

When I did this last year, we had maybe five people stop by our table. This year we had six. It felt like a lot of trouble for a handful of responses. That’s the way things go on a busy Sunday morning.

What could be different? I can imagine two additional processes:

First, send out an e-letter in which each participating ministry has a photo, a brief description of its work and a link for seeking more information. The link sends an email to the ministry head for follow-up.

Second, do a brief video of each ministry head giving a pitch. It doesn’t need to be fancy. Just bring in a video camera and invite people to speak into the camera for three minutes. Post these video clips online. Send an e-letter with links to the video files.

Personally, I would do both processes and see which gets people clicking. I’d make it fun, brief, not the usual laundry list.

Why do I suggest this change?

Last year, I noticed that fewer than one-quarter of worshippers even came near the Ministry Fair. Those worshippers, in turn, were about one-third of the overall constituency. If my math is correct, the fair drew one-twelfth of the potential base, and we had to compete with a dozen other ministries for the few minutes available in and around coffee and conversation.

Someone viewing this response could draw the conclusion that people don’t care. Wrong conclusion. Coffee hour on Sunday just isn’t the right venue for expressing interest. Too busy, too distracting, plus the inherent conflict with the larger agenda most people bring to church, namely, to visit with friends.

By moving recruitment to people’s inboxes and computer screens, we would actually meet them where they spend time free of distractions.

Without much trouble, each ministry could respond to each prospect who used a reply form to signal an interest. It could send digital brochures about its ministry, arrange a follow-up recruiting call with someone else who worked on this ministry, and invite the prospect to a weekday coffee. In other words, do serious recruiting, not just the lame sign-up sheet approach.

Serious recruiting encourages serious commitment. When people are sought out and treated as worth the effort, they tend to respond favorably, both in saying “yes” to the opportunity and in seeing the ministry as worth their best effort.

As we should have learned by now, serious recruiting doesn’t happen in a 90-second coffee hour chat. A chat-in-passing gets a yes-in-passing, or what I call an “empty yes.”

In missing the vast majority, we miss those ready for deeper commitment, those asking fresh questions about life, God and faith, and the young for whom Sunday morning worship is a non-starter. In other words, we miss the very people we must reach if our congregations are to have a future.

TOM EHRICH is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is a founder of the Church Wellness Project His Web site is