Church Communications: When Your Church Relocates, pt. 1

by Bobby Gilles

in Church Communications

Moving Day photo. Don't forget Wall-E, the toy at the bottom.Churches relocate more than you think. In fact, your church may relocate someday. If so, you’ve got two primary communication challenges:

  • Communicating the church move to your church members and regular attendees (the congregation)
  • Communicating the church move to your neighbors (the community)

Let’s get to the basics of how to communicate “Our church is moving to a new location” to each of those audiences, in a two part series. We’ll use my church (Sojourn Community Church, in Louisville, KY) for examples. Since we’re a multi-site church, with four campuses around the Louisville region, we can provide multiple case studies. Today, we’ll talk about communications with the outside community in your new (or soon-to-be) neighborhood:

“Our Church Is Moving!” How To Communicate Effectively To The Outside Community

Residents of southern Indiana have always been a part of Sojourn’s membership. New Albany is the largest of several Indiana towns in the Louisville area, separated from the city by the Ohio River (we locals call this region “Kentuckiana”).

Within the past year, our Indiana community groups reached “critical mass” and we began looking for a facility in or near downtown New Albany. We scouted several buildings and came close to buying one, but then the perfect opportunity arose: a former school building that had just shut down the previous year. The 36,0000 square foot building looked great, and the asking price was right, so we closed the deal (press release here).

Problem: Many New Albany residents are still upset at the closing of Silver Street Elementary School in 2010.
Just last week I spoke with a man whose family had attended the school for five generations. Emotional ties run deep, and this man represents many residents who don’t feel the school district should have closed the school and sold the property.

Bobby Gilles, one of many Sojourners who volunteered at the 2012 New Albany Harvest Homecoming

Me, one of many Sojourners who volunteered at this year's New Albany Harvest Homecoming

We Sojourners love this building and we love the chance to be in New Albany, for New Albany. Many of us, like Kristen and I, are New Albany residents so this will truly be “community church” for us after having spent a few years crossing the river to Louisville for our worship gatherings.

We’re excited, and we want to communicate that excitement. But we don’t want to appear callous to the situation that provided us with a building.

Communication Action Steps:
In all our dealings with neighbors, city officials and business owners, we’ve stressed these things:

  • We’re sorry that Silver Street Elementary School was shut down.
  • We know that the school benefitted the community for decades, and that the loss of it hurt the neighborhood.
  • The building sat vacant for months. We believe the community will benefit more so from Sojourn New Albany’s presence there than if the building remained vacant, slowly breaking down from decay and vandalism.
  • Our other church campuses have a proven track record of loving their neighborhoods through community service, festivals, health clinics, art shows, street cleanups and other instances of community involvement.
  • We want to honor the history of this building by continuing to serve the neighborhoods surrounding it, just as Silver Street Elementary did.

The most important element, of course, is that “communication strategy” doesn’t work if you don’t really mean it. We’re not trying to trick or appease anyone. Points 2-4 above are facts, and we hope that those facts will lead people to at least give us the benefit of the doubt on points 1 and 5.

We believe they have. Residents — Christian and nonChristian — have overwhelmingly welcomed us so far. Here is one comment a resident posted on our blog, which is indicative of many we have received:

“We are THRILLED. We live just 3 blocks from the school and welcome Sojourn’s presence with open arms. My husband has been very concerned about who would purchase this property — this is truly welcome news.”
— Jill V.

Of course we have published this and comments like it on our web properties and in print. Why? Because most of the school’s neighbors don’t know us. Some have speculated that we’ll be “crazy fundamentalists” who give nothing back to the community, who picket the homes of those who believe and live in different ways than do we (yes, we’ve literally heard people express this fear — that we would picket homes).

We want them to know “You have neighbors who do know us, and they know that this is a good thing for the neighborhood. Trust them, and one day soon we think you’ll trust us, because you’ll see the way we treat the neighborhood.”

Church Communication can’t just be “in word” though; it must be “in deed.” If you spend all your time focusing on Facebook strategy, Twitter, websites, bulletin boards, broadcast media and flyers, then your communication is one dimensional. You’re saying stuff, but you’re not doing anything.

This is why Sojourn has already provided assistance during New Albany’s big yearly event, the Harvest Homecoming festival. It’s why we opened the doors to our building this past August to help the parents in the school district register their children for school. And its why our community groups do neighborhood cleanups and look for opportunities to show kindness to our fellow New Albanians.

Bottom Line:
Let people know you’re going to be a good neighbor. Let people know you will be relentlessly local — not just a product of modern cookie cutter religious institutions. Love your new community.

Top photo used via permission of Meddygarnet under Creative Commons license

Second photo courtesy the lovely and gracious Kristen Gilles

Previous post:

Next post: