One night on a routine visit in a home, I asked a recent guest in our service “How did you decide to come visit our church?”
“It was the magnet on the refrigerator,” she said. Immediately, I was moved beyond words. I never imagined the magnet would be a divine tool for life change!
In the pre-Katrina and pre-Rita years of the mid-90s, the First Baptist Church of Lake Charles, Louisiana set out to minister to our community with a hurricane preparedness campaign. Armed with a desire to saturate the city and surrounding communities with a basic introduction to Jesus Christ, the staff and members worked together to distribute packets of free materials on the opening weekend of hurricane season.
Located 30 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Charles is nestled among the bayous and wetlands of southwest Louisiana. Hurricanes are an annual, recurring threat during the summer and early fall months. During the days leading up to the official opening of hurricane season (June 1st), radio and television news anchors and newspapers are “news hungry” for events and information related to hurricane preparedness. The conditions were perfect for planning and launching an outwardly-focused ministry effort around the theme “Weathering the Storms of Life.”
Selecting the weekend after Memorial Day (the Atlantic hurricane season opens on June 1st), teams would give away hurricane preparedness materials on Saturday and invite people to attend services on Sunday aimed at helping them “weather” the personal storms in life.
Tables loaded with packets of free materials were set up at the local mall and area shopping centers. With an educational weather video running to the side, passers-by were greeted by smiling church members handing out the packets. They were also encouraged to sign-up for a door prize displayed on the table: a large ice chest filled with hurricane preparedness items, such as canned goods, bottled water, radios, flashlights, batteries, and first aid kits. It was too tempting not to sign up, which was the idea!
When persons registered for the door prize, they had the option of indicating on the form whether they would like additional information about First Baptist Church. Persons noting interest in the church became prospective guests for follow-up through one of our adult Sunday School classes.
On Sunday a common Bible study lesson was taught throughout the adult and youth divisions based on the ministry theme “Weathering the Storms of Life.” In the worship service, the music and message were gospel-centered and focused on the hearts of guests in the congregation. In addition, a local weather personality or a hurricane survivor was invited to speak for five minutes about the importance of hurricane preparedness.
In the days following the community ministry weekend, door prizes were delivered, thank you notes were written to area store managers and volunteers, and follow-up visits were conducted in the homes of persons requesting additional contact from the church.
Annually in mid-winter, four teams were enlisted to oversee preparations for the distribution venues, publicity efforts, packet creation, and follow-up activities. A staff pastor or volunteer served as the coordinator for the four teams, meeting with each team regularly to monitor progress and encourage the leaders in their work.
The venue team secured the locations and written permissions needed to set up distribution tables in area stores. Venue leaders enlisted volunteers and gathered the resources for each location (e.g., tables, chairs, video players).
The publicity team worked to get the word out. Preparing a news release about the event, the team sent notices to every newspaper, television and radio outlet in the area. The media treated the information either as a community event or public service announcement (PSA). Requests for interviews were common and immediately accepted! The week before the event, church members were given stacks of attractive cards to share with their neighbors and friends, inviting them to the venues and the theme service.
The packet team contacted emergency preparedness officials for literature to insert in the give-away materials. Area businesses were delighted to print and give coupons towards the purchase of recommended preparedness materials. An imprinted refrigerator magnet was created giving the church numbers, as well as the local emergency preparedness phone numbers (today, I would include URLs to their websites). On the Wednesday night prior to the event, members held a “Packet Packing Party” to stuff the hundreds of plastic bags with the materials gathered in previous months. With the addition of refreshments and music, everyone had a blast!
In later years, the packet was abandoned in favor of a “news magazine”. Drawing on business leaders who would pay for small advertisements in the paper, the tabloid contained the same hurricane preparedness information, as well as articles from church staff about ways in which First Baptist Church could help someone weather the “storms” of life. The advantage to this approach was a greater distribution of materials at a much lower cost. In fact, the ads eventually paid for the entire outreach event. It cost the church nothing!
The follow-up team made sure that every door prize registrant and venue volunteer received a note of appreciation from the church and that all door prizes were delivered in person. Working through the existing outreach leaders in the Sunday School, the goal was that 100% of the persons indicating interest in learning more about the church would be contacted within the first week following the event. It was a critical and rewarding task.
Church members gave away approximately 2000 packets each year. Of the 2000 persons taking a packet, about 75% went on to register for the door prize. About 10-15% of the door prize registrants indicated an interest in learning more about the church. The resulting 275-300 prospective guests were genuinely open to contact from the church.
The impact to the church budget was minimal. Once the church began printing their own materials and selling ads, the cost was eliminated altogether.
Church members of all ages became involved in outreach and in working together. New relationships were forged as individuals worked side-by-side packing packets or giving away free materials.
The church became highly visible in the community. Relationships with local broadcasters and news personalities gave the church an open door for communicating future projects. The positive name recognition that developed was invaluable.
But the most important result of all?
Remember the Magnet?
Passing by one of the give-away tables, a young woman picked up one of the packets and went home. Not thinking much about it at the time, she placed the imprinted magnet on her refrigerator.
Months later, she and her husband were struggling with their marriage. Ready to give up, they decided to visit a church and see if God couldn’t make a difference in their home. Recalling the magnet on her refrigerator door, the wife suggested to her husband that they visit First Baptist Church. God changed their hearts and renewed their marriage!
Months later it was one of the great blessings of my ministry to visit one of the venues giving away free packets of hurricane preparedness materials. There they were. The smiling couple with a new “storm-proof” marriage was busy at work and “weathering the storms of life.”