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Photo caption (above): Couples pose at a photo booth with one of three “commitment sticks”  during an Oktoberfest Outreach Event at Our Lady of Grace parish in Minneapolis, each pledging to invest in their marriage in some way each week. Outreach Events like this are rolling out across Communio-supported churches as they draw in couples to their new Full-Circle Relationship Ministries®.

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More than 3,000 participated in a series of Communio-supported marriage and relationship-focused outreach and skills ministry activities run by our church partners this past weekend – with more than 30 percent of registrants, on average, being non-church-members.

This wave of strategic activity is scheduled to only grow in the days and weeks ahead.  Here is a quick tour around the country on some great progress as churches grow their new Full-Circle Relationship Ministries®.

But, before going to some of the larger updates, let’s zero in on one couple’s journey at one of these Communio-supported churches.  This one comes from one of the pastors at First Burleson – a large Baptist church we support in Fort Worth. It puts a human face to the numbers shared below and illustrates how churches move people into ministry that transforms marriages.

Sam Ross is the LIFE Groups Pastor at Burleson. He oversees the programming and implementation of the church’s small group ministry and leads a group himself.

Back in June, he and the leadership team, with support from Communio, ran one of their first in-person Couples Date Night outreach events since the pandemic. They had live music, taco trucks, childcare, and fun activities like axe throwing as way to attract those in the community not connected with the church.

A couple was in attendance. It was their first-time stepping foot onto the campus. In fact, they were one of the 50 percent of people in attendance who came in through Communio’s digital outreach campaign. At the event, the Communio team worked with the church to promote their growth journey resource for couples called re|engage – a solid 16-week marriage course designed by leaders at Watermark Church – set to take place in September. They signed up.

In the intervening weeks, Pastor Sam tells us that this couple started showing up to Sunday service and got connected with a member of one of the church’s Life Groups.

They joined and remained active members of the group throughout the summer. Now, with relationships built with those in their group, the couple is now participating in week eight of the 16-week re|engage series and learning relationship skills to strengthen and improve their marriage.

This path is steadily playing out for couples and individuals in churches applying our model.

And, it all begins with an invitation, which Communio provides through its data and marketing services, that helps churches drive new people to outreach events and on up the engagement ladder.

At our date night back on June 26, we had 150 people on our campus that had never been to our church before,” Pastor Sam tells us. “26 of these signed up for Re|Engage, our marriage enrichment ministry. 8 have attended at least one Sunday service. And 4 have been attending a small group consistently. Without Communio’s help, we would not have been able to reach these couples.

First Burleson began their next Ministry Engagement Ladder® again this past weekend with its latest in-person outreach event – Hope Weekend. They leveraged the Communio partnership to work with the city of Burleson as part of an initiative to foster authentic and intentional community among town residents.

The open-air event with live concerts, food trucks, adult yard games, and kids activities took place in Old Town Burleson in partnership with the city government.

The church team tells us they saw a steady stream of at least 400 people present at each hour of the six-hour event thanks to the multi-channel outreach campaign Communio ran on behalf of the church.  Communio captured the contact information for registrants and has worked with their ministry team move couples into re|engage and their small groups.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the country in Minneapolis…

Our Lady of Grace, a Catholic of parish of roughly 2,000 weekly Mass attendees, hosted its first big Oktoberfest outreach event on Saturday night.

The event went smashingly!” said Lori Brumbaugh, the new staff member whose official title at the parish is “Communio Coordinator”. “It went so well that we are already talking about repeating it next year. We met people that came from outside our normal reach who had never been to OLG before.”

More than 25 percent of the 190 registrants came in through the parish-branded outreach campaign designed and run by Communio.

The team at OLG is on fire for marriage. Working with Communio’s support, they’ve decided to allocate real money, staff time, and parish resources to make relationship ministry the growth engine of their church. In fact, shortly after their strategic planning session with our team, the parish allocated a full-time staffer, Lori, to coordinate and run their new relationship ministry.

The church put together and executed an event that checked all the boxes for what we recommend for programming at an outreach event. Specifically, that means an appropriate ratio of 90 percent fun to 10 percent relationship enrichment content.

For the “fun”, OLG had catered German food, great beers, a Best-Dressed Contest, and live music from a popular German band. This all created a welcoming and relaxed environment for couples to hang out, have fun, and meet new people.

Lori provides a good glimpse into the fun that ensued:

There was a Best-Dressed October-fare contest, seven couples amazingly dressed, and the band led an applause competition from the crowd.  It was so loud it was hard to hear who won, and then then the crowd started chanting “dance off!” and that led to an impromptu extended polka dance off competition…”

Meanwhile, for the 10 percent “enrichment”, the parish got really creative.

They arranged a photo booth where couples took a picture with one of three “commitment sticks” – where they pledged to invest in their marriage in some way each week. These commitments included a Weekly Date Night, a Daily Check-In, or a Daily Compliment. Lori tells us that 30 couples made commitments that night with the photos to prove it. Here are some examples below:

This outreach marks just the first programmatic rung of OLG’s Ministry Engagement Ladder. The parish has the next five months of ongoing engagement and growth journey experiences planned and on the calendar:

    • November 13: Connection, Confection, and Conflict Resolution – “Couples date night – Take your spouse to dinner while we watch the kids. Then back to OLG for dessert and a 20-minute presentation on effective problem-solving.”
    • December 4: A Christmas Carol Live Theater – “Get in the spirit of Christmas with this lively and spiritually refreshing adaptation of an all-time favorite and learn how to cultivate holiday traditions to strengthen family bonds.”
    • January 22: Drinking with the Saints – “Learn about the saints and their favorite drinks in the company of friends in Cassidy Hall at Our Lady of Grace and how you can act more like Saints within marriage.”
    • February 11: Celebrate Marriage Event – “Candlelight dinner with speaker, relationship enrichment exercise, Mass, and marriage blessing.”
    • Starting in March: Alpha Marriage Course – “A seven-part skills series, designed to help couples invest in their relationship.”

Let’s bounce over to Denver…

Mississippi Avenue Baptist and New Denver, two small churches located within seven miles of each other in central Denver – hosted back-to-back Comedy Date Night outreaches on Friday and Saturday nights. Communio helped these churches identify and bring in a stand-up comic who performed both shows at a reduced rate which was split by the churches.

Our marketing team also helped these churches run multi-channel marketing campaigns within a 5-mile radius of their campuses which generated roughly 30 percent of the total registrations.

“This was such a great night,” said one attendee at Mississippi Avenue. “I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. We really appreciate all of the extra effort this church has put in over the past couple of months in attracting young adults. We can see the changes, and I am really excited about where we’re headed as a church. We hope to do this again soon!”

Couples at New Denver shared similar enthusiasm:

“This was hilarious! We have a 14-month-old son. Everything she said was on point! It was nice to come out as a couple, laugh, use the childcare, and have a great night!”

Meanwhile, about a 20-minute drive south of these two churches in Littleton (a Denver suburb), leaders at one of the largest churches in the metroplex, Mission Hills, an 80-year-old evangelical church, hosted their first marriage- and couples-focused Comedy Date Night for more than 1,000 people.

The church brought in well-known pastor, author, and Christian comedian Ted Cunningham for an edifying stand-up routine. Ted is a unique player in Christian stand-up. He fully grasps the deep importance of marriage and family health for the future of the church and effectively weaves in substantive relationship enrichment and advice into his routine.

Throughout the night, the Mission Hills team announced two growth opportunities for couples as a next step, which represent the ongoing engagement and growth journey rungs of Communio’s Ministry Engagement Ladder framework designed to help churches move a large group of people from fun outreach into skills-based relationship ministry.

  • The first was an invitation to join a “date night challenge” – where a couple commits to a certain number of dates and works through relationship enrichment questions and activities provided by the church. Prizes are awarded to couples who complete the challenge.
  • The second was an invitation to join one of the church’s marital enrichment programs – Intentional Marriage (a multi-week marriage course developed by the Mission Hills’ team) and Re|Engage (which you’ll recall that First Burleson leveraged).

About five miles east of Mission Hills, St. Thomas More, a large Catholic parish hosted its second outreach event of the year – a Fall Festival for more than 360 attendees.

Now, “fall festivals” are somewhat of a staple in Catholic parishes this time a year designed as seasonal gatherings just for members of the parish. But, with support from Communio, St. Thomas More, leveraged the event as a form of evangelization into the community. And it worked.

More than 60 percent of registrants came in through digital outreach campaigns designed and run by Communio’s marketing team on behalf of the church.

I am so pleased with the turnout of this event, said Msgr. Thomas Fryar, the pastor at St. Thomas. “So many families are here! We will have to make it an annual tradition.”

And for many of those families, they had not been back to church in any way over the past 18 months:

This is the first time we’ve been at church since COVID” said one attendee. “Having a fun event outside allows us to interact with others while still practicing safety from the virus.”

Another attendee shared:

“I was so excited to see our parish host a Fall Festival after years of watching other churches do it – I felt like we were missing out. This event is awesome and I want to help volunteer next time!”

Rolling into next weekend, there is a wave of large outreach events and relationship skills programming running or launching at churches in Billings, MT, Fort Worth, New Orleans, Atlanta, Denver, and the Permian Basin.

Churches around the country are seeing sustained losses in the number of people who attend. Right now, Communio is providing 100 churches with a roadmap, consulting, and tech services to grow again.  And that road map runs right through strengthening marriages and relationships.

The data powerfully shows that renewal won’t come any other way.

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