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Above: Registration page for “Pancakes with Santa”. With consultative and marketing support from Communio, St. Ann’s in Midland is hosting a major Christmas-themed outreach for more than 1,175 people from the community not already connected to the church.

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This one Denver church is set to close an entire city block this Saturday to host more than 1,170 people from the community for their first-ever marriage and family outreach – Christmas by Candlelight.

  • That same night in the Permian Basin, one church is attracting 1,175, or nearly 1 percent of Midland’s entire population, for “Pancakes with Santa” where more than 25 percent of the registrants are non-native or Spanish-speakers.
  • In Central Illinois, the Lutheran Church of St. John, is rolling into their next ongoing engagement – a Christmas Scavenger Hunt – where hundreds who attended the church’s recent Outreach Event will be invited to join new home-based marriage skills small groups.

While churches across America report losing 40-50 percent of their pre-COVID attendance, Christmas outreach is well underway for Communio-supported churches as they leverage the season and our turn-key data and marketing services to reach out to their communities and grow their new Full-Circle Relationship Ministries®.

A lot is happening.

Consider that Communio is now working with 110 church partners across the country – both through our City Platforms in Denver, Fort Worth, Billings, and Midland as well as through our smaller city networks and individual church partners.

Our vision is to equip churches to save marriage and the family by teaching them how to become hubs for relationship and marital health both for their own people and for their community. 

Adapting to our COVID world, churches are working Communio’s Ministry Engagement Ladder® process and getting into a rhythm.

Recall, that ladder has four rungs – Invitation, Outreach, Ongoing Engagement, and the Growth Journey – all designed to help a church move a large group of people into greater relationship health and achieve measurable Ministry Outcomes (goals) they set for themselves.

Those outcomes include moving a majority of their attendees through marriage enrichment, growing the number of weddings in their membership, or boosting their Sunday attendance through relationship ministry.

Just since Labor Day weekend, our partnering churches have run 44 unique four-hour or longer relationship skills classes.  These church-based relationship ministries are proliferating in our communities and skills-based relationship ministry will only increase in the New Year.

Communio’s standard recommendation is that for our full-circle process to work at an optimum level a church should set a ministry framework of offering three Outreach Events, eight Ongoing Engagements (i.e. monthly date nights), and three skills-based Growth Journey options each year.

And, when a church applies this process consistently and allocates staff and real budget to the ministry, big things happen:

“Going into our Communio planning, we knew our parish was a “neighborhood” parish,” said Kaitlin Lane, Director of Strategic Evangelization at St. Vincent De Paul in Denver. “So, when creating our first Outreach Event we wanted to be sure we hosted an event that was welcoming, joyful and fun for all residents in the area. What we did not expect was how many would be interested! With the help of the Communio team, we reached more people (1,116 as of today!) than we ever could have on our own.

“We are incredibly excited for this opportunity to engage and begin to build relationships with our community. Although it has taken some careful thought and logistics from our whole team to be sure we can host everyone, we know the end goal is an opportunity to bring people closer to healthier relationships not only with one another but with Christ, and that makes it all worth it!”

St. Vincent de Paul is one of Communio’s newest partners as part of our 23-church project in Denver. With our consultative support, they’ve developed a complete calendar of activities built around each rung of the Ministry Engagement Ladder.

Here’s just a snapshot of their next six months of activity:

  • Rung 1 – Invitation: Communio designed and is running a multi-channel outreach campaign on behalf of the church inviting those within a 2-mile radius of the parish to a free outreach – Christmas by Candlelight. Acting as a managed service, our team created a custom ministry audience and deployed a digital media and direct mail campaign to generate registrations from that targeted audience for the event (You can see an example of what this mail piece looks like by clicking here). As of this writing, that campaign has generated 1,179 registrations from the surrounding community.
  • Rung 2Outreach: The church is closing off an entire neighborhood block to traffic for Christmas by Candlelight. The event includes a kid-friendly scavenger hunt and self-guided tour of neighborhood Christmas lights, food trucks, multiple hot cocoa stations, a bonfire, and carols sung by the parish choir. The church also included relationship-oriented questions for singles and couples into the scavenger hunt as a creative way to incorporate a light dosage of “enrichment” content into the program. Couples will share the story of how they met, and singles will share a favorite Christmas tradition growing up. Throughout the event, the staff will be encouraging people to join new parish Dinner Clubs launching next month.
  • Rung 3 – Ongoing Engagement: In January, the parish is kicking off monthly “Dinner Clubs” for couples and singles. These will occur in homes where a potluck dinner is served, and that Sunday’s gospel is read and discussed. Home groups will also move through one relationship-skills exercise selected from Communio’s ministry catalog.
  • Rung 4 – Growth Journey: The monthly Dinner Clubs will flow couples into the Marriage Course – a seven-week, video-based series created by Alpha that teaches skills around communication, problem-solving, and intimacy – at the end of January. The parish is also inviting couples to a half-day parenting seminar.

Meanwhile, over in west central Illinois, the Lutheran Church of St. John is rolling into its second ongoing engagement this Saturday – a Christmas Scavenger Hunt. Ahead of the event, church staff shared a fun “scavenger hunt checklist” that each team will complete to earn points before the event. Some of those fun actions include (You can see the checklist the St. John’s team sent to registrants by clicking here):

  • Share your favorite Christmas song, bonus points for singing it in public
  • Find a “Grinch” (open to interpretation)
  • Photo of an outdoor nativity

Teams are submitting photo and video evidence of these actions, which will all be added into a fun slide show presented at the in-person event this weekend along with a meal, caroling, Christmas bingo, and a photo booth.

This event comes on the heels of St. John’s major Trunk-or-Treat Outreach Event back in October and a Trivia Night Ongoing Engagement in November.

Leveraging Communio’s marketing services, that October outreach drew in 339 – a huge turnout for a church that averages 150 weekly Sunday attendees. In a rural community, the November trivia drew more than 70 people, two-thirds of which were not members of the church.

It all served as a tee up for this weekend’s ongoing engagement. Consider this encouraging feedback we received from the ministry leader at St. John’s from one of the trivia attendees:

“Great job on the Trivia Night! My daughter-in-law really had a good time and said ‘I would do this again.’ Which is big because she has never gone to church and it is only on special occasions that she will come with us. She scanned the QR code for the December scavenger hunt. Planting seeds…..”

All this activity is driving couples ultimately to join skills-based marriage ministry in home groups where Alpha’s plug-and-play Marriage Course will be delivered.

Then, down in the Texas oil patch of Midland-Odessa, St. Ann’s is expecting more than 1,175 for “Pancakes with Santa” – an annual event hosted by the Mom’s Group that Communio helped their team re-tool into an effective form of community outreach.

To put this in perspective, Midland’s total population is just 138,000.  So, St. Ann’s has drawn out nearly 1 percent of the city population. 

To pull this off, the parish leveraged Communio’s marketing services to develop a campaign focused on reaching both the English-speaking population and the Hispanic community around the church. This included the creation of a Spanish registration page and social media creative targeting Spanish speakers.

Because of this campaign, the parish now has captured the email and phone numbers of every registering family, which fuels their recruitment pool to draw couples into their relationship ministry.

The event will include a pancake breakfast, a small family craft session facilitated by the Mom’s Group, and an elaborate photo booth with Santa. Attendees will be invited to participate in next month’s Ongoing Engagement – a Free-Throw Contest, which is geared toward targeting men in the community.

At each ongoing engagement, Communio’s partnering churches select from our catalog of relationship skills exercises and testimonial architypes to improve the relationship, marital, and family health of their attendees.

By almost any measure, the health of the American family has never been in a bleaker situation. The US Census Bureau reported that in 1970 married couples with children in the home represented 40 percent of all American households.  Today, married couples with children in the home represent just 17.8 percent of all households.

Adverse childhood experiences rise considerably when a child lacks a married mom and dad.  Flourishing decreases as poverty, educational attainment, and mental health issues all increase. When these children become adults, family estrangement becomes more and more normative.

Communio is a nonprofit ministry that consults with churches to save marriage and the family. We equip churches with proven strategies and turn-key marketing services to strengthen relationships at each stage of romantic life – for singles, the engaged, married, and those with marriages in need. Learn more at www.communio.org or contact us at platform@communio.org or 703.347.7800.

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