Vancouver Church Reduces Cost per Guest

Larry Witzel From the Field

Dr. Roger Walter“Evangelism isn’t dead!” exclaimed Dr. Roger Walter, senior pastor of the Vancouver, Wash., church. “I still believe that Adventist churches grow differently.”

Dr. Walter recently wrote a blog post about his experience holding the “Apocalypse of Hope” prophecy seminar. SermonView’s role was to develop a marketing package for the event, including a new direct mail piece, a promotional video, roadside signs, and other materials.

“SermonView’s expertise contributed to an exceptional response rate,” said Dr. Walter. He’s been tracking the cost of bringing people through the doors on opening night, and since 2001 his average cost per person is $189. For this event, SermonView’s marketing campaign cut that by one-third, to $125 per person—despite a higher cost per mailpiece.

Dr. Walter is in favor of larger budgets, because it costs money just to get people in the door. “I figured out a long time ago, it’s the same amount of work if 26 people show up or 260 people show up. Spend the money and get higher results.”

Promotional video for Apocalypse of Hope

And what were those results exactly? Nearly two dozen people were baptized as a result of the series. Three of those decisions came on the last night as he made one final appeal to people to get baptized and become part of the body.

“One of those ladies had attended every night,” he said, “but had been holding off. And you could see on her face, ‘I give up…I’ll do it.'”

“It’s a lot of hard work,” Dr. Walter concluded, “but one that is well worth it.”

Read the entire post on the NPUC Adventist Leaders blog.

Does Bible prophecy still work for evangelism?

Larry Witzel Evangelism Practices

One of the great disconnects in the Adventist church in North America is that many members have a distaste for Bible prophecy—even though it was likely Bible prophecy that led their parents and grandparents to join the church in the first place.

When SermonView started doing evangelism marketing all those years ago, we wanted to create beautiful designs that talked about Jesus and hope. I really like some of our early work. But there was one problem: it wasn’t effective.

Since then, we’ve learned a lot of lessons, and here’s one of the most important ones: people today are interested in Bible prophecy like never before—and many will come to a prophecy seminar.

I recently ran across an article from Dr. Hal Seed, senior pastor of a non-denominational church in Southern California, who believes preachers should regularly cover the prophetic books. He may not be an Adventist, but he offers three great reasons for preaching Bible prophecy:1

  1. People are curious about prophecy. Dr. Seed wrote, “Ask any small group what they’d like to study next, and a substantial number of them will say, ‘Either Revelation or Daniel.'” When he did a 10 week series on Daniel, attendance grew 17%.
  2. People need help understanding Bible prophecy. “I have years of formal education in Biblical Studies,” he says, “yet I still find myself consulting commentaries every time I open apocalyptic literature.” If pastors need help understanding prophecy, how much more does the average lay person. And among people who are biblically illiterate, a class or seminar may be the only way they’ll even attempt reading prophetic books of the Bible.
  3. People need assurance about the future. We live in a world filled with chaos, and fear of the future is at an all time high. Prophecy speaks to our present condition, while offering hope for a better tomorrow.

We’ve been running the numbers, and I can tell you definitively from our experience that nothing draws people to an evangelistic series like a well-crafted handbill focused on Bible prophecy.

One of my favorite testimonials comes from my friend Cecille, a woman who joined our church a few years ago. This pretty much sums up why Bible prophecy can be such a powerful tool for evangelism:

“I’ve always gone to church since I was young, and in all my life, I’d never heard the Book of Revelation explained. This seminar answered all my questions, plus more questions I didn’t even know I had. I have hope now, because I know the end of the story.”

For many years, I was one of those Adventists who didn’t believe we should use prophecy for evangelism. In fact, back then it bothered me that the first sermon in the New Beginnings series was from Daniel 2. If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be writing a post like this one, I would have laughed at you.

But my mind has been changed by the thousands of people that I’ve seen respond to the relevant message of hope that can only be found in Bible prophecy. And it doesn’t really matter what we think as church members. What matters is the needs of those we are trying to reach—and prophecy draws many of them in.

So don’t dismiss Bible prophecy as irrelevant to the unchurched. We’ve seen crowds respond to evanglism marketing promoting a Bible prophecy series, and you can too.



It’s not about the cover…

Larry Witzel Marketing Practices

When I talk with pastors and church leaders about some of the success God has given us in evangelism marketing—2x, 3x and even 4x previous response rates—one of the first things I often hear is, “I want to see these covers!”

Now, we’re happy to show you handbill covers. After all, the art and design is an important component to an effective mailpiece. (You can even see a few of our covers on our evangelism marketing website.) But there’s something important you should know:

It’s not about the cover.

An effective evangelism mailer has dozens of components—things like headline, subtitles, event description, meeting titles, and the call to action—and the more these work in harmony with each other, the more effective it is. The cover has one purpose: to get an interest to open the mailpiece. It’s an important role, to be sure, but it’s not the end all. In fact, it’s far more important that the entire piece magnify a single message, whatever that is.

Furthermore, just because a cover works in one part of the country, doesn’t mean the identical piece will be effective everywhere. There are significant differences between urban, suburban and rural cultures; between red and blue states; between the West Coast, the Mid-West and the South. And when you don’t account for these differences, you risk reducing the effectiveness of the handbill.

For example, when we first created the “Apocalypse of Hope” cover, we wrote the language targeting a suburb of Portland, Ore., a notoriously “unchurched” region. When a pastor in Mississippi, hearing about how effective that design was, asked to run the same piece for his series, we made significant changes to the language. We had to do that in order to better reach that target area. The covers look the same, but the inside was radically different. In both cases, we saw response rates of nearly 3 per thousand.

Effective marketing is a science. You can’t just duplicate what someone else has done someplace else and expect the same results. Here at SermonView, we work with you to craft the best possible mailpiece, making the subtle improvements that give better results.

Why go through all the trouble? Because better marketing means more people at your event. And isn’t that what you want?

Jewish-Adventist Evangelism

Larry Witzel From the Field

2With 178 people on opening night, the Jewish-Adventist evangelistic series last May in Vancouver, Wash., clearly struck a nerve in the community. Coordinated by David Cairns, over the next 17 days of the series there were a consistent number of people in attendance, with an average of 141 people per night. In total there were over 389 people that attended at least one day of the series. The most interesting statistic: over 80% of the attendees (315 people) were non-Adventist.

Dr. Alexander “Sasha” Bolotnikov led the evangelistic series titled, “The Gospel through the Eyes of a Jew,” at Beit Shalom Balevav Adventist Community Church, a Jewish-Adventist Congregation in Vancouver, Wash. One big reason the event did so well was due to help from the Members In Ministry outreach team. This group was important to the success of the campaign because they organized the event, a team effort that built a sense of community. Members In Ministry went as far as planning, orchestrating, and executing the evangelistic series and committed to fundraising, advertising the campaign, and coordinating event activities.

cairns-road-signThis valuable work showed results. With the event being properly targeted and marketed to a specific group of people, the campaign had a large turnout, reaching many people outside of the Adventist community. The event was also streamed live online, with as many as 42 viewers each night.

After the evangelistic series ended, there were plenty of attendees that displayed interest in follow-ups. Twelve participants requested baptisms, 20 wanted further bible studies, and over 40 had prayer requests.

David Cairns believes the event was a clear success due to the hard work of the people in the community, the vision set by Members In Ministry, and the feeling attendees had of being part of something special. Most importantly, with God all things are possible. When the people were faithful to His vision, God blessed in a big way.

Multi-touch Marketing for Better Results

Vince Williams Marketing Tools

Marketing is vital for a successful evangelistic series. And to be most effective, you need to have a multi-touch approach. This allows your campaign to be more than one-dimensional in order to reach a greater number of people.

For example, instead of just using direct mail for you campaign, you could use direct mail and yard signs. Direct mail is the only method that guarantees someone in every home sees your message. Yard and road signs dispersed around your area will magnify the impact of the direct mail piece, as people see your graphic and title repeatedly. As a result of this multi-touch approach, you can expect more attendees and reach a wider range of people with the same budget.

Using Yard Signs Effectively

The Jewish-Adventist evangelistic series (see From the Field story) used yard signs to great effect. According to research of guest responses, widespread use of yard signs resulted in a 30% increase in attendance.

Yard signs are a simple and inexpensive means to raise awareness of your event. Place them by intersections, where traffic slows, and as people drive and walk by they will become increasingly aware of the event. Consider the same locations as where political campaign signs are placed, because these positions are often well-researched. Put your yard signs out two to three weeks prior to opening night, to ensure repeated exposure.

For maximum effectiveness, you want your yard and road signs to be visually similar to the direct mail handbill. You want the repeated road-side exposure to help them recognize the mail piece when it arrives, encouraging them to open the brochure and learn more.

Public evangelism still works

Larry Witzel Evangelism Practices

Here’s an article from the February 2014 issue of Ministry magazine. It was written by Shane Anderson, a classmate of mine back at Walla Walla University when we were both theology majors.

He believes that public evangelism still works, and has evidence to back it up:

In my experience, nothing helps people commit fully to Christ as well as a full-message public evangelistic series. And though I think a case for public evangelism as an important part of any church’s witness can be made (Jesus did public evangelism, the apostles all did public evangelism), I can best articulate my thoughts concerning public evangelism’s necessity in the context of our own denomination.

Pastor Anderson gives three reasons why public evangelism is crucial for the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s outreach efforts:

  1. The unique beliefs of the Adventist Church are immensely compelling to many people. It is difficult to present these distinctive topics in short sound bites. Because of this, a compressed schedule (such as 17 messages over 15 nights) is the best way to cover the totality of these great themes and build momentum from one night to the next.
  2. Public evangelistic series excel at reaping friends of the church. People are more likely to listen to our preaching if they become friends with us first. Once that friendship has begun, the brief yet sustained momentum of a public evangelistic series provides a unique witnessing opportunity. It’s a special environment where friends of the church can become members of and missionaries for the church.
  3. A public evangelistic series reaches people that friendship evangelism never will. The flip side of friendship evangelism is that it can’t reach everyone in your town. A direct mail campaign is the only way to guarantee that someone in every home of your target area gets your invitation. As Pastor Anderson puts it, “It is the Spirit who has been working with the resi­dents of particular homes for months or years on end in full knowledge that one day, ‘out of the blue,’ brochures would show up in their mailboxes that would eventually help lead them to Christ.

Here’s the evidence of success: In his little town of 1,900 people, their most recent series had 150 attendees on opening night, with half of them guests. Over the last three years, 29 people have been added to the church through public evangelistic events, with more likely from the most recent campaign.

It’s a great article that I heartily recommend. You can read the full article at Ministry Magazine’s website.

Ice Cream Evangelism

Larry Witzel Evangelism Practices


The last couple of weeks have been unseasonably warm here in the Pacific Northwest, and last Sunday was especially hot. My kids pulled out the slip-n-slide, and spent the afternoon staying cool with their neighborhood friends.

Then they heard that magical sound coming down the street: the distinctive chimes of the ice cream truck. Thinking about those kids all lined up, dancing in expectation of a tasty treat, it gets me wondering: how can we make our evangelistic efforts more like an ice cream truck? Here are some thoughts:

Evangelistic Lessons from the Ice Cream Truck

It goes where the people are. You can buy ice cream many places, of course. But the ice cream truck is special: it comes to you.

In your evangelism, are you going where the people are? Or do you expect them to come to you?

It has built a reputation through repetition. As soon as the electronic melodies start wafting through the neighborhood everybody knows: ice cream is coming. It’s an amazing thing to watch, children scattering to their homes at the first sound, calling out to their parents, “The ice cream truck! The ice cream truck!”

What is your community reputation built on? When you announce an upcoming event do people come? Do they invite their friends?

It targets a need at the right time. The sun is hot, and ice cream is cold. Ice cream trucks make the most of a limited season to attract all the people they can.

Does your evangelistic activity meet a need felt by people in your community? When is the best time for your campaign? When will the most people be interested or ready to get involved?

It clearly communicates the offer. When you walk up to the truck, you can see pictures of the different treats available, with prices clearly marked. Within a few seconds, you know what you can buy, and what it will cost.

When you’re promoting your evangelistic activity, are you clearly communicating the benefits? Do they know how what you’re offering is going to bless their lives?

It leaves people smiling. As the ice cream truck drives away, it leaves behind children with smiles—and ice cream—on their faces.

Smiles are contagious, and people want to be where others are joyful. At your evangelistic event, are your volunteers happy? Do they smile and laugh? Your guests will notice.

It leaves people wanting more. What’s the first thing a child says when they finish their ice cream? “Can I please have some more?”

When people leave your evangelistic event, do they leave hungry for more?

It keeps coming back. I’ve seen the ice cream truck come into our neighborhood several times in a row without selling a thing. But it keeps coming back.

In your evangelistic efforts, do you keep coming back? Or do you try something, then give up?

Jesus Doesn’t Melt

Of course, ice cream is very temporary, and not really good for you. It melts. It’s sticky. Eat too much, and it will leave you with a stomach ache.

What you are offering, however, is Living Water that is inexhaustible. It has permanence, and has radically transformed lives for thousands of years. Let’s take these lessons from the ice cream truck and watch God do amazing things in your church.

Lessons from History Channel’s "The Bible"

Vince Williams Evangelism Practices


Opening on March 3rd, History Channel’s The Bible received ratings unexpected by Hollywood elites. By its final episode on Easter weekend it had been seen by over 13 million viewers. Through various blogs and news articles I have seen Christians take a stance both for and against the various episodes and their accuracy to the written word. My goal is not to condone the choices of the producers, but to evaluate how those choices affected their results. Has The Bible shown us a new way to reach out to our neighbors? As a person who is passionate about church communication in the world today, here is what I took away from this highly viewed and somewhat controversial series.

Keep it simple. The message of the Bible is both simple and complex. It’s an epic that offers amazing details that can be studied for a lifetime; however, the completion of our faith can be summarized in one verse, Luke 10:27:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The Bible mini-series left out details that, although important, did not always translate to the crux of the storyline or to the screen. Did the lack of these details hurt the story? I don’t think it did, at least not for the film’s intended purpose.

It is important that we find ways to communicate God’s love without too many details that can take away from the crispness of that message. People need to develop in maturity and knowledge, but keeping our outreach simple allows people to engage with God and start down the road of that process.

Keep it Purposeful. The Bible can be so many things at so many times—a book of wisdom, love, peace in tragedy—however our communication should be more focused. The mini-series focused in on the specific“big” stories it wanted to cover in order to paint a picture of God’s love and mercy. Its mission was not to relay every theme and story throughout the Word.

We should make sure we know the purpose of our communication. What is the purpose of this form of communication? What needs to be conveyed for people to take the next step? Anything more than that can be overwhelming to the viewer.

Keep it Sensational. This one is always a hot topic for debate. The story of the Bible is filled with sensational, bigger than life tales that paint the picture of God’s omnipotence. It is imperative that we do not understate that grand scale.

After working in church marketing for over a decade I have seen that provocative language and strong visuals get attention. The pastel colors and floral designs that are too often synonymous with Christian culture do little to attract the attention of part-time church attendees and non-Christians.

One scene from The Bible movie that stood out for me was Moses and the burning bush. I have seen this represented with a little fire on a sage brush or even a lot of fire on a tree, but this movie made it a big living and breathing spectacle. I was moved at how they represented the power and strength of God with the scale and beauty of those flames. In that moment it called me into a conversation with God about his majesty.

God’s glory is seen in the scale and beauty of the Earth he has given us, in our creative hand, and our artistic minds. It is ok to go a little “Hollywood” with our special effects as long as we are true to the story and representing God as He is: glorious and magnificent.

Keep it Coming. Maybe the best part of this mini-series is the fact that 13 million people viewed it, the fact that people are talking about it, and that they are wrestling with its accuracy. We need to not be paralyzed by our inability to convey all of God’s word quickly, and push forward with the message. Compromises were made on this film’s storyline, both to fit it into the limited number of hours it had and its budget restrictions. But, did it do good? Did it convey the basis of God’s truth enough for people to seek more? I think so. And I think we need to keep showing the world the big, bold and beautiful stories found within the Bible, so that people can wrestle with the idea that there is a God who loves them and who wants to know them.

After all, God’s Word is the greatest epic ever written.

3 Online Tools for Improving Your Church Campaigns

Vince Williams Marketing Tools

The message of the gospel has not changed, but the ways that we can communicate it has radically been overhauled by technology. As churches learn to communicate with their members and evaluate various forms of outreach it is easy to get lost in the overwhelming amount of online tools that may, or may not, be useful.

Because of our passion and focus for modernizing evangelistic communication, I have spent many hours trolling the web for sites that offer something unique, and often free, to local churches. Here is a list of the three online tools I have recently found that will benefit your church’s community outreach efforts. NeighborLinkUp offers a church the ability to create a helping hand ministry, both quickly and efficiently. You can use the site as a way to manage helping projects, ask the community to report on people who need help, and organize teams to engage with the requests. It is pretty easy to manage and can have a great impact on your church’s ability to reach out to the community.

Creative tip: You could generate cards or door hangers that will invite members of the community to list potential projects for their neighbors or themselves. Then your volunteers will have lots of people they can help. Eventbrite isn’t specifically a church tool, but it can be a real blessing. Your church can develop a registration page for any event. You can control and manage everything about the registration process including continued emails about the event and event night check in.

Creative tip: We use this tool at my church to organize our homeless outreach ministry. We limit sign ups and people can list the food and supplies they’ll be bringing, so that we have just the right amount of help and all the food we need to feed people. This is a site we developed here at SermonView to reduce the time it takes between when someone responds to a Bible study card mailing, and when you receive that visitation request.

People use the site to respond from a mailing or personal invitation. They place in an offer code specific to your church and are greeted with an introduction from your church coordinator. They then can request an in-home visit from a member of your church. You receive the invitation to visit this person within minutes of their request. This tool allows churches to respond faster than traditional Bible card mailings and reach people while they still feel interest.

Creative tip: Send out a regular Bible card mailing to different areas around your church, at a quantity your church can afford. This will give your Bible worker or volunteers a consistent stream of interests they can visit and develop real, meaningful relationships.

Investigate each of these simple online solutions to find out how your church can start using technology to promote interaction with your local community.

To learn more about how to use with your next Bible study card mailing, contact us.

The One Thing You Absolutely Must Do to Grow your Church

Vince Williams Marketing Practices

God wants your church to grow. As the Apostle Paul wrote about the Church in Colossians 2:19, “The whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (NIV). Yet today, even churches that want to grow are in a challenging environment, where seeds are too often choked out by all the weeds in our society (Mark 4:18, 19).

If you want to see God’s church grow, there is one thing you absolutely must do. If you want to reach people where they are at, if you want to punch through the communication clutter all around us, you cannot speak softly.

You must be provocative.

A well-crafted message will reach you right where you are and provoke you to act. Provocative speech is a tool we as the Church use well at times. Unfortunately, we tend to filter the bold promises of God as soon as we leave the building.  Provocative speech is a tool we need to harness in our outreach efforts, too, in order to get heard.

Jesus clearly used this tool in His day. For example, read His words in Matthew 5:27-29: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (NIV).

The words of Jesus are bold, with the consequences so very real. It is that bold language that encourages movement. In fact, it demands it.

Are we willing to compete?

You will not hear a car commercial ever use the phrase “better than average” or “middle of the road”. Every car manufacturer offers multiple models at multiple price points, yet every ad would have you believe the car in front of you is the right one for you. It is the “best in class” or offers “Top line performance” This aggressive language hits us right where they want. They have practiced and polished this message to ensure that we will respond.

Or think about the insurance industry. They don’t paint a picture of minor inconveniences. They want you to know that the end is coming, and they’ll be there when it does. When your house caves in or your town is flooded, don’t you want to be in good hands?

But whose hands are better than God’s? Should someone buy a car or insurance before they make a decision about their eternal relationship with their Creator? We have the best answer—the only true answer—to the crying needs of a hurting world, so we need to be willing to paint the same picture and offer better results than the rest of the world.

Perhaps our confidence has been shaken by some who don’t know how to temper their words with love. In fact, most of what I’m saying is not in regard to Christ’s assault on the pride and sin of “religious” people, but His strength in knowing the answer to all things comes from the Father. Some who claim to speak for God have focused on messages that tear down, rather than build up, that discourage action rather than provoke a positive response. This has caused the rest of us to overreact by not wanting to push hard in our church marketing efforts. Yet this approach does not work—and it isn’t biblical.

We need to promote the problem as the world sees it, but provide a solution they didn’t see coming: a relationship with Jesus.

God’s way solves relational issues, protects marriages, keeps us from over-spending, and gives us hope in times of trouble. His Word speaks truth into the hearts of all who will listen.

So how do we do this? For starters, here are ways to improve any direct mail marketing piece:

5 keys to effective, provocative messages

1. Understand how people decide to attend. Understanding how people make a decision is an important step in leading them through that process. By knowing who reviews the mail (statistically it is women), who leads the conversation about attending (again women), and determining who could road block the decision (here is where the men fit in) we understand what to say and how to say it in language and visuals that make it through every step in the process.

2. State the offer, sell the benefits. The offer is a large matter-of-fact statement that reaches into people’s core like “Stop feeling tired”. The benefits build a case on how it gets done. “Learn exercises that will increase your energy,” or, “discover foods that build stamina” are both good examples that match the offer.

3. Develop rapport with your reader. People want answers, but whom should they listen to? Everybody today claims to be an expert. Focus on the ways that you can develop trust and tones of concern and relationship in your mailer. If the reader believes you want to help, and have the answers, then they are more likely to attend your event. Don’t waste marketing real estate without a reason. If you don’t have a great photo and aren’t known in your area, then your picture and bio will do little to add credibility. Instead, try adding faces of happy attendees similar to your target reader.

4. Understand and remove objections. Objections are simply reasons to say no. Take those away and you are more likely to get a yes. Childcare, food during mealtime hours, and easy directions on your mailer are all ways to overcome basic objections. One of the biggest challenges comes in presenting too many dates on your flyer. Keep in mind that if the reader is busy on just one of those dates, then they will have an easy out. Remember the purpose of the mailer is to get people to the opening night. You don’t want to trick them, but you do want to remove objections.

5. Call them to action. After you have taken every step and precaution to invite your neighbors through a mailing you must follow that up with a simple action step. Ask them to pre-register, call a phone number, visit a website or put it on their calendar. Any of these are good. You can offer multiple ways to accomplish a task—phone or website registration is a good example—but you should only focus on one specific act. Too many options will paralyze the reader, reducing action not increasing it. Be deliberate and ask for what you want them to do.


Each of these 5 keys is fundamental in the success of a campaign. If any one of them is overlooked then the entire promotion can crumble. Each one needs to be thought through and developed within the overview of the goals you have for your event.

In the end, we must find a new way to speak a classic message to this generation, and we must be willing to compete with the hyperbole of today’s marketing without compromising the truth of our claims. Thanks to Jesus, we have the ultimate offer, and talking it up should come pretty easy.