It’s a dreaded question.

It’s tough for any organization to answer. It’s particularly difficult for churches. 

What does your church do?

Most of us who grew up in the church just stare back in disbelief. We ponder many questions about the church. How do we serve more effectively? How do we reach more people? Who should lead churches? We rarely ask ourselves, “What does our church do?”

So invariably we don’t have an answer when asked—at least one that clearly communicates with those we want to reach. Maybe we respond with something full of Christian jargon.

  • We worship Jesus. 
  • We preach the Bible.
  • We reach the lost.

Those all may be correct statements (and I hope they are), but they’ll make someone who doesn’t go to church regularly scratch their heads in confusion. 

Or maybe we go into a long diatribe that explains every facet of our church strategy.

Many unchurched people today have little background in the church. According to Barna Research, the percentage of people who call themselves atheists, agnostics, or of no religion, has doubled in the last two decades. Those numbers have been particularly abrupt among Generation Z. Words like lost, gospel, and saved mean nothing to people who have no history with the church—or even worse, they mean something different from what they mean to us.

Plus, you simply don’t have 25 minutes to explain what your church does. Most people won’t listen (really listen) that long, even if they’re trapped at a dinner party with you. 

To respond to this very important question from the people in your community, you need to reach into the business world for a tool that’s proving effective in helping businesses engage customers. 

You need a one-liner.

The Answer You’re Looking For

So what’s a one-liner?

Marketing guru Donald Miller defines it like this in his book, Marketing Made Simple: “A concise statement you can use to clearly explain what you offer.”

It’s basically your church’s elevator speech.

Miller calls it the most powerful tool in any organization’s toolbox because you can use it to make people curious about you. “A one-liner makes people lean in rather than tune out at a cocktail party,” he writes.

Anyone who has ever tried to explain what their church does at a party can appreciate the value of a one-liner. 

When you first hear Miller’s definition, it might tempt you to think you’ve already got a one-liner. It’s called your mission statement.

But you’d be wrong. 

Yes, you still need a mission statement. Your mission statement communicates to your church family what you’re all about. It keeps everyone on the same page. But you can’t use the same language with the church as you do to people outside of the church. Plus, even the best mission statements don’t necessarily make someone lean into them. 

Your mission statement is centered on your church.

Your one-liner is centered on the people you’re trying to reach.

It looks like a subtle change, but it’s transformational when it comes to engaging the people your church wants to reach. Unchurched people don’t care about your church. They don’t particularly care about what you think God wants you to do. They don’t really even care about what God wants them to do. They care about themselves. 

Most people don’t check out your church because of your cool mission statement. They check out your church because they believe you can help solve a problem in their life.

That’s at the heart of what a one-liner is. It tells people who don’t go to your church how your church will solve a significant problem in their life. 

Why Your Church Needs a One-Liner

As Miller says, your one-liner is the most powerful tool you have at your disposal to communicate about your church. It’s the starting point of any other marketing need you have. 

Here’s why:

  • You’ll simplify your communication. Simple and clear communication always wins. Today people are hit with loads of marketing messages every time they check their email, log on to social media, and turn on the television. They won’t pay attention to what your church says if it’s too complicated. A one-liner puts the most important content about your church in one or two simple sentences.
  • You’ll enable others to share your story. For churches, this may be one of the best values of developing a one-liner. As you share your one-liner in different places, your congregation will begin to remember it. When it’s time for them to invite friends and family to visit your church, they can share in a way that’s inviting and speaks to the needs of the community. Because your one-liner is short, your congregation will always be prepared to answer the questions, “What does your church do?
  • You’ll become more united. A good one-liner puts everyone on the same page about what you do. Likely your church solves lots of problems, but your one-liner will provide clarity about the one problem that’s absolutely essential for your church to solve. Ideally, this should make its way through every piece of your church—from your age-based ministries to your missions team to your first impressions team, etc. Whenever there is a question of priorities, you can come back to your church’s one-liner. This is what we say we do.
  • You’ll condition people to think about the people you’re trying to reach. Many of the people in your church probably give little thought to the people you’re trying to reach. You may try to clarify the need for your congregation to be involved in evangelism and to invite people to your church, but it’s always a tough proposition. A one-liner will remind people about the real needs that people who aren’t engaged in your church have.

How You Create a One-Liner

The effective one-liner tells a clear and compelling story about your church in just two sentences or less. Like any other story, your one-liner needs a hero. 

Your story’s hero isn’t your church. It isn’t even Jesus. For your story to engage the people you want to reach, you have to put them in the hero slot. 

At its simplest point, every good story has a hero who wants something but faces an obstacle to getting it. The story describes how the hero overcomes the obstacle to get what he or she wants and ultimately how reaching this goal impacts the hero’s life. Your one-liner works the same but at a micro-level.

Your one-liner has three parts. 

Problem – Nothing is more important to define clearly from your hero’s perspective than the problem. Nothing is more difficult either. Once you define the problem, everything else falls into place.

Solution – If you describe the problem clearly (and it resonates with those you’re sharing it with), you’ll create a sense of anticipation for the solution. You’ll have pricked a pain point, and they will want to alleviate that pain. Your church is then in the perfect position to provide the solution.

Success – Finally, you need to give people a glimpse into how your solution will make their lives better. This part provides the real emotional punch to your one-liner. The person you’re trying to reach has been likely trying to solve this problem for years. They’ve attempted other solutions and failed. You’re giving them hope.

How to Use Your New One-Liner

Your new one-liner will be the most used part of your church’s marketing collateral. Because it’s short and simple, you’ll find places to use it everywhere. Here are a few examples:

  • Sermons – You’ll want to sprinkle most of your sermons with your one-liner, particularly early on. Your pulpit is the steering wheel that moves your church. If you want people to learn the one-liner, say it often in your sermon. You may even want to preach through your one-liner regularly during a series of sermons.
  • Business cards – Putting your one-liner on the back of your business cards will put what your church does in front of countless people. How many times have you looked at a business card months after you received it and wondered why in the world you have it? A one-liner will remind people why your church exists.
  • Website “About” section – Your about section is one of the first places on your website people will visit when they’re considering attending your church. Make your one-liner the first sentences of your church’s description.
  • Membership class collateral – If your church has a membership class, there is no better place to go through your one-liner. Print it in any handouts you provide for participants. Make sure everyone knows the one-liner before they leave. Have participants repeat it with you several times. 

These use cases are just the beginning. Brainstorm with your team different ways you can use your new one-liner. Most importantly, say it often to one another and to people you engage in the community.

You can also join our Church Fuel Members for our upcoming LAB in September, where we’ll be working alongside a Storybrand Guide to craft our own one-liners. He’ll not only guide you through the process but put your one-liner to the test in our cohort style workshops.

You should never be at a loss of words again when you’re asked what your church does.