July 2012
Communications: Tried, True, & New

Find a Church

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

Pat and Barbara were looking for a church. Running a local coffee shop/cafe, their lives were full with work, family, and friends. Yet, they found themselves spiritually hungry.

Pat and Barbara thought about and talked about what was important to them in a faith community. They began to ask friends and acquaintances about their church experience. They looked online. And, they began to visit churches.

During their search, they discovered they felt comfortable with the Episcopal theology and liturgy and eventually found a spiritual home in an Episcopal church with a wonderful music program. Pat and Barbara were active in the congregation for several years until their lives took a different turn and they moved out of the area.

Are there seekers in your community? How would you know? How would they know about you? Put another way, what are you doing to attract ‘the people you don’t know yet’ to your church?

There is a ‘tried and true’ method of finding the people you don’t know yet: Advertising. And, with the advent of the Internet, what used to be a costly endeavor is now almost free given the variety of listing services available online. I say ‘almost free’ for, although there is no charge for the listings, to use these tools effectively, an investment of time is required.

This investment can be easily divided into stages: research, planning, posting information, and regular updates.

Research includes more than just where can I find a free listing. For each listing service you consider, you should look at the full range of what you can include in a listing. Most church listings that I find include only the basics: address, phone number, website, perhaps information about worship times, and office hours. Many listing services offer the opportunity to offer much more, including space for descriptive information, photos and/or videos, calendar of upcoming events, etc. Some even include space for visitors to include comments.

Here’s a short list of places to look for listing opportunities:

  • The Episcopal Church’s “Find a Church”  
  • Your diocesan website 
  • Your provincial website 
  • Google Places  
  • Yahoo 
  • Yelp  
  • Foursquare 
  • YellowPages 
  • SuperPages  
  • Does your community have a webpage? Does it list places of worship? 
  • Does your local Council of Churches maintain an online directory? 
  • Is there a college in your area that might have an online directory on their website? (See Gordon College’s ‘Find a Church’ resource 


  • As you review each listing service, take the time to look at the full range of listing options available. Look at some membership organizations or restaurants in your area to see how they use these listings. 
  • Look online or at your local community college or other educational provider for free webinars or classes in how to use these ‘finding places’ listings

The planning stage is a critical step – and one that seemingly is often skipped. When congregations use these free listing services to list only the basics, they missing the opportunity to tell their story – for free – to the people we don’t know yet who may be seeking a new spiritual home.


  • What is it that you want people to know about your congregation? How would you describe your theology or liturgy to someone who may be new to your faith tradition? 
  • Ask people who are newer to your congregation what attracted them to your faith community and then include that in your listing. 
  • Ask people who do not attend your church what they know about your congregation. Talking to people outside of your organization is one of the best ways I know to get beyond our own understanding of what others know and/or think about our congregation. 
  • Does your congregation have community-based programs that might be of interest to people outside of your congregation? Let people know about your organ concerts, community garden, or Thursday evening book club. 
  • Writing a first draft of the information to be posted. Then, ask someone unfamiliar with your congregation to read it, and flag anything that is unclear or missing. This is the best way I know to minimize the use of ‘church jargon’ and to identify those things that are so obvious to parishioners that it may not enter your mind to include it, such as letting visitors know that the grocery store across the street lets people attending church services use their lot on Sunday morning or that there is a second entrance around the corner from the main one that doesn’t have as many stairs… 
  • If the listing service includes a comment field, invite people you know to make a comment. Think about establishing a process where participants are invited to share comments on the listing service.

Once you have an idea of what you want to include in your listing, the next step is to consider and plan for keeping the site current. Your goal should be to develop a workable calendar of when the listing sites will be updated and to designate a responsible person. Consider timing your schedule changes based on:

  • Church programming: does it change monthly? Seasonally? 
  • Is someone in your congregation always taking photos of church events or programs? Including updated photos on your listing helps to keep it fresh.

Before posting, it is helpful to take one final look at what you plan to post. This time, think like someone completely unfamiliar with your denomination, your location, etc; that is think like the person you don’t know yet but hope to meet. Is your language clear and welcoming?


  • Set aside an hour of time and if possible, close your door to minimize interruptions. 
  • Have all of the material you plan to post in electronic format and gathered in one file. 
  • If you are using photos, do you have signed releases – especially if they show children? 
  • Once posted, ask someone to check the posting. Ask for overall impression and, most importantly, to let you know if there are any spelling errors or mistakes.

Regular Updates
It is important to maintain a schedule of regular updates for your listing(s). As editor of ECF Vital Practices, I’m aware that people visit the site at their convenience and I want to be sure that the site always looks fresh and current. How do you feel when you visit a site and it’s clear that the site hadn’t been updated in months. For me, whether that is a church or a restaurant, an outdated site signals to me a disinterest in attracting new people. The time spent keeping a site up-to-date is time well spent (this goes for a church website as well as church listings).

Ongoing Evaluation
How will you know if using listing services is working for your congregation? One of the best is to ask people who join you for worship or participate in programs or events how they learned about it. Asking can be face to face or included as part of a registration form or visitor card.


  • Taking time regularly to look at the listing service to see if there are any comments, build time into a vestry or communications committee meeting to review comments and incorporate them into your overall strategy. 
  • Some listing services offer analytics that tell you how many people visited your site. Become familiar with how these work – and ask the person who looks at the analytics for your congregation’s website if they can tell you how many visitors to your site are coming from one of the listing sites.

Reaching the People We Don’t Know Yet
Taking full advantage of the many free, online directory services available to congregations allows congregations to share their story 24/7 (that is around the clock, every day of the week, every day of the year). This is the best way I know for people of faith to share the Good News of how they are serving Jesus Christ with ‘the people we don’t know yet’ who may be looking for a spiritual home in your community.

Nancy Davidge is the editor of ECF Vital Practices and former director of communications and marketing at Episcopal Divinity School where she taught “Religion and the Media.” She also runs The Davidge Group, a marketing communication firm specializing in the development of audience centered marketing and communication plans.


This article is part of the July 2012 Vestry Papers issue on Communications: Tried, True, & New