Although I was raised in the Catholic Church, I am not a practicing Catholic. The few times I have been in a house of worship in the past two decades involved either a wedding, a christening, or my mother’s funeral in 1995. Therefore, no one was more surprised than me to find myself at Trinity Church’s St. Paul’s Chapel earlier this year.
I should explain that my boyfriend lives near Wall Street and we walk past this historic little church quite often. Trinity is the oldest Anglican Church in Manhattan, founded in 1697 and helped to form the Episcopalian Church after the Revolutionary War. St. Paul’s Chapel was founded as part of this movement and it mostly known for surviving 9/11 intact, even as the World Trade Center’s fall, which was directly across the street from their location, took down other larger buildings.
Trinity’s friendly signage had often drawn our attention and having survived a rather stressful holiday period, the offer of a “candlelight service with music” on a Sunday night drew us in.
“What does this have to do with marketing?” you ask. In a nutshell, Trinity has a slew of audience development activities that could serve as a model for arts organizations.
Pre-“show” prep: The journey starts on their website, where they very clearly explain each and every activity, including age-appropriateness and exactly what to expect. The language is friendly and accessible and by demystifying the events, they encourage new and first-time visitors to attend. Calendars are kept up to date and the visitor info is accurate and helpful.
Wilkommen, bienvenue: Upon arrival at St. Paul’s Chapel that evening, we were greeted by staff members who asked us if it was our first time and upon hearing a yes, they proceeded to explain the evening’s activities, including where we might want to sit, and how long the program would last.
Helpful “Playbills”: Later that week, we went back for the Feast of the Epiphany (admittedly, we may have been convinced to attend by the promise of a post-service pizza dinner…) Before the service started, we were handed programs that were extremely detailed and included not only the sequence of events, but which staff members were participating and their bios. The program included the text for all of the service, so even if you had never attended, you would be able to follow along. It gave instructions for items like receiving Communion, something that could be intimidating if you had never done it. It also listed options for gluten-free wafers, drinking (or not drinking) the wine, or just asking for a blessing in lieu of Communion.
Staff was diverse: The clergy and lay staff really looked like the people of New York, reflecting folks from all walks of life. My experience at church had always been this: An old white dude lectures me, tells a really boring story that has nothing to do with my life, and explains why I’m a sinner. I doze off. This service was more celebratory and open, and the sermons were relevant to my experience. And they were believable, coming from people that I could relate to.
Intermission fun: Christian ceremonies tend to have an exchange of peace. The priest says “Peace be with you” and the congregants shake hands with the nearest people. This was extended at the service I attended (and moved up to happen a lot earlier in the ceremony than usual.) The longer period gave everyone a chance to mill around and socialize for a bit, adding to the feeling of community earlier in the service.
Post “show” party: More audience mingling! Everyone likes a party. Or at least free wine. A nice post-service supper was served with a beer/wine/soda open bar and (Three) Kings cake for dessert. Congregants mingled and got to know each other and the staff. We had already read something about the staff in the programs so we felt like we knew them a little and it was not hard to approach them.
Photo ops: The church created a “Three Kings” themed photo booth, complete with take-home Polaroids. (I may have dressed up as one of the Magi, ahem…) Those of us who are marketers know the power of pictures, both as keepsakes and for social media purposes.
Web/tech friendly: Service was broadcast via web for those that couldn’t attend. Services and events are also archived on their website. It’s a fantastic way to engage folks who are housebound or too busy to attend. Their weekly e-newsletter is also informative and in addition to marketing their fun events, like the upcoming Mardi Gras party, contains a reminder of the times for Sunday services. Also, huge props to the social media team whose speedy response time to all of my posts about them has to be faster than 12 parsecs.
This was truly one of the friendliest and most interactive services I’ve ever attended. We enjoyed it so much that we went back again later that week — and two weeks later, we attended “Neighborhood Movie Night.” You see, this church has as many supplemental activities as they do core religious services. And that’s okay. Because we now consider ourselves parishioners. And it all started with free music and the lure of a pizza party.
Someone on that staff is thinking about how to engage people and create a real sense of community. How can we apply these lessons to the arts?