Communication Case Study: The Anatomy of a Successful Christmas Offering

Date Posted: 7/23/2015

Go behind the scenes to learn how St. Luke’s UMC Houston, a recent winner in the TAC Church Communication Idea Contest, achieved a record setting offering through a creative campaign involving several ministries.
What do a chicken coop, chicken hats and a chicken challenge have to do with Christmas? They were all part of a creative “Chickens for Christmas” campaign that the communication team from St. Luke’s UMC Houston implemented to engage the hearts –and therefore, donations – of staff and members alike. The campaign raised a whopping $99,351.
Step One: Select the Offering Beneficiary and a Fitting Theme
St. Luke’s UMC Houston has been a long-time partner of ZOE Ministries that develops and implements empowerment programs for youth throughout the world. Outreach determined that the 2014 Christmas Offering was to help grow ZOE’s two-year old program in Guatemala that provides small grants to purchase chickens, seed and building materials to help youth achieve self-sufficiency.

Step Two: Determine ways to bring the offering theme to life
According to Billy McMahon, Outreach, St. Luke’s woodshop volunteers built three chicken coop displays (featuring three fake chickens, a dozen chicks and hay) to promote the upcoming offering in high traffic areas of the church. Posters were placed at each coop describing ZOE and the Christmas Offering, along with information brochures --- including mission trip dates noting how individuals could later help deliver the offering to Guatemala. Adds Bill, “We also purchased four chicken hats to use at a special Children’s ministry brunch and at our staff meeting.”
Other ways the team chose to build awareness
Staff Meeting
  • Outreach promoted the offering at monthly staff meeting with interactive activities such as a “Chicken Challenge” game with trivia questions about ZOE Guatemala (i.e. “How many eggs can a chicken lay in a year?”), and awarded Chick-fil-A gift cards as prizes. On another occasion, Outreach brought chick-shaped cookies for the staff to enjoy.
Sunday school promotion
  • Visited classes to educate on the ZOE organization and how the church is engaging in this partnership
  • Shared pictures and stories from the Guatemala site visit in August, 2014
Children’s Christmas brunch
  • Had one chicken coop on display with an activity table, allowing the kids to decorate eggs to hang on the chicken coop (some included prayers). Adds Bill, “This proved to be an important educational opportunity to inform older kids and their parents about ZOE, and a fun activity for the younger ones!”
Hosting ZOE Staff
  • December 12-14- hosted ZOE’s Executive Director Gaston Warner and Native Guatemalan missionary Carla Gonzales.
  • Hosted an informative gathering (25-30 people) for a Saturday evening dinner featuring ZOE guest speakers and attended by outreach-related lay leaders who enjoyed cuisine with a Guatemalan spin.
  • Sunday morning December 14
    • About four Sunday school classes (~50 people total) attended a “ZOE Celebration” in the Fellowship Hall with light snacks and hot cider. Both Gaston and Carla spoke and St. Luke’s media filmed it.
    • Gaston spoke in the three services to give a short video and pitch for ZOE and the Christmas Offering, which was later shared with the Gethsemane campus.  
Step Three: Develop/Implement a Communication plan and timeline
  • Started to plan in the fall and finalized materials by early November to begin promotion in December.
  • Communicated via newsletters (weekly e-bulletin, monthly Spire newsletter)
  • Sent Advent mailer with donation envelope
“In addition to our regular channels of communication including posters, hallway monitors, newsletters, worship bulletins, and our Advent mailer, the campaign was incorporated into all aspects of church life,” explains Communications director Sally Penning. “All those who spoke to small groups and Sunday school classes were given a printed card with factual talking points about ZOE. We also created a gift card so members could buy chickens in honor of a friend and send them a card. The chicken coop display was present at the family Christmas Brunch and ‘egg crafts’ were available for children, and at our two Christmas Eve services for children, a story about ZOE children was read and there was an appearance by a live chicken!”
Step Four: Follow up
After the event, a thank you article was published in the newsletter as well as the campaign results. Adds Sally, “Several months later when St. Luke’s missioners visited Guatemala, they returned with pictures of our chickens. Posters were created from these photos and they were displayed in the halls as a reminder of how donors made a big impact.”
RECAP: Elements of a successful campaign
Different ministries need to partner together. In this case it was Outreach, Children’s ministry, Worship ministry and Communications.
  1. Outline an overall plan and assign responsibilities
  2. Create a timeline and deadlines
  3. Determine appropriate content for different avenues (social media will be different than pulpit announcements, etc.)
  4. Make it fun
  5. Use an eye-catching graphic
  6. Develop a memorable tagline that is also descriptive
  7. Make givers feel that they are making a difference
  8. Provide substantive information about the organization and gifts
  9. Incorporate the campaign into all aspects of church life
    1. Messages from the pulpit
    2. Online giving
    3. Hallway displays
    4. Presentations to Sunday School classes – slide show and talking points
    5. Invite representatives from the organization to attend church
    6. Printed materials in the pews, at welcoming centers (both English and Spanish versions were provided)
    7. Specific activities for children
  10. Follow up
    1. Say thank you to those who participated
    2. Announce results of campaign
    3. Show the results
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