I was at a church planting event some years ago when someone asked, “Tell me what you do.” Saying “I plant churches” didn’t seem to capture what I was doing, since I was already coaching other leaders and leading the occasional workshop on evangelism and church growth. But to be honest, I wasn’t prepared and I stumbled a bit. My “elevator speech” hadn’t yet been honed.
For the uninitiated, an elevator speech is a thirty-second to two-minute response to “Who are you?” and/or “What do you do?” It’s your chance to share your heart, your mission, and/or your vision with someone who’s actually interested. And that means you had better make a good impression.
Since my fumbled opportunity, I’ve discovered that many, if not most, pastors get a bit tongued tied when they’re in a similar situation … especially if they’re caught off guard by someone who’s thoroughly unchurched.
The following paragraphs come from Robert W. Bly’s Marketing Handbook. One of the students in my Pastoral Leadership class shared this with me. It was such a good plan for putting together a great elevator speech, that I just had to share it.
First, begin with the words “Do you know? The question “Do you know” identifies the main point or need that you can address. Let’s say your concern is about middle aged women who may be separated, divorced, or widowed, in your area. The next question might be, “Do you know, when women get divorced, or make an attempt to re-enter the community after many years of depending on their husbands, they are overwhelmed by all the decisions they have to make?”
The second part of the formula is the statement that begins with the words “What I do” or “What we do”, followed by a clear description of the service you can deliver. “What we do is to help women to get control of their lives and achieve their goals.”
Third, present a big benefit using the words “so that”. Here’s what the whole thing sounds like. “Do you know when women, when women get divorced, or make an attempt to re-enter the community after many years of depending on their husbands, they are overwhelmed by the decisions they have to make? What we do is help women gain control of their finances and achieve their personal financial and investment goals, so that they can stay in the houses they have lived in all their adult lives, have enough income to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle, and be free of money worries.
Robert W. Bly Marketing Plan Handbook.
So, let’s put this into Pastor Speak. What could it look like for someone like you?
“Do you know, when some people hit hard times in their lives and then spiral down into some really dark places? What we do is help people like that discover hope, rediscover their purpose, and get them the tools they need so they can live a full and abundant life.”
In my case, my elevator speech sounds like this: “Do you know how some pastors are frustrated after years of struggling to lead their churches into growth? What we do is help pastors hone their leadership skills so they can inspire, motivate, and lead their churches into sustainable growth.”
Share your elevator speech in the comments section below and let’s compare.
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“Do you know how the universe always seems at odds with itself: relationships are broken, cultures clash and people often seem to be hurting? Well, what I do is share with people the good news of Jesus who gave up his life to heal the brokenhearted, redeem the culture, and restore our relationships, both with God the Father and with each other, so that people can have peace today and the hope of eternal life!” Thoughts? Good example, not so good?
Luke, read that back to yourself out loud as if you were an unbeliever, a skeptic, or maybe even a cynic.
How do you think you’d respond?
I was baptized an infant. I’m not sure I know how to do that as you’re suggesting. I’m assuming not well based on how you are asking the question. So, is it the negative feel of the broken talk or the overtly clear reference to Jesus that’s the bigger issue?
Luke, if you’re going to reach the unchurched then it’s time to start hanging out with them enough so you can learn to think like them. It’s the only way you’re going to learn to relate to the Nones. Evangelism depends on it. (I strongly recommend two things: (1) Beginning in March I teach an eight-week online course in Evangelism for the Mid-America Center for Ministry. That would be a great help to your church growth efforts. (2) Get George Hunter’s Celtic Way of Evangelism. It’s a GREAT book (and one of the textbooks for the evangelism class) that speaks to the need of becoming immersed in the culture you’re trying to reach before you try to reach it.)
With that said, let’s talk about your elevator speech.
First, it’s pretty wordy and written more for the eye than for the ear. I’m “guessing” in a real conversation, you don’t speak like that. For instance, rarely do we actually use the “three things in a list” when we’re in the midst of conversation.
Second, you use words no one but us church geeks use. “Redeem,” “good news,” “restore” and “eternal life” are pretty much reserved for church folk, though you may hear “restore” in 12-step work and therapeutic settings. Put them all together and you have stepped into being so heavenly minded that the only thing that will get rolling is the eyes of those you’re speaking to.
Finally, the speech is pretty esoteric. Although having “peace” is one of most people’s desires, it falls pretty far down the list for most unchurched folk most of the time (and honestly for most of us churched folks too). Instead, we have a desire for real-world problem solving as well as a need for meaning. They (and we) want our relationships to work; our lives to matter and make a difference; to have good things and to be able to give good things; to fill the emptiness and the loneliness that’s on the inside, even though we’re with our loved ones; to have as much money as there is month; for our kids to grow up and be great adults; and for us to grow up and be great adults. And if we’re going to invest in a religion, it had better be more than something we do one day a week. “My” religion had better touch every part of my life and be worth sacrificing myself for.
A good elevator speech doesn’t need to give everything away. The point of the speech is to encourage further conversation, and that won’t happen if you get labeled a church geek, fanatic, or gung-ho Christian.
In addition, the speech is meant to be personal. It’s great that Christianity promises to deliver world peace someday, but your listener wants to know what’s in it for them today. So instead of starting with the universe, start with your audience … at least ostensibly. And, if you’re well prepared, you’ll adjust your speech based on your audience.
“You know how so many folks get to our age and realize they’re not where they thought they’d be at this point in their life? Well, what I do is help people revive their dreams and make choices so they live their life knowing they made a huge difference.” (spoken to a Baby Boomer)
“You know how some young families are struggling to invest in their professional life and still do right by their kids? Well, what I do is help families evaluate their priorities and then get them lined up so they can accomplish what they believe is really important.” (spoken to a thirty-something)
Both of those open the door to future conversations that may (or may not) turn spiritual … at least not until they’re ready for that level of conversation.
Now, you try. What could you say to a forty-ish year old guy who’s in the slow moving buffet line? He’s dressed in camo and you’ve overheard him say he and his eleven-year-old son just got back from an unfruitful hunting trip. He turns, catches your eye, and asks, “So what keeps you busy during the week?”
“You know how a lot of youngsters today don’t have a dad to take them outdoors like your son does? Well, what I do is help connect those kids with responsible men who are willing to take time out of their busy schedules so that they can teach those kids the value of the outdoors and, for at least a short time, be for them the father they never had.”
The problem I have with it is, while there are churches that have men’s groups that teach men to be men, I’m not sure any of them get that specific. Although I will add, we have a Trail Life troop that our church sponsors. So it may be more plausible than I think.
The question is … is that really what you do?
It’s pretty good, though, if you do. Certainly you did a good job of avoiding coded or creepy language.
“Have you ever noticed that in this day and age real relationships often times get pushed to the back burner? I spend my time helping people build relationships that make a difference in their lives. I help people build relationships with the holy – and with one another – wherever you are, wherever you go. We look at some of the most ancient principles for living and make them relevant for where you are today. Creating a relationship that matters makes life better – for you and the person you are just about to meet! Let’s talk!
Great job David. I’d suggest that it’s maybe a bit long – only because memorizing it to share could be problematic, but I love the theme.
Thanks!! In a related topic, I teach that virtually everyone will be asked a couple times a week to speak about their church. Or at least the door is opened. “How was you weekend? Do you have any plans for the weekend?” I stress to not be too heavy handed or insistent or people won’t ask again. And always be gentle enough to give an “off ramp”. Example – “I am really looking forward to serving at the food pantry with my church. It always is so meaningful. Of course, I will watch the football game too!” Of course I focus on this as a process and very seldom a result after one comment. So each short statement is intended to ‘plow the ground’ so the next one will be better received.