Very few children in the United States grew up without seeing at least one of the 912 episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Few people in the entertainment industry lived such a righteous yet humble life as Fred Rogers. His show taught us many things and reassured us through tough times. But what can your digital ministry learn from a neighbor like this man? Here are four ideas to take from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to our own church communications team.
Substance, Not Flash
If you ever saw an episode, you know how low the production value was. It was a cheap set, there were no special effects, and all the voice acting was done by one person. The only technology seemed to be a remote-controlled trolley. Yes, there were special guests and trips to off-set locations. But at the core, it was one person spending quality time with you.
The latest design trends may make your website and social media space look nice. But without real content, you will appear hollow. Accurate content with regular updates shows more about a church than any fancy logo. Sometimes a website redesign is not the answer. Solid storytelling and consistent updates say more to prospective members. As I said in many other articles, the basics matter most.
Know Your Audience
The obvious audience for this show was young children. While the message of love and acceptance resonates with us all, Fred was talking to kids. Few people understood a child’s fears, innocence, and curiosity like him. He knew it was not funny hats or zany antics that would capture a child’s attention. It was a real understanding of emotions that drew in the audience. Also, Mister Rogers did not talk about something. He did it. He did not talk about racism. He invited a black man to join him at his little pool. He did not preach how good people go to heaven. He addressed the fears young children have about losing loved ones.
These profound actions have a big impact if you know your audience. Know the neighborhood around your church. Examine census information. Conduct surveys. Talk to people that attend local events. Create or update your personas. Work with ministries to create and publicize outreach programs. Then reach your target audiences on as many relevant digital platforms as necessary.
Preach without Preaching
Most of us know that Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. His show was playing on the popular Biblical phrase “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Yet his message never came across as preaching. Many of these shows touched on the same messages of love and acceptance that Jesus preached. This approach appealed to all audiences, as we all can connect the emotions he talked about.
There are many ways we can share the love of the Gospel without mentioning Jesus. This is likely the easiest way to attract the un-churched or those that have lost their faith. Posting Bible verses is not comforting to those that do not believe it. There are many ways to show support that are not related to religion. Do not preach about caring for the poor, widows, and orphans. Instead, show how you are helping food drives, women’s shelters, and adoption workshops. You can help even if your church does not have ministries involved with these. Share their social media posts and mention them on your website. Offer real help instead of just lip service.
Tackle Tough Topics With Love
Mister Rogers discussed many tough topics on the show. Racism, disabilities, divorce, war, and death were all brought out for children to see. By discussing these in the open, he made them less scary for them. His soothing voice reassured us that while their pain was real, things would get better. And for 30 minutes, we completely believed him.
There are many tough topics facing Christians in our country and around the world. Many hot-button topics abound, with few solutions available. A compassionate message from your pastor can help your church become a beacon of hope. For the greatest impact, use video on your website and social media to spread the Church’s love. For more ideas, see my article on Letting Love Shine on your Website.
Take a few notes from Fred Rogers’ playbook. He was a master at storytelling and empathy. The level of understanding of how children think and what they feel was unparalleled. He also has the distinction of being a popular celebrity that lived a good life. He preached a Christian message without saying God, Jesus, or the Bible. Use his methods to reach out to un-churched people in your community. Show them what it means to love your neighbor as yourself by using our favorite neighbor’s catchphrase. “Won’t you be my neighbor?”