Short and sweet: too often churches think they don't have the resources to professionalize aspects of their ministry. Here are a few things you can do to improve your church for less than $2,500 total.
First, improve your Web site. We were able to vastly improve our Web site in no time by using Clover (www.cloversites.com). Their preset designs are clean, image-driven, and appeal to younger eyes. You edit your site from any browser - no special software needed. They support Google Analytics, a free tool from Google that lets you get incredibly detailed reports (I can tell you that in the last 30 days my church's site at www.englewoodpres.org received 490 unique visitors who saw an average of 4.53 pages and stayed for 3 minutes and 51 seconds). Even better, your site automatically maps to a version designed for mobile browsers (20% of our hits are now coming from iOS or Android devices). The startup cost? Only $1,000, plus $240/year. So far we've spent $1,240. (Here's a hint: ask a couple of your shutterbug members to start taking pictures. Lots of pictures. Of everything around and in your church - during worship, at social events, crowd shots, solo shots, artsy pictures of objects like chandeliers and stained glass - you'll need a lot of interesting pictures to create an interesting site.)
Second, add a pager system to your nursery. Parents, especially visitors, are attracted to a secure nursery. A pager system gives parents the comfort of knowing they can be reached if needed. We opted for the SmartCall system from HME Wireless (www.hmewireless.com) because it allows sending any one of eight preset text messages. This way you can communicate with parents for a variety of reasons ("please come" or "diaper need") - the message that sold me was "Baby OK", so if a child is upset when the parents leave, you can inform them that their child has settled down. The cost of a 12-pager system was just under $1,000. To make the system work, order nursery labels from www.churchnursery.com. These labels serve as an identifier and a "claim check" for the child. A pack of sequentially numbered stickers/stubs is $30. So that adds another $1,030 to what we spent before, bringing us to $2,270.
Third, add parking attendants on busy days. Unless you have more parking than you ever need, you need to have a crew out there letting people know when the lot is full (so they can drop their passengers) and then directing them toward on-street parking. This is especially important on Christmas Eve and Easter. We use volunteer attendants of course, but they are equipped with safety vests (from Amazon.com, $7, Boston Industrial Safety Vest with Reflective Strips - Lime Green) and flashlights with signal cones (also from Amazon.com, $6, Dorcy 41-1482 2D Deluxe Krypton Flashlight with Safety Cone). We have three sets for a total of $39. Now we've spent $2,309.
Fourth, use press releases and invite local reporters to your events. This one costs you nothing. I participated in a podcast with Chris Walker of evangelismcoach.org a couple of years ago on press releases (link here) - and the beauty is that these are free. But another simple piece of follow-up is to invite local reporters to your events. Here is a link to a great article that was just published in a local paper about our Thanksgiving celebration. Why did the reporter and photographer come? We asked. It cost nothing so we're still at $2,309.
Fifth, set up tables and chairs at your coffee hour. I've said it before and I can't stress it enough. Provide seating at your coffee hour; don't make it a mostly-standing event. When people sit, they talk. When they talk, they connect. When they connect, they return. And use large tables, preferably the 60" rounds that seat 8. Why? Because people are hesitant to join strangers at a small table, but a large table implicitly invites people to take any empty seat. So how am I going to spend that last $191 to get us to $2,500? On a supply of tablecloths. They can be disposable vinyl tablecloths; buy a stash at a dollar store, replace them frequently. But a bare table is uninviting.
There you have it. $2,500 and you have a professional-looking Web site, a more secure nursery that is attractive to young families, provide a better welcome on busy days, free publicity through press coverage, and a better environment for your guests to connect. There's no reason not to do these things. Now.