Going Dutch – 4 Church Communications lessons to learn from Amsterdam

Going Dutch – 4 Church Communications lessons to learn from Amsterdam

What Church Communications lessons can we learn from the ‘crashey’ Dutch capital?

Last week I had the privilege of a short visit to Amsterdam.

With a couple of friends, I spent the morning touring the ISE exhibition, seeking out new equipment, as well as being wowed by some brilliant technological advances.

After lunch, we took the opportunity to head in to the city centre, and it was here that I fell in love. The place is bursting with culture and cool, and I’m convinced I want to move there at some point. This week has seemed a lot duller in comparison – with no more European day trips for now.

Me and a friend relaxing in Amsterdam

Still, this has afforded me the opportunity to reflect on my brief time in Holland, and in particular, some of the ‘lessons’ our church comms team could learn from the city, as well as perhaps the church as a whole.

I’m well aware that no place is perfect, not least a city with a notorious red-light district, but these lessons seemed like reason enough to write a blog post, as well as to sprinkle a couple of my photos throughout – as if I needed an excuse. So let’s get in to it!

4 Church Communications Lessons from Amsterdam

Relax

First off, Amsterdam is relaxed – it’s chilled, casual, and certainly not up-tight. Churches often aren’t, and even when they are, we can give the impression that we’re not.

Take a seat for these Church Communications lessons from Holland

Relaxed vibes come from the church’s mindset and the views of its people, and I wish more churches could just chill a little bit. Wouldn’t it be great if our own accepting atmosphere could originate from the diversity and freedom that our gospel affords! So often this is severely lacking, and an up-tight culture is often reflective of a legalistic approach.

This is also linked to being open – there are many parts of church life that we should hold on to, not least the truths of scripture and the public teaching of these, in addition to the outworking of the Great Commission both locally and further afield.

With this said, there are also many things that we hold on to just as strongly, that should perhaps be held with a slightly looser grip: traditions that ‘make’ our church – for example, service times and formats, or styles of sung worship. There is a danger that these become the defining factors, rather than our churches being defined by the gospel being preached, for God’s glory.

We need to maintain this as the focus of our church life, as well as how we communicate ‘who our church is’ through all of our methods of communication.

Culture

In the few hours that we wandered around the city, it was clear that Amsterdam is a cultural hub. This is understated, not something that has been intentionally fabricated or branded. Unlike ‘hipster’ hangouts such as Shoreditch, there’s nothing superficial or fake about the ‘cool’ of the city, moreover something about the feel of the place oozes inspiration and creative vibes.

How great would it be if our churches could be recognised for this same atmosphere, and for the creative arts, reflecting the very nature of our creator God.

Culture in an Amsterdam gallery

Of course, creativity for the sake of creativity could become an idol, and it can definitely be given too much focus, but we have a much better motive. We can use our God-given gifts to creatively reach the people He has placed around us, to engage with the culture we have been placed in.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that churches who effectively use the creativity of their congregations come across as much more relaxed, friendly environments: which leads me neatly on to

Friendly

Pretty much everyone we interacted with in Amsterdam was very welcoming, speaking good English and showing genuine kindness.

Now perhaps I’m just acclimatised to living in the South of the UK where strangers are rarely friendly, but this was an extremely pleasant change – we had brilliant banter with some locals in a charming little pizza restaurant, as well as a good laugh with taxi drivers on several journeys.

For a start, we need to speak people’s language, rather than expecting them to adapt to how we interact with those that we’ve known for years and see every week. We need to meet visitors where they’re at, and we also should be wanting to talk to them! I’ve seen too many visitors awkwardly hovering with no one to talk to, when we should be looking out for them, and making sure they’re feeling welcomed, with their needs being met. For a good read on this, check out ‘Unwelcome’ from Church Marketing Sucks.

A friendly bird in Amsterdam

This, of course, applies to our digital church communications too. We should aim to be friendly, fun, and, for lack of a better word, normal. We should be engaging with people in the style and language that they’d expect for your given medium, be it Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, Youtube or anything else.

We should be aiming for friendliness in every encounter we have with people, online or offline, making sure that each person experiences God’s love through us.

Environmentally conscious

I know it’s a cliché that the Netherlands is full of bikes, but it’s so true. In Amsterdam, they are literally everywhere. Everywhere.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to say this means the city is aware of the environment, just because bicycles are so prominent, but let’s go with it.

Churches, traditionally, aren’t great at this – but there’s likely a lot we could be doing for the environment that our God has created, and whilst this is enough reason to be giving it consideration, this can be a great witness to those around us. 

Anyway, these are some of the things that came to mind, perhaps if I go back again I’ll think of some more. What about you, have you ever visited Amsterdam, can you think of any more? Comment below!

4 Responses

  1. Marjolein

    Hey Joe, thanks for that. I am glad you had a good time.
    We were there in January.
    It is a great place. I love the bike thing, though in some of the places it was like an infestation. The road our hotel was in had lots of student flats.
    It is interesting to note that it was very hard to find fellowship. There was something very ‘old’, and one which was not quite on the map.
    ?

  2. Interesting – its been a while since I was in Holland. I guess at our best our churches can be all 4 of these ideas all at once. But more often we are not …. So although tradition is great, we can be emotionally attached to things like service times (and the opposite of relaxed) …. Or indeed I have seen and church settings where are are “too friendly” and rapidly form an impenetrable circle around the poor soul who has wandered in to church with the aim of ensuring they are “thoroughly welcomed” whereas they in fact can end up rather alarmed. (and so really the opposite of friendly) … Must put it on my list of places to go back to.

  3. Marjolein

    Have just been in the Netherlands again, to see my family. That was right to the east of the country.
    Just from Mon/Fri. Of course I loved being in my country, it is a way to feeling at home you cannot achieve anywhere else. In the light of that, I would say that if you have foreign visitors, it is good to engage with them in an accepting way. NOT, in the way some people do, Oh we English are so awful, blah blah. Everyone knows that is tripe. But really engage with people. There is a lot of ‘politeness’ which smacks of actually disengagement with the people themselves.
    So whether you come across temporary residents or permanent staying foreigners, real engagement as human beings makes a difference to them and will effect your church.

    In the days I was able to attend a large London church, I was stopped on exiting the place and asked for my name and place of living at the time – and which uni I attended. This was 1967. I told them where I came from and where I lived, and….. that I did not study in the college, but kept it clean. Being ‘dropped like a hot brick’ was the the word for what happened to me. I was not the one they wanted to meet. What I am saying with this, be sure what you aim for. Are you trying to be in contact with people in order to lead them to Christ, or do you want to have the name of a church which is the refuge for intellectuals. This is just a little example of getting it wrong. As it happened, the Lord saved me when I attended a Baptist chapel in Brixton. Incidentally, as a sideline, they would baptise members from that large church who wanted to be obedient to God.

    You need a range of people on board in the welcoming. You don’t have to make home from home, but, the welcome should be real and from the heart. Not in a ‘I want to be your bosom buddy’ way, that will give the wrong idea. That would not be real. And some knowledge of foreign ways does help.
    A welcome from the heart, of God, is great. And no special treatment, which indicates that you are more special than homegrown visitors, that too is not real. Always remembering, before God we are equal.
    When I have been given very special treatment, which had the effect of setting me apart from other people, that was not nice either.

    I must stop. Very pleased with your latest good fortune/result of hard work!
    M

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