Live, Local, & Lost: Reaching People Through Media

In this article, Thom O'Leary, Pastor of Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo, CA shares tips on how to access the people in your community through local media.

Thom O'Leary

Pastor, Mountainbrook Church

My Story

It was 2001 and Easter was coming up in a few weeks.  A local radio rep for a secular broadcast company had moved to my town from Florida.  He explained how his pastor in the Sunshine State would do a 60-second spot on a variety of stations, reaching thousands of people at one time with his message.

“Want to give it a shot?” he asked.  I was willing to try anything to get the word out about Jesus, good news, and my church. “I’m in!”

17 years later, it has been the most effective tool of giving our church a presence in our community, as over 90% of first-time visitors have already heard me on the radio before they have even darkened the door of the church!

I do not have statistical research to prove it correlates, however, our church is seeing people come to Christ every weekend. That does mean new people are coming.

It May Be Cheaper Than You Think

Social media is a great way to get the word out and can be more cost effective in some instances. But there is something to be said for “local” media to be used as a powerful tool for your message.

Radio is one way, but not the only way. The great thing about radio is you can tap into different genres: rock, pop, country, news, sports, etc. I’ve been asked if it’s only older generations that hear the radio spots. Apparently not, as our local university students from Cal Poly State University San Luis Obispo hear me all the time. They play one of the stations I’m on at the university rec center—thank you, Jesus!

For television, local affiliates (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) are expensive. However, you can pick key popular shows that you want to run a spot on. On the other hand, cable companies can be super affordable at as little as five bucks a spot in smaller markets, getting on ESPN to Cartoon Network.

Speak To Felt Needs

For your local print media, newspapers, online news, and fun family magazines, attempt to write an article on something that is a “felt need,” like parenting, marriage, dealing with tragedy, etc.

I wrote an article on marriage, and mentioned how devastating and painful divorce is, but how God has a redeeming purpose in every pain.  A woman, who didn’t attend my church, stopped me in a restaurant and told me she cut out the article and put it on her nightstand to give her hope, as she had just gone through a terrible divorce.

She was now open to the gospel.

If a local newsprint uses your article, you just reached the lost for FREE!  (As in, you paid no money.)

I had one pastor living in a metropolitan area tell me that he looked into running a radio spot and that the cost was way too much, like $1,500 a spot. I live in a relatively small city of 45,000 people (about 280,000 in our county) and pay about $25 per 60-second radio spot.  You just have to figure how many people—lost people—you are reaching for the financial cost.

If you are reaching 1,500 people at $1,500, that’s a buck a head.  If you are reaching a 150,000 people, that’s a penny per soul!

How Do You Do It?

For radio, I used to write a 52-second script—tell a funny story, or a compelling story, or a moving story.  You need four seconds on the front end to introduce you, like, “This is ‘Straight from the Heart’ with Thom O’Leary, pastor of Mountainbrook Church!” Then you need four seconds to invite people to come check out your church.

I now take 52-second excerpts from a weekend message.

You can record in your church sound booth or in the radio station—for free.

For television, if you are paying them, they will film you and produce it as part of the price! So invite your TV audience to Christmas, Easter, and your Fall kick-off!

The Holy Spirit Whisper That Changed Everything

I was driving to an early morning workout, on my new discovery to reach the lost by using local media. I decided to tune into the radio station that would be playing my spot.

In a shocking moment, I heard something on the station that was so coarse, I didn’t think the FCC allowed such vocal verbiage.

I found myself repenting to God that I would somehow be connected to what was being said.

The Holy Spirit spoke to me in that moment: “Thom, I’ve called you to be a light in a dark place.”

So, I responded to the Holy Spirit, “I’m in!”


To learn more about Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo, CA, visit their website here.