APPLYING MARKETING PRINCIPLES TO OUTREACH PROGRAMS
For those of us working outside the business world, the term “marketing” usually means advertising and personal selling. These two activities are often equated with the marketing function as a whole because they touch our daily lives so frequently. Marketing is much more than advertising and personal selling, however. As Philip Kotler points out, marketing’s job is to facilitate exchanges between people, between organizations, or between people and organizations-marketing does not so much involve a specific set of skills, methods, policies, and institutional arrangements as it does a way of doing things.
At first glance much of the terminology permeating traditional marketing literature would seem inappropriate or unrelated to the functions of a church and its outreach programs. Taking the opposite point of view, it is our belief that the terminology and, more importantly, underlying principles and techniques are not only appropriate to the outreach functions of the church but they are also essential.
Indeed, we will go so far as to state that, relative to churches in general, marketing-oriented churches are more sensitive than other churches to the needs of the members of the congregation as well as to the needs of other groups with which churches interact.
The Meaning of Marketing
The marketing-oriented business firm can be defined in terms of seven distinguishing characteristics:
1. It is sensitive to the needs of its consumers.
2. It identifies homogeneous groups of consumers and designs marketing programs to serve them.
3. It specifies quantifiable objectives and clearly articulated strategies.
4. It facilitates the flow of information to and from consumers.
5. It adopts a marketing mix (a term to be defined later) best suited to its customers, its strengths, and its resources.
6. It follows a marketing plan.
7. It controls and evaluates marketing programs.
Now let’s translate these statements into seven related statements which characterize the “marketing-oriented” church (A reader uncomfortable with the term “marketing-oriented” might substitute “outreach-oriented. ” We are comfortable with either term but use marketing-oriented because this is, after all, a
article on church marketing and because the connection between the marketing activities of companies and churches should be made as obvious as possible.):
1. It develops and maintains sensitivity to church members
2. It identifies and serves homogeneous groups inside and outside the church.
3. It specifies numerical objectives and clearly stated strategies for church programs and activities.
4. It emphasizes information flows to and from the public.
5. It employs marketing tactics to enhance program success.
6. It prepares and follows a marketing plan.
7. It controls and evaluates its marketing program.
In the following paragraphs each characteristic is briefly explained.
1 . Developing and maintaining church members sensitivity
In contrast to the old “sell ’em what you got” philosophy, today’s sophisticated business marketers know that their chances of success are far greater if they find out exactly what consumers want and then produce products and services to fulfill those wants. Similarly, in the religious sphere, the marketing-oriented church does not take its congregation for granted. It systematically determines who its members are and the nature of their spiritual, material, and social needs. At some initial point in time it asks questions of members of the congregation, and it gets answers. Then periodically the questions are asked again. What kinds of questions might be asked? Here are some examples:
How old are members of the congregation?
Where do they live?
Where do they work?
How many children do they have , and what are their ages?
Where do the children go to school?
Where do they go to college?
Do they like variety and change in services, or do they
prefer a more traditional approach?
What benefits do parishioners expect from their church?
What do parishioners think is expected of them in return?
Why do parishioners go to this church?
What are the problems of church going in general?
What are the problems of going to this church in particular?
With the answers to these questions before them, church leaders can design and implement the kinds of programs which successfully fill the needs of the many groups the church serves.
2. Finding and serving homogeneous groups. It is not enough today for the business firm to know what products and services consumers want generally, because there can be important differences in specific wants from one group of consumers to another even though in general desires are much the same. Similarly, the marketing-oriented church should identify relatively homogeneous groups within the congregation, determine their special needs, and then meet those needs within the church’s overall strategy. In order to apply a policy of identifying and serving homogeneous groups, the church leader must realize that he or she has a farm rather than a flock. Some of the people in the congregation are sheep, granted, but others are cattle and horses. (And, perhaps, some are even goats!) Treating all animals on a farm as if they were sheep would surely produce bad results. Can’t a similar statement be made about a church?
3. Specifying numerical objectives and clearly stated strategies. One gains the impression that church leaders rarely attempt to specify marketing objectives at all, let alone objectives stated in quantifiable terms. Similarly, they don’t appear to realize that they are following a marketing strategy, even if it’s just the one implicit in the church’s operating style. When objectives are not clearly specified and church
leaders do not adopt explicit, written marketing strategies, implicit strategies which often fit the church, its
congregation, and its time and locality rather well are traded in for other, more faddish methods of operation. The frequent result of poor strategy combined with the absence of clearly specified objectives is a decline in membership and financial support. To be truly marketing oriented, church leaders should
define strategies unambiguously, and the results anticipated from strategy components should be stated as expected numerical and percentage changes.
4. Emphasizing information flow. The marketing-oriented church reaches out to listen and to inform. It manages the flow of information to and from its publics in the sense that a specified individual is responsible for the church’s overall communication program. In practical terms, emphasizing information flows means that a systematic but inexpensive procedure is constructed to learn about members of the congregation, about the aspects of the church they particularly like, and about the aspects with which they are dissatisfied. Finally, emphasizing information flows implies that all forms of mass communication, such as bulletins, newsletters, and advertising should be coordinated in terms of appearance, purpose, and quality level.
5. Employing a marketing mix. Earlier the expression “marketing mix” was used. Let us define the mix here as “the set of factors influencing consumer demand for a company’s product over which it has some degree of control.” Usually, the mix would include advertising, personal selling, sales promotion (such as contests, coupons, free samples, fancy displays), product quality and features, pricing, and distribution.
(Whether to market a product direct to retailers or to wholesalers and then to retailers is a question of
distribution.) For the company, marketing mix decisions are tactical. Examples of tactical marketing decisions are how much money to spend on advertising, what media to use, and the timing of advertising placement (June vs. December, for example). Another example of a marketing mix decision in the
area of sales promotion is whether to introduce a new product by using a free sample or a coupon.
The marketing-oriented church also employs a coordinated set of marketing tactics which is in harmony with its basic strategy. Although the church’s marketing mix differs in particulars from the marketing mix of a company, the basic components are similar. Where the company might use advertising and personal selling to communicate with its customers, the marketing-oriented church utilizes mass communications media such as bulletins, newsletters, mailouts, and advertising. It also employs interpersonal communications methods which are similar to personal selling (consider the annual canvass as one example).
Another component of the church’s marketing mix is sales promotion (which is employed by business firms to gain product trial, to forestall competition, to attract attention, and to build organizational morale). Consider some examples of church “promotions,” such as fairs and bazaars, revivals, contests, and
attendance prizes. These events and awards are clearly promotional and are co ducted for many of the same reasons promotions are conducted by business firms. They are normally well publicized; they often result in increased church membership, and they almost always build morale.
“Product policy” is also an element of the church’s marketing mix, although one which is given too little emphasis.
The church’s “products” are its major programs-for example, youth fellowship groups or Christian education-and the specific activities which are represented in major programs. The marketing-oriented church should take a systematic approach both to the discovery and development of new product ideas and to the abandonment of products (programs) which have outlived their usefulness.
The “price” element of the church’s marketing mix differs markedly from the corresponding element in the marketing mix of a firm because churches don’t normally charge a dollar price for their programs. However, there is an implicit price involved with religious activity which churches frequently
ignore: the time required of individuals who provide or consume the services produced in church programs.
If a program requires hours and hours of meetings or is held at an inconvenient time or place, its “time price” is high. When activities have high time prices, reduced participation can be expected. Conversely, when time prices are Low, participation levels should be high. The key point here is that, where possible, church leaders should attempt to lower time prices of church programs. If substantial time input reductions are achieved with no reduction in services received from programs and if the reductions are well publicized, increased participation should result. Similarly, when a church contemplates mounting a new program, serious consideration should be given to its expected time price and how the price can be minimized.
Distribution strategy is an important element of the church’s marketing mix, and the criterion for selecting a distribution channel option for a given program is similar to that of the business firm: provide a program to the greatest number of parishioners at the lowest cost to them and to the organization providing the program. The marketing-oriented church may wish to adopt several channel strategies to meet the
criterion of maximum consumer satisfaction at minimum cost. For example, although programs of worship would normally be distributed directly to parishioners, community action program support in terms of money, goods, and contributed time might be distributed most effectively through a service organization
located where the needs are (a Salvation Army mission, for example).
6. Preparing and implementing a marketing plan. The church’s marketing plan should incorporate an overview of the situation, a statement of objectives, a description of the strategy or strategies to be followed, and details about the tactics necessary to achieve goals. These details include specific activities to be accomplished, dates, individuals responsible, and resource needs. The church marketing plan should also indicate benchmarks to be accomplished and the dates when measurements should be taken. Essentially a church marketing plan is a component of the strategic plan for the church.
7. Controlling and evaluating the marketing program. Control involves establishing appropriate benchmarks for marketing programs and then ensuring that they’re met. Benchmarks are established in the marketing plan. They may be stated in terms of the results anticipated from an activity by a
specific date. For other activities where specification of results is unnecessary or inappropriate, benchmarks are best stated in terms of task accomplishment. For control to be effective, intermediate goals must be achievable, performance must be measured; and when benchmarks are not reached, questions must be raised.
Putting Ideas to Work
Now I would like to offer several specific, practical proposals to enable a church to become more marketing oriented. Because of space limitations, a broad-brush approach is taken. Only the outlines of procedures are given, leaving the details to be filled in from two general sources: (1) books and periodicals listed in the Bibliography, and (2) marketing professionals in the church’s own congregation. Issues considered in this section are: image, organization, target groups definition, and differentiated marketing. Several of
these concepts have been borrowed from the now-classic article on marketing in nonprofit organizations by Kotler and Levy.”
The Problem and Opportunity of “Image”
“Image” is best defined as the church’s personality. Image is the picture that comes to mind when the church’s name is mentioned. It is generally considered to be based on a number of characteristics of the church, its program, and its congregation.
How often have you heard one church described as “cold and aloof” and another as a “warm and friendly place”? The first church’s image is obviously negative , and its leaders would surely try to change the image if they knew the church was perceived as a cold and aloof place. The church in the second example has a
positive image. If leaders of that church were aware of its image, they’d surely work to maintain and enhance it.
A negative image makes it difficult for a church to replenish its membership and achieve program objectives. On the other hand, a positive image supports steady congregational growth, enhances the church’s ability to reach program goals, and brings people to services on Sunday. A church’s image may
not be truly representative of reality, but more often than not it is an accurate, if somewhat incomplete, snapshot of a more complete and detailed structure. If a church has a negative image, in most cases there are important characteristics of its facilities, its programs, its congregation, or its surroundings that are viewed unfavorably by a significant number of people.
Image is difficult to change; change is a slow process, and permanent change can be accomplished only by changing underlying factors. Temporary changes in image may be accomplished by changing communications tactics, however. To the extent that such modifications are only cosmetic and don’t
reflect substantive changes in underlying factors, they may produce disastrous results with the church being perceived even more negatively after the image change is attempted.
Before image can be modified, it should be accurately measured. Several types of attitude scales have been developed for this purpose. A questionnaire with statements like the examples is helpful:
Centerville Church is a progressive church
Agree 1 2 3 4 5 6 Disagree
The congregation of Centerville Church is young
Agree 1 2 3 4 5 6 Disagree
Other approaches are equally effective. The interested reader is advised to consult books by Kotler and Churchill for guidance in the construction of attitude scales. The main point to be made here is that church leaders should have a valid assessment at hand before any attempt is made to change a negative image or to use a positive image as a framework for marketing strategy development.
Constructing a Marketing Organization
Ideally the marketing-oriented church should have a marketing organization corresponding to the marketing organization of a business firm. It should have a chief marketing officer and individuals responsible for mass communication (both internal and external media), for interpersonal communication (personal contact), for information acquisition (surveys and monitoring of external developments),
and for programs (development of new programs and evaluation of old ones).
Normally the pastor is the church’s chief marketing officer (in very large churches an associate pastor or business manager might perform this function). Whichever church leader serves as chief marketing officer, building a marketing organization should not be difficult for it will be discovered that many existing
committees already perform the functions.
Implementation of the functional organizational structure may just involve changing some committee names and adding new responsibilities or subtracting old ones. Alternatively, and perhaps more wisely, committee names and structure may be retained, but tasks and responsibilities may be reassigned from one committee to another (or added in cases where they were previously nonexistent). If the church’s
committee structure doesn’t correspond to the exhibit and a decision is made to alter the structure , the leaders of the church have a more difficult task. To get the job done in this case, employ the three p’s: planning, patience, and perseverance!
The organizational structure is uncluttered and has direct lines of authority. This type of simple structure may be used by the very large church where committees (and perhaps subcommittees) report to each of the functional directors shown in the exhibit. It may also be used by the very small church where a single lay leader performs more than one of the functions shown. Regardless of the size of the organization, it is essential that functions are clearly defined and effectively performed.
In the following paragraphs the purpose of each function in the marketing organization exhibit is discussed. In addition, recommendations are made for accomplishing the objectives associated with each of the functions.
Information acquisition. The committee responsible for information acquisition is the church’s eyes and ears. It is responsible for collecting, processing, and interpreting data to establish policies and design programs. One of the responsibilities of the information acquisition committee is to maintain a profile on each individual and household in the congregation. Facts useful for constructing a profile are age,
occupation, number of children, educational accomplishment, employer, previous place of residence, and length of time in the congregation. Addresses are also useful because they show the “neighborhood” of the church (the area from which it draws parishioners) and the average distances members of the congregation travel to and from church. It is important to know about the church’s neighborhood to anticipate the effects of change resulting from local area population shifts. Distance traveled may have an important impact on the program attendance, especially as energy costs increase relative to prices of other commodities.
It is important to know the characteristics of the congregation, but it is equally as important to determine how church members perceive the church and its programs. General attitudes are normally best measured in small group sessions held in the homes of church members. These sessions should not be completely open-ended, and some direction is productive. A guide sheet should be used for that purpose by the leader of small group sessions. Normally eight to twelve participants will produce good interaction.
Answers to specific questions can be obtained using the more formal questionnaire approach. In terms of
representativeness of the sample of respondents, speed of completion, and expense, the best results are obtained from telephone surveys. If mail is used, however, be sure to follow up. Two cautions about collecting information are in order. First, unless a crucial issue has arisen, don’t overdo direct information gathering; conducting a comprehensive survey once every three years is probably sufficient. Second, seek the help of an experienced research professional before group interviews or surveys are conducted; results will be better. Such persons are often found in the congregations of large churches. Other sources of help with surveys are denominational offices and departments of business, economics, psychology, or sociology at nearby colleges or universities. Students in these departments are often looking for opportunities to do survey research in the community, and they can produce good results at a low cost. Also faculty members at local colleges and universities frequently consult in these areas.
Other useful information acquisition activities are collecting data on trends and issues in religion at the local, denominational, and ecumenical levels. At the local level, activities of other churches can be monitored through their bulletins and newsletters. These media provide good program ideas and may help the church avoid scheduling conflicts with major events of other churches. Obviously bulletins and
newsletters from other churches may also serve as models for a church’s own communications media.
Church leaders can maintain an awareness of events taking place at the denominational level by examining
information from the denomination’s offices. Awareness of events in the wider sphere of religion in national life can be maintained by monitoring the more general religious literature. Local denominational and national sources of information should be examined regularly and systematically. To accomplish this
objective, divide up the monitoring task so that each individual responsible for information acquisition has only a small and easily managed part of the total job. Recognize time pressures. Give each member of the committee only as much work to do as can be done comfortably, and avoid duplication in assignments. Each member of the committee should screen only a part of all the information flowing to the church. Important items should be abstracted and made available to church leaders and to the committee as a whole.
Personal contact. The personal contact committee is the church’s sales organization. It is responsible for recruiting, training, and motivating the volunteer workers needed to staff church programs. This committee should also be responsible for actively managing “people-to-people” activities, such as the
annual canvass and evangelism programs.
One benefit of having personal contact confined to a single committee is that, through their experiences, members become specialists. Another benefit is that members of the committee can more easily keep tabs on the activities of all volunteer workers so that the church’s work can be more equitably shared.
Because the sales management function is the activity in business most resembling the management of personal contact activities in voluntary organizations, the literature on selling and sales management is a useful source of ideas, principles, and techniques. Books about motivating volunteers are also helpful for training you staff. If there is a sales manager in the congregation, solicit his or her help in establishing a
personal contact committee.
Mass communication. The committee performing this function might also be called the publications or public relations committee. Its primary purpose is coordinating all the church’s mass communications media to ensure timeliness, quality of production, and consistency of format. Committee members would be responsible for the design and format of bulletins, newsletters, mass mailings, and advertising.
To staff this committee, the same basic principles recommended for staffing other committees should be followed. In this particular case, however, individuals from the congregation should be recruited who have experience in advertising or public relations. Alternatively, those who have TV, radio, or newspaper
experience have good potential. Clearly the best results can be obtained by appointing experienced committee leaders, but, experienced or not, members of this committee would benefit from reading literature about advertising and public relations practice. Also advertising and public relations seminars are useful, particularly those having a practical orientation (some of which may be specifically oriented to the needs of nonprofit organizations).
Programs. This committee’s primary responsibility is new program development and the evaluation of ongoing programs. In the development area, studying the feasibility of mounting programs similar to those in other churches (discovered by the information acquisition committee) would be a task of this
committee. The committee would also evaluate interchurch and interdenominational programs to determine whether participation in such programs would be appropriate.
This committee would also assist in program implementation by providing funding, facilities, personnel, and organizational advice. When someone in the church has that great new program idea, the programs committee provides the assistance necessary to get it up and running quickly.
Although the primary purposes of the programs committee would be screening, developing, and providing support for new programs, another major purpose would be the annual evaluation of existing church programs. Evaluation should be conducted in the late spring when the church year is winding down and time demands of programs are lower. Each church program should be scrutinized with attention to program mission, success in accomplishing the mission, resource requirements, and overlap with other programs in the church or community. After assessing the performance of each program and activity, the programs committee should make one of three recommendations to the governing board: (1) continue with no change in operations, (2) continue with specific changes (the need for which would be fully documented), or (3) discontinue (and here again the recommendation would be fully documented).
Target groups are identifiable groups of individuals with common needs or interests and, more often than not, homogeneous demographic characteristics, such as age, family size, occupation, education. A given church may have just one target group. More frequently, however, it has two or more groups usually separated most easily on the basis of age.
Three examples of target groups would be people who prefer a great deal of experimentation in liturgy, those who like some experimentation, and those who are strict traditionalists. (Many other dimensions defining target groups might be considered; the experimental vs. traditional continuum was chosen for expositional purposes only.) In a very large church the needs of all three target groups could be met
comfortably. In the small to medium-sized church, however, the needs of only one group might be satisfied.
The concepts of image and target groups definitions are closely connected. If a target group in a church is well defined, the church’s image will often reflect characteristics of the target group. To the extent that the church’s image is a clear reflection of the church’s primary target group, it will attract other individuals who are either members of the target group already or who aspire to be members.
Several additional points about target groups should be made. First, target groups may be definable along several dimensions, e.g., traditionalism and sociability and the desire for church-affiliated programs. Second, church leaders should recognize that the congregation contains within it at least one and perhaps more than one identifiable target group. Third, the pastor should attempt to identify the target groups and their needs (here is where surveys and group meetings can be helpful). Fourth, the large church can (and probably should) attempt to design programs and liturgy to meet the needs of two or more target groups; small and medium-sized churches probably should not (they risk the danger of creating a diffuse image).
The strategy of differentiated marketing is closely related to the concept of target groups. A church employing this strategy designs marketing programs to meet the needs of the identifiable target group or groups it serves. If only one target group is served, the marketing program should be tailored to match the
needs and characteristics of the group. For example, assume the profile of a target group is: (1) members have low-to-average education; (2) they have a fairly traditional outlook on life; and (3) they live in an area having only limited recreational facilities. To match this profile, the church’s mass communications media
(advertising, bulletins, and newsletters) should be composed using dignified but easily understandable language and construction; services should be somewhat conservative; and the church should sponsor as many recreational programs as resources permit.
If two or more distinct target groups are identifiable, the church should attempt to design a distinct marketing program for each group.
As an example of this idea, consider the needs of younger members of the congregation, particularly those in their late teens and early twenties. Based upon observation and comments we’ve heard from a number of clergy, it appears that the religious needs of this group are homogeneous but quite different from, say, the religious needs of those in their late twenties and older. Treating the whole congregation as if it had
the same needs is not appreciated and frequently results in the departure of a large number of those in the disaffected group.
Two distinct programs can better meet the needs of both groups and, if anything, increase internal harmony and satisfaction.
A number of recommendations have been presented for improving the marketing orientation of your church. Where you think the ideas are appropriate to your church’s situation, put them to work. Do so with care and understanding, however, using an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach.
Article by R. White