Can Advertising Help Your Church?


By: Win Arn

First, let’s look at what advertising cannot do…

* Advertising cannot win people. Research found long ago that mass media campaigns are ineffective for “conversion growth.” People become Christians through the influence of trusted others, and because the Christian lifestyle and community responds to a felt need.

* Advertising cannot stop decline. If a church has been plateaued or in decline for some time, the most effective advertising strategy will not turn it around. The decline is most likely due to other factors.

* Advertising cannot change reality. People ultimately respond to the experience they have in your church – not the experience that is promised. Be sure first-time visitors leave with a positive memory and desire to return for more.

So what can advertising do for your church?

* Advertising can help attract first-time visitors. Growing churches average 4-5% of their morning worship attendance as first or second time visitors. Some churches are not growing simply because they don’t have enough people coming in the “top end of the funnel.”

* Advertising can communicate what you want people to know about your church. A good advertising strategy informs the community of your desire to reach out in love, and of your desire to meet their needs. Advertising can also inform your community of Christ’s love for them, and of the opportunity for a personal and rewarding relationship with the living God.

* Advertising can raise congregational self-esteem. Advertising that is a cut above the norm over most church promotion will give members a sense of pride about “my church.” And they’ll be more conscious of living up to the promises made.

Here are some basic themes that should be included in your advertising:

* The sincere desire to be helpful in meeting the needs of the people in your community. (Be as specific as possible.)

* The assurance that those who come will experience love and acceptance.

* The promise that people will find the love of God, and the Word of God relevant to their needs, hurts, and concerns.

* The sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment that faith brings to life.

The people in your community will be motivated to visit your church when they feel there may be a solution to their personal needs and wants. The need may be good biblical preaching. It may be for love and acceptance. It may be a place where their children can receive religious training. It may be a class on how to adjust to being a single parent, how to communicate with teenagers, how to cope with drug abuse, or how to become a Christian. It may be simply to meet new friends. But it will almost always be the expectation of filling an existing need that will encourage a visitor to risk entering the strange new environment called “church.” For them to try it, the benefit must be worth the cost.


Money spent on newspaper advertising by most churches is bad stewardship. (Although it is a good source for pastors looking for
future sermon titles.) But newspaper advertising, when done effectively, can increase in your visitor flow.

Here are eleven characteristics your newspaper ad should include:

1. It is based on target audience research. Identify a narrowly defined “people group” you want to reach, then find out the three most important areas of concern they typically have. Write the ad to focus on one of those themes.

2. It is written in language the unchurched can understand. If you tell readers that your church speaks a relevant language to average people, your ad should model that promise. Once you’ve written the copy, show it to some non-Christian friends and ask for their impressions… does it communicate?

3. It highlights relationships and people rather than programs and institutions. You may have excellent programs, but programs are a “means” to an “end.” Identify and promote the benefit to people; focus on individuals, not institutions.

4. It catches the attention of the desired audience. Research indicates we take between 1-3 seconds to determine whether we want to spend additional time reading the rest of an ad.

5. It uses the 60-40 rule. At least 60% of the space in your ad should be headline, picture, or white space. At most 40% of the ad should be “body copy.”

6. It is specific… focusing on one issue or topic. A good ad is a rifle shot, not a shotgun. Highlight one activity/event, focus on one
“people group,” and make it the only theme of the ad.

7. It has a standardized format. If you run regular ads, they should be different in content but similar in style. At some point your readers should begin to associate an ad with your church, even before they read the copy.

8. It is regularly repeated. Not everyone will have the same need at the same time. One ad can be run 5-6 times and continue to generate a response. (Think how many times you see the same ad on TV!)

9. It encourages the reader to take specific action. Whatever response you are asking the reader to take should be easy; several “baby steps” rather than one “giant step.” Be sure you have a preconceived plan for following up the contacts that are generated.

10. It highlight the benefits. A man doesn’t go to the hardware store to buy a 1/2″ drill bit. He is buying a 1/2″ hole. A mother doesn’t go to the store to buy baby food, she is buying a healthy child. Take the same approach to promoting your church – identify and highlight the desired outcome.

11. It is placed where it will be seen by your target audience. The church page is OK if you’re looking to attract other pastors (or
disgruntled members of other churches). If you’re trying to reach unchurched people, put the ad in the section of the paper they read; which is not the church page.

If you have a group of creative people in your church, give them this list and the task of developing four sample ads. If the experience is good, give them a green light to create an entire series.


Direct mail is one of the most cost-effective mass media tools available to your church. A good goal is to mail to every home in your ministry area four times each year. Churches with a smaller budget should send at least twice a year. An annual mailing schedule might look like this:

Early Spring: a mailing sent to arrive a week before Easter, highlighting the Easter season.

Early June: a letter highlighting summer interests and activities available to the community.

Early September: A mailing outlining back-to-school activities, new classes, and special programs.

Early December: A special holiday mailing describing holiday activities in the church.

Of course, special programs throughout the year, particularly those designed for unchurched people, are another good reason for a mailing.

Below is an example of a good direct mail letter, sent by the Moody Church in Chicago. (It was so successful, in fact, they had to stop sending it!) Notice how the letter illustrates the warmth and non-threatening tone that is an important ingredient.


Dear Friend:

If you are like most of us you probably don’t mind making a new friend once in a while. Those of us who are neighbors in this area get pretty shut away from each other. Maybe you like it that way. But sometimes you may feel like sending out a test signal to see if anyone would even notice! I know I get that way occasionally.

Life is pretty much a sending and receiving of signals. I guess. And when there isn’t anybody around to listen – nobody “to tell it to” – a funny thing happens.

Maybe you know the “ghosts” that haunt your mind when it seems like nobody cares. Maybe you wrestle with anxieties – about your health, about your job, about your family, or some special friend. Maybe you wish there was somebody around to laugh with you, or to cry with you.

You’ll have to overlook this kind of introduction by mail. What I would really like is to come and sit down in your living room. I’m just an ordinary man who happens to be the pastor over at the big, round brick church south of Lincoln Park. Don’t let that scare you. I’m not asking you to join anything. I just thought you might like to know that I am here, and that I am available.

If you would like to make a new friend, here is one neighbor who would like to, too! You can let me know just by sending back the card I have enclosed. I’ll be glad to stop by at your convenience.

Cordially yours,

George Sweeting
Senior Minister

Mailings should always give the reader an opportunity to respond. If you’re mailing a letter, enclose a card with the response information on one side and the church address on the other so all the person needs to do is fill in his/her name, address, phone and drop it in the mail.

Be sure you reply to responses within the week. Keep track of the responses you receive so you can compare the effectiveness of various approaches.


In these days when few read buy everyone watches, a “video brochure” can help your church take a step into the 21st century, and give your people an effective way to introduce their friends to church… and their church to friends.

What exactly is a “video brochure?”

It is a high-quality 5-12 minute introduction for viewers of the positive benefits that involvement in your church brings to people’s
lives. The primary purpose is to encourage viewers to visit your church and discover for themselves the warmth and love to be found there.

This goal is best accomplished through enthusiastic, personal testimonies from your members. The video should focus primarily on people and benefits. A short, personal word from the pastor is appropriate. Emphasis on facilities, programs, and “institutional” topics will generally not enhance your video.

Some churches have lay persons skilled in video production, and can produce a video brochure own their own. (It requires more than just a home camcorder, however). Professional and semi-professional production companies are available in most cities, and a well-produced video brochure can usually be done for $1,500 – $2,000.

(The above material was published by Church Growth, Inc.)

Christian Information Network