Can Marketing And Ministry Peacefully Coexist?

By George Barna

Before we get into the specifics of how to market a church, let’s cover some of the basics to make sure we are operating with a common perspective.

What Is Marketing?

Marketing is a broad term that encompasses all of the activities that lead up to an exchange of equally valued goods between consenting parties. In other words, activities such as advertising, public relations, strategic planning, audience research, product distribution, fund-raising and product pricing, developing a vision statement, and customer service are all elements of marketing. When these elements are combined in a transaction in which the parties involved exchange items of equivalent worth, the marketing act has been consummated.

Marketing is not simply a synonym for “selling.” For instance, the creation and communication of a good image for an organization is part of marketing. In developing an image, a product or ser vice is not necessarily exchanged. Instead, the image is developed to help the company sell its products or services.

Similarly, even though strategic planning in itself does not involve the exchange of goods, the process enhances the full scope of marketing. Such planning prepares the way for more efficient management of limited resources in anticipation of the most mutually beneficial exchange of resources.

Thus, all marketing is somehow related to exchanges or trans actions. A number of activities, however, may precede the actual transaction; these actions are considered to be part of the marketing world.

Further, realize that marketing is not necessarily associated with money. Many marketing transactions occur without any money changing hands. Trades or barter deals qualify as marketing transactions even though no currency is involved.

It surprises some church leaders to hear that evangelism is a form of marketing. To leaders who hold a negative view of marketing, that certainly sounds heretical! We do not generally think of sharing our faith with other people as an adventure in marketing, but think about it. A believer engages a nonbeliever in dialog with the intention of seeing some type of active response to the shared information. After some discussion, both parties attempting to understand the needs and expectations of the other, the listener decides, either to accept or not accept Christ as Savior at that point in time. Regardless of the outcome, a marketing event has transpired. And when one individual leads another to accept Christ as Savior, a marketing transaction has occurred.

Let’s not get sidetracked by theological diversions here I recognize that we do not convert people The conversion is done by God, through His Holy Spirit In that process He uses us as a conduit for communicating truth to those who need to hear that message

What is exchanged in an evangelistic encounter The nonbeliever has committed his time to hear your message If he decides to embrace Jesus as his Savior, he gives up worldly freedom and a sinful nature and agrees to commit himself to following Jesus Christ. In return, he gains the assurance of eternal life with God.

Believers play the role of middleman in the transaction. Charged by God to serve as representatives of His Kingdom, we explain the meaning of a relationship with Christ in obedience to God’s command to His people. When a nonbeliever accepts Christ as Lord and Savior, the remuneration to us, as evangelists, is the spiritual and emotional satisfaction of seeing another soul enter God’s Kingdom and knowing that we have been obedient to God’s call to service. By making the effort to build a relationship with the nonbeliever, modeling a Christian life-style, explaining the meaning of a relationship with Christ, praying for (and, perhaps, with) the unsaved person, we with sometimes witness the fruits of an effective marketing effort.

You, the believer, are the middleman; the Holy Spirit is the other party invisible to, but necessary for, the closure of the deal.

Marketing works well when the objective of both parties is fairness and mutual satisfaction. Fairness means that the exchange is completed with full disclosure by both parties, and that both parties are pursuing a reasonable deal. Mutual satisfaction is generally achieved by attempting to understand and fulfill the needs of the other party while seeking some response from the party that will fulfill your needs.

Ministry, in essence, has the same objective as marketing: to meet people’s needs. Christian ministry, by definition, meets people’s real needs by providing them with biblical solutions to their life circumstances.

Will You Lose Your Salvation If You Market A Church?

Despite the apparent parallel between marketing and ministry, many Christians wonder if a bolt of lightning will strike them if they attempt to introduce marketing into the world of church ministry. This concern may be because marketing is not taught in seminaries or the term marketing never appears in the Bible. Or because marketing has been broadly misunderstood to mean selling people something they don’t really want, don’t really need or can’t really afford. This makes many Christian leaders fearful of marketing a church.

Yet, the reality is that every church is engaged in marketing. The only real questions are, (1) what a church will call its marketing efforts, (2) and how good a job the church will do at marketing.

To circumvent the first challenge, churches have invented a series of innocuous or sanctified terms to describe their marketing endeavors. When you hear church leaders use these words, recognize that they are probably talking about marketing:

* Church growth;

* Church dynamics;

* Congregational development;

* Strategic ministry;

* Community outreach;

* Membership drive;

* Kingdom building.

When we hear such terms, we feel comfortable. Churches engaged in such activities are probably the types of churches you commend for being cutting edge, aggressive and forward thinking. These expressions and many others like them, however, actually refer to the process of church marketing.

Do you doubt that your church does marketing? Consider each of the following marketing activities. Our research reveals that most of America’s Christian congregations engage in one or more of these efforts. How many of these characterize your church?

* Newspaper advertising;

* Display advertising in the Yellow Pages;

* A sign on the lawn or attached to the church building, listing the name of the church (and, maybe, the name of the pastor), the church’s telephone number, times of the worship services, and perhaps the title of next Sunday’s sermon;

* A brochure describing the mission of your church and some of its key programs and ministries;

* Posters or signs on bulletin boards around the church;

* A newsletter sent to church participants concerning the activities of the church;

* A membership drive of some sort, such as Friends Day or a community-wide mailing.

Naturally, involvement in marketing does not justify it biblically. But if we study the Bible, we can discover the fathers of our faith engaging in marketing practices. Although the Bible never uses the term “marketing,” it is filled with examples that show the importance of marketing principles.

The faithful part of King Uzziah’s reign was partly because “his fame spread far and wide” (2 Chronicles 26:15). Before Ezra could begin the task of restoring the Temple in Jerusalem, he had to make a survey of his resources and of the skills of available people (Ezra 1 and 2). Barnabas successfully tackled a tough marketing or “PR” assignment when he overcame the early disciples’ fear of Paul, convincing them he was no longer a persecutor of the church (Acts 9:26,27). And word of mouth, the world’s most effective advertising, helped spread the word about Jesus Himself (Mark 1:28).

Examples of every aspect of the seven-step marketing process (described later in this chapter) are listed throughout the Old and New Testaments. (For a more complete discussion of the biblical support of these elements, consult the first appendix.)

How Church Marketing Is Unique

When secular professionals engage in marketing, their product is generally a tangible object: a car, a candy bar, an insurance policy a jacket. Evaluating the purpose, appeal and accuracy of their pitch is relatively straightforward. The essence of their call to action is consistent: They want you to acquire the object they represent in return for a specified sum of money. Their marketing generally takes place in a store or office dedicated to finalize such transactions. You discover the availability of the product, attractive features or benefits of the product, by various types of promotional efforts made by the marketer. Perhaps you learned of the product from advertising, from discount coupons you received in the mail, or even from words of praise spoken by friends who previously purchased the product.

These four key marketing considerations(1) the product itself, (2) the price of the product, (3) the place in which the transaction happens, (4) and the promotional activities leading to the transaction are called the marketing mix. Every product has a marketing mix. The effective organization consciously dictates the nature of that mix

What about a church? Does your church operate with a discernible marketing mix, even though it does not exist to sell products or make a financial profit?


Granted, the church is in a different situation. We do not have such a tangible product. As we said, we are not selling Jesus. Nor are we selling the Bible, because that is not what God called the church to do. We are not focused on promoting our worship services or pro grams. Ultimately, we exist to move people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. That relationship is our product. Once a person has built that life-saving bond, then we seek to make easier a variety of secondary relationships. We encourage relationships between the person and other believers for the purpose of encouragement, account ability support and edification. We encourage relationships with nonbelievers for the purpose of introducing them to Jesus Christ and to the church.

Rather than ask people to provide monetary payment for the privilege of being in relationship with Christ, or to be part of His family, the price exacted for this exchange is an intellectual and emotional to!!: commitment. The person’s income makes no difference; his/her ability to give to the church is not of primary importance. The bottom-line requirement for the relationship to flourish is that the believer commit his life to that relationship. As the bond grows and the believer becomes more deeply committed to Christ, giving financial support to a church and other ministries is a natural and probable outgrowth. But no financial fee is required for a person to become part of His family.

Sometimes we get caught in the mentality that “church” is something that happens an event that occurs, probably on Sun day, probably at a building we know as “the church.” Biblically speaking, though, every person who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the Church. Once we embrace Jesus as our Redeemer we then become the living Church 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Thus, although a secular marketing professional might require a showroom, an office or a store to market his product, the Christian has a whole different challenge. We are always on display, constantly representing the God of eternity, always being the Church, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. The place in which we do our business as Christians following Him and serving Him is wherever we happen to be, at any time of the day or night.

When it comes to promoting the product, we are the best promotion there is, simply speaking the truth in love to others, sharing the knowledge we possess of the true meaning of life. Yes, we can use advertising, direct marketing, public relations, events, and all types of other activities to create interest in what we, as a church body, are doing to share the gospel and influence lives. In the end, though, the research consistently shows that the best form of promotion is one-on-one, human interaction, one friend telling another about what is so important and significant in his life.

In summary we have a product very different from those usually marketed. Ours is exchanged for a non-monetary fee. We strive to complete a transaction that can occur at literally any time or place. The transaction itself is most effectively facilitated by non-media promotions. Nevertheless, we have a clear mandate to market the church, using our clarified understanding of the product, price, place and promotional elements of the process.

Grasping The Proper Technique

We can fine-tune our insight into the marketing process a bit more by recognizing a key difference between those organizations that succeed and those that fail.

Studies of businesses that go bankrupt generally find one of a handful of conditions in place. The failed companies generally began their operations without sufficient start-up capital; were led by individuals who had inadequate experience; or suffered from a warped view of how to generate the desired revenues. It is this last problem that relates to our interest in church marketing.

If you study how organizations market their products and ser vices, you quickly learn the two basic types of organizations: product-driven and market-driven. It is the product-driven firms that typically declare bankruptcy. It is the market-driven firms that become the case studies of how to run a successful business.

A product-driven firm is usually launched by people who have a particular expertise or special interest. Their primary interest is to satisfy their own needs and desires by doing what they enjoy, or what they believe they are particularly skilled at accomplishing. The usual belief is that if they produce a good product, there will be a market for it somewhere, and the market will eventually discover the product.

A market-driven firm is generally launched by people who have a desire to meet people

s needs, believing that their own personal needs (e.g. profit, influence, providing opportunities for people) will be met in the process. Toward this end, then, the market-driven person seeks to understand gaps in the marketplace needs that have not been addressed or that have been insufficiently met. The products and services offered by these firms are geared to meeting those needs. The task of marketing is one of alerting people to the availability of the goods that the marketplace has desired but lacked.

This distinction is a vital one for churches to understand. Frankly, most of America’s churches today are product-driven churches. This is fine, insofar as they want to “market” God’s will and God’s way. But the problem is that most church leaders have a model in mind of what a church should be like, and doggedly implement that model, regardless of whether or not it addresses the real needs of people. When people reject the model, certain leaders complain that the people are secularized, unspiritual, worldly or insensitive.

Most adults in this country do not regularly attend church worship services. This is interpreted by people in the product-driven school of marketing as a condemnation of the values and life-styles of our society rather than a reflection of a church that has ceased to understand and respond to the needs of that society.

Our research generally reveals that the churches making a difference in their communities and attracting more and more people are market-driven. The typical rap on such churches, of course, is that they supposedly compromise the gospel to attract people or to focus on felt needs. The critics of such churches contend that these new models of Christianity are not valid, and are not true Christianity at all.

The facts often do not support these claims, though. Certainly, there are examples of large, fast-growing churches that soft-sell the gospel, or add elements of their own theology to make the faith more appealing. But the problem in these situations is not that attention to people’s needs and trying to market a church is wrong, but that the people entrusted with the responsibility of leading God’s people and presenting Him to an inquiring world have chosen to compromise what they believe or how they behave.

In other words, the problem is the technician, not the technique,

There are countless examples of authentic, Christ serving churches that use marketing without apology. They proclaim the gospel, they facilitate relationships between people, they serve the community and they do basic marketing activities to enable such ministry to continue and to flourish.

American society is no longer effectively reached through mass marketing. Successful marketers these days are niche marketers they target a particular segment of the population, not everyone in general. Two decades ago, the idea was to treat everyone as if they were part of a desirable reference group, and market the same products and services to everyone at the same time, in the same ways. From the mid-40s through the mid-70s Americans took pride in being part of a larger group of people and wanted to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Today, people celebrate their individuality and go to great lengths to be recognized for who and what they are. People avoid group identification in favor of personalized attention. It is considered more blessed to be unique than to be common. Americans no longer care what the Joneses are doing; what they do care about is whether a marketer has adequately understood them to be the unique and important people they believe themselves to be, and that such recognition is reflected through some type of customized or personalized marketing effort.

In previous decades, successful products were marketed by television network advertising. Today, if television is used it is increasingly likely to be cable TV; to reach a specific population niche. Even when network television is used, the programs chosen for ad placement are not necessarily those that deliver the largest audiences. The key is having your product seen by the right audience, which may require airing during a low-rated show.

In the 50s, 60s and 70s, successful products emphasized uniformity of ownership; you were not complete unless you, too, owned the product. In the 90s, the focus is upon having a unique, personalized product that meets your peculiar needs.

The implication for church leaders is this: If you want your church to be successful, respond to people personally, not as if they constitute a single, massive, undifferentiated audience. Segment the population in such a way that you can determine who is your target audience, and what it will take to satisfy their needs.

Previous research has shown us convincingly that no matter how large your church is, how talented the pastor may be, or how diverse the needs of the nearby population are, you cannot be all things to all people. Focus is critical. This means developing a mind- set of meeting the needs of a specified population niche.

Does such a strategy minimize the possibility of reaching the world for Christ, as we have been commanded by Scripture? Absolutely not. In fact, niche marketing enhances the process. Why? Because it allows you to focus, prioritize and have a greater effect on a smaller group of people. Hence, the hundreds of thousands of churches that exist in America can each focus on a particular segment they have uniquely been called to reach, and have the type of influence they desire. Niche marketing enables a church to specialize and achieve excellence in ministry rather than being spread too thin and accomplishing comparatively little, (Chapter 10 provides a deeper discussion of strategic thinking in a niche-based marketing environment.)

The Seven-Step Solution

Marketing is an organized, orderly process. To understand that process, think of marketing as a seven-step procedure.

Briefly, here is an explanation of each of the seven steps in the
marketing cycle.

1 Collect Information

If you want to make intelligent decisions, or understand the context of your ministry you must have accurate information. You can use secondary information along with primary data to form the basis of key decisions about what you will do, and how you will do it, in ministering to the world around you.

2 Capture The Vision

Once you have a good grasp on objective reality you will be in a position to seek God’s vision for your ministry. People cannot truly move the church forward without strong leadership. Strong leader ship requires the determination of God’s vision for the church, and the effective communication of that vision.

3 Identify And Marshal Your Resources

Before specifying the details of the ministry the church has been called to, it is necessary to determine what resources are available to the church, and how they can be activated for ministry. It makes no sense to create grandiose plans that cannot be fulfilled.

4 Create A Marketing Plan

Spontaneous activity may lead to a few short-term gains, but the secret to consistent, long-term progress is to develop a well-conceived plan and to carry it out. The plan should reflect all that has been gleaned through the early stages of the process: the ministry context, the ministry calling, the ministry resources and the ministry opportunities.

5 Implement The Marketing Plan

The best plan in the world is of no value until it is put into action. Even a great plan can fail miserably if it is not implemented with care, commitment and sensitivity. What often differentiates organizations is not the quality of their plans or the strategic insight they possess, but the ability to make their plans come to life in the real world.

6 Gain Feedback

Once the plan is put into practice, the marketer must evaluate how well the plan is working. That feedback should be constantly collected and examined so that improvements can be made, and greater ministry Influence can be achieved.

7 Revise The Plan and Re-Implement It

Knowing whether or not the plan is working is only part of the task When shortcomings are discovered, and potential enhancements are conceived, the ministry ought to shift gears to reflect the suggested improvements.

The marketing process then becomes a continual Loop. As new research uncovers strengths and weaknesses in both plans and performance after the plans have been developed and implemented, attempts can be made to shore up the weaknesses and change the plans accordingly. As changes are implemented and studied, new research will reveal other effects and opportunities, again requiring changed plans and activities. This process continues indefinitely, occasionally resulting in major shifts such as a revised information base, revisiting the vision for ministry, reassessment of the church’s resource base, or creating an updated marketing plan.

What Is Coming

In the chapters that follow, we will examine the crucial marketing procedures in greater detail. Our goal is to enable you and your team to market your church with greater efficiency and impact. By understanding the tasks involved more completely, I hope you will achieve greater ministry productivity.

Article “Can Marketing And Ministry Peacefully Coexist? by George Barna is taken from Church Marketing.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”