Church Advertising Observations Part 1: Why It Doesn’t Work

Church Advertising Observations Part 1: Why It Doesn’t Work
Jeremy Harrison


Church advertising observations from someone who doesn’t like church advertising. Part one in a two part series.

While driving home from a family vacation today, we passed a billboard for a church. It read:

“The church for people who don’t like church.”

As I continued to drive, I started thinking about it. I’ve seen many variations on this campaign across the country. So why does it always bother me when I see ads like these? Today I finally had enough time in the car to figure it out.

First, a disclaimer. I’m a marketing guy. I am not really a church marketing guy. But as a believer who happens to do advertising and marketing for a living, I often pay attention to church marketing.

Does your church advertising work?

Perhaps you think there’s room to improve it, or you are on the verge of giving up on church advertising completely. Before you do anything drastic, consider these three reasons why I think most church advertising (like the campaign I saw on vacation) simply doesn’t work.

1. It doesn’t resonate with as many people as you might think.
When churches run ads like this one, I think they assume it appeals to most of the people in their community. After all, the majority of the local community is not in church. Therefore, the majority of the community doesn’t like church. But this logic is flawed. It takes energy and effort to experience something and then decide you dislike it. Most people don’t dislike church. It’s worse than that. They couldn’t care less about church. Most people are completely indifferent, and as a result, this advertising doesn’t speak to them at all.

2. It beats up on an already-damaged brand—the church.
If you think of the Church (with a capital C) as a brand, we can all agree that the brand is in bad shape. But the answer is not to run an ad campaign that distances your church from other churches. In fact, I believe this approach probably hurts your local church more than it helps. Remember, the majority of your community is indifferent. As a result, they don’t care enough to take time to understand the nuances between your church and the church down the street. So any time we speak of the church—with or without a capital C—we should seek to build it up. Yes, that includes your billboard campaigns.
There isn’t a megachurch on the planet with an advertising budget large enough to completely separate themselves from the larger brand of the Church in the eyes of a public that doesn’t care.

3. It doesn’t speak to many people at an emotional level.
All effective advertising speaks to people at an emotional level. As a marketing professional, this can sometimes be difficult to do, especially when my client is selling something boring, like a technical mechanical thing-a-ma-jig to a purchasing manager. But we always try to find a way to make an emotional connection.

When I think about the church… the great commission… the power of the gospel… the stories of changed lives… that is a story that is just teeming with energy. It has the power to connect with people at an emotional level. So why on earth do we throw away advertising dollars with ads that compare our church to most other churches, when most people don’t care about church?

Don’t feel bad. It’s understandable why this approach is so often used. When pastors and church leaders see billboard concepts like my example above, it speaks to them at an emotional level. You love your church. You are passionate about what you want to accomplish in your community, and are understandably excited to share how different you are. But remember, the majority of the people who drive past your billboard aren’t looking for a better church. They don’t think they need church.

Here’s a good rule of thumb. If you’re selling something that everybody buys (like toothpaste, cell phones or automobiles) then do marketing that focuses on differences between you and your competition. But if you’re selling something that most people don’t think they need (like church), then focus your marketing on why they need it!

Fantastic. I just wrote an article about how ineffective the church is in advertising. It would be a little ironic if I ended here, wouldn’t it? But there’s more to share. In my next post I’ll share eight practical steps you can use to design a church marketing campaign that will speak to the majority of your local community… the people who couldn’t care less about church.

The above article, “Church Advertising Observations: Why It Doesn’t Work,” is written by Jeremy Harrison. The article was excerpted from website in May of 2011.

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

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.”