Creating A Ministry Driven Marketing Plan
By George Barna
WOULD you allow a building contractor to construct your church buildings without having a plan completed and approved before starting construction?
Would you encourage your son or daughter to take a random series of courses at college, without selecting a major, or determining the courses needed to graduate, or mapping out a plan for which courses to take each semester?
If you elected to drive cross-country for your two-week vacation, what are the odds that you would wake up on your first vacation day, jump in the car and drive on whatever open roads you encountered? It is more likely that you would first take the time to identify your ultimate destination and the special stops enroute. Then you would develop a travel schedule, select the highways and other roads you would take, and accumulate the resources needed to successfully complete the trip.
Would you consistently preach sermons without the benefit of thinking through the issues of interest to your congregation, the passages of Scripture that could be applied to those issues, and the life applications that would make the message come alive for the audience? Although some speakers may take this “wing it” approach, the preachers of greatest renown always approach their public opportunities with a plan in mind: study notes, an outline, preconceived illustrations, the closing “clincher.”
When it comes to marketing your church’s ministry you need to take the same careful approach to chart your direction and steps for the future. The failure to use the resources at your disposal to create a workable plan is tantamount to accepting inefficiency, frustration and unrealized potential.
The saying, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail” may sound trite, but it is consistently proven true.
One of the trademarks of great war heroes is that they carefully work their way through a process of planning for battle. Recall how carefully Joshua planned the invasion of Canaan. He began gathering facts about the enemy when he went on the spying mission with 11 others. After Moses’ death, Joshua sent two more spies into the city of Jericho. When God was ready to deliver the city into Israel’s hands, Joshua was ready, too.
Other great military leaders also gather military intelligence, assess opportunities in light of their understanding of mission, evaluate their resource base and create a plan for attack. Although the battle garb and weaponry has changed over the centuries, the basic approach has varied little. Joshua, David, Napoleon, Adolf Hitler and Norman Schwarzkopf have more in common than you might believe. The core of that commonality, though, is their reliance upon a carefully crafted and meticulously implemented plan that led to their battlefield victories.
The experience of business leaders in our own century is no different. Whether you examine the practice of brilliant upstart companies, such as Steven Jobs’s Apple Computers and Bill Gates at Microsoft, or the outstanding performance of mature companies such as Walt Disney Company in the 1980s under the leadership of Michael Eisner, the result is the same. Each of these companies got to where they are today by patiently and carefully surveying the landscape, recognizing unique opportunities, understanding their customers and competitors, and following an intelligent plan to get where they thought they could be.
In the same manner, your church must understand its circumstances and potentials and arrive at a plan for the most effective ministry possible. To strive for anything less lofty would be to disobey God’s command that we do all as if we are doing it for Him directly. All of our efforts in life are to be geared to bringing Him glory.
What Is a Marketing Plan?
A marketing plan is a document that describes the goals, objectives, strategies and tactics to be used by your organization within a pre scribed time period. It is the master outline that gives you a basis for moving forward in enabling your organization to reach its greatest potential.
From a church’s context, the marketing plan prepares the ministry to more effectively reach new people and to support the existing church family by outlining the action steps the church should embrace for a life-changing ministry.
The plan is more than just a series of laudable ideas or concepts, though. It serves as a blueprint or map to get you from where you are today to where you want your church to be within that pre determined time frame. For each objective, strategy and tactic included in the plan, related references to funding needs, timing and the other resources are required (e.g. personnel, licenses, congregational approval) to help enact that marketing action.
Do Your Homework First
The preceding chapters in this book have addressed much of the preplan work that needs to be completed so that a reasonable plan can be developed. That work is done in preparation for the composition of your plan. Do not try to write your plan until you have completed the following preliminary work:
1. Collected sufficient information to understand the community in which you wish to minister: the demographic characteristics of the people, their felt needs, the key attitudes and behaviors that define their values and life-styles, their religious experiences and backgrounds.
2. Collected sufficient information to understand your existing congregation: their demographics, life-styles, values, spiritual gifts, reasons for being part of your church, personal ministry goals.
3. Collected sufficient information to intelligently analyze your ministry context: the status, experience and goals of other churches in the community, the identity of your chief nonchurch competitors, the proportion of unchurched adults, the target group of each church and other competitors.
4. Clearly articulated your mission and vision for ministry with the ability to communicate both in an effective way to your congregation.
5. Determined the resource base you have to draw from as you begin to reach out to the congregation and community in ministry.
6. Reflected on the strategic positioning and image of your church, the opportunities and obstacles that such image and positioning present, the pertinent strategic options facing your church, the specific niches filled and not yet filled by your and other churches, your target market.
In preparation for developing your marketing plan, it is useful to identify the assumptions on which your plan will be based. Articulating your assumptions enables you to backtrack and revise your plans more quickly and competently should the ministry environment change. As you implement your plan and observe its impact, you may determine that changes are in order. Before making changes in your carefully conceived plan, though, it is important to determine why such changes are necessary. Was it a bad strategy? An improper analysis? Did the environment shift in unpredicted ways? One or more of your basic assumptions about the community about your church, about ministry implementation or about other elements may be wrong or is now outdated. Identifying the erroneous assumption can help you foresee other changes required in your plans before you make serious mistakes.
Similarly, when you see your assumptions in print as you are developing your plan, they sometimes appear unreasonable and deserving of change. When you notice the unwarranted assumptions that must be true for the plan to work, don’t move forward with plans that originally sounded logical. You can save yourself a lot of time, trouble and wasted resources by righting the wrong assumption and creating a more viable plan from the start.
Here are a few examples of assumptions. Some may be accurate, some not. The key is to identify the working assumptions.
• The expected 5 percent population growth over the next three years will be demographically identical to the existing population base.
• The congregation will sustain a ministry funded at the $650,000 level during the next 12 months.
• The music ministry can utilize the talents of members of the church, without having to pay for external assistance.
• The congregation has heard, understands and embraces the vision for ministry; spending large amounts of resources on communicating it and gaining initial ownership is not necessary. The vision-casting efforts should be geared to reminding people of the vision and strengthening their comprehension and ownership of it.
• The marketing plans developed will be publicly accepted and embraced by the pastor, and championed by the board of elders.
• Although the information gathering process generated insights into people’s awareness of the community’s churches, and how each is positioned, that information could be inaccurate since it is based on assumptions about people’s perceptions and feelings based upon observation and a limit ed number of in-depth conversations with people about other churches.
Doing all of the preplan work takes time and energy. Think ahead! You cannot wait until the last minute, call a committee meeting, and throw together a viable plan in an afternoon or evening of intense labor. It will take literally months of consistent effort to pull all the information, creative ideas and reasoned thought together so that a wise plan can be tailored to your church’s needs, opportunities and capabilities.
Pieces In the Puzzle
Your plan will contain four primary elements that relate to the actual marketing efforts of the church. These elements are your (1) goals for ministry, (2) marketing objectives, (3) the strategies related to a specific objective and (4) the tactics recommended for a given strategy The four elements are inextricably tied together to form a guide to marketing action for the benefit of the church.
There is some dissension within the marketing community about the difference between goals and objectives. Some marketers say they are separate though related, others claim they are the same thing. Do not worry about it: The real answer is not one of the keys to gaining eternal salvation! It seems that the safest route to pursue is one in which the four elements noted above are clearly differentiated. On matters like this, your best strategy is to err on the side of detail, rather than generality. In reality, I rarely find that churches become confounded or paralyzed by having to distinguish marketing goals from marketing objectives.
Goals are the overall outcomes you wish to achieve in ministry. They provide the big picture, without getting bogged down in the details of measurement, style, approach or anything else. Your goals must directly relate to both your mission statement and your vision for ministry. In the most general sense, goals provide you with a sense of direction. They suggest if you are going east, north, south or west, without pinpointing the highways you will take, the rest stops you will make, or the schedule for travel.
An example might help clarify this definition. Perhaps your church’s mission is to help people in your community to know, love and serve God. Your vision might refer to a desire to reach baby busters through a ministry based on service to the surrounding communities. Your goals might therefore include some of these:
• Expose young adults to the gospel;
• Provide people with opportunities to put the love of Christ into action;
• Encourage people in their service and sacrifice for the cause of Christ;
• Offer significant opportunities for young people to learn about Christ in culturally meaningful ways.
The goals themselves should be general enough to leave you plenty of latitude for developing a more specific approach. The specifics will be made obvious through the other three elements (i.e. objectives, strategies, and tactics).
Objectives are intimately tied to your goals, and make them more concrete and achievable. An objective is a clear statement of exactly what outcome you wish to reach. One way objectives do so is by being stated in a way that makes them measurable. Unless you have a means of figuring out if the objective has been satisfied, it is very difficult to market with continued vigor and enthusiasm. You keep trying, but gain no real sense of accomplishment. With such clarity, the shape of the ministry starts to come into focus.
A good marketing objective meets the following criteria:
• It is clearly and concisely stated—usually a sentence or two of very compact information.
• It is obviously tied to one of the ministry goals.
• It provides specific information against which your actual marketing efforts can be measured; thus, it includes detail regarding timing, budget and actual results.
• It is consistent with the overall purposes of the ministry and with all of the other activities undertaken on behalf of the ministry.
• It is challenging but reasonable; if it is too simple to achieve, it fails to push you to your potential; if it is too much of a stretch, it leaves you frustrated.
Objectives typically relate to several different areas of ministry. The key dimensions are: drawing new people to the church, satisfying the spiritual needs of people, providing opportunities for personal ministry addressing the felt needs of people, and attending to the responsibility of the church, as an institution, to the community at large.
For each goal you identify, you may have several objectives. It will often take a variety of smaller outcomes to arrive at the big picture goal you have set.
Following through on the mission, vision and goals used above as an example, you might have the following objectives for that church. Note that each of the objectives is dearly related to one (or more) of the goals.
• Lead 50 baby busters to Christ this year, for under $5,000 in program expenditures.
• Increase by 10 percent the number of adults in the church who read the Bible daily—by September—having line item costs of $1,000.
• Facilitate getting five homeless people in the community into paying jobs and permanent housing before November 15, spending up to $7,500.
• Sponsor at least three needy children, as a church, through an overseas mission’s agency—before Christmas—at $25 or less a month.
• Get at least 15 adults involved in on-site, short-term, international missions this year, at no cost to the church.
• Conduct an educational forum each quarter, attended by at least 30 people (most of whom are not church members), related to a current social problem and how the Bible pro vides a realistic perspective on the solution.
In the preceding chapter the notion of thinking strategically was discussed. This is one of several places within the marketing plan itself to demonstrate the quality of your strategic thinking. Initially, of course, your goals and objectives should reflect a strategic mind set. Your actual ministry and marketing strategies, though, provide a more transparent mechanism for you to use your strategic capabilities to move your ministry forward.
The strategies you include within your marketing plan refer to the courses of action you will pursue to satisfy your objectives. The strategies are tied directly to specific objectives, just as the objectives were tied to the goals.
Strategies are dynamic in nature. Realize, too, that for any given objective, you may have a choice of many different strategies. A good strategist will identify the various options, evaluate the potential of each, and then choose those that harbor the greatest promise for success.
Whereas goals give the broadest perspective on the church’s direction, objectives make that view more focused and concrete. Strategy takes the objectives and describes ways you can take practical steps to realize the objectives. They do not however, spell out the exact and detailed steps you will take to make the strategy happen. That is the purpose of tactics.
Sticking with the themes generated earlier, here are some of the strategies that might have been assumed for the church.
• Sponsor a Christian concert hosted by the church, with a short, nonthreatening, soft-sell introduction to the church, geared to expose young non-Christians to the gospel in a relevant context.
• Equip young adults within the church for evangelistic out reach.
• Place heavy emphasis upon promoting the Bible as a valued life-assistance tool.
• Work cooperatively with a nearby homeless agency toward assisting five specified homeless adults.
• Challenge Sunday School classes to join together to adopt needy children as part of the church’s missions campaign.
• Establish an ongoing, hands-on relationship with the Baja Mission.
• Sponsor a debate on the “politically correct” movement and its implications for life from a Christian perspective.
Tactics are the street-level marketing activity. These are the detailed, specific, hands-on activities that take place to put the strategy into action. If your strategies have been properly developed, it should be a relatively simple matter for your people to identify the types of tactics that must unfold to make a strategy come to life.
As you are developing your objectives, you will discover that it is impossible to determine elements such as timing and funding unless you have a clear sense of the strategies to be pursued and, especially, the tactics that will be put in place. The tactics employed ultimately determine the success or failure of your marketing. That is, the clearest objectives and most brilliant strategies in the world are of little value if the implementation ideas are inadequate. It is critical to carefully conceive, evaluate and implement your tactics.
Again, you will face a multitude of tactical possibilities for any given strategy. If your strategy calls for a Christian concert, think about the myriad of tactical decisions you face.
• What band should you hire for the event?
• Should you hire one band or more than one?
• Should it be a local band of good repute or a nationally known band?
• Should you charge an admission fee, or make it a free concert? If you charge, how much?
• Should you advertise the concert on radio? If so, which stations? What times of day? How much of an advertising bud get? What ad copy should you run?
• Who will be the master of ceremonies at the concert? What is the underlying purpose of that function given the objective of the concert?
• Where should the concert be held: on the church grounds or in a “neutral” venue?
The list could go on for quite a while—and should! It is important to exhaust the possible questions, answer them, and make sure that your tactical plan for each strategy is complete. All of the tactics proposed to implement a given strategy should be consistent with the aggregate philosophy of ministry and other ministry tactics that will be undertaken by the church in its various ministry efforts.
The information shown in chart 16 offers a cursory look at the goals, objectives, strategies and tactics that have been alluded to in the preceding examples.
Developing a Plan Around Your Resources
Part of the aggregate planning process should be to determine what resources you will have available for implementing the plan. This requires a sensitivity to faith and reality. On the one hand, you know that God wants you to reach the world for His glory, and that He will bless your efforts toward that end. On the other hand, He does not give you a blank check and ask you to assume He will pro vide every resource you want, when you want it, even if the purpose is to conduct a highly effective ministry. You will have limited resources and must create a plan that works as efficiently as possible within the boundaries of such a limitation.
Yet another tension point is planning around what you expect you will have to get the job done, and refusing to limit your sights by what is known and tangible. There is no easy solution to getting a realistic perspective on this matter. However, recognize that the plan itself ought to be reasonable, but should stretch the church. Setting your sights too low facilitates complacency and self-satisfaction. It enables the church to make some progress but overlook great opportunities.
As you develop your plan, then, seek to have a realistic assessment of your ministry’s resource base. Expect to grow, but calculate a reasonable rate of growth. If you find the church growing faster than anticipated, it would be in your best interests to modify the plan in midcourse to reflect that growth and utilize the fruits of the growth toward conducting an expanded ministry.
What resources ought you to evaluate? Most important are the following categories:
1. People (laity): how many, how much time they will give, what skills and talents they offer, their levels of experience and commitment to your ministry
2. Staff: background, training, experience, capabilities, commitment, growth potential.
3. Finances: how much, when it becomes available, any ear marked funds.
4. Production resources: what buildings and grounds are available for use, equipment, supplier relationships.
5. Tools: past marketing plans, research studies, consultants, communications pieces.
Other resources need to be considered, too—e.g. time and reputation—but do not represent the same priority as those listed above.
Given a well-grounded assessment of the resources you can call upon to bring your plan to life, create the objectives, strategies and tactics that will satisfy your mission, fulfill your vision, and excite your congregation through the effective outworking of targeted ministry.
As is true for almost any meaningful activity or concept, ownership by the people who will be asked to run with that idea or activity is crucial. This is true for your marketing plan. It may be easier to isolate yourself from the pressures of your daily environment and emerge with a marketing plan that gets handed off to the church leaders as their assignment for the coming year. However, the greatest success is achieved when the people who must make the plan happen, have a stake in its development. This is comparable to a wholesaler “selling in” his product to retailers. Without this vital step, there won’t be much “selling out.” The retailer must accept ownership of the product if the total transaction is to be effective. Ownership, for most people, means playing a part, however minor, in the creation of the plan.
Receiving ownership in the plan can be achieved in various ways. Which of these can you profitably use in your church to sell in the planning process and the plan itself to the broadest range of people, with the deepest level of commitment resulting?
• Have the preliminary data-collection steps (i.e. research and analysis) done by the laity.
• Have the responsibility for identifying the resource base completed by lay people.
• Assign staff members the task of interfacing with the laity toward creating a unified understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the church.
• Ask the teachers in the church—e.g. adult Sunday School teachers, small group leaders and others—to discuss these matters with their students. Encourage them to incorporate the mission and vision of the church into discussions, toward understanding people’s hopes, dreams, fears and expectations regarding the future of this ministry.
• Have committees take the mission and vision statements and work through the strategies and tactics that would emanate from their area of expertise and responsibility.
• Create a planning task force that includes representatives from the various factions of the church to create the plans desired.
• Hold a congregational meeting at which the preliminary version of the plan is outlined for people, with subsequent opportunities to provide input and to indicate how they wish to be involved.
• Distribute copies of the proposed plan at the time of the annual stewardship campaign. This enables people to see the scope and direction of the ministry and see the potential tangible benefits of the ministry. It helps them recognize why they ought to be supportive of the church and its activities.
• Have the pastor champion the plan from the pulpit and through other pastoral communications to enable the congregation to see its value and potential impact.
• Develop a system for gathering input from people prior to the development of the plan. This helps them feel like their ideas have an outlet and that their input can be factored into the creative process.
One of the keys to encourage ownership for the plan is a high- profile acceptance of it by the senior pastor. If the pastor ignores the plan or the process, the signal sent to the congregation is that the plan is of little or no value. As the leader of the church, the pastor must forcefully support the plan. Recognize the difference between being the primary creator or implementer of the plan and one of its chief proponents. Although the pastor need not be the one who conceives it or who takes every element within the plan from printed page to the streets, he must be the one who supports the plan in its final form and encourages the rest of the congregation to do so, as well.
Another key to conferring ownership is to appoint a champion for the plan—someone other than the pastor who will embrace the marketing process and the resulting marketing plan as the crux of his or her ministry within the church. The role of this person—variously known as the planning director, director of strategic ministries, pastor of ministry development, resource management director or by other titles—is to keep the plan in the forefront of all ministry decision-making engaged in by the church.
Do not make the mistake of thinking this person’s task is simply to coordinate the process of developing the plan. That is one possible and very important function. Once the plan has been completed, implementation is critical. Over the course of a year, reminders of the marketing objectives outlined in the plan to those engaged in ministry is a major responsibility. Having a plan in place, no matter how many people were involved or how long the process took, does not guarantee that anyone will follow any of the dictums, recommendations, suggestions or ideas contained within the pages of the plan.
For instance, when church committees or task groups are making decisions in their areas of outreach, the planning director may wish to remind them of the obligations and challenges presented to them within the plan. When the budget is being developed for the coming fiscal year, the planning director may be able to enhance a viable budget development by reminding the budget makers of the needs identified in the plan and the resource such efforts require. As the pastor develops his sermon schedule for the coming year, the planning director might push for topics or applications that reflect the ministry thrust identified by the plan. Without question, the opportunities for the planning director to keep the plan in front of the people are myriad.
Another element of this job is accountability. Most churches, sadly, are very weak at holding people accountable—not just for implementing the plans themselves, but also for the quality of that implementation. Once again, it might be the planning director, or it might be someone else, but the plan must be championed by some one who will not only get the job underway, but see to it that the job is done right,
What Does a Marketing Plan Look Like?
Appendix 6 of this book contains a relatively short marketing plan that was developed by a small, nondenominational church. It is not the perfect plan. But it represents an honest attempt that incorporates all the key elements and it will probably get them pretty far down the road. Undoubtedly, as they learn from their experience, subsequent plans they produce will be more complete, more challenging and more professional. As a model, it is both do-able and reasonable.
Chart 17 shows a sample table of contents from a typical marketing plan. Notice that a marketing plan for a church ministry is essentially the bible for marketing the ministry. It contains all of the pertinent background documentation, as well as the plan (i.e. goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics). The value of this arrangement is that you have everything you need in one place. You do not need to refer to each section with equal frequency, but should you need to find some element of the aggregate plan—e.g. the vision statement, or the community research data, or even the annual ministry bud get—you know right where to get it. This comprehensiveness helps to make the document more indispensable.
The report does not need to be long—no extra jewels are placed in your heavenly crown due to the number of pages in this document. The key is utility, not quantity. The report ought to contain as many pages and sections as necessary to facilitate the most effective and efficient marketing of your ministry. Some of the marketing plans I have seen from Fortune 500 companies are as thick as the telephone book, On the other hand, Procter & Gamble Co., one of the most innovative and consistently successful marketing organizations in the world, asks their product managers to create a 10-page plan (or less) for their product line.
Revising Your Plan
As the year progresses and you have had a chance to implement some of your strategies and tactics, you will learn more about your ministry environment. The new insights you gain ought to influence the ways you market your church. Always learn from experiences and incorporate new insights into future efforts. And while you are at it, incorporate those insights into your plans for the future marketing of your church.
As you examine the seven steps in the marketing process (see chart 3, chapter 2), note that feedback is a critical component of the process. Try to be sensitive to the response of your organization and your audience to your marketing efforts. As you learn what works and what does not, alter your plans accordingly. At the very least, make notes for yourself that will influence your plans for the coming year.
Just a note of caution, though, about tempering such sensitivity. Learning about your organization’s abilities, the unique qualities of your ministry environment, and other useful insights can help you be more effective. Yet, it is possible to be so over responsive to such input that your plan is being constantly and radically revised. This could throw the entire ministry into turmoil and chaos. A plan is meant to prevent that very condition.
The planning director, then, must also have the ability to discern between those new insights that require immediate reaction and those that ought to be filed away for future inclusion in the decision-making and plan development process.
‘A Step by Step Guide to Church Marketing’ ‘Breaking Ground for the Harvest’
By George Barna
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.”