Developing a Marketing Plan: The Importance of Planning

Developing a Marketing Plan: The Importance of Planning
By George Barna


When my wife and I moved to California, we searched for a church that would be right for us. We searched and searched and searched. We were tired of churches that seemed like they had thrown everything together an hour before the service began. Our goal was to find a church where the worship and teaching was taken so seriously that preparation was evident, personal growth was possible, and commitment to service was appealing.

Several months and thirteen churches after our quest began, we wandered into the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. It was, by far, the largest church we had ever attended. However, we were struck by the professionalism and the sincerity of what was happening there.

It wasn’t until sometime later, when we began to be more involved in the internal organization of the church, that I happened upon a rulebook outlining each sermon that the senior past or, Lloyd Ogilvie, was going to preach during the coming twelve months. Suddenly the light bulb in my brain flashed on! Here was a church that understood the importance of planning – a body that was freed from the tyranny of the urgent and fear of the unknown. The church’s activities appeared well-planned because they were planned in advance with forethought and purpose.

Since then I have spent increasing amounts of time working with churches throughout the country. I have discovered that most successful churches operate in accordance with a ministry plan. That plan outlines the sermon topics and musical themes for each week, integrates special activities into the church calendar, coordinates church programming with budgetary realities, and the like. It represents a plan for how the church, as an organization, will behave. The underlying idea is that by thinking ahead, problems can be foreseen and avoided, and opportunities can be identified and taken advantage of to the greatest degree.


The Benefits of Planning

It may seem foolish to spend time talking about the benefits of planning. Indeed, many people are familiar with the expression, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Unfortunately, mere intellectual assent to such a thought is quite different from putting it into practice. I am certain that most churches believe in planning, although relatively few actually do any meaningful planning. Most Churches response to planning is no different than the fact that nine out of ten Americans say they believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but only three in ten have chosen to accept Him as Lord and Savior. In many cases, belief without commitment is self-deception.

Many Churches have an internal ministry plan have not considered the plan of preparing a marketing plan. In some cases it is because they have not embraced the concept of marketing; in other cases it is because they have no idea how to go about preparing a marketing plan.

A marketing plan is simply a guidebook that includes the goals and objectives of a church, an assessment of current and future conditions, and a series of strategies and tactics for reaching the desired goals and objectives. In other words, the marketing plan is the blueprint for future activity that outlines how a church will get from where it is today to where it wants to be at a specific time in the future.

Hopefully, if you have gotten this far in the book, you are at least seriously considering the value of marketing for your church. So let’s talk about the advantages of developing and implementing a marketing plan.

Here are five, briefly stated, important benefits that can be realized simply by conceiving a marketing plan for your church.

1. The plan is one way of identifying and clarifying the problems that prevent your church from growing and the opportunities that could be taken advantage of to enable growth to occur. Until you clearly understand your situation, there is no chance that your church will intelligently react to those opportunities.

2. A marketing plan gives “legs” to your vision. Without a guidebook on how to transform your dreams for the future into reality, chances are good that they will remain nothing more than dreams.

3. Confronting the problems and opportunities faceing your church will force you to prioritize your ministry objectives. A key determinant in establishing the hierarchy of activties is your assessment of the church’s strengths, weakness, and resources. If a detailed marketing plan does nothing else it will make you recognize realistically what your church can and cannot accomplish. This, in itself, may serve as a catalyst to motivate some people to action.

4. Your resources can be maximized by having a well-conceived strategy for the deployment of those resources. Waste can be reduced if the church’s total needs are identified and the limited resources available are allocated for the greatest possible impact.

5. Responsibility and accountability can be realized through planning. Tasks are assigned, and people can be held accountable for their assignments according to predetermined timetables. More than identifying “who’s at fault,” however, the benefit of such accountability is that the church, if managed properly, can determine potential problems and short-circuit the difficulty before the solution itself becomes a problem.


Writing a Marketing Plan

Americans plan all the time. Housewives plan their shopping trips and perhaps even their purchases at the grocery store. Why? To use their time and resources more efficiently. Teachers plan their lessons in advance so they will have adequate time to cover the necessary topics and give students a sense of direction in their education.

The theory behind marketing planning is no different than that which motivates the housewife or teacher. By looking ahead, you can develop a plan that will enable you to market your church more efficiently and enhance your chances of reaching your goals.

The planning process is simple. If you are to follow the steps outlined in this section of the book, you should have already conducted your research to determine the needs, problems, and opportunities for your church. You should have conceived a vision for ministry based on that information. The next logical step is to think through how to turn your vision for marketing your church into reality. The result of that process will be your marketing plan—a written document that outlines where you are, where you want to be in the future, and how you are going to get there given your desires, your understanding of conditions, and your resources.

You do not need a doctoral degree in business management to develop a marketing plan. It is simply a matter of articulating your goals and objectives and the strategies and tactics you plan to employ to satisfy your desired ends. In fact, you may already be operating with some degree of marketing planning, by having bits and pieces of a formal strategy or by relying on a long-term concept of how to accomplish your goals for church growth and development that you’ve been keeping in your mind.

The marketing plan is one of a marketing-oriented organization’s most basic and essential tools. Just as a pilot needs a flight plan, a bus driver requires a road map, or an orchestra needs a musical score to follow, a marketer has to have a document that outlines the actions needed to reach the goals set forth for the organization. The marketing plan is that document.

The first step in developing your marketing plan is to restate the mission of the church. All the marketing activity described in the plan must be consistent with the church’s ministry purposes. It is helpful to put the church’s mission in writing so there is never a doubt as to the body’s underlying motives or intentions. By stating the purposes of the church up front and on paper, it is easier for those involved in the marketing plan’s development and implementation to maintain a clear focus on ministry. The statement provides a standard against which every concept and approach can be tested to be certain that activities undertaken by the church are consistent with what the church is all about and what it is trying to achieve for Christ’s Kingdom.

The next step is to recount what you learned about your community and congregation through your research. As concisely as possible, articulate the fruits of your information collection phase in the second section of the marketing plan. Describe all the pertinent facts that will impact your plans and activities. This includes demographic information, data on local churches, and information about attitudes toward religion, Christianity, and even your church. A discussion of the prevailing needs of the population might be included. You could also include a short summary of key facts about your church’s condition during the past several years: membership figures, budget figures, worship service attendance figures, Sunday school data, and so on.

Remember, the purpose of this section is to provide a factual base for the plans you are going to recommend for the church. If there is no empirical evidence to suggest that specific steps should be taken on behalf of the church, then there is no reason why the church leaders and laity should accept a plan that recommends such activities. The body of information that is provided should help portray the need for specific marketing activities or justify the decision to avoid certain efforts.

All of your factual discoveries are of limited benefit, however, unless they are translated into specific problems and opportunities that the church must confront. What trends in attitudes and behavior will affect your ability to minister? What limitations plague the church and will therefore prevent you from having an effective ministry in certain areas? What dominant needs of people in the community and congregation is the church well-positioned to address? Identify and describe – succinctly, but with sufficient detail to communicate the importance of the problem or opportunity – exactly what the condition is and how it relates to your church and its capabilities.

What is a marketing problem? It is a situation that needs correcting. From the perspective of your church, a typical problem you are facing may be that few people are aware your church exists. Alternatively, your problem might be that in a town of 50,000 people, only fifty to seventy-five of them attend your church’s worship services on a typical Sunday. Or, perhaps average attendance at your church is declining. The problem may be that your church has no meaningful outreach to the surrounding community, no sense of need for an evangelism program or thrust. You may be handcuffed by inadequate personnel or facilities, or perhaps a poorly executed service. The people who visit the church may leave feeling snubbed or rejected. The potential problems are infinite. The marketing plan should identify those that are most significant in the church’s life and welfare.

A marketing opportunity, on the other hand, is a situation or condition that can be exploited for the benefit of the organization. By capitalizing on that condition, the church could gain ground toward reaching its objectives. For example, opportunities might grow out of special gifts and talents represented within the church. As people’s lifestyles change, or as new people move into the community, obvious opportunities for church growth result. If unplanned resources become available, new avenues for growth and development open. Changes in community infrastructure—new roads, relocation of major employers, construction of new facilities—may provide changes for outreach. Additions to the church staff may facilitate certain types of ministry that previously were not possible.

To make things easier, prepare two separate lists of the problems and opportunities facing the church. First, list the problems in order of priority from most critical to least critical. Then do the same for the opportunities, starting with the most potentially beneficial or exploitable opportunity and ending with the least beneficial option.


Developing Marketing Objectives

Now is the point at which your vision is incorporated into the marketing process. Realize that your vision, when translated into marketing objectives, should be defined in specific and measurable statements. Marketing objectives represent the desired solution to a problem facing the church or the expressed desire to exploit an opportunity. The identification of objectives is especially key for the church, since all marketing activity should be designed to fulfill the ends they address.

Recognize that there is a difference between an organizational goal and a marketing objective. The latter is a solution or an approach that gives a sense of direction or guidance. An objective should lead to a strategy, which, in turn, will enable the organization to reach specific goals. Objectives should be measurable and achievable. They should be consistent with the overall ministry purposes of the church and should stretch the church to reach beyond what it has achieved in the past.

I’m familiar with a church that is currently developing a marketing plan. It has assembled a committee of businessmen from within the church to work with the church staff to create a marketing plan. They are struggling with the reality of having two separate populations within the church: people who are under thirty-five years of age and those who are sixty-five or older. It is almost as if there are two separate congregations meeting in the same building.

The committee recognizes, based on the community and congregational surveys they have conducted, that a high percentage of adults in the thirty-five to sixty-five age category live in the community but do not attend any church. Since the church’s own attendance has declined slightly over the past several years, part of the vision for ministry is to attract more people who are in the “lost generation.” The committee believes that by making their church more open and appealing to people in the thirty-five to sixty-four age segment, they can facilitate church growth, enhance the wholeness of the church as a functioning body by learning from that vital segment’s perspectives and experiences, and have a church that is more capable of understanding and ministering to everyone in the community.

In working through their marketing plan, the committee first acknowledged the church’s goal of expanding the weekly church attendance by twenty percent within the coming twelve months. The committee then developed the objective of increasing the attendance of thirty-five to sixty-four year-old people by 100 individuals (average Sunday attendance) within the next twelve months. (Given the size of the church, that figure represents the majority of the growth needed to reach the goal.) The committee is still working on the strategy and tactics for realizing those standards.


Strategies and Tactics

Until there is a plan for action, goals and objectives – no matter how well researched and clearly defined – will remain unattainable dreams. The next portion of the marketing plan should outline specific courses of action that the church must take to satisfy its objectives. The description of a strategy and series of tactics helps provide tangible direction and increases the likelihood of using your resources most efficiently to achieve your goals.

Conceptually, the process of developing tactics is simple. Having already set forth what you want to see happen for your church (objectives), you will now assign the responsibilities and outline the mechanics of how your vision will be implemented. You will identify who will be involved in a specific element of marketing your church, what each person will be doing, when they will engage in the specific activities, how their efforts relate to the objectives and efforts of those who will be pursuing other marketing objectives, and which marketing tools and resources will be utilized to achieve the desired results.

Determining what specific courses of action will satisfy your objectives should be no easy task. This probably cannot be done overnight: It may take weeks, or even months, to create and fine tune a set of strategies that will move the church forward. The experience of various organizations indicates that the most effective method is a type of brainstorming approach. Rather than accepting the first reasonable strategy that comes to mind or is offered for acceptance, several potential strategies aimed at accomplishing the same end might be proposed, with the best eventually being chosen.

The importance of developing realistic strategies and tactics—the action steps—cannot be overestimated. Having a series of objectives without related action steps is like buying a frozen dinner but not owning an oven; you may understand your problem and have some of the resources to solve it, but without a plan for implementation, you’re in no better shape than if you didn’t have the resources.

I suggest that you begin your section on strategies and tactics by taking each objective, one at a time, and developing an action plan for that objective. Start by restating the objective. Then provide a detailed outline of how you and your church will meet the objective.

Some experts suggest that you need to incorporate two separate aspects to develop an action-oriented strategy. First, specify your target market: Who are you seeking to impact? This might require listing the demographics of the target audience, how they can be found in your market, and any other distinguishing characteristics that will focus your actions. Second, outline your marketing mix.

The term marketing mix refers to how you will blend your product, price, promotions, and place into a strategy for marketing success. In other words, if the objective is to increase
church membership among people thirty-five to sixty-five years old, how will you change the product, price, promotions, and place of your church to make that objective happen? These matters need to be addressed for each objective, so that a comprehensive understanding of how to achieve the objective within the framework of good marketing can be realized.

When all is said and done, it behooves you to go through each of the strategies developed and be sure that they are internally consistent and externally realistic. Since several action steps will most likely take place simultaneously, you will want to determine whether or not each step is truly compatible with the objectives for which it was designed, as well as whether or not it can be achieved with your limited resources.

You should also reconsider each strategy in light of what you know to be the situation you wish to impact. For example, increasing awareness of your church by placing advertisements in local newspapers might be an unreasonable strategy if you are a small church in New York City, where even a miniscule ad placed with any meaningful degree of frequency would cost as much as the pastor’s annual salary!

To make each strategy as useful as possible, try to incorporate a deadline, a series of performance control standards, and some discussion of how resources will be allocated to satisfy the objectives.

Recognize, too, that merely developing strategies is not enough. An individual must take responsibility for communicating them to the people who will be expected to implement the strategies. Someone must be responsible for monitoring the performance and coordinating the implementation activities. There must also be some provision for developing and implementing alternative courses of action should the environment change dramatically, or the chosen strategy prove to be flawed.



Unfortunately, marketing invariably requires some outlay of resources, often financial. Before any marketing program can be approved and implemented, the church must determine the cost of the recommended steps. This means that marketing activities must be included in the church budget. Thus, we are developing a marketing plan that initially talks about the problems and opportunities, then identifies the activities that should be undertaken to capitalize on those, and finally determines what it will cost to properly market the church.

In some churches, a budget has been set aside specifically for marketing activities. In other bodies, marketing activities are underwritten by specific departments, committees, or boards that pay for the efforts made on their behalf and under their jurisdiction.

There is no single, correct way to approach the budgeting consideration. It is imperative, though, that the financial needs associated with marketing be calculated and considered in the approval process. Realize that as the cost of a program or strategy becomes evident, it may need to be redefined or restricted if it is too high. This should not be seen as a failure in the planning process. The fact that the shortfall was caught before any commitments related to the strategy were made is a testimony that the planning process is working for the best interests of the church.


“Developing A Marketing Plan: The Importance of Planning”. 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.”