Everyone’s A Marketer
IMAGINE WHAT IT MUST BE LIKE, BEING THE PASTOR OF A CHURCH OF
5,000 people and knowing with certainty that this year your church will gain at least 500 new active participants-without your having to invest much personal energy in identifying and inviting those people.
That’s exactly the scenario that characterized the growing churches studied foe this book. How did they do it?
The key was that the people who were members or regular attendees of the churches consistently invited other people with whom they had built relationships to attend the church. This is all the more remarkable since we live in an age when such boldness is unusual and unexpected.
PORTRAIT OF A MARKETER
Research consistently demonstrated that visitors came to these churches because of the recommendation, invitation or consistent attendance of a neighbor, friend or work associate. This corresponds with findings from national studies of church membership and attendance. People are most likely to visit churches which have been recommended by someone they trust.
People seeking a church to attend generally do not rely upon information provided in a newspaper advertisement or other form of mass communication. The suggestion of a trusted individual carries credibility that is rarely duplicated by other means of communication.
Why did the people of the growing churches invite their friends? A variety of reasons answer this question.
• Some felt that the church had helped them, and that it would likely provide the same type of assistance for others.
• Some said that the issues addressed by the church, the answers provided to those issues or the manner in which church activities were conducted were relevant to their own needs and interests.
• Other people said that the church reacted to them as mature adults, neither treating them like children nor badgering them with requests for untenable commitments.
• Some individuals were simply proud of their church, believing it was a place in which God was doing great things for all people, through His people.
The Pastor’s Role
While it is true that the responsibility for attracting visitors was removed from the pastor, he did have a very special responsibility, of course. In every instance, the pastor was instrumental in instilling a new perspective in the minds of those in the congregation. In short, one of his tasks was to make everyone a marketer.
Realize, of course, that few pastors used the M-word (“marketing”). Often, the concept was cloaked in the Christian-speak we tend to use in our churches, making a potentially uncomfortable concept accessible and comfortable. Through teaching about the nature of the church, the faithful came to see that they were the evangelists called by God to bring others into a meaningful relationship with Him. They saw a critical part of their role within the church to be the planting of spiritual seeds in people’s lives, seeds that might become fruitful with further nurturing. They caught that part of the vision of the church which described them as life-style evangelists.
The Members’ Role
Further, at these user friendly churches, members realized that inviting people to church was only part of their responsibility. The invitees acknowledged that they also were responsible foe accompanying the guest to the church activity, as well as for following up with them. It was not the task of a “visitation team” or an “evangelism team” to make the visitor feel welcome. The strategy called foe the person who did the inviting to also provide the on-site hospitality and the post-visit debriefing.
The follow-up was handled in different ways by different churches, but it always relied upon the invitee to take the responsibility. In some churches, the follow-up was done immediately after the worship service (e.g.., taking the guest out to brunch, and discussing the experience or answering any questions). In other churches, the follow-up was expected to occur at some time during the six days following the service, in the normal course of conversation or other interaction. It was well understood that the church might send a thank-you note to visitors, but that such correspondence was not intended to substitute foe the warm, personal contact that had encouraged the visitor to give the church a try in the first place.
This perspective of making the host responsible foe follow-up is a major point of distinction from most churches that actively pursue guests. A church in California which is struggling to grow hasn’t caught on yet that although it attracts an ample number of visitors, less than 10 percent return. Why? Because the people who invite those people are either too scared, too busy or too unaware to interact with the guest about their experience. They send an evangelism team to visit the guest. Their records reflect that increasing numbers of people will not allow the team in the house, and among those who allow entry, there are few positive results. Why? Those intruders have no relationship, and therefore no credibility, with the visitors.
In several of the communities in which the growing churches were located, I also found that even people who were not members or regular attendees of the church recommended the church to their friends or to new residents. It seems that the church had built such a strong level of awareness within the community, and had such a positive image, that even the people who did not personally feel the need to attend regularly felt comfortable enough with the church to suggest it to those who inquired.
The long-teem benefit is that when these people are ready to return to a church, the first place they are likely to go is the very place that they recommended to others. In its own way, this reflected the successful planting of seeds in the lives of those people who were difficult to get into a church foe any reason.
One of the churches had so adeptly created the image of being a warm, community-based church that when it was time to obtain a building permit foe new construction, the process was facilitated by the fact that members of the zoning board (none of whom attended the church) knew that the congregation was doing very positive and beneficial things within the community. They were aware of those activities because friends of theirs did attend the church, and consistently invited them to those community events.
Did these successful churches use traditional advertising? To some extent, yes. Their budgets, however, foe newspaper advertising, radio commercials, direct mail and other forms of mass communication were relatively limited. One church with an $8 million annual budget was spending less than $20,000 on advertising, but still realizing 14 percent annual growth in attendance.
In fact, the advertising money of the churches under study was spent for a different purpose than usual. Most churches advertise to gain “new customers”-that is, to persuade people of the merits of their “product.” In the growing churches, though, advertising tended to be informative rather than persuasive.
Because they were relying upon a different medium (word-of-mouth) to achieve persuasion, they used traditional forms of advertising primarily to build awareness.
This is sound practice. Before people will visit a church, they must first know the church exists, then become knowledgeable about what it is all about and finally attain a positive impression of the church. This opens the way to considering attending the church. By providing this sound bedrock of information through traditional advertising, the task of the church member who invites an individual to attend is greatly simplified.
Does your church advertise through the media or via direct marketing methods (mailings, telemarketing, etc.)? If so, what are you trying to achieve through your advertising? If you are using advertising in an attempt to persuade people to attend the church, know that you will need a hefty advertising budget, a clever strategy and superb creative execution to penetrate people’s consciousness.
Even if you rely upon media to attract people to the church, realize that how your people respond to those visitors will be a key to determining whether or not the visitors will return. Think through how your people fit into the marketing activity of your church. Do not ignore them as a resource. Overall, they are your most effective and efficient marketing tool.
How do you measure the effectiveness of your advertising? A major mistake of most American churches is to spend money on advertising without a way to ascertain whether or not the expenditure was worthwhile. Before you budget funds for advertising.
Using, be sure that you have some reasonable means of determining what type of return you receive from your investment.
If the people in your church do not invite their friends and associates to your church, find out why. You may discover that they have not caught your vision for ministry, or that they do not understand the member-as-evangelist strategy. It could be that your people lack sufficient pride in the church to invite their friends. This latter issue is indicative of a deeper, more serious problem: an ineffective ministry which may also result in the poor retention of existing members. Detecting this difficulty-or any of the other shortcomings associated with people’s refusal to invite friends-must be remedied quickly.
A common problem among Christians is that once they find Christ and become involved in the church, they begin to lose contact with people who are outside of the church. This is both natural and dangerous. It is dangerous because we then begin to lose opportunities to build the very relationships with the unchurched or with nonbelievers (many of whom may be churched) which enable us to invite them to attend our church. What are you, as a church leader, doing to prevent this ingrown tendency? Do you have a consistent number of relationships with people from outside the body? Are individuals in your congregation encouraged to maintain such relationships? Does your church have any strategies to prevent your people from becoming isolated from non-Christians or from the unchurched?
Another frequent difficulty I’ve seen is churches failing to equip people to do the necessary follow-up. How sad it is to witness Christians who sincerely want to impact people, but are not prepared for the task. In America today, adults are amazingly inept not only at building relationships, but at nurturing them. We have generally lost the ability to communicate effectively with each other. Christians, in particular, struggle with this dilemma. When placed in an evangelistic situation, they frequently come on too strong, and lose much of the credibility they had sought to build in their relationships.
Has your church prepared its people to deal with visitors after an experience at the church? Growing churches learned the hard way, in several cases-that they had to teach people how to converse about the visitor’s experience. One church has a seminar on how to build and maintain relationships with nonchurch people. Another church incorporates a discussion of such skills into a pair of sermons given annually by the preacher. In one congregation, such information is disseminated through the small group studies arranged through the church. Yet another of the growing churches has a special dramatic presentation in which it depicts what it’s like for a visitor to attend the church, and what it’s like for a host to have the visitor present-and scenarios of what happens after the visit.
Finally, remember that while church growth might emphasize the attraction of new people to the congregation, it is critically important to retain individuals who are already part of the congregation. How does your church make sure that the people who comprise your core membership are being connected with each other? What mechanisms have been developed to ascertain how well the church is bringing people together in relationships? Is somebody responsible for keeping track of the health of the relationships that form the foundation of the church itself?