Extra! Extra! – Using Your Local Newspaper for Effective Church Promotion

Extra! Extra! – Using Your Local Newspaper for Effective Church Promotion
by Lisa Ann Cockrel


From New York to California, churches are using their local newspapers to reach community newcomers and the unchurched with the message of the Good News

To announce the launch of a new 45-minute “express” church service. Family Bible Church (fambible.org) in Eustis, Fla., posed a question to area newspaper readers. In an ad that featured the image of a man in prison garb, the caption read: “Is This Your Idea of Church?”

The strategic ad campaign, which also utilized local billboards, caught the attention of local readers and national media alike. Christianity Today magazine featured an article on the quick-church concept and what began with 70 regular attendees soon grew to a crowd of 150, with more than half of the attendees new to the church.

That was four years ago, and Family Bible Church continues to use newspaper advertising in an effort to attract visitors.

“We have three billboards and a Web site, and we send out postcards, but we also run several newspaper ads a year,” says Penny Cooper, associate pastor and resident graphic designer for the 500-member congregation.
In our digital age, paper and ink still provide an important platform from which churches can woo potential members. According to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), more than 55% of adults read a newspaper on a daily basis. Just over 63% read the newspaper on Sunday.


Aside from Web sites operated by newspapers, the Internet has yet to challenge the role of newspapers as the most comprehensive source for local information. Whether it’s one of the multiple daily editions of the Chicago Tribune, each tailored for a different geographical region in Chicagoland, or the Crestline Advocate, published once a week for the 5,000 residents of Crestline, Ohio, people turn to newspapers when they want to know what’s going on in their own neighborhood—especially if they’re new to the neighborhood.

Shirley Whipple Struchen of the interfaith Religious Communicators Council (religioncommunicators.org) knows few churches that don’t use some form of newspaper advertising to let their communities know what they have to offer.

“This business ebbs and flows,” she says. “When there are budget cuts, the communications department or any sort of marketing effort is the first to go. But people are starting to realize that communication is critical, and newspapers are very important for sharing information in local communities.”

Kimberly Bachman, owner of the Church Ad Project (churchad.com), a company that provides customizable newspaper ads to churches, notes that newspaper advertising can be invaluable in today’s transient world.

“With people moving around so much these days, it’s important for churches to identify themselves to new people in the community,” she says. “Newspaper advertising is how a lot of churches get this done.”

The 100-member congregation of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Calgary—Canada’s fastest-growing city—consistently uses newspapers to alert newcomers to its presence. The ads, which usually promote special events in the community and holiday services, are designed by a member who works in marketing. St. Paul’s spends 3% to 4% of its budget on newspaper advertising.

“People who move into this area and want to know what’s going on read the community newspapers,” says Pastor Doug Priestap. “So, we run ads four or five times a year to let people know we’re here.”


While the process of placing a newspaper ad is relatively simple, gauging the effectiveness of newspaper advertising can be difficult. “It’s hard to tell how effective our newspaper ads are in terms of getting people in the doors,” Priestap says. “I wish I could say, ‘That person came because of an ad,’ but a lot of times you just don’t know why someone comes.”

Joe Nicholson, director of marketing for Dallas, Texas-based Affiliated Media Group (affiliatedmedia.com) works with churches nationwide to create and place newspaper ad campaigns. He acknowledges that tracking results can sometimes be an arduous process but believes it’s important for churches to track results to be good stewards of the money they spend.

“It’s harder to track the results with newspapers than with, say, a TV ad where you give out an 800-number and can easily tell how many people call,” he says. “But you can still do some tracking with visitor cards and by word-of-mouth. If your greeters are good and can easily spot new people, they can ask visitors how they learned about the church. Then you can find out if people came via the newspaper.
“If no one is responding, you need to take another look at the ad—its placement, its frequency—and try to change things up,” he advises.


When it comes to newspaper advertising or any kind of advertising for that matter, there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for success, churches and professionals say. Church size, goals and budget prompt different strategies for different churches. There are, however, several tips that professionals suggest all churches keep in mind when considering newspaper advertising:

• Do inventory. What is your offer? “You’ve got to take off your ministry hat and put on your business hat,” says Nicholson. “Think through what you’ve got that other people want or need.” Identifying what your church excels at— children’s and youth programs, relevant sermons, small groups and so on—will help you develop your “pitch” to the community.

• Ladies first. Women, according to Nicholson, drive 75% of all church visitations. “We’ve found that if we market to women, we don’t lose men, but if we market to men, we lose women. So, even if we’re going to promote a men’s event, we still keep women in mind when developing the ad campaign.”

In considering which section to place an ad, the The Newspaper Association of America reports that women are more apt to read General News (72%) followed by the Food/Cooking section (45%) and the Editorial page (44%).

• 4 … 3 … 2 … According to Bachman, newspaper ads have four seconds to get readers’ attention. She suggests keeping the design clean and simple for maximum impact. “Postcards can go into more detail, but a newspaper ad can get too busy if you try to include a lot of information. Those ads get overlooked.”

• What’s the frequency? If your church is relying solely on newspapers as its way of advertising in your community, Nicholson suggests you run ads monthly, if not weekly.

• Two weeks notice. When you’re promoting an event, Nicholson advises churches to start advertising two weeks in advance. Any further out and people will forget. Any closer and people won’t have time to plan.

• Avoid the “religion” section. If you’re trying to reach unchurched people, it’s best to advertise in the “unchurched” sections of the newspaper. While the General News section is the most read by all newspaper readers, the NAA reports certain niche sections can be strategic for making sure people in specific demographics see your ad. For example more than half (58%) of all male newspaper readers say they read the Sports section followed by the Business/Finance section (47%). And almost half (46%) of all married newspaper readers indicate they read the Editorial page vs. 26% of single readers.

“You’ve got to think strategically,” Nicholson says. “If you’re doing an event for men, maybe you want to put the ad in the sports section. Or, keeping the wives in mind, maybe you want to place the ad in the weekend or lifestyle section.”
One church that has successfully bucked this last piece of advice is Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. In conjunction with three sister congregations, the church runs the largest “notice” (location, sermon title, childcare information) on the “Church” page of The New York Times.

“When people look at the Church page, we don’t want them to have to look for our ad,” says Senior Pastor Arthur Caliandro. “We want it to jump out at them. “In other smaller communities, it might be better for churches to place their ads on the Sports or Financial page, but the Times is so big we would get lost,” Caliandro explains.

Marble Collegiate also conducts an award-winning ad campaign designed by member John Folis (folisinc.com) that features ads with large, attention-grabbing headlines like “You Don’t Have to Be a Sinner to Attend Our Church. But It Helps”; “Our Product Really Does Work Miracles”; and for Christmas, “We Don’t Care If You’ve Been Naughty or Nice.”

The 3,000-member church has seen the most success with an ad titled “If You Want to Feed Your Soul, We’ve Got a Great Menu.” The ad then goes on to list the church’s various ministries, volunteer opportunities and worship services. The Folis ads have appeared in targeted neighborhood newspapers like the New York Press, in subway cars, bus shelters, night clubs, and even a banner hanging from the back of a plane flying over Long Island.

“The ad campaign has been very successful because the ads are not churchy and have a clever twist,” Caliandro says.

Groups within the church also occasionally use neighborhood papers to publicize specific events like special speakers, concerts and seminars.

“The city is so fragmented that you really have to figure out who you’re trying to reach and find the paper those people tend to read,” says Susan Eldred, senior executive assistant for the church.

Caliandro adds, “Newspaper advertising is vital for us. On the rare occasion that there’s a mistake and our ad doesn’t appear some week, we can see the difference in attendance.”


If your church doesn’t have the staff or resources to create its own original newspaper ad campaigns, several companies specialize in that area. Plus, many denominations offer free or very inexpensive ads for member congregations. Check out these resources:
• Affiliated Media Group (affiliatedmedia.com)
• Church Ad Project (churchad.com)
• The Southern Baptist Convention  (namb.net/root/ads/)
• The United Methodist Church’s Media Warehouse (mediawarehouse.org). In the last year, churches have downloaded 3,900 newspaper ads from the site.
• Presbyterian Church USA (pcusa.org/sifo/print.htm)
But according to Nicholson, ads don’t have to be the slickest thing out there. They just have to do two things well:

1. Attach to a heartfelt need. “We worked with Dr. David Jeremiah when he started his TV program, and he had a great saying: ‘You’ve got to give people what they need in the form of what they want.’ The same applies, to newspaper ads,” Nicholson says. In other words, do inventory and figure out what you have to offer that people will want and promote that aspect of your ministry.

2. Provide the information needed to get someone to church. Include your address and directions if necessary. If space won’t allow for directions and your church is hard to find, be sure to cite a phone number or Web site for more information. This advice sounds basic, but it’s fatal if overlooked. “Remember,” says Nicholson, “You’re not trying to evangelize in a newspaper ad. You’re trying to get people in the front door.”

From: Outreach magazine, “Features,” May/June 2004