How to Market Your Church
Business executives know that without a well-executed marketing plan their business will fail. Why should the church be any different? Just the mention of the taboo subject will get you kicked out of some church council meetings. The church is a business – the business of bringing souls to Christ. Growing churches have a blueprint known as a marketing plan and someone, or a team of people, to implement it. If you want to ensure that this is a year of intentional growth rooted in faith, outline your strategy now.
Defining and Applying the Basics
Marketing: Marketing is a broad term representing the combination of advertising, media, research, public relations, support, strategy and community involvement. All of these elements must work independently as well as together.
Advertising: Advertising is simply defined as getting the word out about your business by utilizing the power of newspaper, billboards, television, radio, direct mail, Yellow Pages, the Internet and other media outlets. Determine which medium or combination of which media will reach your target audience most effectively. A simple line-item listing in the Yellow Pages is sufficient these days as more than half of prospective visitors now turn to the Internet to find a church home. Invest the majority of your advertising dollars into a stellar Web site.
If you’re limited to a shoestring budget – and considering the economic climate, you might be – consider less-expensive alternatives, such as placing quarter-page display ads in local homeowner association newsletters and posting flyers on apartment complex and laundromat bulletin boards.
Public Relations: The goal of PR is to enhance and protect a company’s reputation by gaining positive attention and credibility within an industry and a community. Join the local chamber of commerce but only if you intend to be an active member. Host a monthly luncheon; offer the church’s valuable meeting space for business or Boy Scout troop meetings; sponsor a booth at the local festival and ask your members to hand out Frisbees and balloons to the children. All of these tactics gain positive attention while offering non-threatening ways to introduce your church to the community. When it’s time for the CEO (Christmas and Easter only) attendees to find a place of worship, they’ll feel more comfortable visiting a church that they’ve already been to, even if it was for a business luncheon.
Is your pastor an excellent speaker and an authority on a subject of interest? Check with the chamber, rotary club and other organizations to offer up his or her speaking services for their next meeting. Is your pastor a gifted writer? Submit articles to the local newspaper editor for the religion page. Don’t forget to send your pastor’s photo and byline with every submission. Build a rapport with the local newspaper staff so they’ll be more likely to cover your events. Most papers are understaffed and appreciate when you send a quality, high-resolution photo to accompany press releases.
Identify the Target
Most churches will say that everyone is their target audience. After all, isn’t the Kingdom open to everyone? That may be true; however, like any successful marketer, a church marketer must know the strengths and weaknesses of their church. If attendance is higher at your authentic traditional worship service, then your primary audience is likely 40 or older. If your church is highly active in hands-on international missions, then you may be attracting a younger crowd. Whatever it is, find your strength and observe who is participating. Then get familiar with your target audience. Ask yourself:
* Where are they located?
* How do they prefer to communicate?
* What do they expect in a church home?
* When are they most receptive to your message?
* Who is your biggest competition and what’s working for them?
Deliver the Message
Like gas stations, there’s a church on every corner. What makes yours better? We live in a world that exposes us to hundreds of messages a day demanding our attention, from the radio to the television commercials to the billboards we drive by. Once you’ve identified what makes your church unique and who your target is, find creative ways to deliver your message. Think outside the box and differentiate your church from everyone else. A church in Sioux City, Iowa, devised a marketing solution that addresses rising gas prices. They gave away free gas cards along with a free Bible and CD to visitors. Give your current church members an ice scraper with your church name on it, ask them to kindly scrape a neighbor’s windshield and leave the scraper behind. Offer free holiday gift wrapping at a local store. Get the kids involved by having them distribute free bottled water at a baseball game.
Successful church marketing centers around building awareness; remind the community where you are and what you offer – often and in varied ways. Do a little research, devise a well-thought-out marketing plan, then get fellow staff members excited about your plan and on board. Keep in mind that marketing is an ongoing process. When you don’t get immediate results, don’t give up. Measure the impact of your efforts and alter your plan accordingly next year.
Carol Johnson serves as director of communications for Lee’s Summit United Methodist Church, a 2,800-member church in Lee’s Summit, Mo., a suburb of Kansas City. Her position includes the development of the church’s marketing plan, serving as print and web manager, editor of the quarterly newsletter, and liaison for public/media relations. More than 20 years of experience in marketing and journalism led to the incorporation of her printing company, Emerald Printing & Design Inc., five years ago. She is also a freelance copy editor, proofreader and communications consultant.
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.”