Is Direct Mail A Good Outreach?




Sometimes, before the unchurched open their hearts to the Lord, they must first open their mailboxes.

More and more, churches are attracted to the growing phenomenon of direct mail advertising. And why not? Direct mail is specific. It’s personal. Everyone picks up mail, right’?

Madison Avenue is surely a believer, with major and not-so-major advertisers spending billions of dollars annually to understand just who lives where, craft relevant messages to them, and put the resulting
envelopes and flyers into the post.

And the business of direct mail grows each year. Improvements in technology continue to bring down the cost of direct mail and to simplify the logistics of this type of marketing. But is direct mail a good outreach?

John Considine, professor of business administration at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, specializes in studying not-for-profit marketing. He published a paper this year about direct mail, calling it
“one of the fastest growing aspects of communication being used by both profit and nonprofit organizations.”

The acceptance is a marked climate change from five years ago when many church leaders were suspicious or ignorant of marketing techniques.

“Church leaders generally go to seminary to receive training in religious matters, not business concerns,” Considine said. But once in leadership, the church business is foisted upon them.

“Many church leaders have begun to understand and accept marketing as a viable component of their ministry,” Considine said.

In addition, marketing can change the perception of the ministry.

“A consistent direct mail program will give both the pastor and the church a reputation for being progressive,” creating a perception the congregation is active, strong, unified and serious about reaching

Considine believes such outreach is crucial to the survival of United States churches, especially many mainstream denominations now in a membership decline crisis.

Marketing the Maker

To be effective, direct mail must be done well. According to agencies such as John Manlove Church Marketing of Pasadena, Texas, branding is an important part of an entire marketing strategy that includes direct mail.

Will Mancini, a Manlove vice president, believes that as more churches use direct mail, there is less focus on the whole marketing strategy-a big mistake, in his opinion.

“Churches rely on a one-time shot approach to marketing rather than building a brand-driven, integrated communication strategy,” he said.

Scott Evans, president of Outreach Marketing in San Diego, said the most successful use of direct mail includes “multiple exposures to a consistent message.”

Even if people throw mailers away, they have the name of a church before them again, and marketers say that is important.

“Successful, growing churches shoot for top-of-mind awareness,” Evans said.

LifeWay Christian Stores recently launched a new service Website intended to provide direct mail services at discounted rates exclusively for churches. The company brochure states, “Using direct marketing to increase church membership is simply smart outreach.”So if direct mail is so good, why don’t more churches go directly to it?

“For some churches, there may be misconceptions about cost and benefits,” said Jacquelyn Swartz, direct manager for Life Way. “For others, there may be logistical issues, and there are yet others who simply have never been properly exposed to these methods.”

Unlike other advertising, direct mail can be targeted to specific groups-an attribute any marketing program must possess if it is to be a success. Mailers can be targeted to age brackets, professions, areas of residence, and other demographic groups. Then, responses can be tracked, by counting reply cards or occasions of other measurable feedback such as phone calls or even attendance at marketed events, to provide invaluable insight about the effectiveness of certain programs and about which segments of a market respond to what.

Churches can compile data in detail about individuals, their preferences and cycles of interest. Then they can refine their creative appeals, or purchase a list of names to find similar people who might be interested in a popular program.

According to Manlove, hundreds of American churches have found direct mail to be one of the most useful ways to invite people to services. But Manlove caveats the use of direct mail with an overall strategy to
communicate a church’s vision.

“We’re really focused on consultation and getting missions, visions and values aligned so the internal communication will influence the external communication,” said Shawna Stengle, an account executive with Manlove.

Design Must Stand Out

Unfortunately, Mancini says, most churches imitate rather than innovate when it comes to direct mail design. Because it usually arrives unsolicited or unwanted, direct mail must be creative to stay out of
the trash and inside the mind long enough to be effective.

Most of the innovation in direct mail has been in technology. Mailnet Services Inc. recently formed a partnership with Nashville, Tenn.- based J. Nissi Corporation to launch a national program to allow
churches to better use direct marketing.

Jay Buford, chief sales officer at Mailnet, said most of the company’s clients use direct mail for outreach.

“Most of our clients will utilize programs as methods of outreach, any of a number of types,” said Buford. “The various response rates and success may depend on the program.”

With the ease of direct mail marketing and cost-effectiveness of the advertising churches looking for outreach tools may turn to mailers. Most churches now use direct mail specifically for people new to an

While this may be effective, LifeWay believes that a more efficient approach to church outreach is to send direct mail not only to “new movers,” but also to specific audiences in the area who match upcoming events at the church.

It isn’t only people who have recently moved who may be interested in church. Studies suggest seven percent of the population is seeking a church home at any given time. Targeting those people with specific
outreach events may be the best use of direct mail for churches.

Brian Wright, minister of a new church plant in Kansas City, said he won’t rely on direct mail to advertise the Parkside Church. He thinks of direct mail as impersonal and said he would rather promote the church with community activities and outreach projects.

“We want to be out in the community, not just in their mail,” Wright said.

The branding process will be important in marketing the church, Wright said, but hoped that would come primarily through other promotional means.

Hikes Point Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., took the opposite approach when they opened five years ago in a building that had been used for another church. Minister Scottie Richmond blanketed the
surrounding neighborhood and a couple of other ZIP Codes with information about the church that included a video.

The mail campaign was part of a broader effort that included print media advertising, radio spots and a Web site. Attendance went from about 200 to 486 on Easter Sunday, the time targeted by the campaign as
a grand opening. The following week’s attendance was about 250. Membership is now around 350.

“We still have newcomers almost every Sunday,” Richmond said. “We’re still reaping the benefits.”

The promotional campaign also worked internally, Richmond said. “The event really mobilized and unified our church to accomplish a goal–it strengthened our existing members.”

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