Marketing Your Church

Marketing Your Church
By John F. Bagwell

Mention “church marketing” to pastors and church leaders and you are sure to get a variety of responses.

For many, the thought of having to “market” the church is something that just doesn’t seem right. “We’ve never marketed our church,” said one pastor “and I don’t see any reason to start now.”

If you think of marketing in the traditional sense and compare marketing a local church to marketing a consumer product, such as an automobile, then it may appear that we are “commercializing” the church.

However, most churches take part in some form of marketing every week – often without knowing it.

What is marketing?

In the broadest sense marketing is offering a product or service that people want or need with a result that a “change in ownership” takes place. Designing and offering an automobile that few people actually purchase is not really marketing. The actual sale must be closed for the marketing function to be complete.

The same thing is true for churches. Depending upon your goal you need people to either visit your church, join the church, give to the ministry or in someway become involved. Someone needs to respond. Marketing is simply the vehicle that gets people to your church. Of course, a good marketing plan also keeps people involved in the church. We’ll talk more about that in upcoming issues of this newsletter.

The 4 P’s of Marketing

There are actually four areas of marketing. Like a chain, if any of the links is bad the whole chain does not function. These include the Price, Product, Placement (distribution) and Promotion. In upcoming issues of this newsletter I will focus on these 4 P’s to show you just how to get the most from your marketing efforts for your church or ministry.

The Marketing Concept

Through the years our country has evolved more to a marketing concept for goods and services than the traditional sales concept.

When Henry Ford developed his Model T in the early 1900’s, he once said, “You can get it in any color you want, as long as it is black.” At the turn of the 20th Century Ford didn’t have to worry about what the consumer wanted because the American consumer would “buy” almost anything.

As automobile makers discovered that people wanted a choice and would actually pay for that choice the marketing concept began to take over. Soon, just because a company built a particular product didn’t mean that someone would purchase it immediately. The product had to offer some kind of value.

Many churches are still operating under the old sales concept. Like Henry Ford, they offer church one way. You either take it or leave it. That type of attitude usually results in declining church attendance and often extinction. The idea that “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t often work these days. There has to be a compelling reason for people to go to church today. Marketing communicates that reason to the consumer.

Does Marketing mean you have to change the focus of the church?

I will admit that church marketing sometimes gets out of control. Just look at the television evangelist of the last decade that got so caught up in the marketing effort that they lost their sense of direction. When you have to raise more money to buy more television commercials or programs, to raise more money to buy still more commercials in order keep the operation going, something is not right!

Many of these evangelist or pastors changed their message to focus on what the consumer wanted to hear. The so called “prosperity ministry” bought in lots of money, but then crumbled as people felt like it was just a scam.

The fact is, you do not have to change your message to effectively market your church. I saw a sign in front of a church recently -“We don’t change our message – The message changes you.” In short, it is not changing the message – it is presenting the message in a way that people understand.

Today, Churches have to provide something of value while letting the community know they exist.

Jesus Was a Marketer

I’m convinced that Jesus, if he had his ministry on earth today, might well work in advertising instead of being a carpenter. Jesus knew how to relate to people and to bring the message to everyone. And Jesus practiced the basis of target marketing. He used a completely different approach in talking to Jewish leaders than to the woman at the well. He realized that different people react differently to the same message. And while his message was always the same, it was presented very differently depending upon his target audience. Now that is true marketing.

Target Marketing Is Important

I have spent almost 30 years in marketing. I am still amazed how many companies don’t have a clue about their target market. I once talked with a car dealer. When I asked him who he was trying to reach he responded, “everybody.”

Well, that simply was not true. First, he needed to reach people over 18 who had a driver’s license and had the money to buy a car. He also sold the Buick line, which traditionally reaches an older audience.

Equate that back to your church. Who do you want to reach? If you answer “everybody” your target audience is way too large. Even McDonalds and Wal Mart don’t try to reach everybody. There simply isn’t enough money to accomplish that goal. And while the effort to reach everyone in your community is certainly noble, one church simply can not reach every individual.

Now that doesn’t mean you exclude any one group or that you turn people away from your church if they don’t fit your target market. I think it does mean that you should direct your resources (time, money and energy) in specific areas.

How do you decide on a target market?

For starters, a target market needs to be large enough to reach effectively.

I once knew a pastor who wanted to target runners. While there were a fairly large number of athletic individuals in the area, it was difficult to reach them because many races were held on Sunday. You certainly could build a ministry for this group, but it would be difficult to build a church based upon this one narrow segment of the population.

Look around your church and your community. Can you effectively reach singles, young people, seniors, young married couples, Hispanics or middle income families?

Pick one or two groups and then look at how you can reach these people. You will find that the way you present your message may be different for each group.

Target marketing is so important that I will prepare a special issue of this newsletter on that topic.

This article “Marketing Your Church” written by John F. Bagwell is excerpted from the November 2007 newsletter.