Promoting Men’s groups
By N. F. McBride
And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. COLOSSIANS 1:28
Overview-This step is designed to assist you in:
1. Recognizing the need or a realistic Workable promotion Strategy
2. Clarifying the men’s, men’s groups-ministry vision – the message.
3. Deciding on specific promotional methods.
How do the adults in your church find out about the small-men’s groups ministry? You invest blood, sweat, and tears in planning the small-men’s men’s groups ministry, but if no one joins a small group, you’ve wasted your time and effort. Get the point? Promotion is both a reality and a necessity. Consequently, it’s necessary to invest adequate time and effort in developing a realistic, workable promotion strategy.
Hiam and Schewe define promotion as “any technique that persuasively communicates favorable information about a seller’s product to potential buyers; includes advertising, personal selling, sales promotions, and public relations.” While it needs some “tweaking” to fit small-group ministries, this terrific definition provides useful categories to include in your promotional strategy: (1) advertising, (2) personal “selling,” (3) “sales” promotions, and (4) public relations. But before starting to devise a promotional plan, a few prior items need your attention.
Why promote men’s men’s groups? Promotion’s aim is to ensure that everyone who needs to know about the small-men’s men’s groups ministry does in fact know. But knowledge isn’t the only purpose. Promotion also seeks to have people buy the product. In your context that means having people join the men’s men’s groups you’re planning. In short, promotion attempts to communicate the value and benefits associated with the group’s ministry as it impacts the total church- or an identified segment-and the individual participants.
Who’s in charge of promotion? Devising and implementing the promotional plan must be someone’s specific responsibility, but whose? Is one person or a committee in charge? Recalling our earlier discussion on recruiting and training, there are several alternatives available for the planning team to consider. Refer to the seven options outlined on page 122. The advice offered earlier is still appropriate and applicable to the promotion task.
What’s the message? What do you want to communicate to people about your small- group’s ministry? The methods you use to promote the ministry are only as good as the content or message you seek to communicate. An ideal message seeks to get attention, hold interest, arouse desire, and obtain action-in short, to foster group membership and participation. In practice, few messages are able to take your adult members all the way from awareness to action. You may need to use different messages in your promotional mix at various stages along the promotional trail.
A message has both content and format. To start, you need to clarify what you want to say and then identify methods to communicate the message. Your message must honestly state, in a positive manner, the small-group vision. More on this topic later.
What “givens” are you working with? Your promotional strategy is directly affected by the numerous decisions you made in previous steps; namely, how the men’s men’s groups ministry fits into your church’s overall ministry, the specific goals that provide direction for the ministry, the level of application, what type of men’s men’s groups you want to develop, and the many details associated with implementing the men’s men’s groups. Each prior decision provides background upon which to base the promotional content and procedural decisions. There’s no way I can identify everything this implies. Nevertheless, you’re wise to keep this information in the back of your mind.
Is there a difference between persuasion and manipulation? Some people become nervous when I talk about promotion. They fear manipulating people. This is a legitimate fear. However, I make a distinction between persuading people and manipulating people. It’s a simple distinction, but very useful. In general, my responsibility in ministry is to persuade or influence people to accept and follow Jesus Christ. To persuade is to convince. Specifically, my motivation is to change their knowledge, attitudes, opinion, and behavior-in short, to prompt them to join a group-so they benefit, actually so we all benefit, as members of God’s family. On the other hand, manipulation seeks to influence people�s behavior in order to derive benefit for myself without regard for their well-being. Applying these thoughts, I definitely want to persuade-not manipulate-people to participate in a group.
FORMULATING A PROMOTION STRATEGY
Formulating an effective promotional strategy requires, several phases. As you progress through each suggested phase, don’t forget to write down the decisions you make. A writ ten plan is useful in communicating your intent to others, directing the plan’s implementation, and providing a record for future reference. So, don’t leave anything to memory. Write it down.
Informing the adults in your church about the group’s ministry is not particularly controversial. However, when you attempt to persuade them to join a group, you risk irritating and even alienating some individuals. Go slow, don’t push. Persuasion isn’t arm twisting. Pursue only their best interests. Use persuasive promotion to advance the men’s groups ministry, not to cause ill will or conflict. But this is a difficult challenge, requiring the planning team’s full attention.
The phases are presented in a logical order. However, your unique situation may require a different order and different elements. Ready, let’s begin.
Clarify the vision, that is, your promotional message. It’s tough to “sell” a product-the group’s vision-if it’s something you’re not excited about. Enthusiasm is contagious. Therefore, clearly defining the small-men’s groups vision is a requirement preceding any promotion efforts. After all, you can’t effectively promote a “product” you don’t know and understand (or at least don’t try to know and understand).
According to George Barna in his book The Power of Vision (Regal Books, 1992), “Vision is a picture held in our mind’s eye of the way things could or should be in the days ahead. Vision connotes a visual reality, a portrait of conditions that do not exist currently.” Vision is “foresight with insight based on hindsight.” What do you want the small-men’s groups ministry to become in your church?
Your group’s vision began back in the first steps when you conducted a context audit and completed the needs assessment. These activities led to establishing the men’s groups-ministry goals-what you want to accomplish, why you think men’s groups are necessary. Wrap this all up in a short statement and you have your vision.
Promotion focuses on presenting vision. Consequently, please follow these principles:
– “Sell” the vision, not the small-men’s groups program. Stress the biblical rationale, the reasons behind men’s men’s groups, plus the individual and church benefits.
– Ensure that the vision is realistically (and honestly) presented.
– Clearly articulate the vision in a manner whereby church and community members understand and catch the vision for themselves.
– Persist and persevere in communicating the vision.
– Most importantly, promote the vision focusing on glorifying God.
Phase one is complete after you translate the vision into promotion objectives: brief statements that identify what you want to accomplish in promoting the small-men’s groups ministry. In general, the promotional strategy seeks to inform, persuade, and remind. But there’s more to it. Promotion objectives usually focus on action over an extended period- first making members/regular attenders aware of the group’s ministry and then building interest, desire, and ultimately their decision to participate. Once they’re participating, the objectives can also include promoting “goodwill”.
Determine what resources are available and needed. Once again, you must turn your attention to a subject that frequently appears as you develop the small-men’s groups ministry- resource allocation. By now you know the term resources means more than money; it also includes time and “talent” (people). Throughout the planning process you’re required to balance these three items. Promotion is no exception.
Promotion alternatives are controlled to an extent by how much money you have to work with. Consequently phase two has two potential paths to follow: (1) plan whatever promotional methods you think are suitable, find out how much money they cost to exe cute, and then ask for the needed resources; or (2) find out what financial resources you have and then plan a promotional strategy within these boundaries. The second option is the most realistic for nearly all small-men’s groups-ministry planning teams.
Money isn’t the only cost associated with developing your promotional strategy. Talent or personnel is a second consideration. Some promotional methods require significant experience and expertise. Knowing what talent exists in your church or community-willing and available talent you can utilize-can either expand or constrict your promotional alternatives. In some cases, available talent is accessible without cost. Utilizing some people, however, means paying very high fees. But this is rare. Most talented Christians are willing to lend a hand if they are asked correctly and have the time available. For example, a highly talented commercial artist donates her time and abilities to create a series of posters that communicate the small-group vision.
Time is the third budget item. Timing is everything when it comes to your promotional strategy. Having a promotional schedule and sticking to it is mandatory. This is such an important consideration it gets its own phase, phase four.
Planning promotional elements and methods. “Promotional elements” refers to advertising (and publicity), personal “selling” (one-on-one methods), and sales promotion (events)-the first three subheadings included in the promotion definition stated earlier. The fourth element, public relations, constitutes phase 7.
Each element lends itself to a variety of appropriate methods. Some methods are inexpensive and easy to use, while others are quite costly and demand considerable expertise. In most situations, a mixture of elements and methods usually produces the best results.
Just a reminder before continuing on: To select the best method within each promotional element, keep in mind: (1) the small-men’s groups vision, (2) what you know about your congregation and community, (3) available resources (money, time, and talent), and (4) the small-men’s groups-ministry application level.
Advertising is any impersonal, structured communication about ideas, goods, or services paid for by an identified sponsor. This definition sounds rather scary and, perhaps to some, inappropriate for promoting small-group ministries. But with a little tailoring and explanation it suits our purposes just fine.
The “ideas, goods, or services” in our case, of course, is the small-men’s groups-ministry vision, plus the related benefits associated with group membership and participation. “Paid for by an identified sponsor” simply refers to identifying the church as the sponsoring organization. It’s the phrase “impersonal, structured communication” that causes most people to pause. “Structured communication” suggests advertising is an orderly attempt to convey persuasive information, to cause the “consumers” to “buy the product” (the adult church members to join men’s men’s groups). The word impersonal merely connotes methods that are not tailored to each specific member in the church or application level. Rather, the methods are general in nature, aimed at everyone in general and no one in specific.
Advertising normally utilizes the mass media-newspapers, magazines, television, radio, direct mail, etc. As you plan the advertising element in promoting the small-men�s groups ministry, here are some “mass media” options you might consider using:
– Weekly church worship folder
– Church newsletter
– Denominational newsletter
– Local Christian radio station
– Public-access cable television
– Mailings to church members/regular attendees
– Mailings to Christian community men�s groups
– Community newspaper
While you needn’t be an advertising expert, here are a few ideas or concepts, not necessarily the specific terms, you may find useful as you think about advertising your small group’s ministry:
ADVERTISING MARKET refers to the specific audience at which the advertising message is directed-your men’s groups-ministry application level. Depending on whom you’re targeting- the whole church or a specific segment-knowing about your “market” helps you tailor and communicate an effective message.
ADVERTISING PLATFORM alludes to the small-group issues and benefits you wish to convey in the advertising message. Like a political platform, it includes all the “planks” (reasons) to “vote” (join) for the candidate (men’s men’s groups).
ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN denotes the message with a single theme that is repetitively communicated to the “target audience” over a prolonged time. An advertising campaign must fit in and complement the overall promotion strategy.
ADVERTISING THEME means the slogan or central idea that is repeated throughout the advertising campaign. For example, “a caring community”; “Care and be cared for in a Caring Group”; ‘Think small, join a Growth Group”; etc.
PUBLICITY is a form of advertising that focuses on communicating the organization’s message through the mass media, but it costs the organization nothing (it’s free). Most church advertising is really publicity. However, on occasion, you may elect to spend the necessary amount to buy time on local radio or television stations.
A final note about advertising. In the secular world advertising has its dark side. I’m sure you can come up with many illustrations of how advertising is dishonest, manipulative, and exploitative. However, even though there is a possibility of abusing its ideas and methods, advertising can be a useful tool in promoting your small-men’s groups ministry. Just proceed with caution.
Personal “Selling” (One-on-One Promotion)
Without a doubt, the best way to promote your small-men’s groups ministry is sharing the vision with people one on one. In advertising terms, this is “personal selling.” At its best, personal, one-on-one methods are really “direct marketing.” That is, (1) a specific, definite offer is made-join a small group; (2) all information necessary to make a decision is provided; and (3) a method for responding is given-fill out the registration card, etc.
One-on-one strategies are ideal because the message can be tailored to the specific individual or, in some situations, to the small group. It has the greatest potential for helping people see the values associated with small-group membership. Here are a few good applications:
– In the person’s home, or if appropriate, at his or her office or work
– Presentation to an adult-education class (ladies group, Bible study, etc.)
– Having a cup of coffee with a friend
– A telephone call
– Conversation while participating in a task or recreation
– Your suggestions:
When was the last time you went to the grocery store? I’ll bet as soon as you walked through the front door you were bombarded with posters and displays proclaiming numerous products. This is an example of “sales promotion.” Samples, coupons, contests, premiums, rebates, trade shows, etc., are all considered sales-promotion methods. Sales promotions are usually intended to increase sales over a short period, while personal selling and advertising have a long-term sales goal. Translated into small-men’s groups-ministry terms, this means short-term ideas or events aimed at quickly promoting the small-men’s groups ministry.
“Sales” promotions are the least-used promotion method in the church. Nevertheless, they have their place in a well-thought-out promotional mix. Can you think of anything else besides the options listed below?
– A small-men’s groups booth in the church lobby
– A one-night, “visit-a-group” opportunity
– A video shown after the morning worship service
– A small-men’s groups booth at a “ministries fair”
– A contest to see which group can be first in “birthing” a new group
1. Having a promotion strategy is great, but who exactly is responsible to put what into action and when?
2. When is the best time (hour, day, month, season, etc.) to implement the various elements in your promotion strategy?
3. How long (days, weeks, months, years) does the promotion last?
4. What time lines and deadlines must be established and kept in order to implement the promotion strategy?
5. Does the plan/schedule conflict, compete, or interfere with other church events or promotional activities?
Secure the necessary approval. In some churches this phase is essential; others may simply disregard this detail. Approval or permission to proceed and implement the promotional strategy is frequently an issue within highly structured, highly organized churches. Often at stake are financial considerations: “Yes, we want to do it, but we don�t have the money right now.” If your context requires securing some kind of approval to proceed, do it; failure to secure it can lead to calamity!
Is there someone who must approve your promotional plan? If yes, who, how, and when? Don�t proceed until these questions are answered satisfactorily!
Implementing the strategy. This is the “doing-it” phase. Putting the promotional strategy into action involves two considerations: preparing the methods and putting the strategy to work.
PREPARING THE METHODS. Knowing which methods you want to use, and when you intend to use them, is obviously important, but a vital issue still remains: preparing or getting the method ready for utilization. As you write the copy, lay out the format; tape the segment or whatever, follow these preparation principles:
Be complete and thorough.
Do it right! Quality, quality, quality!
Meet all required deadlines. Time is valuable!
Run all concepts and ideas by several people to get their reactions.
Retain the right to edit everything.
Proof everything twice.
Hold people accountable to do their assigned tasks and to do them well.
Don’t exceed your resource limits.
Reduce costs and save money if possible.
In case something goes wrong, be prepared with alternative “plan B.”
Putting the strategy to work. Ready, get set, go! With plan and schedule in hand, it’s time to implement the promotional strategy. Some words to the wise:
Stay flexible, but stick to the plan and schedule.
If the plan and schedule aren’t working, make any needed alterations before too much time and money are wasted.
Once started, finish the job in style. Do your best!
Follow-up public relations. In my way of thinking public relations (PR) is an ongoing pro motional activity. Therefore, I include it as the final promotion phase you need to consider. By definition public relations is “a promotional activity that aims to communicate a favor able image of a product or its marketer and to promote goodwill.” “Goodwill” represents the potential for the small-men’s groups ministry to earn favor and status as an important element in the church’s life and ministry. It is the sum total of both objective and subjective criteria. Goodwill results from “customer” acceptance, ministry effectiveness, reputation, quality, efficiency, leadership competency, and financial stability. As you can imagine, these factors cannot always be programmed, but come through continuing effort.
Follow-up PR seeks to maintain a positive image for the group’s ministry. Positive, ongoing PR is what you want and need. The goal is to keep the ministry before the people in a constructive fashion. Therefore, here are possible methods to try:
– Reporting positive events in the church newsletter
– Quickly dealing with any difficulty that may arise
– A commissioning service for small-men’s groups-ministry leadership
– A written and visual “annual report’
– Your suggestions
Sometimes PR, and so-called goodwill, can be negative. Adverse publicity has dam aged group ministries that allowed dysfunctional men’s groups to persist, incompetent leaders to remain in leadership, deviant doctrine to cause church splits, personality clashes to rend men’s groups, etc. Unfavorable PR can lead to people’s dropping out, or worse yet, disbanding the men’s groups ministry altogether. When and if possible, think ahead and ward off anything that may cause problems. Unfortunately, circumstances that you have no control over will result in unfavorable PR. When it happens, learn from the experience and avoid repeating it.
To summarize, PR is an ongoing process that seeks to:
Maintain or enhance the small-men’s groups ministry
Build loyalty and support for men’s men’s groups
Attract prospective new leaders
Provide information about successes
Attract potential new group members
Correct inaccurate or incomplete information about the men’s groups ministry
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.”