Reaching The Unreachable Through Direct Mail


By: Ed Litton

Each year in the United States, more than one hundred billion dollars worth of goods and services are sold by direct mail. Direct mail is used by the business community to sell all sorts of products and services. Direct mail also is an ideal way for the local church to reach the motivated prospect. Consider the following advantages. Direct mail–

1. allows a church to target a specific motivated group of people;

2. reaches the target group with a specific message that would be of interest to them;

3. allows accurate measure of a church’s campaign effectiveness;

4. is quick and flexible;

5. can bring immediate action by prospects.

6. helps develop a cumulative effect that will carry a positive message about a church to its target community;

7. can effectively change negative perceptions into positive perceptions throughout the community.

How do you launch a direct-mail campaign for your church?


Before a penny is spent on an ad, a stamp, or a mailing list, determine who your church is trying to reach and set a clear objective. As an example, your church may want to reach “all of the families who live in the Countryside Subdivision with the appeal to attend your church on a specific date for the purpose of hearing a message called Affair-Proof Your Marriage.”

Defining your target group and objective serves as the driving goal of the specific direct-mail campaign. Ask yourselves:

* What do we wish to achieve in this campaign?

* What do we expect our prospect to do?

– Attend a service?

– Call for information?

– Send in a reply card?

– Respond to a special offer?

* Do our expectations match our written goal?

Once these questions are answered, proceed to the next step.


Develop a mailing list. Keep in mind that the most important element of a successful direct-mail campaign is to know who you are trying to reach. Direct-mail lists are one source of help. Companies that provide this service are located in most cities and are listed under “Mailing Lists” in the telephone yellow pages. You can order mailing lists that identify:

* Homeowners

* Singles

* Students

* Retirees

* Renters

* Household incomes

* Newcomers (and much more)

A specific mailing list will help your campaign become successful. The more you know about the people you are trying to reach, the more likely your campaign will affect your prospect. This is what I call “smart bombing.” Smart bombing means that you attract your prospect with a piece of mail that will make the person want to read it and think twice about attending your church. To smart-bomb a specific group, know who you are trying to reach. If a community is made up mostly of retired people, advertising a class for new parents is not a wise use of your advertising dollars.

Wouldn’t you know that this kind of information will cost extra! You can, however, take a less-expensive approach to direct mail if you know basic information about the makeup of the community you are trying to reach. I call it the “shotgun” approach. Although this approach can be effective, it still is going to reach many who are not motivated prospects.

The shotgun approach uses carrier routes. The label company can provide you with labels for each house in a given carrier route. The label company should charge less for this service than others. Also, the post-office rate is the lowest as the carrier simply puts one piece with each delivery.


One advertising professional told me that the key to any form of advertising is to reach out to customers and bite them with your message. The offer you make is vital to your direct-mail campaign. Churches all too often are guilty of attempting to give the community they want to reach far too much information. We dull our bite when we load the direct-mail piece with needless information. Likely, you want only to attract their attention to your church and invite them to attend or respond to a specific message. Many unsaved people who otherwise would not attend your church may be attracted to a special sermon on a timely subject or a special meeting or offer.

How you say what you say says more about your organization than anything else. This is by no means a new thought, yet it is critical to a successful direct-mail campaign. Layout artists, designers, printers, and creative talent are expensive. Most churches do not have many resources to draw from in these areas. You may use any means available to you, but let me suggest basic steps to achieving a professional-looking direct-mail piece. You need the following:

* A creative idea and text for your advertisement.

* A professional advertising layout. (If you do not have the services of a professional layout artist, then begin collecting direct-mail ads that are sent to your office and home. Note which ones attracted you and how they are laid out. Recent advances in desktop publishing allow even small operations the ability to produce professional results at minimal cost.)

* A way to print the direct-mail piece. (More than one color is effective.)

* A label or list source (Many label companies will affix, sort, and deliver to the post office as a part of their service.)

* A non-profit postal permit.

We have used letters and cards in our direct-mail campaigns. To date, the cards have been more successful. Why? Because a card communicates a message as soon as the prospect looks at it. An envelope identified as “junk mail” will be thrown away without being opened. If you use an envelope, make sure you have something printed on the envelope that motivates the prospect to open it.

If you choose to use envelopes, handwritten names and addresses will be more effective than labels because they appear personal. One Christmas we mailed a copy of the Book of Mark dramatized on cassette tape to more than five hundred homes. We wanted to invite them to Christmas services and offer them a Christmas gift that would be life-changing. We called the campaign “The Perfect Gift”. On the upper left-hand corner of the envelope was the campaign title “The Perfect Gift”, and below was the return address. Volunteers hand-addressed each envelope. The campaign was successful.


Develop a means to measure your response. We have on our visitor cards a section that asks, “How did you hear about us?” Printed beneath the question are several ways we advertise: direct mail, radio, yellow pages, sign, friend, and other. The visitors’ responses help us gauge exactly how our advertising dollars are working. Pastor, when you greet your visitors after the service or when you visit your prospects, ask people how they heard about your church. Then make notes later about the most effective
medium you are using.


Start off small and grow slowly; but, above all, be persistent. A few years of consistent messages may be necessary to reach most people. Do not grow weary in well-doing. Direct-mail ads, as well as other mediums of advertising, eventually will have a residual effect. People may not remember all of them, but they will have positive impressions of your church. When their needs become evident enough that they begin to search for answers, your church is the first one that will come to their minds.

My car, which we affectionately call “the bomb,” had transmission problems several years ago. I was amazed to notice in the sports page of the daily newspaper that several transmission shops in our city had advertised the same day that I needed a new transmission. The transmission shops advertise regularly, but I do not always have a need for a new transmission. They caught my attention that day because I was aware of my need and they were advertising their services. In church advertising terms, “When need meets advertiser, a response can be expected.” To reach people, the church advertisers must get our messages out on a regular basis.

Our church this year has a goal of eight direct-mail advertising campaigns. The first campaign was to promote a special message that we felt would appeal to families of all types. It was called “Affair-Proof Your Marriage.” We mailed an 8 1/2- by- 5 1/2- inch card in two colors with the large, simple message “Affair-Proof Your Marriage” on one side. We printed on the flip side an invitation to attend, the date, times of the services, a map, a response telephone number, and the church logo. The cards went out into the community the week before the event through third-class carrier-route mail. We took the shotgun approach and were satisfied with the results.

Twelve families walked through the doors for the special service that Sunday. Several others who did not attend that Sunday did indicate later that a mailing was their way of hearing about us (a residual response). Of the 12 families who visited, we followed up with visits, have led one family to Christ, and have five families strongly considering our church. We believe we always have positive results when we simply put our name in front of the community.

A side note: A short time ago while visiting a prospect, we discovered another positive effect of our four years of direct-mail campaigns. We asked the family how they heard about our church. The wife responded that, after moving into their house, she asked a neighbor about the churches in the area. The neighbor said she did not attend church regularly but knew of a church that really cared about families. It was our church. How did she get the impression that we care about families when she had never visited our church? Direct mail.

Direct mail involves nothing magical. If you think it might work for your church, try it. These ideas are like fresh fish-cook them before they spoil.

(The above material appeared in the January/February/March 1993 issue of Growing Churches.)

Christian Information Network