The Role Of Marketing For Churches

The Role Of Marketing For Churches
By Philip Kotler

The following article appeared on the front page of the Chicago Tribune 6, 1990.

Marketing Becomes a Tool in the Business of Religion
By Michael Hirsley, Religion Writer,

Facing an audience of fellow Roman Catholics here for a national symposium on regenerating Catholicism among young adults, Patrick Flynn talked turkey.

More literally, he talked hamburger.

Flynn, executive vice president of McDonald’s Corp., told the recent gathering of nearly 300 Catholic leaders in the Midland hotel that the fast-food chain tries to “reach out generically with advertising, but then reach out at a local level trying to live what we advertise.”

After the conference, Flynn acknowledged, “There were probably some attendees who were asking why we were talking about McDonald’s. I didn’t try to draw any parallels to the Church.”

But discussion groups afterward did.

“Pat Flynn’s advice to ‘Think like a brand; act like a retailer’ is perfectly applicable to churches,” said symposium organizer John Fontana, who directs a center at Chicago’s Old St. Patrick’s Church that tries to connect parishioners with their faith.

Religious professionals long have held an “anti-business bias,” Fontana said. “They want to keep a business/church dichotomy, as opposed to finding similarities and learning from successful marketing strategies.”

Words such as “consumer,” “market” and “shopping around,” which have become commonplace in American secular usage, are being heard increasingly in religious circles, a segment of society that used to shun such terms.

Religion in the United States faces new opportunities and new dilemmas, experts on church growth agree. They say many unchurched Americans particularly among the 75 million in the Baby Boom generation, now ages 28 to 43, are looking for organized faith.

However, the Boomers are not blindly loyal to the denominations in which they were raised, and they are not hesitant about testing different churches, the experts say.

In other words, many unchurched Americans must be viewed as a market of educated consumers who are shopping around.

“A church should not be run like a used car lot,” says Ron Sellers, project director for the Barna Research Group of Glendale, California. But once you pay a pastor’s salary, pay building and maintenance costs, buy insurance . . . it is a business.”

“And there is a market out there to whom you sell yourself in terms of how to affect those people’s lives,” said Sellers.

“Denominational loyalty is a thing of the past,” said Rev. Lyle Schaller of Naperville, a United Methodist minister and a church growth researcher with the Yokefellow Institute of Richmond, IN.

“It evokes hostility among many religious leaders when you talk about competition,” he said. “But churchgoers today go shopping for pastors and programs. What the church scene is today is a market.”

Who survives in this new marketplace? There is no simple answer. Witness three growing churches in the Chicago area.

At non-denominational Willow Creek, 14,600 members can avail themselves of 90 ministries, including personal finances, single parenting and car repair. Rev. Bill Hybels polled the neighbor hood needs for a church before beginning his ministry 15 years ago.

At Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 700 W. Adams St., 1,200 members often fill pews at services that drew only a few dozen worshipers seven years ago; Rev. Jack Wall’s out reach to a target community filled with single people and young childless couples includes a “world’s largest block party” every summer.

At Grace United Methodist Church, whose 2,500 members represent a growth of one-third since 1983 in highly mobile sub urban Naperville, Rev. Arthur Landwehr said the first step was simply encouraging members to invite their neighbors to church.

Those successes cross denominational lines, and the growth at Grace United Methodist Church goes counter to an overall drop in membership among Methodists. In all three cases, members say they were attracted by a welcoming attitude, access to smaller group services within the larger church, and sermons that address real-life problems.

It all boils down to a change from 25 years ago, when churches took it for granted that people would come, researchers said.

“Back then, new churches’ three factors for success were location, location, location,” Schaller said. “Today, the three factors are pastor, pastor, pastor.”

Times have changed when a major newspaper will feature the topic of religion and marketing on its front page!

Times have changed. There are now more persons in America who are either not associated with any religion whatsoever or who are connected to a religious tradition other than the traditional Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Jewish faiths. The advent of the baby-boom generation provides us with the first generation of Americans who have not simply “bought” the faith and ecclesiastical traditions of their parents.

In this milieu congregations and religious organizations are striving to be faithful and successful in the context of new competitors: sports, drugs, Eastern philosophies, and so on. Some of these religious organizations are turning to the discipline of marketing as a means of doing the job more effectively.

As an organized theory, marketing is a new kid on the block, having matured as a science and an art in the last thirty years. However, in many ways the world’s great religious movements arose out of the work of founders who innately utilized the concepts and methods that have today come to be known as marketing, and by these means attracted disciples in great numbers, who in turn carried the Word around the globe.

When John Wesley founded the Methodist movement, he quickly recognized the need to go where the unchurched were and to communicate in their terms so that they might respond. This decision caused him to begin preaching outdoors, because the churches would not allow the poor and uneducated to attend their services. This was no easy change of method for Wesley. “I must become more vile,” he said, as he laid aside the pleasing and “accepted” methods of the Church of England to begin his field preaching, which carried him 250,000 miles on horseback from cemeteries (where he preached standing on a tombstone), to coal mines, to hills outside of Bristol. He lived in a day when a favorite form of fellowship among family and friends, at home and in the tavern, was group singing, and he utilized this as a means of communicating his message to the listeners. His brother Charles wrote over 6,000 hymns, most of them set to the familiar folk music of the day, which the Wesleys taught to their mostly illiterate listeners. As his movement grew, he stressed upon his laypreachers that they needed to discover and respond to the pain and problems of those they hoped to reach. “Go to those who need you. Go to those who need you most,” was his constant plea.

Had the Tribune article been written in 1750, John Wesley probably would have been featured as a prime example of a religious leader who was adopting marketing theory. We have interviewed many leaders of congregations and other religious organizations who are utilizing sound marketing methods. Yet when we visited with them, they disavowed knowing anything about marketing. A more formal learning of marketing principles could perhaps have made many of them even more effective.

For all religious organizations, a marketing perspective can provide rich insights into more effectively conducting a number of major activities, including:

1. Starting a new congregation;
2. Targeting prospective members;
3. Attracting first-time visitors;
4. Building membership involvement and commitment;
5. Attracting and managing volunteers;
6. Keeping members;
7. Involving members in measuring the importance and performance of the organization’s ministries and services;
8. Attracting funds and other resources.

In addition, marketing raises the question of how religious organizations should go about judging their success. Is the measure of success size and growth? Member satisfaction? The level of member participation? Marketing feedback mechanisms allow leaders of religious organizations to evaluate the success of their programs and to assess the extent to which ministry objectives have been achieved.

This book will explore the many uses of marketing theory and practice to understand how leaders of religious institutions can build a more viable organization, one that better captures the opportunities for ministering to the needs of its members, and eliciting from them the levels of faith, support, and participation that are essential for living a spiritually rich life.

This book will not tout marketing as the coming of the kingdom or a cure for all ills. Marketing is not an end for the religious organization; rather, it is a tool, a means to more effectively carry out the mission and ministry of the religious organization.

Marketing is, however, the next management discipline to be seriously considered and adapted by the religious community. Marketing is not a fad, a novelty to play with for a while. Rather, marketing is a more effective response to the rapidly changing, turbulent environment in which religious organizations find themselves today.

At the same time, marketing is not a substitute for the essential place of spirituality and vision in the life of the religious leader and his or her organization. Spirituality and vision grow out of one’s relationship with God and as a result of a disciplined life, nurtured by God as one gives oneself to the means of grace God has provided God’s people.

The people of God have always believed God speaks to them, if they listen. This discernment of the leading of the Lord comes through reflection, prayer, and faithfulness to the disciplines and paths God sets before the leader and the people.

Marketing is no substitute for this. However, there is nothing about marketing that is against this. Further, there is a great deal about marketing that can support and inform one’s praying, listening, discerning, and doing of ministry.

It is the intent of the authors of this book to be humble about the place of marketing in the list of the religious priorities, but also to be bullish about the role it can play in making almost any ministry or minister more effective. In this book, there is at least one good idea for every religious leader or worker. Basically, the book presents a new way of conceptualizing, planning, and implementing ministry. The book will take nothing away from what you already know about
management and ministry. Rather, it will clarify, augment, and sup port what is already known. Marketing is simply another step toward more effective ministry.

What is marketing? Marketing is a process for making concrete decisions about what the religious organization can do, and not do, to achieve its mission. Marketing is not selling, advertising, or promotion, though it may include all of these. Marketing is the analysis, planning, implementation, and control of carefully formulated programs to bring about voluntary “exchanges” with specifically targeted groups for the purpose of achieving the organization’s visional objectives. In other words, marketing can help a religious organization accomplish its desired ends through its interactions with various groups. Most of all, marketing is a process for building responsiveness into a religious organization – responsiveness to those myriad groups whose needs must be satisfied if the organization is to be successful in its ministry endeavors.

This book will equip you with theory and tools to more productively use available resources in order to better achieve religious objectives by becoming more responsive to those whom the organization exists to serve. You will gain concepts and tools for determining mission; discovering needs that may be converted into ministry opportunities; analyzing, segmenting, and targeting groups or concerns, both internal and external; planning responsive programs; and evaluating results of the effort.

“The Role of Marketing for Churches” excerpted from “Marketing for Congregations” By Norman Shawchuck, Philip Kotler, Bruce Wrenn, and Gustave Rath.

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.”