Why Hide Under A Bushel?
By Robert Rizzo
Two decades ago, you might have been kicked out of many American churches and seminaries for using the words “church” and “marketing” in the same sentence. Even today, many pastors and laypeople consider the concept of promoting a local church ludicrous. Even unbiblical!
But church marketing is neither. Indeed, common sense dictates that the only way a person can make an informed decision about where they will explore a relationship with Jesus Christ is if you tell them—clearly, compellingly, and often—what your church is all about.
For years, churches in America and around the world practiced an “if we build it they will come” approach to church marketing. They erected buildings and people of a particular denomination attended. However, in recent years, there has been a significant decline in the amount of emphasis placed on denominational affiliation. Many pastors are removing the denominational name from their churches in favor of emphasizing words like “fellowship,” “community church,” and “Christian center.”
While this change was intended to make church more accessible, the loss of recognized “brand names” (Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, for example) has left churchgoers and seekers alike unsure of just what they’ll be getting when they enter these more “generically named” houses of worship.
It is, therefore, critically important for a church to communicate its identity; and within that identity, communicate value. A potential churchgoer must perceive greater value in attending your Sunday morning worship service than sleeping, golfing, shopping, or washing the car. If you are communicating with the unchurched, the value should convince them to visit. If you’re communicating with believers, your value should convince them to become members.
So what does a church marketing effort look like in the 21st century? Well, it all depends on how you answer several basic questions, beginning with cost.
Is Marketing Good Stewardship?
Many congregations erroneously assume that the return on investment of marketing is too low to merit the commitment of funds. Often pastors and lay leaders say something like, “Well, we tried that once and nothing happened.” Which is the problem. They tried it once! Perceived image, awareness levels, and expressed value cannot be changed significantly as a result of a single marketing blitz.
Other congregations assume that any kind of church marketing is cost prohibitive. But remember: To not communicate who you are is also a form of communication. If a church does not aggressively manage the information that is disseminated about its ministry, it will be managed by hearsay! Aggressively managing information does not mean manipulation but rather clarification. What is the likelihood you would visit a restaurant without the slightest idea of what type of food it serves?
What Do We Have to Market? …
For starters, the greatest story ever told! And since the terrible events of September 11, many have been spiritually reawakened to find the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But in addition to the Gospel, you must market your own unique vision for community. And that means you’ll need to know just what your own unique vision is.
Examine the ministries of the church and the ministry environment to determine why the church exists. While the answer might seem obvious, many congregations are often uncertain as to why they exist. A typical scenario might go something like this: An established church has had eight pastors with eight visions, and the new pastor has only been there three months. Research can provide objective data to help clarify this church’s vision (see the “Keys” sidebar). And armed with such a vision, the church can focus its marketing energies on the audiences and activities for which it is uniquely gifted and equipped.
How Do We Reach Our Audience?
Once a church is clear about its purpose, it must identify its audiences. In a broad sense, churches are constantly communicating with four audiences: its core, the congregation, guests, and the broader community. Church marketing, then represents the church’s efforts to be intentional about its communication to all of these points of contact.
Once a church knows what it wants to say and to whom to say it, it is time to make a plan. The church should select marketing options that most effectively support the church’s vision (while always weighing costs against the strategic impact such efforts will have on the church). And the communication tools to chose from are varied, and include direct mail, door hangers, theater slides, Internet, newsletters, weekly worship materials, billboards, directional signs, radio, television, etc. Choose the tool that most effectively communicates to your desired audience (and that is within you allocated budget).
Churches should produce materials that consistently communicate their purpose and vision in both words and images. And they should stick to their marketing plan (which should include objectives, deadlines, and campaign time frame). Many congregations cannot resist the temptation to change their objectives nine months into the plan. Resist! Be consistent in timing, appearance, and message.
Great marketing should always resemble a dialog between two friends. Each time a prospect or member receives something from your church, it should be obvious who sent the communication. This allows the recipient to spend more time understanding the deeper meaning of the message and less time wading through layers of information to determine just who is talking to him or her.
Four Keys to Effective Church Outreach
By Scott Evans
Know Your Audience
Understanding a church’s individual “identity” can help focus marketing and outreach efforts for maximum effectiveness. When evaluating your church’s identity, here are some important questions to keep in mind:
* What is your church known for in the community?
* What is the perception you’d like the community to have about your church?
* What is your mission? And how is it being communicated to the congregation?
* Does your identity connect with unbelievers as well as believers?
Know Your Community
In order to attract guests—particularly unbelievers—to a church, it is important for the church to know its community. This includes geographics (Who lives where?), psychographics (What are their interests and attitudes?), and demographics (What are they like—age, family size, income, ethnicity?).
It is also important for a church to connect with the needs, hopes, and fears of the audience they are targeting. As an example, a particular community might have a high percentage of single parents. If a church wants to reach out to this audience, they might identify the following:
* They need emotional support and connection.
* They hope for financial advancement.
* They fear their kids might get involved with drugs, gangs, and/or other negative influences.
Close Your “Back Door”
How open is your church’s “back door?” While many churches, even large churches, are very successful at attracting visitors, the real measure of outreach success is retention. The key to connection is having an intentional plan to make it happen. Here are some questions to ask:
* Does your church offer regular events where relationships can happen?
* Do you have an established assimilation process for visitors?
* Does your church have connection programs for people in various life stages such as small groups, classes, or specialized programs?
* Is there a culture of acceptance and connection at your church? Do your members understand that it is their responsibility not just to be friendly, but also to build relationships with new people?
Make Outreach Easy
Are the people and ministry team equipped with the attitude and aptitude to invite an unsaved friend to church? Equipping is much more than an admonition or a guilt-trip. First, people need to understand that their connection could be the key to someone coming to Christ. Secondly, prepare regular attenders with information and tools (simple cards, flyers, even e-mails) that make extending an invitation easy. People usually don’t reach out because they fear they won’t be able to answer spiritual questions, but almost everyone can invite a friend to a BBQ, a class, a concert, or other special event.
This article “Why Hide Under A Bushel” is excerpted from Your Church Magazine. May/June 2002.