About 12 years ago God called my wife and me out of our comfortable, upwardly mobile lives in corporate marketing into a full-time pursuit of serving churches. To say it was an uphill battle at the time would be an understatement. Our two-headed startup challenged status quo in every way. Not only did churches refrain from using the term marketing, judging by the response we often received, it was treated like a dirty word--utter it and you'd be seen as an agent of hypocrisy.
The problem, we quickly discovered, is a cultural misunderstanding. I remember when I told my mother-in-law that we were starting a marketing firm. Her response was typical: "Yikes! Marketing! I hate it when those people call my house at night." That isn't marketing; it's telemarketing--an aspect under the marketing umbrella.
Indeed, the box many have placed marketing in is often only a part of it--or is not even marketing at all. If you see it as door hangers, direct mailers and billboards, you are thinking about advertising--again, only a slice of the marketing pie.
The truth is, marketing is so much more. It is a key component to every church's health. And since 1996, we have been honored to work with thousands of churches of every shape, size, background and denomination, all of which have realized the importance marketing plays in virtually everything they do. We have seen struggling churches grow again, plateaued churches reach new heights and growing churches strategically manage their climb while assimilating more people into a deeper walk with Christ.
If your church is struggling to find its way, or if you're simply wanting to improve your effectiveness and impact more lives, I would like to offer you three basics of church marketing that might just change your perspective on ... well, everything.
1. Marketing is everything.
Marketing is everything you do that creates the perception within your community of who you are and what you value. How well you maintain your campus--marketing. Your church's name. How your greeters greet. How your ushers ush--all marketing. Whether your message is aimed at the choir or to the lost. Even how your congregants live their lives. This is all marketing because all these things affect how people see your church. The reality is, even churches that don't believe in church marketing are currently marketing--though maybe not doing it well.
In the corporate world, the scope of marketing spans from market research, where data studies produce insights into buyer behavior, through decisions that define the very details of a product, its pricing, and how and where it is sold. It likewise includes the packaging, branding, advertising and client experience.
Marketing drives everything. It is the ability to define whom you are trying to reach, how you will reach them and what they will do with you after they have been reached.
Have you ever developed a message to connect people to Christ? Then you have marketed; you just called it something else. Ultimately, the heart of marketing is managing the connection between you and the people you are called to reach.
Many church leaders think it's about getting people to show up on Sunday morning. I contend that it is equally about getting them to come back, get in a small group, volunteer, lead and become active, kingdom-driven believers. Marketing is everything. If you aren't getting the results you desire, then you have a marketing problem. Everything you do speaks. So what are you telling others?
2. Marketing is about people.
It is about learning what makes people tick and then shaping your communication to them in such a way that you create a bridge to their hearts. Paul understood this. "To the Jews I became as a Jew," he wrote, adding that he would become all things to all people that he might win them (1 Cor. 9:20-22). Paul was a master marketer. He studied people, reflecting back to them their values in such things as idol worship, poetry and philosophyÑall with a single pursuit of winning them for Christ. Paul knew what made people tick, and he used those things to lead them to Christ.
The corporate world understands this. MTV has declared that the winner of the next generation is the one who speaks their language the best. To that extent, the trendsetter spends millions of dollars learning the teen language and connecting with it.
How much of your budget is committed to understanding people? Hanging with them? Learning their hopes and needs? Do you know what makes them tick?
Jesus hung out with sinners. The disciples left their comfort zones to pursue a world full of nonbelievers. Yet in the average church today, it's possible as leaders to rarely leave the comfortable climate of like-minded believers. We have a marketing (advertising) mandate, don't we? To go and preach (publish and promote) the gospel. To whom? To those who are lost.
I am an advocate for the lost. I once was lost, and I work hard to remember what it felt like, despite being on the other side of salvation. I still need God and His presence every minute of every day, just like a lost person does. My wife has had five strokes in the last seven years. I cannot imagine going through things like that without Him--yet most people do.
If I were lost would you reach me with the way you currently "do outreach"? Would you understand where I was and reach me where I lived? Would you make clear to me the profound simplicity of the gospel and tell me what the next step in my walk toward Christ is? Every pastor would do well to remember what life was like before Jesus came into the picture.
Not long ago I sat as a consultant in a service of a strong preacher who had crafted a sermon so complex that I, despite being a believer for many years, felt discouraged in my Christianity. This pastor coupled his message with a charge to those who felt ruffled by his words: "If you do not like it, there's the door." Several visitors took him up on that.
In our debriefing, I asked him how he had come to know Christ. He began to weep as he remembered in his childhood when he had been so confused by people talking to him about God--until a gracious volunteer during vacation Bible school explained the simplicity of God's love and the pastor accepted Christ. He wept for how complex he had made it.
The gospel is profoundly simple. Our labor of love is to learn how to connect others with it. Our ultimate charge is to be simple enough to be understood and powerful enough to change lives.
3. If you don't pass the people test, nothing else matters.
Promotion without connectivity is destructive. I often share with church leaders that most of the churches in the United States should not promote themselves. Why? It's simple. Because if your current membership isn't actively inviting people or visitors aren't staying, there's a reason--or several reasons--why.
Too many churches conduct advertising campaigns and ask people to come in their doors, only to come face-to-face with why no one wants to invite anyone to their services. Not only do these visitors not come back, they also tell all their friends what they didn't like about the church. That isn't good marketing--and yet often church leadership fails to do a thing about it.
If you are connecting with people well, your membership will validate this by bringing their friends. If you are not, they won't. The problem with churchgoers not inviting people isn't their problemÑas church leaders, it's our problem.
And no, that doesn't mean it's time for you to craft a message about getting people to invite their friends. That's the equivalent of preaching a sermon on not falling asleep in church. Just as it's our responsibility to keep people awake during our services, it's also our responsibility to make them want to bring their friends with them.
Anyone who has had a life-changing experience with Christ wants everyone they know to encounter the same life-changing Savior. The problem? Most people aren't ashamed of Christ; they're ashamed of their churches. If members walk out of your service saying, "I wish my unchurched friend had been here," they will start to think about inviting that friend. And if members walk out of your service three weeks in a row saying the same thing, there isn't much that will stop them from dragging their friends through your doors.
The heart of marketing is people. Don't start with mailers; start with people. Ask yourself, What am I doing this week to learn how to reach people more effectively?
Since you're a pastor with a burden to see a thriving church that reaches the lost, you've probably asked a similar question before. But have you considered that everything your church does--from its street sign to how a service ends--is an answer to that question? It's time to evaluate. Are you creating an atmosphere that fosters growth, or are you ministering to a familiar flock?
Our love for the lost is found in how much we value them--in the time we devote to them in our sermons, in the signage on our campuses, in the red carpet we roll out to them on our Web sites, in the way we communicate and maximize the one opportunity they give us.
Great marketing is founded on a heart that desires to connect to people right where they live and loves them too much to leave them there. Ask yourself, How can we enhance our reach this month without advertising? How can we be more about connecting with people right where they live, in everything we do? Because whether you like the word or not, that is where smart marketing begins.
Author of ChurchMarketing 101, Richard L. Reising is a speaker, a recognized authority on church marketing and branding, and the founder and president of Dallas-based companies: Artistry Marketing, BrandFusion and PerpetuaTechnologies. Together, these organizations help churches and ministries make wise use of marketing, design and technology.