Marketing:Do or Don't?

Church marketing has fallen on hard times lately.  In a wise attempt to become more “missional” many churches have unwisely neglected many “attractional” strategies.  Some pastors boldly proclaim, “We do not advertise at our church!”  When I hear that I like to ask if they use church signs or have a website.  Anyway, let’s consider Jesus’ both/and approach.

 “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests.  At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.”--Luke 14:16-23

Jesus encouraged getting out in the community and inviting friends, family and those we “do life” with to consider Christianity.  But he was also realistic in suggesting this type of approach isn’t always exceptionally effective.

“For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.”

—John 4:4 (ESV)

Perhaps the biggest problem with only inviting those we live in community with is it doesn’t always work. 

So Jesus suggests that we widen our target to include those we often overlook:  the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame:  “the least, the last and the lost.”

But Jesus’ goal is for his house to be full, so he tells us to go to the highways and byways.  He wants us to get the word out to people we don’t even know and compel them to check out Jesus’ party.  Sounds like a Biblical basis for marketing.

"Go into the world. Go everywhere and announce the Message of God's good news to one and all.”—Mark 16:15 (TMV)

Here’s the point, let’s not throw out advertising our church because it’s not cool.  I admit that many churches in the 80’s and 90’s did away with serving their community and perhaps even relied solely on gimmicks and slickness, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.  The “baby” is using everything we can to influence people for Jesus.

So consider advertising again.  And when you do, here are some other things to consider.

1.  Churches that aren’t advertising aren’t growing.

“The most overlooked factor in church growth:  The only way to see significant increases in growth is to create dramatic increases in awareness.” Michael Johnson

“Publicity can be terrible. But only if you don't have any.” Jane Russell

The churches in our network that are having the most impact are the churches that are putting time, effort and money into some sort of marketing.


2.  Pick a marketing medium you can live with.

Just about every type of marketing medium works—somewhere.  Direct mail, radio, TV, Facebook ads, people standing on the street corner spinning directional signs, telemarketing, even writing the church website on the back window of cars—they all work.  So, find out what works in your area. 

But in addition to that, find something you are comfortable with. 

My friend Dave Page admitted, “When we decided to advertise for the new church I decided I did not want to use any kind of advertising that I personally don’t like. Maybe you don’t like direct mail.  Great.  Find something you do like and use it.  Maybe telemarketing turns your stomach.  Don’t do it, but do something else. Last week a young church planter told me that hearing this principle of using advertising tools he felt good about was one of the most freeing things in his ministry.  You are free to use whatever you like, but use something.  Get the word out.


3.  Don’t shoot too small.

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." Thomas A. Edison

The "law of large numbers" refers to the principle that the probability of any possible event (someone responding to an advertisement) occurring increases with the number of events in the series.

You ask a girl for a date and she tells you she can’t because she has to wash her hair.  Do you give up completely on dating then?  Do you let one girl with dirty hair stop you from pursuing relationships?  I hope not.  But too many pastors try one, usually feeble, attempt at advertising and announce that it doesn’t work.

Try at least a 30,000 piece mailing.  If you only have 5,000 homes to mail to, blast them all six times then.  Try primetime with radio spots.  Spend some money on each bid for your Facebook ads…which leads us to the next remark:


4.  Spend some money on marketing

Good publicity doesn’t cost, it pays.

“If you only spend nickels and dimes on advertising you’ll only get nickel and dime results.” Rick Warren

“If you can afford to advertise, you don't need to.” Norman Ralph Augustine


5.  Keep at it. 

Marketing is never finished.

We will always be tempted to drop going to the highways and byways from our priority lists, but we need to keep getting the word out.

“Step one: Get the message out. Xerox introduced the first copier in 1959. As you can imagine there were tons of publicity about it. Eventually, the newsworthiness of the copier subsides. So what is Xerox going to do to stay on top? Step two: It will begin to advertise. This process can produce an automatic leader in a category and give birth to a new brand.  Application in the church: You have just finished building a new facility. You have invited numerous local dignitaries and press people to help you celebrate the opening. The event is all over the news. Now what? Advertise. The media got your message out; now you have to reinforce it through advertising. This is something you must do or you lose any momentum the publicity provided you. All the noise you have generated is going to reap benefits, one of which is it will make the community aware of your church.” Steve Davenport, branding expert