Shrimp. Bacon. Brushing your teeth after orange juice. Some things just aren’t kosher, or they leave a bad taste in your mouth. That’s how many people feel about marketing. How many people honestly read all of the badges on a Nascar driver? Or want to watch their favorite primetime show be cut up with twenty minutes of advertisements? Some are just annoying, others can be distasteful, but many people would agree that many advertisements are misleading and not quite trustworthy. This presents a problem when we start talking about church marketing.
Here are a few bumps in the road with the term:
- Stigma – All of the negative connotations of business marketing are communicated to the church, and some could immediately think of an unfavorable portion of the Church, televangelists.
- Secularism – Some in church leadership (and congregations) don’t like the term because businesses market themselves, and the church shouldn’t have part in that.
- Shoddiness – We have to face it, some design just isn’t good. When that’s the case, the announcement or commercial actually works against its goal and pushes people away.
Goals of Marketing
I definitely feel these concerns and understand the people who are hindered by their experiences with marketing and want to keep the Church holy and unprofaned. I wasn’t comfortable with the term until I took a marketing class in grad school and started to think about two core pieces of marketing: value and connections.
The first goal of marketing, from designing and pricing a product to choosing where it will be sold to promoting it, is to create value for customers or stakeholders. The idea is that a company creates a product that makes a person’s life better, easier, or more convenient, and that customer gives fare in accordance to the value of the object or service. Now, set aside poor marketing experiences and think about creating value for people.
When we inventory what the Church has to offer the world, the gospel, the Word of God, the sacraments, covenant community, we have a lot to bring to the table and a lot to talk about. We also have two advantages over our corporate counterparts: we don’t have to create it, and we aren’t charging for it.
The second goal is to create connections with people, to build relationships and gain trust. In Storybranding, Signorelli puts the customer in their rightful place, second. He says the brand’s identity is king, not the audience. The task of the marketer is to solidify who the brand is, what they stand for, and how they operate, then use that authenticity and genuineness to connect with their audience. The idea is to be you, and those who like you and are like you will come and buy your product or service. When brands bow to the whim of the people, they often lose respect and marketshare.
“When we inventory what the Church has to offer the world, the gospel, the Word of God, the sacraments, covenant community, we have a lot to bring to the table and a lot to talk about.”
A church’s brand is the unique expression of who God has called it to be; it includes mission, vision, and doctrinal statements, core values, and rhythms of life set forth by the leadership. Every church already has a brand identity, it just needs to be leveraged in a way that reaches those who connect with it.
Some marketers give the trade a bad reputation because they don’t believe their product is valuable, but they manipulate relationships so people buy it anyway. When I saw that the goal of marketing was to connect with people and make their lives better, I was all in for church marketing. Everyone benefits from hearing and believing the promises of the New Covenant, and we often have to make connections and establish relationships with them before they do that.
Your Church and Marketing
The strength of Web 2.0 is that it lets people be people. Web 2.0 is the term for the collection of technological advances of the last two decades. Marketing is no longer a one-way stream; we’re beyond the information age and into the age of experience. The internet isn’t solely for information but for interaction and participation. This acts as soil for your church and new gospel relationships. It creates new ways for churches to communicate and cultivate life by engaging the broader community – this is church marketing.
Web 2.0 makes church marketing evangelism by proxy. Your church is a conduit for the gospel going into the world, and you’re wanting to draw people into that community. That shouldn’t be point of tension or shame for our leaders or congregants. When a believer shares the good news about Jesus with another person, the Church calls it evangelism; does it matter that a content strategist would call it word-of-mouth marketing? When a church takes a season to consistently call her people to be part of community groups or Sunday school, is that a marketing campaign? It sure is. The list could go on and on to represent church events, prayer meetings, discipleship programs, etc., and we could call it any number of things (like marketing or strategic communication), but it could also be called faithfulness.
It’s interesting to note that the corporate world has started to borrow a common word from the Church, evangelist. It comes with all sorts of qualifiers, chief, brand, customer, product, but they all denote someone who is in love with a product or cause and is dedicated to sharing the value of whatever their cause is. These are people who tell their friends about a product when they sit down for lunch, or talk about an experience they had with a brand on Facebook; some even share their favorite brand’s posts and like their videos. Another word for these people could be “fans,” or the ever affectionate “fanboys.” Apple has them. Justin has Beliebers. Green Bay has Cheeseheads. Even Chick-Fil-A calls their devoted “raving fans” behind the scenes.
“When a believer shares the good news about Jesus with another person, the Church calls it evangelism; does it matter that a content strategist would call it word-of-mouth marketing?”
Here’s some hope for you: you have “evangelists” in your church. They are excited about who your church represents, how they represent him, and the people who gather each week. They’re just waiting to be activated; maybe they need some training or the opportunity to do something about it; maybe they feel the need for permission or need the right words, but I can guarantee that there are fans of your church. How? Because you have a church. People only go, commit, and give to places where they see value. The challenge of leadership is to continue to inspire them and to remind them of how precious Christ is.
The sermon is crucial to the life of the church and near central to the service, but what if the church was able to create touch-points with its people and community between Sundays? Sermons are necessary during service, but not everyone will download it and listen again between Sundays. Marketing communications gives your congregation and community reminders of how the Church is there for them and how they can get involved, and how they can get involved. They serve as handle bars that help individuals and families experience the fullness of covenant life.
Big events in the life of your church need to be talked about, that’s obvious, but the main ideas or core values that define your church need to be commonplace as well. I scoffed at professors who talked about their core values and saw them as completely irrelevant, but they are crucial, especially in organizations. If you take a month and preach on your four core values, one each week, then people start to get an idea of what the church is about. This is helpful, but what about the other forty-eight weeks of the year? What if your leadership team has spent a year figuring out what God is calling the church to for the next five? How does that get communicated?
The potency of most marketing strategies is that they will include design and video elements, and they’ll be branded a certain way that helps the viewer remember them. These nonverbal elements also communicate feelings and moods that aren’t always present in the spoken word. Visual elements can leave a lasting impression more quickly than the spoken word and are more easily formatted for today’s culture. One study shows that individuals only remember 10% of what they hear versus 65% of what they see, when prompted three days later. It’s also projected that 74% of internet content will be video by the end of this year, and four times as many people would rather watch a video than read about an event or product (you can see these and other impressive statistics here.
With that said, there are benefits to capitalizing on the new channels of communication that the internet and other technologies have afforded us. The means of grace stay central, your church keeps its identity, the gospel goes forth, but it’s no longer just the spoken word that can carry that message. There’s a lot of catechesis to be done, conversational prompts communicated, and countless opportunities to connect through new media.
Here are some starting pointers for the main sites and components of digital marketing:
- Facebook – Have one for your church, or claim an unofficial one that’s been automatically created for it, and make sure your information is always up to date. Share video, blogs, and ask questions.
- Instagram – Post pictures of your team behind the scenes, or from your service, or from small groups.
- Twitter – Share quotes from a sermon, ask questions, and highlight events.
- Google Nonprofit – Sign up! Get free branded e-mails and $10,000 a month in free advertising
- Blogs – Written word is still huge, so create value by writing articles (like this one)
- Design – Make sure content is branded and that the branding is consistent(ly good).
- Websites – People will visit online before setting foot on your campus, so fund both.
Universal Rules of Church Marketing:
1. Create value. Produce or share content that people want to see and that benefits them.
2. Create relationships. It’s ultimately not about us, it’s about Jesus, so let’s have conversations and use the internet as a telephone and not a megaphone.