Why We Do It

Our services are modern and hi-tech, but our reasoning is rooted in history. Centuries ago stories were passed down from generation to generation, words etched in stone, and ink to papyri. The latter was used to reinforce the gospel message in the first century; the apostles not only traveled and preached but wrote to churches they had already been to and to ones they hoped to reach.

The printing press was invented fifteen centuries later and created the opportunity for information to be written and reproduced in ways unknown to history. The same message the apostles preached was being printed across Europe as the Reformers wrote, taught, and preached on the gospel and sola fide.

A few more centuries passed then the radio and television were invented. It did not take long before they’re employed in the spreading of the gospel. Entire stations and channels became dedicated to biblical teaching around the world. Pastors and bible scholars could reach people on their drives to work, working in the field, or sitting in their living rooms.

Communication channels have increased six fold in the last three decades. From television, radio, fax, and some others, media have grown to include social networking sites, e-mail, and text messaging, among others. Not only has the number of avenues changed, but the rate at which they grow has as well. It took the radio 38 years to reach 50 million users – 38 years – but it only took Instagram six months.

The Church has a trend of adopting the technology of the era to enhance its ability to share the gospel. As the digital age is coming into full swing, it’s becoming necessary for local churches to be present where people spend their time, online. Some larger churches are able to hire and staff entire creative departments, but most aren’t. These things take time, skill, and manpower, and Sixteen Forty Six is here to fill those gaps.

Marketing The Church

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.

Moving Forward

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.

Helpful Hints

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.

Foundations

I’m sure at least half of all pastors or seminary students have had the dream where they come up on stage to realize their notes are blank, they forgot the text they’re preaching, or have this nagging sense that this sermon will show how little they were able to prepare that week. A picture that might help us is a NASA launch where everything has been prepped, the world is watching, the countdown reaches zero, and we find that the ship has no fuel.

This is sometimes how organizations go about digital media. They see competitors or others in their field reaching new people and getting followers by creating awesome content, so they sign up for every digital media account possible, get a graphic designer, videographer, and photographer to make what they needed, then realize that they have no idea what to say.

This identity is a composite of their denomination, doctrine, mission and vision statements, core values, and people.

This is what happens when organizations take a bandwagon approach to communications. The reaction is to jump in the deep end, but the solution is to develop a solid content strategy. Churches have to do extensive soul-searching and write down what they find to serve as the foundation of what they communicate. This identity is a composite of their denomination, doctrine, mission and vision statements, core values, and people.

Definitions

If you were to ask 100 people what “faith” meant, you would likely end up with 100 different answers. Let’s avoid that here and establish a few definitions. A church’s mission statement is a broad, brief, biblical statement of what the ministry is supposed to be doing.1 What should your church be doing, biblically speaking? That’s the core of its mission statement. This is rather easy because Jesus told us that our mission is to go into the world and make disciples. Churches may articulate it in different ways, but this is the mission of every church.

Vision statements are entirely different beasts. These are clear, compelling pictures of the future of the ministry, as you believe it can and must be.1 Andy Stanley said it’s a picture of what the future could be driven by a conviction that it should be.2 Mission statements are duty oriented, but vision statements look to the future and the outcome of being consistent and dutiful. Mission statements say what the job is, and vision statements paint a picture of what a job well-done looks like. The vision process asks what sort of church we feel called to be, writes it down, then builds a strategy to get there. The Great Commission keeps us rooted in what God has called us to do, and vision gets us excited about what it would look like to devote ourselves to it. One of our favorite depictions of vision comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Where doctrine helps people know what to believe, core values teach people what to feel and do.

Core values are sometimes seen as superfluous, but they actually serve as pillars that uphold the mission and vision, keeping the ministry focused. Malphurs defines them as the constant, passionate, biblical core beliefs that go deep and really, truly empower and guide the ministry.1 Core values help shape and are shaped by the other statements. These help identify underlying ideas and convictions within the church; where doctrine helps people know what to believe, core values teach people what to feel and do.

Branding

In one of our earlier posts, we addressed that most people don’t like to talk about church marketing, and we understand that. We also have seen that many marketing ideas and terms are just labeling normal relational realities. For example, a brand is simply a reputation, what people or organizations are known for. When CEOs and marketing directors say something is “off brand,” they’re saying that whatever action or ad being considered isn’t inline with what they want to be known for. Reputation and branding are built into our existence, and we’ve even called as Christians to protect the image people have of the Church. We’re called to do good works, “so they glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). In many Presbyterian churches, elders and church members are asked to maintain the unity, purity, and peace of the local church.

It is completely normal for churches to be defined by their denomination, doctrine, mission and vision, and core values. To say reputations play no part is to diminish the role of history and biblical convictions in the local church. If branding wasn’t a reality, the world would expect the same thing from Presbyterian churches as they do Pentecostals, the same from Baptists and as Methodists.

There is a difference, however, between accidental and intentional branding. Some churches and organizations go about without an intentional structure and rhythm to communicating their identities, while others are meticulous and filter everything through it. We recommend something closer to the latter. Doing so helps solidify what your church believes, does, and stands for, and – almost more importantly – prevents building an ill-received reputation.

When we think of branding, we think of artifacts like colors and logos, but substance is most important. Visuals must come into play, but identity has to be solidified first. Churches have to be staunch and clear in the convictions that make them who they are. Keeping first things first will help us remember that the reason we do this “all for [you] people, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, giving glory to God.” Consistent and well thought out reputations matter because they establish trust and credibility with the people we want to reach with the gospel!

Effective Communications

Every January we see people’s goals and resolutions for the next twelve months. We get an idea for what kind of life they want to live and a sense of what they see as their purpose for that life. Along with those resolutions, we see others coming alongside and giving wisdom about how each of those goals will take daily, unmitigated discipline to achieve.

Those coaches have realized something and want others to begin grasping it as well. That understanding is this: big goals and missions are accomplished with through a sequence of steps. Those don’t have to be enormous, but they have to be consistent and frequent.

The same is true as we pursue faithfulness to the Great Commission. If any mission is huge and beyond our own capacity to achieve, it’s this one. In fact, God has been using his Church over centuries to take steps toward making disciples of all nations. He’s always building his Church and won’t stop building it until He’s finished and comes for his Bride.

In the Old Testament, we see similar routines woven into the life of the Israelites. They had multiple feasts that the nation celebrated as a whole. These seasons of celebration and reflection served to establish rhythms of reminding the people of their God, his character and his covenant with them. The Israelites are also told to teach those truths to their children, to talk about them often, and to write them on their walls. Yahweh was creating a culture for his people where big truths were communicated incrementally and frequently.

“These seasons of celebration and reflection served to establish rhythms of reminding the people of their God, his character and his covenant with them.”

There’s a real aspect where we, as church leaders, inherently follow this iterative process. Our mission is to make disciples, so we move the ball forward every Sunday. We shed more and more light, pull back the veil a little bit more, on all that God has commanded us to teach. We take these small steps as an expression of a larger calling.

From Concept to Concrete

Here’s the principle we hope you see in these realities: we can help people see the big picture through small messages. Every Sunday is proof that we already operate with this in mind, but what if we made the messages smaller and shared them in more places? Our sermons are focused on the gospel, so what if we used social media and video to focus other messages that are essential to our local churches?

It’s easiest to start with this question: what is the local church supposed to be, and what will it take for us to be that? Just about every church has preaching and worship times established, but some neglect fellowship, others neglect evangelism, and others still neglect prayer.

We all know that preaching one sermon on each of those will do little in the long run of getting congregants committed to them. In fact, since the 1920s, there’s been the Rule of Seven. This anecdotal rule says that an individual must hear a marketing message seven times before they act on it. That rule ends up being a practical application of the mere-exposure effect, which says the more often we hear something, the more favorable we are to it. If we took this to heart, it would mean 35 sermons would be necessary for people to start getting familiar with the five functions of the Church.

Now, it would not be a waste to take 35 Sundays to preach through them, but there is a more effective way to align our congregations to what’s most important. A drip campaign takes core messages and presents them repeatedly over a long period of time. These serve the body as reminders of what the church is about and gives them opportunities to be involved in the life of the church in deeper ways.

This is exactly what the Old Testament rhythms and phylacteries were for, to keep the truth of covenant life in front of them. These feasts became physical and visual signs that pointed them to worship the living God. In their own Old Testament way, they preached the gospel to the people, reminding them of the heinousness of sin, the grace of God, and the holy joy they were called to.

First Things First

There is a myriad of ways to enact a drip campaign, especially in the age of social media. Social platforms give us the ability to share those key elements with our members outside of Sunday morning. The messages could be graphics or videos that we do share on Sunday morning. Like I said, there are dozens of ways to share them. The hardest part is actually clarifying what the big picture is.

Francis Bacon said, “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.” We know that writing something down forces us to think clearly about it, and this is Bacon’s point. Writing makes us precise. Preachers don’t get to be loose with words and are called to accurately divide the Word of Truth, so why should we be sloppy with what we believe the local church should be and how it’s expressed?

Penning a mission statement could be as easy as writing “we make disciples,” but what does it mean to be a disciple? Be exact. How long does it take to make a disciple, and what does the church look like when that’s happening? Be exact. What are those key guiding principles that help define what a disciple or a church is? Be exact. What process will your church follow to make those disciples? Be exact.

Communicating well in a digital culture means you have to know what to communicate, how often to communicate it, and how best to communicate it. Taking time to solidify your church’s identity and the main messages will enable your leadership to repeatedly and consistently place the big picture of the Church before your congregants in small bites. This will engrave the essence of the mission into the culture and get them excited to be involved.

How exciting would it be for everyone in your church to be on the same page, on the same mission, and had a clear understanding of how they’re going to accomplish it?

Amplified Communications

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Focused writing is scarce, but it reflects focused thought and intention. You’ve probably read a book or an article (or heard a sermon) that seems disjointed. The points don’t flow together. The argument jabs in all directions but lands on nothing. Unfortunately, the same lack of thesis, a driving point, can be seen in how churches communicate. Some churches jump at every new channel whereas other churches ignore them all together, but both of these are symptoms of not understanding the communication ecosystem.

The Job of Communicating

The point of communication channels isn’t the channels themselves. They exist to carry a message to a particular audience; some channels are more effective than others, but they all serve the message. Gospel ministry has always adapted to the most effective and relevant channels, from the papyrus to the printing press, to radio and television. In each of these instances, the goal was to get the gospel to as many people as possible, and the last few decades have given us almost eight times as many ways to communicate the gospel. It’s understandable to be overwhelmed by these changes or to not have the resources to take steps toward utilizing them well, but to intentionally neglect them is to devalue to gospel. To not share it is to insinuate that it’s not for all people.

The priority of a church’s communication plan/ministry/team should be something like this: to amplify what’s unique to Christ and to your local church. The world offers us many gods to serve, like success, acceptance, comfort, and security, but the gospel gives us a God who is completely other. Every church should be a buttress of truth and herald the gospel handed down once for all for the saints, but it also has secondary messages, the circumstances of that local church. These can be initiatives to get more people involved in serving, joining small groups or attending Sunday school, and the other events and seasons of that church.

“Broadly speaking, a strategy can take individual artifacts – like messages, videos, events, and graphics – and put them in a context that multiplies their effectiveness, that makes them more meaningful for the individual experiencing them.”

Benefits of a Communication Plan

The most common benefit students associate with a clear thesis is a good grade, but there are huge benefits to intention and thoughtfulness in our comms as church leaders. Broadly speaking, a strategy can take individual artifacts – like messages, videos, events, and graphics – and put them in a context that multiplies their effectiveness, that makes them more meaningful for the individual experiencing them. More specifically, a communication plan can reach more people with the gospel, create exponentially more discipleship opportunities, and enhance the leadership of the local church.

The expansion of social media has made it ridiculously easy to interact with our communities and our congregations between Sundays. Several studies have confirmed two relevant statistics: that 70% of people in the U.S. are active on Facebook, and that even those between ages 35 and 49 spend almost 7 hours a week on social media. What percentage of our communities spend Sunday mornings with us? How many hours a week are our people in our churches or in small groups? Sunday mornings will always be the time that the Lord’s people gather, but we can use information like this to engage people who would otherwise be unreached.

Those same statistics also challenge us to think about how we interact with our congregations on the same platforms. Digital media really is a teacher’s dream. Truth isn’t confined to a Sunday morning but can be stretched out for a whole week. Social media becomes a platform to call people to remember the main point of the sermon, to invite them to apply a particular principle, to do a certain act, or to be moved by the simple truth of the gospel. These venues can be used to affect the head, heart, and hands of our people.

“Social media becomes a platform to call people to remember the main point of the sermon, to invite them to apply a particular principle, to do a certain act, or to be moved by the simple truth of the gospel.”

The effects are not just individual but corporate as well. As one considers the gamut of content ideas for digital media, he should always consider first things first. What is quintessential to your church, or what should be? Those things that get celebrated get repeated, so practices or ideas that need to be foundational should be talked about often. Fortunately, that’s the second value to be considered: concept to concrete. How can what feels intangible be made tangible? What stories can we tell that make something ethereal feel very real? Lastly, how can these things be relevantly aligned to our context? Knowing who we are will ensure our messages reflect our identity, and knowing our audience will keep those messages on the right channels to reach them.

Any local church’s leadership will be enhanced if those three things are kept in mind: first things first, concept to concrete, and relevant alignment. This is because of what was said earlier, a strategy can take individual artifacts, and put them in a context that multiplies their effectiveness. It’s a snowball effect. The more we communicate in context, those individual messages borrow meaning from others shared. This is why pastors preach series on one topic, right? Each sermon builds on the previous and they all magnify the content of the other. Intentional and strategic communications accomplish the same results on a wider scale.

Why This Is Important

Every church has its strengths and weaknesses; denominations are often groups of churches with the same proclivities and blind spots. The church at Ephesus is a great example of a healthy church that still needed to grow and mature, but imagine being the pastor of any of those churches and reading that letter. Everyone of us would be scrambling to shift our priorities, to get our people on board, and to start a corporate march in the right direction. Regardless of being mentioned in the Scriptures, we are called to lead our congregations into spiritual wellness through repentance and faith. The best bridge between local leadership, the people they lead, and the future is a communication plan rooted in amplifying what’s unique to Christ and unique to the local church.

“Regardless of being mentioned in the Scriptures, we are called to lead our congregations into spiritual wellness through repentance and faith.”

Communicating effectively means communicating consistently. There’s an adage that once you’ve gotten tired of saying something, your audience is halfway to remembering it. This doesn’t mean that we necessarily have to give the same fifty minute sermon over and over again, but it does challenge us to condense our message to something memorable. The catechisms used throughout church history take big ideas and condense them to question and answer form. They are a means of giving people handlebars with which to navigate deeper waters. If your church can be guided by simple, memorable statements that serve as doorways to bigger truths, those statements should be repeated often.