Marketing and the Church

By definition, marketing is the process of “persuading” people to want something—and making sure they get it.  This is done by finding out what people's needs, interests, dreams and fears are through research; then presenting a product in a way that people will find attractive, urgent, fun, special or necessary through advertising and promotion; and then letting them know how they can obtain the product through dissemination of information. 

At first glance, this doesn’t sound very churchy.  However, as followers of Christ, marketing is essential to the mission of the church, because we believe we have something people truly need—the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

If we are to spread that good news, we must help people understand that it is news they deeply need and want to hear.  Thus, we are trying to convey to our congregation and to the general public the word of Jesus Christ, the ministry and mission of the church, and the benefits of sharing the church's story.

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: many people in the church find the language of marketing and advertising “un-Christian,”  and the idea of “selling” the gospel repugnant.  The fact of the matter is that the church has always been involved in marketing.  Consider Jesus' description of the disciples as fishers of women and men.  Like fishers of the Sea of Galilee, they cast nets with their words and actions, and brought people to God's truth and love.  Marketing is just another word for how we cast a net to bring people, including ourselves, closer to the love of God.

Perhaps you are thinking that you aren’t able to do this.  The good news about marketing is that you can—and in many ways you already are!  You don't need a degree in public relations or years of advertising experience to start marketing your church.  All you need is the willingness and an opportunity to step back and look at how the church is marketing itself and the gospel.

It’s also important to know that carrying out a marketing plan shouldn’t be considered one more piece of work, but should be looked upon as a way of organizing the work you are already doing. 

As a church marketer, you’ll wear many hats; evangelist, salesperson, disciple, advertiser, reporter, promoter, cheerleader, and teacher.  There is no single skill or ability that makes for successful marketing.  Whatever special strengths you bring to your marketing efforts will contribute to your effectiveness.  The one thing that you do need to have some type of experience with is planning.

The best way to ensure responsible and thorough planning is to develop a written marketing plan.  The advantage of a written plan is that you will have a clear statement, agreed upon by all those involved in formulating the plan, of what you are doing and why.  A written plan will also be invaluable when it comes time to evaluate your efforts.  Finally, an explicitly stated plan serves as a guide to keep everyone's efforts coordinated and focused.

A Marketing Plan has Ten Basic Steps

Step One: Look at the mission of your church.  If you don’t have one, by all means, contact your pastor and start to think of how you want to define the mission of your church.  This helps set the context and provides the motivation for all the follows.

Step Two: State goals.  This means where you want to go, what you want to do, such as revitalize your congregation, improve ministry to young people, or get people to the UMM BBQ!

Step three: Research your market.  This involves looking at your "market."  Who are you trying to reach?  Then look at what you have to offer those people.  Keep in mind that the market toward which you aim need not be the general public.  You can market the services, activities and message of the church to your existing church members, with the aim of increasing participation or energizing involvement in the church's programs!

Step four:  Outline objectives.  These should be clear and measurable.  One such objective might be to increase church attendance.  Another example of an objective is to decrease teen suicide.

Step five:  Develop strategies.  These are specific actions and tactics you will use to meet the objectives, such as an advertising campaign to get people in their twenties and thirties who have "dropped out" of church to become members again, or a teen crisis hot-line staffed by teenagers.

Step six: Determine resources and personnel.  List the tools, resources, personnel and facilities that are available to promote, advertise and distribute your message.  Keep in mind that you already have a very important vehicle for reaching your community.

Step seven:  Make schedules and assignments.

Step eight:  Establish a budget.

Step nine: Decide on measures.

Step ten: Build in a procedure for updating and evaluating the plan.