What Churches Get Right (and Wrong) About Marketing

by | Jul 13, 2020 | Strategy

Putting the words “church” and “marketing” next to one another may feel odd. However, when you take a look at what good marketing can do, and what many churches seek to do, it makes sense. In fact, what many growing churches get right about marketing should look familiar. You may already use marketing principles and not realize it!

When churches get marketing right, they see vision, goals, and activity all come into alignment. They understand that these principles represent our modern-day sowing and watering – and that God still “gives the growth!” (1 Cor. 3:7) Below, you’ll find five things churches get right about marketing – and a few things churches can get wrong.

What exactly is marketing?

Before diving in, let’s start with a standard definition. Referring to the American Marketing Association: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

 “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

Your church has the most incredible, life-changing message to create, communicate, and deliver that indeed has value for people, your community partners, and society at large. Marketing, done well, adds value to both the organization and interactions with people. This is Marketing, by Seth Godin, provides an excellent overview of the craft and how it contributes to society if you’d like to dive deeper.

Churches focused on the whole of The Great Commission naturally have adopted marketing over time – whether intentionally or not. Here’s what it looks like when churches get marketing right.

Churches get marketing right when they reach new people

A church that reaches new people for the spread of the gospel understands that it’s a wonderful opportunity that won’t end – until the appointed time.

These churches have partnerships in the community so they can serve and show people the love of Christ. They use digital tools to reach new people through social media, videos, and other tactics. And they equip people to share how Jesus has changed their lives, and how to disciple seekers or new Christians. That brings us to the next point.

When they engage and retain people through ministry

Reaching new people is the first portion of The Great Commission. This portion is the second. Once a person decides they want to know more about a church community, that’s when the church begins engaging in conversations that prayerfully lead to baptism and the start of their discipleship journey.

Marketing that supports discipleship ministry should feel natural and helpful. There’s a blend of emails and texts that work in tandem with the personal phone calls, notes, or meetings over some time. Thought and intentionality reign while getting to know someone new. From the person’s perspective, the messages are helpful and personalized, not an annoyance – even if they are automated! The individual touches of phone calls and coffee shop conversations remain vital.

That’s also why it’s crucial to equip people outside of leadership to say, yes, I Will! This will be key if the church is to move beyond the consumer-driven culture that left those in the pews out of The Great Commission entirely. Marketing supports those overseeing discipleship ministries, rather than takes its place.

When marketing touches all interactions

Marketing goes deep and wide. Because so much communication has a visual element, every message should look as if it came from the same church. That requires oversight over those interactions.

For most, that means making sure it stays “on brand.” Your brand is your look and personality. It covers your logo(s), colors, fonts, and tone of voice. Staying on brand means those correct elements are incorporated. Brand also includes how people in the community think of your church. All interactions and messages people have with your church should feel like they all come from the same place.

When it works to support all ministries

Marketing supports all of a church’s ministries. Not just the largest, and not just the most popular. Each ministry plays a role in successfully achieving the church’s vision. Each should work to support that vision.

Marketing the Student, Kids, or other ministries of a church serves two purposes. It ensures that the larger vision stays in mind, and helps the ministries achieve its own goals.

Plus, the church communicator takes ownership of these plans and tasks so that ministry leaders can do the vital work God called them to do.

When it incorporates planning and output

Churches who do marketing right know that it covers more than just posting on Facebook or sending out the weekly newsletter. They understand it includes both planning and output.

Planning involves setting goals based on the church’s overall vision for the year. What needs to happen, by when? What budget is required? Will additional resources be required?

What most see is the output, or the day-to-day tasks. These smaller tasks move the church forward to the larger goals.

When you know where you want to go, that makes it easier to allocate the time and resources necessary to complete the tasks so your church can reach its goals.

Marketing doesn’t go well when these things happen

When you have a vision before you, plans to get there, and tactics lined up, allowing your church to reach, engage, and retain guests – that’s marketing! It’s part art and part science and requires that blend of creativity and application of best practices. Sometimes, marketing doesn’t go well. Typically, some or all of the above isn’t a part of the mix. And it will show up in the messages and how the audience responds – or doesn’t respond at all.

Focus on self-promotion that only speaks to current church members

Pre-COVID, two major promotional buckets were the worship services and various events. Lots of time and energy go into these gatherings, and churches want people to show up. To be clear – the people of the church should gather for worship and time for fellowship, study, service, and community. This is important – but it’s not all that church is called to be.

What does this look like when a church gets marketing wrong? The Facebook page looks like an event calendar, full of reminders and sign-up links. Messages lack encouragement, life, and transformation. Messages use insider language that highlights “outsider” status.

You’ll recognize it as, “The Lord’s Sparrows will meet in the Robinson Room this Tuesday after APEX. Join us!” So many questions, right? Who are the Lord’s Sparrows? Where is the Robinson Room? What’s Apex? The last part sneaks up on you – “join us.” That phrase signifies that the reader is not a part of a group and the gap is highlighted.

A quick rewrite with visitor-focused language may look like, “You’re invited to help build food boxes for the community center Tuesday at 5 pm. Light snacks, fun music, and a great time! Have you wanted to get involved? Text 888-123-4567 for reminders or more info.” See the difference? The service event gets promoted, along with clarifying information and a specific, natural next step a new volunteer can take.

Try to be everywhere at once, and not doing well on any

Marketing is not a checkbox activity. Having a presence on all the social media sites, a texting service, email lists, and fancy app won’t engage people alone.

Having these tools without a plan or intentional use can do you more harm than good. If this sounds familiar, here’s your permission to evaluate and let them go. Have a stray Twitter account that only links out to the Sunday worship stream once a week? It can go. A rarely updated Instagram account? Either scrap it or redevelop a new plan to revitalize it as the excellent outreach tool it can be!

Let uncertainty slow or stop you from trying something new

In closing, don’t let worries or inexperience stop you from trying something new. One of the best pieces of social media advice I ever received years ago was this: “It’s like a river. Just dive in.”

You don’t have to be an expert off right from the start. Dip your toe in, seek out advice, and look to those more experienced who can teach you how to navigate.

When you consider your church’s mission and what’s at stake – those who don’t know Christ yet, or who need someone to walk with them back home – you’ll find a way to leverage marketing tools and principles. And before you know it, you’ll see your church get marketing right too!


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