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Church Planting Tutorial: 14. Marketing

Marketing and Branding – An excerpt from “Church Planting from the Ground Up” edited by Tom Jones

This is a long, but important tutorial.  The marketing tutorial is an excerpt written by Brett Andrews (a church planter and founding Director of Church Marketing Solutions) and Tim Stephens (a church planter).   The outreach materials are taken from Passion for Planting online launch plan management system (PlanterPlan).

Milestone: Get the Word Out (Marketing)

Introduction

How would Jesus market the church? Does it work? Is it necessary? Is it biblical, or is it fighting the battle with weapons of the world? Is it worth my time? Is it worth the expense? Is it too high risk? What if we spend $10,000 and no one responds? What kind of person comes to church because of a card in the mail?

Marketing the church demands time, thought, planning, and coordination. It’s expensive and risky. Wouldn’t it be more spiritual—and easier—to kneel and pray three hours a day and accept the people God sends?

Journey Christian Church (located in Tampa, Florida) had been meeting for several weeks when we had our first “Discover Journey” class in the fall of 1999. Thirty adults had showed up for our first class. They were each asked, “How did you hear about Journey?” Over twenty of the thirty people there responded that they had received a card in the mail. Of those thirty people, twenty-six had not been to church for at least two years, over twenty had not been to church regularly for at least ten years, and many had never attended church.

Could a series of four mass mailings of cards really have sparked hundreds of people with no church affiliation to show up one Sunday?

In the first three months of Journey Christian Church’s existence, over forty people were baptized. Almost all of them came to Journey because they received a card in the mail.

What is Marketing?

Mention marketing of the church to a group of Christians and you’re likely to stir up a lively, if not, heated debate.  Read the following email received by Church Marketing Solutions:

“I’m a Christian, and I’m offended by your business. First, can you see Jesus “marketing the church”? Second, you do it to make yourself money. You are the Hophni and Phineas of the 21st century. Shame on you.”

For some, marketing the church is associated with shady practices involving selling, exchanging money, and making profits.  Consider the following definition: 

Marketing   n. the act of buying or selling in a market; the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.

To add fuel to the fire, consider John 2:14-15 where we see Jesus’ response to businessmen who turned the temple courts into a profit making market (business):

“In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!””

What is at the heart of Jesus’ strong response?  Is it the fact that these men were opportunistic? Being opportunistic is not the problem; their motivation behind the opportunity is the problem.  Unfortunately, their motive was making money and had little to do with God’s agenda.

Church marketing is all about building bridges to lost people so they can hear the gospel message. This is why, among the Christian community, church planters and new churches have been the most willing to accept church marketing. Without a doubt, marketing is one of the most important steps a new church plant can take in communicating the Good News of Jesus Christ with the culture in which it lives.

Setting the Stage

According to research by Thom Rainer, “most Americans have never been invited to church—never. Yet, 82% indicate that they would be at least ‘somewhat likely’ to attend if invited.”

Most experts on reaching people for Christ agree that the most effective form of evangelism is friendship evangelism. The purpose of new church marketing isn’t to stick a card in someone’s hand and expect they will want a relationship with Christ and then to be baptized a week later. Effective marketing opens the door to a possible relationship. It connects a church with people who need to be pastored before they realize they need pastoring.

Everyone is spiritually restless until they connect with God. When crisis or life-transition exposes the restlessness, where will the unchurched person turn? They will probably reach out to the church that’s been pastoring them from a safe distance.

If the most effective means of reaching lost people is through personal invitation, how do marketing techniques such as mass mailings continue to make such an impact? Simply this: the purpose of every marketing touch is to make it easier for Christians to start a spiritual conversation with their neighbors. Church events that address children, marriage, or finances, for example, attract individuals to church who might otherwise not attend a Sunday service. When postcards go out, ask your launch team to pray as well as to ask their friends or co-workers if they saw the cards in the mail. Often, people with no other connection with the church will receive a series of cards, and later will begin a conversation with someone connected with the church. The bridge for a spiritual conversation has already been constructed, making it less intimidating for the newcomer to take the next step.

A shortsighted philosophy that focuses on getting people in the door on Sunday morning is doomed from the start. The goal is to help people cooperate with the Great Commission. Make it easier for your members to share their faith. Effective marketing allows believers more opportunities to start conversations with spiritual seekers God puts in their path.

Marketing is not Optional

Every church markets. In his letter to Titus, Paul instructs Christians to conduct themselves “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).  Everything the church does makes the teachings of Jesus either more or less attractive. Some market intentionally, while others market unwittingly. Some market a message they want people to hear. Some market a message that pushes people away. Do you have a church sign? If yes, then you are marketing. What about a logo, newsletter, meeting space, or even a worship service? Each is a marketing tool. Marketing may not be the primary motivation or objective of all you do, but everything you do markets the church.

For instance, what images do these church names conjure—Adventure Church, Journey, The Meeting Place, The Well, ForeFront? Or maybe Boring Christian Church, Holy Spirit Church, Apostolic Church, Covenant Church, The Chosen Church? Get the point? At New Life Christian Church (located in Centreville, Virginia), people sometimes say, “I saw your name, and that’s what I need—new life.” From the moment the church selects a name, everything the church does either helps people take a step closer to Jesus or creates a barrier for the gospel.

For most church planters lying awake nights thinking of ways to reach their community, pragmatism trumps theological hair-splitting. When planting a new church, the pressing question almost always is, “How can we reach more people as fast and as effectively as possible?”

How does it work?

When we asked the question, “How did you first hear about Journey,” we expected a slew of different responses. We found as we asked questions, people admitted they had heard about Journey multiple times over the previous few months through various and multiple mediums.

Charlie and Edie Gonzalez, for example, were two individuals at our first Discover Journey class. Both were divorced, but had remarried each other 18 years earlier. Charlie was a manager at a local bread distributor, while Edie helped run a daycare. Together, they had two kids in high school, and each had children from their previous marriages. Charlie was a Cuban American and rode motorcycles on weekends. Edie liked to spend time with the kids and rode with Charlie on occasions. They were both raised Catholic, but had not been to church since getting married. When asked how they heard about Journey, each credited the cards the received in the mail. But as we asked further questions, they quickly admitted they had heard about Journey many times over the last few months. Their daughter danced at the high school where we had sponsored a show. Their son played football, and we had bought an advertisement on the back page of his program. They had each seen several of our television ads in the weeks prior to the launch of the church. In addition, they had received at least one flier and had seen our slides in a local movie theater. Overall, we had “touched” the Gonzalez family ten times.

Some Samples from New Life Christian Church

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Postcard Front #1
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Postcard Front #2
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Postcard Front #3
Postcard Back

Six to Stick

Many marketing experts propose that it takes, “Six to stick.” A consumer needs to be touched at least six times before he or she considers buying a product. At Journey, we believe it takes even more “touches” for unchurched and irreligious people to consider giving church a chance.

The strategy included a several month detailed plan as we tried to establish identity in north Tampa. We studied and researched our context intensely in order to understand how our target group thought, shopped, and what their felt-needs were. Before you spend money on advertising or brainstorming, hire a graphic artist, or start designing logos on napkins, please do the hard, but rewarding work of developing a new church marketing plan.

Jay Conrad Levinson, the author of the Guerilla Marketing series of books, suggests you begin with a simple marketing plan. “The plan has only seven sentences. It should be that brief because you’ll be forced to focus on your objectives and tactics and because brief marketing plans should be easy to understand when read by your employees or partners.” I suggest that churches state marketing intentions in 5 sentences, especially since competition is not a factor.

Five Steps

At Journey, we followed five steps designed to help us “touch” our target group as many times as possible.

1. Define who you are and who you want to be (branding).

Church marketing isn’t business marketing. If a margarine maker over-promises and under-delivers, your trust in that company won’t be significantly impacted. You may even buy their product if it’s on sale next week. However, if a church makes promises and then doesn’t deliver, its integrity is at stake in the eye of the newcomer, and he or she may never return. Obviously, integrity expectations for those selling butter and toasters differs dramatically from expectations for churches—and justifiably so.

Integrity in church marketing means honestly representing who you are. If your children’s ministry stinks, don’t quote parents saying it’s the nation’s best. If your worship team is just this side of senior citizenship, then don’t produce radio spots proclaiming Britney Spears-style worship. When who you proclaim to be matches who you really are, it builds credibility and honors God. Misleading expectations, however, leave the first-timer disappointed, with little chance of a return visit.

Who has God called and gifted you to be? No church reaches everybody. No other church can reach the people you are created to reach as effectively as you. Each church has a unique personality. Some churches are great at creative communication. Some have more than their share of rock musicians. Some set the pace with children or students’ ministries. Others model fine arts ministry. But no church does everything great. In fact, great churches discover what they do well and celebrate these strengths in the way they market their church, trusting God will connect them with His people.

As a church discovers who God has called and equipped them to be, three basic marketing questions emerge:

  • Who are we?
  • Who are we best at reaching?
  • How do we connect who we are with the felt needs of those we are reaching?

2. Make an exhaustive list of methods you think can “touch” your target group over the three months prior to the launch of the new church.

Our list for Journey Church included:

  • Adopting a litter free road and getting our name on a street sign.
  • Sponsoring a parenting seminar at the local high school.
  • Hiring a graphic artist to design a logo and stationery.
  • Buying pre and post movie slides at the two local theaters.
  • Buying an ad in the high school football program.
  • Inviting the community to a local park special event sponsored by our church.
  • Sponsoring a Habitat home.
  • Partnering with local media in donating time and supplies to the needy.
  • Having a user-friendly, informational website.
  • Buying banners to hang at our office and other available sites.
  • Sponsoring a high school drama presentation.
  • Getting Chick-fil-A to hand out Journey fliers to all customers.
  • Giving away thousands of Journey pens.
  • Providing t-shirts to friends and acquaintances that work at Borders, Starbucks, and other public places.
  • Paying teens to put “Discover Journey Church” bumper stickers on their cars.
  • Sending a mass mailing to everyone in our 5-mile radius.
  • Passing out business cards at bars, restaurants, and other public places.
  • Placing small ads in homeowners associations’ newsletters.
  • Giving out water and squirt bottles at parades, parties, and other public events.
  • Renting a billboard for three months.
  • Having Papa John’s give out fliers to all customers.
  • Advertising via cable television.
  • Putting door hangers on every home and car in our target area.
  • Setting out A-frame signs each weekend at key intersections.
  • Passing out fliers at Home Depot, Target, Wal-Mart, and other frequented retail stores.
  • Writing personal letters to all homes within a one-mile radius of our meeting place.
  • Placing classified ads in non-traditional newspapers.
  • Securing newspapers ads in traditional papers.
  • Renting exhibit or booth space at fairs or carnivals.
  • Hand out fliers at Tampa Bay Bucs games.

This list is not exhaustive, but it was a starting point for us.

3. Contextualize your idea.

Not every idea at Journey Christian Church was valid for our demographic and target group. And some great ideas will not work in your context. We cut our list from hundreds of ideas to fifty that we thought would be effective in our area.

4. Prioritize your ideas.

Most church planters today do a mass mailing. In recent years, it has proven to be the most efficient method to repeatedly touch your target group. In our experience a four-card mailing to 30,000 homes will likely result in at least 150 first-time guests to your new church. So, for most church planters, mass mailing is the most important idea.It takes six to stick...time to get marketing! #churchplanting Click To Tweet After that, the effectiveness of other marketing techniques varies greatly depending on your context, style, purpose, and budget.

Don’t just try some ideas. Try lots of ideas. Church planting veteran John Wasem says, “Don’t put all your marketing eggs in one basket.” Remember, the marketing rule of thumb—“It takes six to stick.”  A consumer needs at least six touches before he or she considers a product. For irreligious people, it may demand more than that. So, give it time. Years may pass before the new church fully realizes the harvest of its first outreach events and cards. But, with God’s involvement, the harvest is sure. God is the Hound of Heaven, pursing people on the run. He is a sending God, and He expects to be reconciled with lost people. When God prepares a heart, and the church’s marketing touches reach that person repeatedly over a period of time, it creates an opening for potential relationship. One attendee later commented on his decision to attend Journey,

I kept hearing about this church in all these different ways, and I knew I just had to check it out.

5. Weigh the financial costs.

Until this point, every idea should be valid without regard to cost. But at some point, you must do a cost benefit analysis. It is important to know your budget. Contact a financial specialist for guidance. I recommend Church Marketing Solutions. You can spend dozens of hours getting quotes and trying to contract all the vendors yourself, or you can let a specialist do the work and deliver a great product at an unbelievable cost.

  • Church planters realize quickly that advertising can be very expensive. But hopefully, you also realize effective and efficient marketing can be done using few traditional means of advertising. With literally billions of dollars being spent each year by American industries, customers have become desensitized to most advertising. For example, although Budweiser is rewarded prestigious awards year after year by advertising agencies, their market share is decreasing annually. Comical advertising does not always correlate to effective marketing. Even memorable advertising does not often yield increased profits for companies. Interestingly enough, one of America’s fastest growing and most recognizable companies, Krispy Kreme, does not advertise.
  • The best form of marketing is saturation marketing. “Six to stick” is not just a catchy slogan. Touching people as many times as possible in as many ways as possible eventually brings people to church, many for the first time. Saturation marketing is an inexpensive way to reach people.
  • A front-page article in a major newspaper costs nothing. On the other hand, a back page ad on a weekend in that same major newspaper costs thousands of dollars. Spending time creating press releases, cold calling media outlets, and handing out flyers at concerts and sporting events will cost your new or established church almost little or nothing, but if you are able to create a buzz among influential people, your marketing plan has produced its desired results with little cost.
  • Your marketing plan will probably include some traditional advertising. Those ads may fit well into your plan and might help create the synergy you desire when starting a new church. Your ads may have a primary purpose of drawing attention among influential people. When we started the church in Tampa, we used cable television advertising. I thought the ads were great. They brought a few folks to the church, but more importantly, the local newspapers, including the Tampa Tribune, noticed the ads. They were looking for a human-interest story, and they called us. Because of networking like this, more people came to Journey Church because of newspaper articles than did people who came as a direct result of our advertising.
  • Most church planters I know budget between $15,000 and $50,000 on marketing. To some of you, these numbers seem outrageous. To those of you who have worked in the corporate world, these numbers may seem ridiculously low. Regardless of your perspective, most church planters in America spend approximately 10%-20% of their first year budgets on marketing. The percentage will almost certainly decline after the first year, but should not be drastically reduced.

Caution!

A word of caution—the more money you budget for a new church marketing plan, the more research will be required to spend it efficiently. For example, in Tampa radio advertising on a couple popular radio stations seemed to be the most effective means of reaching our target group. Yet, the average spot on a radio station costs $80 per thirty second commercial if you buy a bundle of slots. To run a similar spot on MTV, CNBC, Lifetime, Discovery, and other channels often costs less than $10 per spot when buying in volume. Therefore, we had to determine if the radio ads were worth at least eight times as much as the cable television ads. If you are going to spend thousands of dollars on radio advertising, first consider if you can achieve better saturation of your context for fewer dollars in a different medium.

Some Final Essentials

  • Do a contextualization study using demographics and surveys to fully understand the people you are trying to reach. Based on this study, develop a new church marketing plan that will serve as a guide to all outreach activities.
  • Establish a fully functional web site as soon as possible. List it on all advertising materials. An initial web presence can be established quickly and inexpensively. Your web site will help people feel comfortable visiting your church.
  • Design a logo that communicates an image of who you seek to be.
  • Design a high quality, “first touch” color brochure that communicates who you are to the unchurched people in your community.
  • Design high-quality, color business cards for the primary purpose of drawing people to your web site. Give them to everyone you meet.
  • Seek to have name recognition within your target area before sending out your final direct marketing campaign (The effectiveness of your startup mailing campaign will be better if you already have a positive image in the community.).
  • Proactively determine what image you are seeking to establish in the community, and use outreach events and marketing to build this identity and image.
  • Use multiple touches. The “Six to Stick” philosophy is solid and not as difficult to achieve as it first appears.
  • Brainstorm a list of every possible marketing touch that you can think of (i.e. direct mail cards, posters, web site links, flyers, newspaper ads, newsletters, A-frame signs, invitation letters mailed to the community, yellow pages, giveaways, banners, etc.). Identify at least 50 possibilities.
  • Determine which types of marketing touches are already being used effectively in your target area.
  • Grab the low hanging fruit (cheap and easy touches—there are more than you think).
  • Prioritize the list of possible marketing touches in light of your budget and your understanding of effectiveness.
  • Avoid whiplash. Maintain consistency of message by using the same branding on your different touches.
  • Get a non-profit, bulk mail permit early. If you wait too long, it will cost you additional money.
  • Find people in your church (or in your launch group) with marketing experience, and get their help.
  • Negotiate the lowest possible prices, recalling that there is considerable margin in areas such as yellow page ads.
  • Candidly consider whether you are ready to deliver what you promise.
  • Your marketing and outreach strategies are inseparable. Use every outreach event as an opportunity to get multiple marketing touches into the community.
  • Stick with it. The harvest takes time. Marketing is a long-term investment. Repetition is essential. Be persistent.

Direct Mail?

If you’re consider a direct mail campaign consider working with these companies:

These companies offer solutions for creating a saturation mailing campaign that will meet the needs of your church.

Conclusion

Steve and Laura were living life to the fullest. Each had a great job that paid well. They had a four thousand square foot house, a dog, and two happy children. They were members of various country clubs and fitness centers and vacationed regularly at ski resorts throughout the country. Life was unfolding nicely, but Steve and Laura had little use for church.

Then during one doctor’s appointment Steve was diagnosed, after a series of tests, with a brain tumor. God got Steve and Laura’s attention. They became interested in spiritual things and remembered receiving post cards from a new church. Laura remembered seeing banners outside a school on Sunday morning identifying the church’s location. Steve and Laura showed up for church one Sunday morning, found Jesus, were baptized into Christ, and experienced the love of that community of faith.

Six months later Steve died. His funeral was a celebration of Steve’s graduation into a Christ-filled eternity. Where would Steve and Laura have been without the church marketing of one new church that cared enough to reach their community through a marketing plan? Marketing is all about reaching people like Steve and Laura. There are millions of individuals and families in all walks of life still out there waiting to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Don’t they deserve to be reached through a well thought out, creative marketing plan or whatever else it takes to communicate Christ?  We believe they do.

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