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Friday, May 07, 2010

Church Marketing

I've blogged before about church marketing, church growth and other topics popular with the modern American Christian church. Recently I had the fortune of talking with some pastors about the growth of their own church. Somewhat like a consulting engagement (for which I wasn't actually paid), we were examining the ways of their churches.

Most pastors of churches want their churches to grow. It consumes a lot of their thinking. "How can I attract more people to my church? How can I then keep them in my church?" These are the same kinds of questions that retailers, restaurants and other types of businesses ask. Essentially they're trying to figure out how to gather followers and to keep themselves then relevant to those followers. And so it is with churches.

Most churches today use web sites for marketing purposes, and some use web sites to communicate with their congregations. A very few churches use web sites to "do business" with their members and the community. (That would be, for example, like having people sign up for things on the web site, or even purchase books and materials, ask for prayer, become a church member, schedule a baptism, etc.)

When a business or commercial organization develops a web site, it tends to have some fundamental criteria in mind:

1. Attract new customers.
2. Communicate with existing customers.
3. Market goods and services to the community.
4. Facilitate transactions with customers.
5. Become "sticky" (i.e., relevant) to customers.

Quite frankly, I think that churches would do well to consider similar criteria. Too many of them just put some basic information out on the web. Their web sites end up being tantamount to a billboard on the information super highway. And if we're honest, billboards tend to accomplish only brand awareness, at best. Further more, the more billboards there are on a highway, the less that any of them can actually accomplish. Churches in particular are challenged on the web as much as they are anywhere else.

So the discussion we were having recently started with the web site, moved to church marketing and finally landed on one pivotal question. "What would make our church most attractive to new people?" We examined many possibilities, but the conclusion was that the most attractive thing would be for our church to actually care about people.

I know, most churches think that's their core competency. They love everybody, and love is behind everything they do. Are the people in the community buying it though? Statistically, they're not. About 4,000 churches in America go out of business every single year. Simply put, the modern American Christian church has never been less relevant to its target audience than it is right now. And the trend is moving in the wrong direction.

How can this be? Aren't churches spending more money than ever on church marketing? Don't they have organized church growth campaigns? Aren't the videos on clever and entertaining? Don't they have amazing bands and exciting children's ministries? Yes of course they do. Unfortunately, the modern culture isn't convinced that this is love.

The cappuccino bar, the totally hip youth center, the children's ministry that someone knocks themselves out for every week ... they're all well and good. The engaging band, the state-of-the-art audio/visual support, the pastoral blogs and Tweets, the pod casts, bookstores, libraries and even church cafeterias are all wonderful amenities. But they don't seem to appeal to the "love languages" of anyone the church is trying to reach. Does anyone know why?

There is a very comical video on YouTube (that was actually filmed at my church). It's a parody of how Starbucks (coffee shops) might look if they marketed themselves like churches do. (You can check it out at While entertaining and engaging, it seems not to identify what is right. It just pokes fun of what is wrong. As it turns out, there are lots of videos on YouTube that do this - poke fun of what's wrong with churches today.

We give people cards and encourage them to invite their friends. We have free gifts for newcomers. Some churches even have special VIP parking for visitors. We do our darnedest to look good for customers. But consider if you went into the local big box store - and couldn't find what you wanted - and couldn't get anyone to help you - and felt awkward like you were in a foreign land. Would you want to return there to shop again?

Why do people go to church? If they're honest, at the core of their being, they want to be loved by God. There's something in them that yearns for the love of God and they go to church hoping to find it.

So if I were to start a church marketing consultancy, I think I would start by teaching the people who are already in my client churches how to love others. It seems to be a lost art in these modern times! And yet, I am now firmly convinced it is the golden secret in church marketing.

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