In part “Church Marketing Sucks (part one)” I addressed the first post by Jeremy Harrison on the Church Marketing Sucks blog. In his second post Harrison gives tips for better ways for churches to market themselves. I want to address those tips and in my next post I will give a few of my own.
1. Identify people groups in your community based on their passions.
Most people in your community are not thinking about going to church. But what are they thinking about? What are they passionate about? What are they excited to pour their time into when they get home from work? Get a diverse group of people in your church to brainstorm… you will quickly come up with a dozen or more groups of people.
That would be great if one were marketing a coffee shop or a recreation club. However, the Christian Church is a different animal altogether.
Along side this section of the post there was an example list of passions a community might have, I am including that here to show the problem with this method.
I’m sure some of those are valid passions people in a community, even Christians, may have. However, none of these passions have much to do with what the church service, and the Church as a whole, are about.
As Harrison rightly observed in his previous post, most people have no interest in church, it isn’t relevant to them. Or, at least they don’t see its relevance. So, his first tip seems to be that we need to find a way to make church relevant to the common non-church attending person.
One thing all people have in common, and that is addressed quite frequently in the bible, and is even included in the great commission, is that every person ever born is dead in sin and is an enemy of God; He will judge them, find them guilty, and condemn them to hell for eternity. Sadly, that didn’t make this list of passions.
2. Who can your church most effectively reach?
Let’s be realistic. You can’t effectively reach all of these groups. The way you reach a Harley-Davidson fan is typically different from the way you reach a gardener. Your church is uniquely equipped to reach some of these groups very effectively. This has a lot to do with the personality of your church. Pick a few of these people groups that overlap with the people already attending your church, and/or the people you as a leader are passionate about attracting.
Jesus’ commission to the Church, found in Matthew 28 is, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)
Jesus didn’t say to pick a group of people who are most appealing to you, or to pick a group of people who have common interests to people in your church, or even to find the most common interests and focus yourselves around that. He says to go and make disciples of all nations.
In Acts, where we get to see this Great Commission played out, we don’t see Peter or Paul struggling to determine what the passions of the local community are so that they can find a way to make Christ and the Church relevant to the people. Instead, in Acts chapter two we see Peter addressing the crowds exposing the guilt of the people for crucifying Jesus. The people, who were cut to the heart, asked Peter what they should do…
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38 ESV)
You see, Peter preached Law and Gospel, sin and grace, repentance and the forgiveness of sins to these people. That is what Jesus commanded, and that is what we are supposed to do. Then we read that on that day about three thousand souls were added to the Church.
3. Learn what keeps these people up at night.
Do you want to reach your community at a deep level? Identify what keeps them up at night. What are those deeper emotions that drive them to obsess over their motorcycle, climbing a corporate ladder, or never-ending home improvement projects? What chronic problems do they deal with in their lives? These fears & problems will vary a bit from each group you identified in steps one and two. Sometimes it relates to the passion (e.g., parents worrying about their kids) but usually the thing they pour their time and passion into is just a facade for what keeps them up at night.
One of the problems with man is that they by nature are idolators. One of the repercussions of this is that the wrong things keep them up at night. Yes, the welfare of your children will sometimes keep you up at night, or even your finances and job might. But, Harrison fails to address the thing that should keep everyone, at least all non-Christians, up at night, the welfare of their souls and their standing before Almighty God.
Man worries about temporal things, things that will soon pass away. The thing that should be our biggest concern isn’t more than a passing thought for most people. Unfortunately, for churches that would follow Harrison’s tips here, the same appears to be true.
Step three may make you uncomfortable. I understand. But advertisers are capturing the hearts of consumers by speaking to them at a deeply emotional level. They tell them that the thing they are selling will make them happy. Advertisers do it in a manipulative and deceitful way way, but you can do it without manipulating or deceiving. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are sharing the Gospel! You have something to share that will actually transform their lives!
He’s right, the Church need not manipulate anyone. Unfortunately, luring people in by focusing on their passions and not on the one thing they need most is doing exactly that.
And then he mentions that we have the Gospel! He’s right, we do! It will transform lives! But, not if the problem it resolves is ignored! People who don’t know that their hearts are desperately wicked don’t know they need the Savior!
4. Develop practical biblical teaching.
In step three you identified a chronic problem or fear that these groups of people face. What does the Bible say about this topic? If you’ve listed a problem or fear in step three that you don’t think the Bible addresses in a practical way, then you probably are still listing symptoms instead of root problems.
Pick one of these fears or problems. Prepare a multi-week teaching series, and make sure that each week offers its own practical action steps, as well as benefits for attending. Each part of the series should include specific action steps that will help them with the thing that keeps them up at night.
Is this a quote from the Purpose Driven Play Book for Poor Homiletics? Please don’t take this shallow, topical, approach to preaching. Yes, those passions are symptoms of a bigger problem. But, don’t preach on those passions! Preach on the root issue of all of our problems and the one solution to them all. Our sinful state before God and Jesus, the Savior, who paid for our sin, granting us forgiveness, and putting us in a right relationship with God.
5. Don’t water it down.
For the sake of some semblance of brevity I didn’t quote this entire point. I’ll just say that the previous point leads to watering it down. Saying “don’t water it down” after telling people exactly how to water it down doesn’t help. This methodology actually leads to something like what I talked about in my post about Seeker Driven churches and Pelagianism.
Now that the teaching is developed, it’s time to re-engage your advertising campaign! But your ads will no longer talk about your church. You are about to earn their attention in a compelling way.
6. Design advertising that speaks to these people at an emotional level.
Focus on what keeps them up at night, and the practical outcomes of your teaching. Make a promise about what practical benefits they’ll get for taking action. By the way, your call to action should probably not start with visiting your church. We all know that’s a risky proposition for some. This leads to step seven.
Now that your teaching is focused on addressing people’s felt needs, it’s time to advertise your off-mission church? What Harrison has said up to this point comes straight from the teaching of Rick Warren and Bill Hybels on how to run a church. The problem is, the Church isn’t called to meet felt needs, but to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in Christ. Are focus isn’t on practical benefits, it is on Jesus.
In steps seven and eight he goes on to talk about creating a marketing funnel and directing your church marketing. I’ll address the former, and the latter probably isn’t worth addressing.
Harrison’s marketing funnel consists of people seeing your ads, visiting your website, reading a helpful practical article or two, learning about the church, visiting, returning, and following Christ.
As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t see this model in the Great Commission, nor do we see it in Acts or in the Epistles.
The “church marketing” we see in Acts, and we are commissioned to in the Great Commission, is to go out into all the world proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples. Rather than advertising to non-church attending non-believers using felt needs, it seems the commission is a little closer to something like tell your neighbors and those you meet about the forgiveness of sins that can be had in Christ, and go and do this everywhere in the world to all people groups. When the Apostles did this the Church grew by thousands, and these thousands weren’t manipulated into joining the Church by topical preaching about felt needs and passions, but they joined the Church after they were cut to the heart by the law and saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. God gave them faith and they repented of their sins and trusted in Christ.
Jesus said He is with us in this Commission, and we will answer to Him for it, let’s do it the way He commanded.
That being said, I do see some room for church marketing, but I’ll cover that in part three.