(Updated on 2/24/2011)
Some people believe the church can be more effective by utilizing processes most commonly and effectively used in business today, including marketing. In fact there are companies that specifically help churches develop a logo, a slogan, a website, brochures, and a multi-faceted marketing campaign much the same way other companies develop these elements to launch a new business.
On the other hand, some people abhor these practices and think the church should stay as far away from them as possible. They believe marketing is deceptive, manipulative, superficial, worldly, and yes – evil.
And then there’s the middle ground where I think most of us find ourselves. We want our churches to reach more people in our communities. We want to express the passion and love we have for God and people. If people would just come to a Sunday service, we know God would show up and touch their hearts and show them the amazing life they could have with Him in it. We want to let people know about the opportunities God has for them, but it’s so hard to get people’s attention in this media-saturated culture. We want to reach out, but we don’t want resort to hype, gimmicks, or starkly corporate tactics.
Is marketing the way to do that, or is marketing evil?
Objections to church marketing usually fall into one of five categories.
1) Marketing is manipulative.
Some people believe that marketing is inherently manipulative, that marketing is all about overselling positive and concealing the negative, or that marketing has to play to people’s fears or emotions to be effective.
Now if you’re a company selling something that is bad for people like tabloid magazines or junk food, manipulation is pretty much your only option. But if you provide something that is truly beneficial to people, then there’s no reason to be manipulative or disingenuous. Churches help people connect with God, and through that connection people find unconditional love, peace, daily guidance, purpose for their lives, community, and eternal life. No other organization on earth can match that.
2) Marketing is superficial.
Other people claim that marketing promotes style over substance. You sell the sizzle not the steak, right? You tell people what they want to hear, right?
Unfortunately, I think a lot of churches actually are guilty of promoting superficial elements of who they are in order to appeal to people. I’ve seen numerous churches talk about having the rockin’est worship band, the funnest kids program, the coolest youth rec building, or most inspiring messages. There’s nothing wrong with being rockin’, fun, cool, and inspiring, but if those are the reasons you are telling people they should attend your church, then that’s what people are going to expect. At that point you have to either keep things superficial, which defeats the whole purpose of helping people to connect to God, or you have to “bait and switch” when it comes to the hard parts of following Christ.
But here again churches have an advantage when it comes to marketing because they don’t have to be superficial. A church doesn’t have to claim to have the rockin’est worship band when it can provide a worship experience where people can connect to God through music and words they can relate to and mean with all their hearts. It doesn’t have to have the funnest kids program when it can give children a spiritual and moral foundation in a setting they will enjoy and remember.
In fact, churches that market themselves on style are missing a huge opportunity because the church has so much substance to offer, and deep down people really do want substance.
3) Marketing sucks.
Another objection people have to church marketing in particular is that it’s just flat out embarrassingly bad. A lot of church marketing is not just unoriginal but it’s beating a dead horse that was dead a decade ago. I can’t describe how much I cringe every time I see a church sign with a cheesy Christian cliché on it. And if I see another “Got Jesus?” t-shirt, I might not be able to keep myself from chasing after the person with a lighter.
The truth is a lot of church marketing is embarrassingly bad, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s why the Center for Church Communications started Church Marketing Sucks. Churches are led by the Creator of the universe, and so churches should lead the world in creativity, originality, and inspiration. Doing marketing well is not an effort to “out-cool” other churches or keep up with secular marketing trends, but rather to express what the church is all about in ways that reveal our creative, inspiring God.
4) Marketing is annoying.
We all hate commercials that interrupt our favorite TV show, right? (I thank God for my DVR!) We hate junk mail. We hate the endless promos at the beginning of a movie. We hate it when someone rings our doorbell during dinner to sell us magazines. The last thing churches should be doing is annoying people, right?
Well, yes, but I haven’t come across a church yet that wants to annoy people. Marketing doesn’t have to be annoying. Do you ever look through the ads in the Sunday paper? Ever save that $5 off coupon that came in the mail? Marketing is annoying when it for something you’re not interested in or it’s at a bad time, but when we’re interested in something and the timing is right, we actually appreciate it. The key is getting information to the right people at the right time.
This is why it’s so important that your church have a good website, that it be featured prominently in search engines, and for the church to utilize social media to connect with members and reach out. If the key is getting information to the right people at the right time, what could be better than getting information about your church to someone who is searching for a church when they’re searching?
5) The Church Shouldn’t Need To Market Itself.
If the church is effectively doing it’s ministry, then it will grow naturally as a result, right?
This is true, but can the church effectively do it’s ministry without telling people what it’s ministry is or that the ministry exists? If your church puts on a Christmas production, do you announce the production around town? Do you put it on your church sign? Do you ask your members to tell their friends? That’s all marketing. Marketing doesn’t replace the ministry of the church, the Gospel message, or the love we show each other. It tells others about it. It’s about informing people about the ministries and spreading the love of Christ.
What is Marketing?
Finally, I think part of the reason why some Christians think marketing is evil is because they associate marketing with advertising. But marketing is much broader than advertising. Here are some definitions of marketing I’ve come across…
“Marketing is basically sharing your love. Your passion. Your belief.”
“Marketing is simply the transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another.”
Who doesn’t want to share their love, passion and belief for God and their church?
Of course church marketing efforts are not a substitute for personal evangelism. In fact, personal evangelism can be greatly enhanced by making it a part of the overall church marketing plan. A church that develops a great website and provides printed brochures, invitation cards, and outreach events can make personal evangelism efforts much easier and more effective.
Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3. He blogs at Christian Web Trends and LiveIntentionally.org. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulSteinbrueck (twitter.com/PaulSteinbrueck)