I thought I’d take a quick break from the current series on church marketing and social media to write about a current topic. I was reading an article the other day about whether small businesses should invest in search engine optimization during a recession. As I thought about the article it got me thinking about churches and recessions. Much like small businesses, many churches experience a financial crunch during a recession. After all, a church member can’t tithe if they loose their job. So, should churches invest in SEO and other church marketing strategies during a recession?
For businesses I would recommend marketing themselves out of the recession. A business may have to work a little harder to get a customer, but it’s better to maintain or increase your customer base, than cut back marketing costs. However, unlike businesses, churches do not have it as their objective to make money. They generally don’t provide services for fees other than maybe offering their sanctuary for weddings and they don’t sell products except for the occasional fundraiser or church with a bookstore. So, it’s a tricky thing to talk about church marketing when the church budget is going south. The marketing budget is usually the easiest and first thing to get cut. All the same, I’d point out that if a church increases its membership, often that increases the churches budget. Of course that’s not the purpose of a church, is it?
Churches exist to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ and facilitate the fellowship and community of believers. So, what does that have to do with a recession? In America we have great wealth and lives that are pretty easy when compared to the rest of the word. The average “poor” person in America has more money and stuff than most of the “rich” people have in many other areas of the world. All the prosperity in the US makes is easy for people to place their security in themselves and their wealth. In a recession that security can be ripped away. So, where will people turn for their security?
During economically difficult times many people tend to turn to (or return to) the church for support, a fact that is supported by a 2007 study at Texas State University. The study shows that as the economy got worse, church attendance increased. So, a recession can be a time of growth for the church. This also means that a recession is one of the best times for church marketing.
The floral industry is a good illustration. Think about it, the number of people looking for flowers goes way up around Valentines Day and Mother’s Day. When do you think florists put the most emphasis on marketing themselves? The same is true for churches. When the number of people looking for a church increases, we need to increase our church marketing so we can reach as many of these people as possible, people who might otherwise never step inside a church.
For the church, a recession is an opportunity. There are many ways the church can use a recession, but I’ll just mention two:
- The church needs to be ready to support and reach out with the Gospel to those who are now looking for answers and who are starting to see the fickle nature of financial wealth. These people will not turn to your church if they never hear about your church. So get the word out, make it easy for people to find your church, and reach out to these people. To reference a great hymn, we have the message of Christ the solid rock on which we stand. All other ground is sinking sand. When people start to realize they are standing on sinking sand, we need to be there to help pull them up onto the Rock.
- The church needs to be ready to help those in need. One of the main missions of the church has always been to help the poor, windows, orphans, and needy. We are told in Acts 2:42-47 of how the early church was willing to sell their possessions and goods in order to give to anyone that had need. 1 Timothy 6:18 speaks to the wealthy saying, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” I’m not proposing economic policy here, I’m just saying that we need to show the love of Christ by caring for each other and being willing to sacrifice to help those in need.
So, right now, the church is in a time of great opportunity. Unlike the title of the Texas State study implies, I don’t think we should pray for a recession, but since we have one, we might as set about the Father’s work and use this time to reach as many people for Christ as we can.