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Why churches don’t “get” marketing

“Church marketing.” The very phrase seems like a bad combination – like peanut butter and mustard. The numbers bear this out: six times as many people search for “business marketing” as “church marketing.” A lot of people seem hesitant to put these two things together: as if a church marketer is a used-car salesman trying to push the gospel on unsuspecting rubes. We care about church growth, but bring “marketing” into it and we back off.

I’ll admit it, for a long time I thought the same. Churches are not profit-driven businesses, so marketing strategies that prioritize growth and numbers above all else seem opposed to what the church is about.

So, is marketing not for the church?

Let’s talk about the message

First off, marketing is not about convincing people to take something they don’t want. A lot of people think of pushy tactics that bug you until you relent, and end up some no-good product. A lot of marketing does look like that. But that’s bad marketing! Put those associations out of your head.

It’s all about the message: and if that’s true for businesses, it’s doubly true for churches. Most businesses struggle to even define a message, let alone communicate it to their customers. Churches, on the other hand, have a clearly-defined message and the whole world as an audience.

Marketing doesn’t do a disservice to your message – on the contrary. Marketing puts your message in the hands of the people who most need it. It’s how you show visitors that you care about what you’re talking about – and by extension, that you care about them.

Unhook your preconceptions of marketing from your message, and let’s find ways to spread this news as wide as possible. Churches already do this through community events, special holiday services, and home small groups. It’s time to put Facebook and Google in the same spot as the Wednesday night potluck.

Plenty of people already think of the church as a hack selling “As seen on TV” products. The best thing you can do to counteract that is to tell the exact opposite story. That’s all marketing is: telling a story.

Why Marketing Matters

Like we talked about last week, your website is more than a billboard. No tricks or hacks here – those don’t work. No keyword-stuffing on irrelevant articles, no cheap websites with bright “buy now” buttons, no pyramid schemes to sell you hair and beauty products.

What you can do is use proven tools and methods to increase your traffic, communicate your message, and succeed.

It’s a little more complicated for churches, because “success” is less tangible than for a business. If a business is making money, it’s succeeding. But churches aren’t (or shouldn’t be) motivated by any sort of profit. Churches also can’t use just numbers: there’s no “sinners saved per sermon” stat for churches to see if their marketing strategies are working.

I’ve found it helpful to approach church growth and marketing in terms of a funnel.

At the very top of the funnel, you have visitors who land on your website, and never attend church. The most casual of interest in Jesus. Below that, you have people who visit a local church as a direct result of hearing about it on social media, the web, or some other marketing plan. Finally, at the bottom of the funnel, you have people who attend a local church as believers.

OK – that’s a rough look, but it’s a plan. Obviously, any church would want as many people as possible to come all the way through the funnel. Churches exist so that people put their faith and hope in Jesus. So success for any plan a church might make is someone coming all the way through that funnel.

Let’s look at some mission statements to check our work. Check out what The Austin Stone says:

“We want to bless our city, believing that as we seek its peace, we will display the grace, freedom and life that Jesus Christ offers to anyone who believes in Him.”

And here’s Bethlehem Baptist Church, in Minneapolis:

“Bethlehem exists to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.”

Finally, here’s my own church, New City Church here in Kansas City:

“New City exists to cultivate a gospel-centered church family that multiplies disciples of Jesus and churches for the joy of all people, glory of God, and the good of the city.”

Different churches focus on different parts of that funnel: some ministries reach people online, who aren’t part of a local church or cannot attend one (Desiring God, or The Gospel Coalition). Other churches work very hard to bring people to their events, so that they can build relationships with church members.

A marketing plan gives you the tools that you need to make this funnel as wide as possible, and reach as many people as possible. And the command to Christians is already pretty big: “you will be my witnesses to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) and “go […] and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19) The church has a big job.

So why bother with church marketing?

The internet gives us tools to make the verses above a reality. You want to reach the ends of the earth? You can with Facebook. You want to reach your neighbors, the people in your city around you? You can, with your website. These are tools that are available to churches, and for the most part, we’re letting them go to waste.

Don’t let them go to waste! Marketing is a huge tool that helps your church obey the Great Comission. Your website is a huge, powerful tool to tell people about the life-changing work of Jesus. Doesn’t that sound like something worth investing in?

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