The word “marketing” has developed a negative connotation amongst church leaders, not to mention among leaders and managers in other industries in the business world. Marketing, to many, is manipulation and deviant capitalism run amuck. The word seems to carry this tainted and grotesque connotation of ugly, sleazy pyramid scheme mechanisms to push people into doing something they don’t want or need. There’s this inherent ick-factor people experience when they hear the word. But what is marketing really? Have we bought into a true representation of what marketing is or have we been burned by the few who do give marketing a bad name?
We’ll explore these and common myths plaguing churches today. Consider your marketing questions and the following myths as you approach how to get the word out about your church, or in other words how your church approaches marketing.
Marketing, by definition, is the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising. So even though this is mostly a myth there are elements of truth to the myth that marketing is sales. But marketing is so much more than literally selling a product or service. It’s a broad umbrella term that includes advertising and sales certainly, but it also includes branding, research, community partnerships, websites, product and services development, your internet presence, and more. Marketing is simply getting the word out about your church. The heart of marketing for churches is about helping people solve a problem and find a solution. The problem churches solve is generally speaking sin, and churches hope to help people find Jesus, the cure.
So, we have now established that marketing entails a myriad of strategic and business planning in order to be seen and to sell your service (in this case it’s your church). Church marketing is on the rise, and for good reason. Church leaders are waking up to a post-pandemic reality where online activity is abundant, it’s here to stay, and without a website or internet and online presence, no one can find you. Without a website or online presence your church doesn’t exist. Today, people are predominately finding everything under the sun they need online. Church leaders can simply no longer afford to buy into the myth that marketing is unnecessary. Without marketing you can not be found. If you can’t be found you won’t be able to bring in any new guests and you may also lose some congregation members. It’s time to accept that marketing your church will help your church in the long and short run.
The reality of marketing is it’s broad enough to be what you make it. Can you spend tens of thousands of dollars on hiring a marketing professional for the church? Sure. Could you spend the same on worship equipment? Sure you could. So when it comes to marketing expenses, it’s less about how expensive it can be and more about understanding the value it brings and knowing what your budget can fit in and what it can not. Marketing, as we’ve discussed already, includes a variety of categories that spans from research to thinking through your messaging on your website to paying for Facebook advertising to creating co-church partnerships. The marketing process within your church should exist even if it’s just your leadership team’s yearly meeting to discuss what the church goals are, who your audience is (demographics, locations, etc), and what no-cost measures you plan to take to be found. At the end of the day, marketing does not have to be expensive. Would it greatly expand your church’s online presence and reach to your community to spend money if you aren’t sure how to do that on your own or need to purchase advertising on Facebook, google, Instagram or Youtube? Sure. It does not have to break your budget but it’s prudent to think through who your audience is and how best to reach them. It’s very likely carving out room in your budget for some advertising (especially around events) would be worth your while.
We’ve heard the myth many times that church budgets shouldn’t include marketing the church for things such as advertising or branding because marketing is intrusive and too extravagant. We should be able to create disciples inside the church to do our marketing for us. This is a common discussion inside churches today who have not yet adapted to the growing landscape of online church activities. It’s understandable that church leaders may feel this way because who wants to feel like they’re paying to bring people into the church? No one! But that’s not really what marketing is. And really, how is it different from hosting an event you pay for? They are one in the same. Church events ARE marketing events – we just don’t label them as such. We have to start changing the conversation and expanding the vocabulary of the church to understand that marketing is what is happening even without planning it to some extent. Marketing is happening when churches host events for the community, when churches have big Easter, Fall Festival, and Christmas events. Marketing is what happens when churches partner together to send missionaries and share the gospel. Because marketing is simply getting the word out about your church. Not only is it not inappropriate, it’s already happening. So let’s label it and call it what it is and plan accordingly to expand the reach of the church.
Many small churches are already operating with too few leaders, volunteers, and staff to keep the church running. We get it! We know first hand having all been a part of small churches through pastoring (Wes, Matt, and Scott), leadership (Cristy and Nicole), and membership (Brandon, Kelly, and more). We have all played roles in our small local churches here at OneEighty Digital. But we, as team members of church leadership in some capacity or another, also see the value in working together as a team to pitch in with our skills where we can to increase the reach of the church to hopefully expand the name of Jesus and the Gospel to all people. If the goal in our hearts is truly bringing people together for the sake of redemption through Christ, anything is possible and that means dividing and conquering marketing inside the church if need be. That means maybe not everything on the marketing wish list can get done, but maybe an up-and-coming communication major in the congregation helps with social media. Maybe it means the worship leader adds some video to the website of songs the church sings. Maybe it means the Pastor goes live with updates on social media and posts sermons to podcasts and YouTube. Maybe it means hiring a website developer to ensure your website is enhanced for great SEO so people can find your church. Whatever your congregation’s makeup is, there’s someone who can help fulfill a marketing role, especially once we realize how many ways marketing can be accomplished.
This is a long held belief in churches today. And it has biblical weight so it’s no wonder it has helped the church hold on to myth # 2-5 as well as this one. Many churches continue to believe that the church will expand organically through its own members bringing people to the church. After all, aren’t we to make disciples? Aren’t we to be telling those around us about Jesus? As followers of Christ, aren’t we to bring people to Him? Yes, of course all of those things are true but expecting your congregation to be your only marketing path is not realistic and it’s not exactly welcoming to those who are searching online but don’t know anyone in the area yet, or someone who hopes to move nearby and doesn’t know what church meets their needs, or needs more information on childcare at the church. There are a lot of ways only sending church members out as salesmen for the church falls down on the job. Sure it’s great to have that word of mouth and it’s great to teach up generations of disciples bringing up more disciples but realize there’s room for other ways that can help those members’ jobs be a whole lot easier, starting with an excellent website that is easy to find, and Google My Business helps people to locate you once invited.
We’ve heard it all before, and one that keeps many churches from expanding their marketing strategy is the idea that leadership knows another pastor or church who spent money on advertising and it did nothing so it “just doesn’t work for churches like ours” or “it won’t work for us either”. The problem is they probably haven’t given you all the details. Even if they have, their experience is just an anecdotal event. Anecdotes may not reflect the marketing person, budget, or strategy. As previously mentioned, marketing encompasses a variety of methods and tactics, as does every church and path toward being seen online. Just because a Facebook ad didn’t work for one church doesn’t mean it won’t work for your church. There are millions of messages, different events and different groups of people with varying interests to create events around. The difference in audience alone is enough to give most pause to the “it didn’t work for me” myth we hear. We know that things may, at times, not work.You may need to readjust your strategies, platforms, and budget but you won’t usually regret trying several different ways to be seen. It can’t hurt to try new things or try old things in new ways.
We hope this was informative and helps you to rethink your impression of marketing and your strategies for your church moving forward. As always, we are here to help you as you walk through setting up your website, creating strategies to increase your online presence, and more. Set up your call today to find out how we can help you be seen online.