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Wow.  It has been 91 days since my last post on this blog, and you know what?  I still do not have any new ideas about what to write about.  I have been thinking every day for the past 91 days about what to write on this blog, and I have gotten nothing, nadda, zilch.  And that makes me really sad.  I have enjoyed writing this blog, but maybe I just have nothing left to say on the subject.

Marketing and the church is a hard subject to discuss because there are many ways to do it wrong and there are many opinions on how much marketing is wrong.  It think that church marketing is a very real subject that churches need to invest time and thought into and maybe even money.

I still believe in church marketing, but I don’t know what else to say about it.

Do you have any ideas to get me rolling?  Any topics you’d like to talk about?  I am, as always, open to suggestions.

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I recently ran across the following quotes:

“It’s considered heresy in some circles. They consider consumerism shallow. … Whether they like it or not, religions are being forced to compete for members.” -Greg Smith

“We live in a competitive religious marketplace. You have to be competitive if you are going to attract and keep members.” -John Smith

Is your church a competitive force in the marketplace?  Yes, those are very “business-y” words, but think about it, is your church “in the fight?”

For me, this seems like a strange way to approach evangelism.  But it is also an interesting thought.  I believe that our churches should not necessarily be in competition with each other but they should, instead, be in competition against the world and the devil.  We should be competitive and passionate about getting people to our church.  Now, I’m not saying that we need to be competitive and passionate about stealing people from other churches, but we need to be passionate in our evangelism.

And are we?

What do you think of these quotes?

You may be wondering why it has been almost 4 months since I have written anything.

And it’s because I am just plain worn out.

In the last four months I have

1-started and ended a job and started a new one.  You are now looking at Milligan College’s newest Financial Aid Counselor
2-I have become the youth leader at my church and have been busy with Sunday school, youth group, lock-ins, and now the children’s Christmas program coming up in December.
3-My husband has started seminary, so that has been a shift with him being in school and I’m not.
4-I have been reading a lot of fiction and not a lot of church books.

Frankly, I just have not known what to write about.

Now that I am at a smaller church, I am seeing what church marketing works, and does not work, on a smaller population.  My father has also just become the Church Administrator at a church in Lexington, Kentucky and he also has to find out what marketing works for their church in particular.

I think that it is important to remember that Church Marketing is not a formula which can be stuck to for every single church.  What works at the church I am attending, of 60 or so people is not going to work for the church my Dad is serving at, with attendance of around eight or nine hundred.

For example, at my church during our announcement time, which yes, I do consider as part of marketing, (you’re getting your event out there right?) we read all the upcoming events and even have time for the people in the pews to shout out any other announcements.  Now for us, that works.  But if they tried to do that at my Dad’s church, that would be chaotic and would probably take a half hour just to get through the announcements.

Church marketing efforts need to be tailored to the people that you are trying to serve.  If a congregation communicates largely with text messages, Twitter, and Facebook, I’m not going to print off flyers to hand out or even mail to them.  It’s about reaching people where they are and making the message best fit how they want to receive it.

There is an interesting idea in the sports world that could be beneficial for the church to implement.  The idea is watching game film.  Every day can be considered “game day” in the business world, so why is this kind of analysis so less common?  When was the last time your church or any church looked at another church?  This would not be in order to compete against them like it is in the church world, but rather to work together, to share “best practices.”  Churches do not really need competitive advantage unless they think they are competing against each other, which is not the premise of churches.  Just ask yourself, “What insights might our church be missing out on because we are not asking the right questions or observing those who do it best?”  Churches should be working just as hard to better themselves just as sports teams do.

“People see it as too worldly or gimmicky for the church to be marketing itself. But most of the same people who say it is sacrilegious also expect their church to have a website, a listing in the phone book or an ad in the phone book. To me, this is marketing.”

-John Mayer, executive director of City Vision, an organization that tracks religious demographics.

Churches too often think that the worship experience starts with the morning prayer.  There are some churches, however, who view that the moment you step out of your car as the point when the worship experience begins.  If your church begins to view worship in this way, will that not change the way people experience your church once they have one foot out of the car.  If you want people to experience Christ the moment they are in the parking lot, then everything starts to matter so much more.  If you want to have a car-to-car worship experience, then there are suddenly several things you need to think about.

 

The Parking Lot—Is parking easy?  Do we have guest spaces?  Do we need shuttles to make things easier?  Is it safe?  Do we need staff in the parking lot?

Greeters—Are our greeters trained and ready to welcome all people and direct them where they need to go?  Are they attentive?  Are they kind and welcoming?

Information—Is our info center easy to find and are the people welcoming and knowledgeable?  Do we have all the information that people may ask for?

Signs and Maps—Is everything well-labeled?  Easy to find?  Is our building overly complicated?  Do we need a map?  Are classrooms labeled and times and subjects posted?

Hallways—Are hallways clean?  Do the posters we put up look good and represent the themes and style of the church?

People—Are there people throughout the church to answer questions and direct people where they need to go?  Are we warm and welcoming but not overwhelming?

*see how much there is?  And we have not even gotten into the sanctuary yet.

Sanctuary—Is our sanctuary warm and inviting?  Do we have people around to help visitors find seats?  Are there people in each section to welcome people they do not recognize?

Welcome—Do we have a welcoming time for people to reach out and greet one another?  Do we extend a special welcome to visitors?  Do we have a chance to interact with visitors by having them fill out an information car?

Service—Do we have a service that is easy to follow and understand?  Do we communicate our message effectively and consistently?

Closing—Do we give an invitation?  Give a call to action to a next step?  When walking out of the sanctuary, are guests still interacted with?  Is there a guest package to be given to visitors?

Leaving—Is it easy to get out of the building?  The parking lot?  Is there a spoken invitation to come back?

 

There are many multiple other questions under these categories, and these are not even all the categories that need consideration.  So much more effort goes into a viewpoint like this, and when so much goes into it, people are bound to get even more out of it.

 

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I wish church were like.  Usually it is a lot more daydreaming than critical thinking.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if church were like a party?  Now, before you jump to conclusions, hear me out.  I am not talking about some crazy, get the cops called kind of party (but wouldn’t that be a sight to see).  I am talking more about a party of old friends.  I imagine a very close knit community, a place where everyone is excited to see everyone else.  Some of you might think it is like that already, but we all know that most people (if they are being honest) have at least one person that they try to avoid on Sunday mornings.  What would a church filled with genuine friendships look like?  I think it looks like a party.  And I think that is a lot like what heaven will look like, one giant party of best friends reuniting because of a common thing—our Savior.  So why can we not have that every time that we get together?  Why should we have to wait?  I have been thinking a lot about reconciliation.

Colossians 1:17-20  “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”  Reconciliation is so important to God that he sent his son to reconcile all things, and how many times do we forget about reconciliation?  This is why churches are not all big parties, because not everyone is reconciled.  But, in heaven we will be, and that is why it will be a party, a party revolving around Christ.  We will reunite because of him and he holds all things together.  We should be looking to him, the head of the body.

If we reconcile ourselves to all those around us, in order to come closer to Christ, and become a focused part of the body, then my dream can become a reality and church will be a big party of the best friends we have ever had.  And when church is a party, who does not want to be a part?  Who will not want to join in?

I recently read an article given to me by my Consumer Behavior professor.  The article came from Marketing News, a publication of the American Marketing Association.  This article was title “Brand Apostles” and was published May 15, 2006, so it is a little out of date but still relevant to what is happening today.  The article focused on two Chicago mega-churches, Salem Baptist Church of Chicago and Willow Creek Community Church, the populations of these churches being 23,890 and 20,000 respectively.  These two churches have taken basic business marketing strategies and applied them to their churches.

“It is brand strategy at its most elemental, in which the brand (the church) makes a promise (the sense of community) to its consumers (the congregation) through both emotional benefits (“I feel good about being in this church”) and functional benefits (“The mission of this church fits my lifestyle well”).”  In my class we discussed how we felt about these churches appealing to the values of people in order to get them to come to church.  I do not see anything wrong with this approach since a person’s values are essential to them, and the gospel itself draws from those values, so God must be the perfect marketer in that sense.

In the last thirteen years (at the time of the article), there was a 92% increase in the number of unchurched Americans.  These churches were drawing on the needs of these people looking for a place that was user-friendly, essentially where the “customer” comes first.  These churches have several different ways of making these people feel more at home.  Willow Creek has a full-service coffee shop, a children’s play area, choices two dozen workshops, a fully digital info kiosk, and the ability to watch service on plasma tvs.  Salem also have ways of being seen as more user-friendly: three regulation size basketball courts, a concession stand, several classes on different topics, a welcome team, a membership department, and age appropriate ministries.  The idea in itself of becoming more user-friendly is not a bad one, the church simply needs to examine the heart behind those additions.

Now this is where the problem comes in for me.  Cally Parkinson, Director of Communication Services at Willow Creek said in this article, “We have a strong strategy for managing the brand.  The power of the brand is the promise: contemporary, non threatening, you can be anonymous.  You will be challenged, but it won’t be painful.”  Now here’s my question, what good is a challenge if you won’t grow from it?  And how do you expect to grow if it won’t be painful?  As I was saying in a previous blog, Kyle Idleman discussed in his book “not a fan” that churches have become fan generators, and I think this is the perfect example of that.

I do not have a problem with a church using business principles in a way that fits the mission and vision of the church.  I do not want the church to become a business and lose its focus.  Churches must remain kingdom-focused above all else.  This article was eye opening into what some churches are becoming.  It is fine for a church to work on its brand.  “A brand is much more than a logo, a symbol, a sign or device, or simply the result of clever advertising. It helps to communicate value and create and deliver that value. Branding is a promise of value for customers. It helps to attract and, if it is true and accurate, keep customers. It provides an extra element of understanding or meaning, for customers as they form opinions and make purchase decisions from a variety of competing offerings.”  A church must be and have a brand, and they must be able to communicate that effectively.  In order for a church to get new “brand loyal followers” they must market, but above all they cannot lose their kingdom focus in this endeavor.

I just finished “not a fan” by Kyle Idleman.  It was a very good book and where it does present Christians with a lot to think about, it also gave me a lot to think about in terms of church marketing.

Idleman’s main message in this book is more of a question, “are you a follower of Jesus or a fan?”  He says, that the church can often times be at fault for creating more fans then followers.  We have tried to make Jesus more attractive to people, so we focus on belief without putting the needed emphasis on following because following is hard.

We need to be aware that church needs to be about action.  It is not just about the feeling but the action that comes from that feeling.  In churches it cannot all be about creating feelings or generating emotions.  You have to call people to action whether that action is death to self or walking out the door.

Churches cannot be so focused on growth and the numbers that all there is to show for it is lukewarm fans of Christ who take a seat when it’s time to follow.

I would strongly encourage this book, I would even challenge you to read it.  It will open your eyes and cause you to question yourself and your church.  Questions are not always bad, but you might not like the answers, but if you do not ask the questions then how will anyone grow?

I was sitting in class today and I had a thought: what if churches had a focus group.  If we are really trying to be effective evangelists, wouldn’t it be an interesting idea to bring in a “focus group” to see what we are doing wrong and how we are not effectively reaching visitors.

It is an interesting idea.  What if only two or three people knew this group was coming in and they came in as visitors, genuinely evaluating us as visitors do.  It is almost like the tv show where people hire professionals to break into their house and see if it can be broken into.  The interesting thing about the show is that after these people effectively break in, they help the people fix it and make it stronger.

What if professional visitors came in, evaluated us, saw our weak spots, our strengths, where we fall short, and then helped us fix it in order to become stronger?

In order for this to happen, a church would need to be open to criticism, change, and discussion.  Companies do a lot of evaluations in order to be effective.  I think the church can embrace some of these concepts in order to be effective and in order to grow.  Albert Einstein said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  The church cannot keep doing the same things and expect different results.  If something does not work, evaluate and change it.  If you are going to have goals and strategies, then you need to be okay with evaluating those things and changing them if they are not working and meeting your goals.

In order to grow and change we need to recognize the problems.  One idea to do this would be “Undercover Visitors,” almost like a “Secret Shopper.”  Who better to come in and evaluate us than the people we are trying to reach?