I spent my early childhood coloring pages under the pews of an Assemblies of God church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. I remember growing up listening to the stories of that church. How it was founded in the early 1900s. How the people rebuilt it after it burned down. How they set a national Sunday School attendance record. And all they did to get word out about the church.
I remember hearing a story from the 1970s about the pastor dressing up a volunteer in a devil costume and having him march in the town parade wearing a sign that said, “I hate Broken Arrow Assembly.”
Another time, this pastor took out a full-page ad in the local newspaper that said UFOs were going to appear over the city. Then he hired a local pilot to drop invitations to the church printed on paper saucers.
I love those stories, but you and I know what worked for attracting people to church decades ago may not work today. How do we market our churches effectively in today’s world?
Perhaps you’re wondering whether a church should even be involved in marketing. If the marketing includes manipulation, slimy tactics and deception, the answer is no. But the truth is, if you have a website, Yellow Pages listing or Facebook page, your church is already marketing.
In its most basic form, marketing is using tools to start new relationships. We can use marketing to share the gospel and invite people on the incredible journey of following Jesus together with the Church. Marketing is necessary if your church wishes to leverage the tools you have available to reach more people in your community.
Let me first clarify that the most important thing a church can do is focus on the main things. Preach the Word, point people to Jesus, cover everything in prayer, and follow the leading of the Spirit. Any attempt to reach people without that foundation will do more harm than good. If you already have that solid foundation, it is appropriate to find tools your church can use to reach out and start new relationships. But how do you do that well?
How do we market our churches effectively in today’s world?
We wanted to figure out which tools actually help a church reach people, so we put together our Church Marketing Strength Assessment. After 2,000 churches took the assessment, a clearer picture began to emerge of key things growing churches are doing that plateaued or declining churches aren’t doing. That assessment revealed seven characteristics of growing churches:
- They prioritize reaching the next generation.
- They consistently capture and share photography.
- They collect people’s contact information for following up.
- They utilize new tools, like online preregistration for the children’s areas.
- They have five or more positive Google reviews.
- They set aside part of their budgets to invest in marketing.
- They measure and evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing.
Notice how many of those findings bring us back to the importance of a church reaching young people. In our limited research, we found that only 38 percent of churches in decline made that a priority, compared to 68 percent of growing churches, and 88 percent of rapidly growing churches.
The bottom line is churches that market well are using these tools to help them develop relationships with people in their communities — especially with younger families and people who did not grow up in church. Many people in those groups are unfamiliar with or even skeptical about local churches. So any tool that can help build trust is vital.
Ministry flows out of relationships. God’s people must constantly look for ways to share their faith. The goal of using marketing tools should be to help in that process, rather than trying to replace it. At various times, the printing press, radio, airplanes, television, websites, mobile devices and social media have all been new tools church people could see as either threats or opportunities for sharing the gospel.
If you are an aging church, you may already feel overwhelmed by the rapid changes in culture. I’d encourage you to take simple action steps and commit to making 1 percent progress each week. Imperfect action implemented beats a perfect plan with no action.
God has called us to the greatest mission on the planet: to share the greatest news with our communities. Seek the Spirit’s guidance on how your church can use innovative marketing tools in that endeavor. Then boldly follow His leading!
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 edition of Influence magazine.