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Marketing the Church Without Selling Out
By: Michael Daehn

There is a debate going on about whether churches should use marketing. The truth is that if you are running a church, you are already under pressure to do some kind of marketing. People are asking you to run a Yellow Pages ad or advertise on TV or the radio. But should the church be marketing at all? If they should, then what kind of marketing is appropriate?

What is marketing? Marketing refers to the process of communicating and delivering a product to a target audience. A product may be a physical good, service, or even a message. The goal of the marketer is to understand the target audience to best implement and sustain communication that continues ongoing relationship.

The purpose of the church is to be the representation of Christ on earth. Members are to go into all the world teaching, preaching, and baptizing others into the name of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20).The common term used by churches to describe the process of sharing their faith is evangelism.

So, we have a match. The core vocation of Christians is to share the Gospel (effectively communicate with people), while the sole purpose of marketing is to effectively share a message (effectively communicate with people).

If you look at the discipline of marketing as the study of how best to reach people, then it makes sense to learn from this field the principles involved in effective communication. Though not everyone follows the same pattern, you will be way ahead of the pack if you apply the seven keys to effective marketing listed below.

Key 1: Find Your Talent
For businesses to succeed, they have to figure out what they are offering customers that is better than the competition. This is a little different for your church, since what you are offering, a relationship with God, is inherently better than anything else. The challenge is to determine what particular gifts your congregation has been given to accomplish this purpose and how this fits in with the community where you are placed.

What unique gifts does your church have? People, resources, finances, and culture are all examples of gifts that God has given your congregation. Now, how does that fit with the needs of the community where you are located?

Let's say you have several people who are athletic coaches and or love sports. What ways can you reach your community by utilizing these resources? You could have sports clinics on your church campus, form a team to play in a local league, or equip your members to be good participants in existing sports programs in your area.

What you are good at is not the important thing. You know that God has given you something special, and you are responsible to use it to advance the kingdom.

Key 2: Define Your Purpose
Having a unified vision of what your church is about is an important step in moving your church forward. Imagine a car with wheels going in four different directions at the same time. To actually drive this car to a particular destination is impossible and time-consuming. I have seen many churches (and businesses) that have people going in different directions.

The pastor thinks the church is about foreign missions, the choir thinks it is about music, the staff members think it is about working at the soup kitchen, and most of the members think it is about keeping their kids out of trouble. None of these pursuits are wrong, but the church will stumble along when everyone has their own agenda. The wheels are going in different directions. Like a car, until everyone is going the same way, you are unaligned and will never reach a destination.

Creating a mission statement for your church is the first step in getting everyone on the same page. Some churches have a few privileged people create their mission, others have the pastor do it, but the whole church should be involved if you want it to work. The No. 1 reason churches say they don't involve all of the members in creating a mission statement is because it is too hard to get all of those opinions.

It is not as hard as it used to be. Today you can have meetings, e-mails, blogs, and workshops to allow people to give their input. It takes time, but can be done. It takes a lot of trust to ask the opinions of your members when setting the direction of the church. I am not saying that the group creates the mission; that is the responsibility of the pastor and or the leadership team to prayerfully consider. But to make an informed decision and to create the best mission statement possible, the leadership must find out what their people are about. Remember that people will be ready to follow something that they had a hand in creating.

When everyone understands and buys into the mission then you create synergy and can do much more than you thought possible. Often a church is already following an unspoken mission. I have seen churches where going through this process has helped them acknowledge what they are about and energized the congregation with a new sense of identity and purpose.

Key 3: Create an Image
Discovering your talents and defining your purpose give you something to communicate to the people you are trying to reach. Creating an image is the process of boiling down what you are about in a format that is easy to understand and communicate.

The logo for your church should be a sign, both to members and the community, of what your church is about. When you are clear about what you are offering (gifts) and who you are (purpose), you can develop a logo that captures your identity. When choosing a look, remember that colors matter. Make sure you pick the right colors and are consistent in how you use them.

Key 4: Implement Promotions
Promotions are what people think of when they hear the word marketing. You instantly think of a TV commercial or billboard ad. Promotion is where you take your carefully honed message and broadcast it to the public.

When I work with churches, they usually want to start with the promotional process. I want them to take a hard look at the first three keys in the process of marketing, but I get a lot of resistance. One reason is that it is hard to take a hard look at who you really are as an organization. Another reason is that my clients are typically in a hurry and don't want to take the time develop strategy. My response is to save your money. If you are not going to do your homework, then your promotions are a big waste of money.
           
The six areas of promotion are:

* Advertising
* Public relations/publicity
* Sales promotion
* Personal selling
* Direct marketing
* Internet/interactive

Most people gravitate toward paid advertising or direct marketing. The problem is that these are expensive and generate a lot of wasted exposure. They are also poor ways to build relationships with people.

Churches can take advantage of public relations by getting press coverage for the good things they are doing in the community. Since your church is already doing the activity, why not let people know about it?

Personal selling is what you are doing when you share Christ. It is the one-to-one interactions that are so important to any organization. If you are building a marketing budget, be sure to spend money to equip your members and give them the tools they need to be effective on the front lines.

The most effective form of sales promotion for a church is to have events. By hosting events on your church grounds, you give people a way to get to know you in a non-threatening environment. And don't be afraid to sponsor or participate in the events already taking place in your community. You should be going out to meet people, not just telling them to come to your house.

The Internet is a powerful tool that is transforming our culture. It has changed the way people communicate, get and use information. Use it to inform your members, reach your community and let people see what you are about by being transparent.

Whatever promotional tools you decide are right for your situation, make sure you are using them together. Standalone promotions are wasteful. For example, if you do a radio ad, invite people to an event on campus. Equip your members to be able to meet and share Christ when people come. Post pictures of the event on your Web site and send follow up e-mails to attendees. The more promotions you can use and weave together the better.

Key 5: Build Relationships
The goal of all promotions is to build relationships. People will never connect with a mission statement, logo or building; they connect with other people. Promotions are tools to get the conversation started. That's why it is important when you use a broader tool like advertising to move people into a situation where they can meet people. Remember that all the fancy marketing tools and techniques come down to people reaching people.

Key 6: Gain Feedback
How do you know if what you are doing is reaching people? Use surveys, Web sites, feedback forms and good old conversation to figure out what is working and what is not. Then, and here is the important part, do something with what you learned.

Key 7: Adjust to Changes
Make relevant adjustments based on what you have learned from your feedback and then go start the process over again. Are you sure about what your talents are? Are you on track with your mission? Is your mission on track with you? Does your image reflect who you are? Are your promotions effective? Should you change any promotions? Are you developing relationships? Are you getting useful feedback? Are you taking time to reflect on what needs to change moving forward?

Your church can learn from the discipline of marketing how to become more effective at communicating with people. The stakes are much higher than in traditional marketing because the product in this scenario is a message of hope that brings people into relationship with God, grows Christ's kingdom, and fulfills your calling as a Christian to be faithful to the purpose you have been given. 

Michael Daehn is a professor, consultant and author of five marketing books, including Marketing the Church. You can visit him on the Web at MarketingTheChurch.com.

Sidebar
The Power and Problem with Church Branding
By Richard Reising

What if you could change the way people saw your church? What if you could give it the kind of extreme makeover that would make a new generation take notice and knock on your door? Could you, by communication, build a bridge towards a new you? Most assuredly. Can you do it without internally embodying the relevance that your design emanates? Most assuredly not.

Branding is known as the consistent use of design and communication in order or to establish a clearly defined image. It works when that image is consistent with the essence of who you are. When it is not consistent with who and how you are, you come across as a poser, losing more credibility than you know. Church branding is real. It is here and it is at work in your church whether you realize it or not.

Strategic church branding is becoming more and more of a necessity. A new generation of branding is coming to light. That is, reaching people with the stories our denominations do not tell. Who speaks the language of the community the best? Who speaks to which segments? Who defines cultural relevance and spiritual value? How can we learn what the spirit of your church is from a distance? It is a branding issue. A good starting point: the communication you create yourself. What if you developed a deliberate brand overhaul?

Every church needs a branding strategy. It simply makes sense. It is a commitment to communicate with consistency, established values, and a clear knowledge of the target. It takes less effort to maintain when you reuse the same design and communication threads throughout all you do. It is smart. It is done by every legitimate corporation of our day.

So why don't more churches have a brand strategy? Why is it that 90% of the churches in the U.S. have logos and design styles that vary in everything they do, often representing the landscape of volunteer designers that have been burnt out over time? It is because we do not know who we are, and we do not know whom we are called to reach or how to reach them. When we do, branding becomes the natural outflow of our successful communication with those people.

Branding cannot cure our inability to connect with a certain audience. If we do not reach them with our music and message, we will not reach them by the repackaging of it. We have to resonate with people. When we do, it becomes the defining point of our brand.

This leads to the big problem with branding: the extent to which you are consistent—if you are not strategic, then you are consistently un-strategic. In all you do, if you miss the mark, it is difficult and costly to recover. Branding, like anything else we do for God, starts with prayer, vision, wise counsel, a passion for the lost, knowledge of who you are and whom you are called to reach. Without these things and proven success in reaching people, branding is often a stab in the dark that alienates more than engages.

Richard Reising is the author of ChurchMarketing 101: Preparing Your Church for Greater Growth. Reising is the founder and president of the Dallas-based Artistry Marketing Concepts.









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