Some people have a hard time reconciling the concepts of ‘ministry’ and ‘marketing.’ At surface level the notion of marketing may bring about thoughts of selling or commercializing something. In reality, marketing might be better thought of as the communication of information about a product, event, or service that is of interest to a specific audience (or market) who has a need or desire to find the promoted item(s).
In the church world, marketing looks a lot more like an invitation, or series of invitations, to the gatherings that we host rather than a commercial for something that we sell. Some of these gatherings may be special events that only happen occasionally and have very large guest lists, but others may be smaller weekly gatherings for much smaller groups of people. In either case, the right people need to know the who, what, where, when, why, and how of each gathering so they are able to decide if they can or will attend, and who else they may wish to bring with them.
While marketing is an area of study that one could spend a lifetime learning and perfecting, here are a few foundational concepts to consider as you set out to market your ministry more effectively.
1. Demographics, Audience Awareness, and Segmentation: Know who you are trying to reach.
One of the most important things to do at the onset of any messaging campaign is identify who you are trying to reach. Professional marketers know that it is important to know who you are talking to, and that the wording, imagery, and means of communication you choose to use must all be tailored to appeal to the persons they are trying to reach. An advertisement for an event for young men age 18-24 will use different pictures, words, colors and fonts than an event for ladies age 55 and older. You may find that there are several sub-audiences or segments of an audience who merit distinct communication. For instance, it may be most effective to create multiple versions of an announcement for a church-wide family festival. One version may target young parents within the church who are regular attenders, another version may target recent visitors and newcomers to the church, and a third may address the general population of the church who are not young families. While the invitations may look similar in design, the specific messaging and call to action may change from, “bring your kids to fellowship with their friends,” to “we’d like to get to know you better,” to “come connect with young families in our church and community.” Adjusting your message to multiple unique audiences makes your marketing more personal and appealing.
2. Impressions and Response Rates: Know what response to anticipate.
The goal of any marketing action is to generate a positive response. If marketing is an invitation, you want people to say yes to the invite. Marketers know, however, that expecting 100% of the people you “invite” to show up is not realistic. Principles of advertising tell us that people typically need to see something at least three times before they become aware of it. So it is important to run your advertisement for your new mid-week parent’s group several weeks in advance of the first meeting, and to announce it in multiple places. You might consider printing it in the church bulletin, posting posters on hallway bulletin boards or in restrooms, and including the announcement in church-wide emails and through its social media channels. The more places a person sees the announcement, the more likely they will be to develop interest. These interactions with the ad are called impressions. More impressions generate more awareness and thus, greater interest. All impressions are not created equally. Different types of impressions will generate different response rates. For instance, 3% of people who see an announcement for an event in the church bulletin or on a poster may decide to attend based on the ad. 10% may attend if the invitation is announced from the pulpit or in a classroom setting. But 50% or more may decide to attend if they are subsequently invited personally by a leader. To reach a specific attendance goal for an event, you would do well to message more people than you want to attend (knowing that only a percentage of those messaged will respond), and to post the message in multiple places so that people will interact with the announcement at least three times.
3. Call to Action/RSVP Mechanism: Ask people to respond, and tell them how to do so.
Each ad or invitation should include a specific call to action that tells people how to respond. An announcement that merely says, “Family Festival, July 17th” is not as effective as one that says, “Join us for this years’ Family Festival! Sign up in the foyer to reserve your space!” Give people a clear way to express interest or intent, and make it easy for them to do so. This serves you in a couple important ways. First, it lets you get an idea of how many people to expect and prepare for at the event. Will you need hot dogs for 50 or 250? It also gives you a list of hot prospects with which to follow up. Once someone has expressed interest by signing up, you can send them more detailed messages about the event. By signing up for the RSVP, they move deeper into your messaging funnel, getting details on what to bring or how they might help. The foyer sign up sheet is just one means of response. You might use a Google form on an iPad, or a Signup Genius sent via email. The point is to ask people to take a first-level action based on their interest.
4. Tracking and Analysis: Record what happens so you can adjust future strategy based on data.
The best way to gauge the effectiveness of your marketing efforts is to keep records of the actions you take and the response they generate. For instance, you can make an announcement from the pulpit inviting the whole congregation to sign up in the foyer and note how many do so as a result. Two days later you might make a post on social media that points people to a signup form and track how many respond through that channel. Test sending invitations with more detail and others with less detail. Test the use of printed ads, and test using video. In each case, record the results each action generates and use the information you gather to hone future strategy. As you track the response generated by different types of marketing, you will gain valuable insight into how to best communicate with your intended audience.
5. Be Creative: Marketing is more effective when it is fun.
Marketing messaging is the most effective when it is communicated creatively. The first four principles listed here apply regardless of how creatively you name your events or advertise opportunities, but their effectiveness in generating interest can be increased exponentially when you deliver the information in creative, exciting, and memorable ways. Don’t just read or recite an announcement for your pizza party—have a delivery guy interrupt children’s church to bring a special message inside a pizza box. Advertise your food drive by pushing an empty shopping cart onto the platform, then challenge the congregation to see how many carts they can fill. You can make your causes more compelling by making your marketing fun and creative.
Understanding a few marketing principles can help you immensely as you promote your ministry in the church and in your community. They can also help you in your efforts to recruit volunteers to serve along with you. Careful communication and creative messaging are great resources for promoting your ministry.
CHUCK PETERS is director of operations for Lifeway Kids. He is a graduate of Columbia Bible College. A creative person by nature, Chuck’s unique combination of experiences in media production, business, and ministry has caused him to become an unexpected fan of strategy, data, and analysis in ministry. He lives outside Nashville with his wife and four kids.