The word marketing often doesn’t go over well in a church staff or board meeting. “This is a church,” somebody will say before reminding everyone, “We’re not running a business; we’re changing lives with the Good News of Christ.” These remarks may come from leaders just as eager as you are to communicate effectively in your congregation and community. Yet, perhaps understandably, they’re hung up on some of the negative implications of marketing in our consumption-driven society. Marketing doesn’t have to be a bad word. In a church or ministry setting, marketing is really about making a straight path for the gospel (John 1:23).
Marketing is not a bad word
My career as a marketer in Christian ministry began when I worked for a children’s ministry that partnered with thousands of churches worldwide. The ministry was funded in large part by the sales of program materials. Because of this, significant tension existed between the ministry’s evangelism and discipleship mission on the one hand and its needs as a “business” on the other. The word marketing evoked apprehension for some in the ministry as they saw using business-like promotion techniques and measurements as potential distractions from the “main thing,” helping kids meet Jesus. At the same time, other leaders appeared to favor programs and initiatives that promised increased revenues. Our fledgling marketing team realized we had to cast a vision that good marketing is good evangelism.
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as: “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” This definition plays out most obviously in business. These processes, propositions, and exchanges definitely also occur in churches and ministries. We offer messages and resources addressing people’s deepest needs; we need tools and processes that effectively communicate and deliver these to our congregations and communities.
Marketing is a tool for ministry
In that arena, I grappled with the tension between ministry and fiscal imperative. I prayed about it. Then it hit me that in a very real sense marketing is evangelism. Marketing needed to lead the way in engaging the ministry’s primary mission: to equip local churches to reach children with the gospel. In this way, the financial needs of the ministry would also be met. More than anything, we helped program designers know their end users in order to develop materials and position them to meet the actual needs of leaders and children, rather than what our ministry thought they needed. These same principles can work in our churches.
Marketing works for your church
What might marketing look like in your church? It starts with knowing your congregation and your community. What are their particular spiritual or material needs? How does your church meet those needs? Shape your website and social media to provide paths to ministry resources and ultimately to your front door. Use simple calls-to-action to invite someone new to get to know what your church is all about.
Marketing is a good word. Besides, if your church has a sign out front, you’re already doing it. Marketing connects your surrounding community to your church. Marketing helps make the messages and resources available to meet their spiritual, and perhaps, even material needs. If the word marketing makes leaders uncomfortable, then call it outreach, evangelism, or engagement. In the end, marketing is evangelism and provides a straight path for the gospel.