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For many faith communities, the word “marketing” is a four-letter word right up there with “business” – it’s not something we like to talk about because it feels too… secular. I see your face when you even say the word marketing, and that’s a pretty disgusted look on your face. #calledout
For other faith communities, marketing consists of barely a website or a Facebook page, with little traffic or momentum – I know you’re out there, I see you and I know you’re trying, hopefully this insight will help!
And don’t get me wrong, there are some faith communities that are smashing it when it comes to marketing, and I’m really happy for them. And maybe there are faith communities that think they’re smashing it, and I hope this helps you refine your strategy as well.
One of my favorite things is to spend time at business and entrepreneurial trainings (I’m a Ravenclaw, what can I say) and then try to think about how to apply those teachings to the churchy world. I love to immerse myself in business trainings, and glean so much from them that I want to share.
It seems strange to steep yourself in business strategy, I know, but there’s a reason why businesses grow and churches are shrinking. There’s a reason why millions of people will watch a cat video but you only have 15 views on your worship service…
Marketing works. Yes, even for churches.
Branding works. Yes, even for ministry.
You can build momentum and turn “likes” into a community that responds to your messaging and interacts with it on the regular.
I recently viewed a training held by blogging guru Alison Reeves (I hope she blushes when reading that!) about marketing. She outlined three mistakes that bloggers make when starting out, and how to dig yourself out of those mistakes – and I’d love to help translate what I’ve learned into something that can help faith communities gain momentum and connect with more people.
Three Mistakes in Church Marketing (and how to remedy them)
Mistake 1: Generic Messaging
One of the biggest pitfalls that I see in church plants all the time (and especially in existing congregations) is the answer you get when you ask, “Who is your audience?” for any given piece of church communications or marketing.
Here’s the answer I get: our church is for everyone. We want to welcome everyone (along with the whisper… and we don’t want to upset anyone).
Or… another vague audience that I hear pastors hide behind is “our church is for the ‘nones’ and the dechurched.”
This kind of vague answer is sure to do one of two things depending on context: kill a church plant before it starts or kill an existing church slowly and painfully. Because generic marketing and messaging does the opposite of what you think it does: by trying to market to everyone, you aren’t marketing to anyone.
I know. You want everyone to love your church and you want everyone to come. But generic messaging will not get you there. This generic “everyone” mentality leads to boring, non-interactive content like posting of worship videos (long videos that only members watch), or vague posts like “I feel blessed today” artwork that might get shared a few times but tell nothing about your church.
We are living in a world that has more voices than ever vying for peoples’ attention. If your church’s voice, if God’s voice, is going to rise above and change hearts and lives, you need to be focused and obvious about your targeting and messaging.
The more specific your target audience is, the more exciting your content can become.
Let’s say you started with “everyone is welcome.” Does that mean you’re an affirming congregation who openly accepts our siblings from the LGBTQ+ community? If so, that’s something you can consider focusing on in your messaging – messaging geared towards a specific subsection of the population.
To be quite honest, I’m working on doing that messaging shift in my church right now. I’ve seen them come so far in the past few years in terms of their work with the LGBTQ+ community and dedication to the reconciling movement, that I posted pictures of my tabling at an event called Fostering Pride (celebrating foster families within the LGBTQ+ community). I’m planning to get a large vinyl cling for an upstairs window that says “God is Love” with the rainbow in the “o.” More is coming, and I hope the messaging shift pays off as we focus more.
Let’s take the “nones and dones,” as a second example of how focusing your content can make a difference. When I work with someone who is trying to reach people who have left the church or had trauma around organized religion, I ask more targeted questions to help focus, like:
- What age range do you hope to target? Millenials who have left the church, for example?
- Do they have families, or are you targeting single/married people?
- Do they live in the suburbs or the urban centers, or in rural areas?
- What platforms do they use (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Discord, etc)?
- What is the goal of the communication? To get people into the building, to interact with content, to come to an event?
This helps you focus your messaging and what you offer. The more specific you get = the more people you connect with. Counter-intuitive, I know. But in a world that is becoming more and more compartmentalized, the more you’re obvious about what’s unique in your faith community or church, the more people will be attracted to what’s unique.
“You can’t open a storefront business without knowing who you serve or what you sell.”-Alison Reeves
Same goes for a faith community – are you going to begin one without knowing who you serve or what is offered? Probably not the best approach.
Not sure who you want to target? Sure of who you want to target, but not exactly sure what kind of messaging they’d resonate with? Market research can help you get there. Reach out to me at email@example.com if you need help in this area, or find a local group to partner with to help you do some market research.
Mistake 2: “If I build it…”
In the 1950s, things were different. Generally speaking, at least from what I’ve heard, all churches had to do to attract families (in the white church context) was open its doors. There was a cultural expectation of church attendance, I guess. We’ve all heard stories of filled pews and children’s ministries, and epic projects that were undertaken in “the glory days.”
That same “just open the doors” doesn’t work anymore.
The same goes with websites. Back in the day, a GeoCities website was super fancy and exciting. If you still have that same website from 15 years ago… it’s probably doing more harm than good.
Oh man, I remember struggling to build websites back in the day (I’m dating myself, I know). You had to know html, and had to worry about building things individually. Websites seemed super fancy when they had more than one page, let alone something like a map or gallery.
But just “having a website” doesn’t cut it anymore. There are way too many platforms out there to build your web presence that are “drag-and-drop” and gorgeous for you to be able to have a “meh” website that attracts people to your online presence.
I’ve built plenty of websites using Siteground (with WordPress) that look amazing, but that don’t get a ton of traffic, and it’s taken me a while to figure out why.
<a href="https://siteground.com/web-hosting.htm?afimagecode=a206a25d31f637102d8e4a7fd24c69aa" target="_blank"><img border="0" src="https://uapi.siteground.com/img/affiliate/en/NOPRICE/general_EN_start-site-leaderboard-green.jpg"></a>
Because even if you build it (which you should), they won’t automatically come. Building it is only the first step. It’s not about the website or brand itself, it’s about what you do with it.
Consider a pastoral or membership—driven blog to add to your website, so that it has dynamic content (that means content that changes). Fixed pages that don’t change are often less likely to show up as often on web searches. Focus that blog on your audience, of course, and address their needs.
Each blog post needs to have a purpose for both the church AND the readers. Be focused and strategic; just posting your sermons won’t cut it here either.
Write about what feels aligned to your church’s uniqueness as well as what aligns to your audience’s needs. See a need, meet a need, connect to your community.
Not into writing a blog? Consider doing video blogging through Youtube and including some descriptive text to go with it. For example, personalized views into the life of the pastor are something that people long for, if you’re comfortable with that kind of thing. There are lots of ways to connect your communication strengths to dynamic content.
This blog can connect to your social media in interesting ways – you can poll people about what they want to know more about, bring people back to the website by posting articles, and even (if you’re feeling fancy) create pins for Pinterest so people get drawn in graphically to what you’re talking about.
Feeling overwhelmed? I get that. I’m still learning much of this stuff myself, but bear with me as we round out these three mistakes and how to remedy them – if it only helps you clarify your audience, then I’ve done my job.
The second way to move beyond the “if you build it” mentality is to automate some of your messaging. People are bombarded by how much content they see each day. How much do they retain? Not a whole lot. Time to get messaging in front of them more often, I’d say. This means paying for (gasp – but I promise they don’t have to be expensive) and using ads strategically.
Ads get tricky, because it’s something that most of the churchy world is not familiar with using. Facebook ads can be a little confusing at first, and same goes with Instagram or Pinterest. I’d recommend looking up Youtube tutorials to get you started, or hiring someone with a background in marketing as your next staff investment (or maybe even a Virtual Assistant who can help you with these things).
But the basic premise is that you post ads with a call to action – whether it is that you’re offering a free printable to grow your email list or are trying to get people to connect to online worship or a chat feed, there are so many ways that you can build the ads. The goal is to turn clicks into long-term connections and finding a way to use ads as a funnel for new people could be really advantageous.
Mistake 3: No Marketing or Monetization Strategy
You can’t see me, but I’m raising my hand right now. All these things I’m telling you about, I’m working on implementing them in my business and in the ministries I’m connected to – I’ll be very honest.
I still struggle with being consistent and intentional about marketing and monetizing my own business, and it’s likely a struggle that you’ll work through as well.
Let’s start with a marketing strategy. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and your team:
- How much time can we (or someone) dedicate to creating and implementing a strategy?
- What platforms will we be using? Do we need training to use any of those? Note – more platforms are not necessarily better. Target your platforms to your audience.
- What kind of content calendar will we use? How will we schedule what is posted and by who?
A strategy is great, but if you don’t have the bandwidth (literally and people-wise) to carry out an elaborate plan, consider focusing on one or two things that you can do to increase traffic. Keep in mind how much time you can dedicate so neither the pastor nor leadership get burned out. Hopefully, a strategic communications plan will alleviate much of this strain, but please keep it in mind.
Choose your platforms wisely. Do market research if you need to, but don’t scatter-shot over all platforms if they aren’t congruent with your unique audience and message. It needs to feel aligned.
This way, you can have a staff meeting and block out when/who is doing content. Keep referring it back to your messaging and make sure it connects to your audience.
This last part is a little techy, and probably a little scary: a monetization strategy.
If you have a large email list (or a growing email list), have you ever considered using it to raise funds for your ministry? If bloggers can sell printables for $4-$5 or courses for a fee, why can’t churches? I understand that I might be crossing some lines here for some people, but I think that we give away too much for free in churches.
I love open groups and Bible Studies. I love being able to connect with people via worship and fellowship. I just don’t think the offering plate is going to sustain us for much longer. Has it ever really sustained us? Interesting food for thought.
So as you look at your marketing strategy, consider thinking creatively about a monetization strategy as well. How to leverage the community you’ve built to try and do some fundraising along the way. If you’ve connected in meaningful ways, and your message resonates, people will respond.
For instance, I published an Advent Devotional on Amazon using stories and songs from our congregation. Even at a very low price point, over $200 was raised and donated towards a community organization. There are ways to incorporate print-on-demand for certain messaging, like with Printify, or digital downloads that people can connect with. Or you could even consider Patreon (in certain circles, this works well, keep your audience in mind!).
<a href="https://printify.com/?ref=laureloconnor&utm_source=affiliate&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=printify&amcc_channel=affiliate&amcc_campaign=printify&tap_a=34603-c26fd0" target="_BLANK" rel="nofollow"><img src="https://static.tapfiliate.com/5ae9b9e029b6e.png?a=34603-c26fd0&s=717803-97c94f" border="0"></a>
Please don’t get me wrong – your marketing strategy should not be solely about monetization. But that doesn’t mean that your messaging can’t prioritize things that your team is creating. That doesn’t mean that you don’t use that reach to help raise funds for your mission and ministry.
There we go – three messaging mistakes and how to (hopefully) remedy them. Key takeaway: remember to know who you are marketing to and know your desired outcomes. Be focused and intentional.
You can do this.
If you’re overwhelmed (which would be totally understandable), feel free to reach out and I can help – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to Alison Reeves for the insights, and for letting me use them to help churches with their marketing.