Creating your first marketing plan might seem a bit daunting, but if you follow these five steps, I know you can do it.
Why do I Need a Marketing Plan?
You might be here because you are wondering why your church even needs a marketing plan. Marketing is just one tool in your greater evangelism program, and you need a plan for your outreach efforts. This is no time to “wing it.” If God had a plan for creating our world and for our ultimate salvation, then who are we to go about His business without a plan? If that isn’t enough, you can read more about it in-depth here.
I’m just going to warn you, if you were to look up the steps to create a marketing plan for a business or other for-profit organization, the steps might look a little different. The same steps are below, but I put them in a very specific order for a church that is different from a company because churches and companies operate very differently and have very different objectives.
Step One – Your Mission and Vision
The first step in creating a marketing plan is to refresh yourself on your church’s mission and vision statement. Keep those right in front of you as you create your plan. It’s important to remember why you are doing all this work as you plan. It will keep you focused and prevent journeys down the wrong rabbit holes. Your mission and vision is essentially your goal for your church.
If you don’t have a mission or a vision statement then I suggest you spend some time and define your church’s unique mission. I can hear you saying, “But our mission is the same as all the other Christian churches, the Great Commission, to preach the gospel to all the world.”
Okay, I understand, but can your church on the corner of 3rd and Main street in Centerville reach the entire world? Maybe you have plans to start a church plant in the next town over and conduct online outreach to those in far-off places, but to start your plan, focus on those people your church can most effectively reach, which is most likely those in your community. Then you take into account your church make-up and your mission statement should start coming together. If you would like to learn more about this, you can read about it here.
Step Two – Budget
Once you have your mission firmly in front of you, the next step is to decide on your budget. Many churches have little to no money to dedicate to evangelism, which is fine. There are lots of things you can do for free. You simply need to know from the beginning what that number is, whether it’s zero or $500 or $5,000. That will guide your decisions in the next step.
If you feel your budget is too low, that doesn’t mean you have to sigh and move on. You can of course do fundraising or find other ways to increase your budget to fund these efforts. Remember the widow with the pots of oil (1 Kings 17:8-16). God can take a little and make it go a long way.
Step Three – Your Audience
With your mission and your budget, you are probably ready for some of the fun stuff. Before you list a bunch of tactics like Facebook, or pamphlets, or YouTube videos; or you make a list of all the great things you can say about your church, I suggest asking some key questions.
- Where does my target audience (the community I want to reach) spend their time?
- What is their biggest concern?
- How are they currently addressing that concern (if at all)?
It’s one thing to tell everyone you have this amazing kids program and fun summer camp, but what if your audience doesn’t have little kids? The goal here is to switch your mindset from you to them.
Start thinking about what they want and need. “But they need Jesus,” you say. I know that, and you know that, but they don’t know that. You need to meet them where they are, as Jesus did.
Maybe instead of a series about how to understand Revelation, you could do a stop smoking clinic or a healthy eating class. Or maybe it is a fun summer camp program for busy parents who have no idea what to do with their kids once school is out.
The key is to figure out what your audience thinks they need then provide it. You and your church become a trusted source of value. Now when you endeavor to move them closer to becoming a member, like inviting them to your Christmas program, they are more likely to agree.
Step Four – Building Your Plan
Now it’s time to play!
Okay, maybe outlining marketing tactics and goals is just fun for me.
With your mission in front of you, your budget in mind, and an understanding of what your audience wants, now is the time to develop specific and measurable programs. Those two words are key, specific and measurable.
First, you need to be clear on what you are doing and what your goals are for each program. If you say you want to start a kids program, that is great, but you need to be more specific. Will it be for a week, a month, ongoing? What age ranges? What will the kids be doing? And most importantly, is your why. This goes back to step three.
You may know that you have lots of working parents in your community and you want to provide a safe place for kids to gather in the evenings once a week so parents can have a break. That kids’ program is different from a summer camp program that goes for three or four hours every morning for only two weeks.
Be crystal clear on what you want to do and for what purpose. All your programs should also tie back to your mission and vision statement as well. If your mission is about being of service, then your programs may look very different than if your mission is about creating a sense of belonging.
Once you have that, you should have a better idea of what success will look like. That is what makes a program measurable.
Using our kids’ program idea, your goal could be to enroll 50 kids. That’s pretty clear and measurable. Or you could take it a step further and want to enroll 50 kids and of those 50, have 5 new families become members.
Maybe you want to increase attendance among your members who have stopped coming regularly. That is very specific and you can put a goal on it such as increase attendance by 15%
Maybe you were told that you need a website. This same principle applies. You should have a clear idea of what the purpose of the website is and what you are trying to accomplish with it. That purpose will help guide the look and feel as well as the content you publish on your site instead of designing by committee.
Also, being clear with your outcomes can prevent focusing on the wrong things as a program grows. In a pretend story created by author Paul Borden, he tells of a church that created a youth program that resulted in one person giving their life to Christ, another person who wanted to learn more, and a broken window. The church decided to discontinue the program because of the broken window. If they had been focused on their goal and measured the success by that goal, the program would have continued.
Why do I emphasize goals and making things measurable? Because the one thing I see so many churches doing is not leveraging what works. They try outreach and no one responds, so what do they do? Try it again. It’s so important to try new things. Some will work, some won’t. But if you don’t know what’s working and what’s not, you waste your precious dollars and time.
And if I can be very blunt with you, our calling as Christians is too important to waste either time or money. We have to focus on what works and do more of that. Or we aren’t being good stewards of what God has given us.
“What about Facebook and emails?” you ask. Well, those are dependent on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are starting a brand new program and trying to reach the community, posting on your own Facebook page may not work. But if you are trying to reach your members who have slipped away, then it might be a great tactic.
The point here is to start with your audience. Find out what they want, where they hang out, and how they like to communicate then build your plan and your programs around that information. Show your audience that you understand them.
Step Five – Measure and Adjust
Now that you have specific and measurable programs, be sure to measure! Keep track of attendance, engagement, or whatever metric you decided was your measurement of success. Find a simple way to track your metrics over time. One week or one day is not enough. Give your programs some time to work. How much time will be dependent on what the program is.
It’s completely okay if you miss the goal, too. Don’t think of it as failing. Just like we tell our kids, it is an opportunity to learn. Can you pinpoint why it didn’t work? Evaluate the information you have and see what you can get out of it. Don’t think of it as failure, but merely pieces of information that will help you make changes as you go.
And making changes is important. Once you have a program in place, it is not set in stone for all time and eternity. Some churches can be very slow to adopt change. “We have always done it this way” was invented in church I think. At the same time, don’t change, just for change’s sake. Sometimes it’s fun to try new and different things, but not at the expense of other things that are getting you good results. You want to invest in what is working and adjust where things aren’t working. The key is to know the difference.
There you have it, five steps. I wish I could say they were five easy or simple steps, but some of these things could take a bit of time or could be quite difficult depending on where your church is at in their organizational development.
If you are itching for more info on some of the nitty-gritty tactics, feel free to dive into some of the articles on social media, public relations, email marketing, or event planning.
A good marketing plan, one that the entire church gets behind, can change everything in your church for the better. At its core, marketing is about service, and isn’t that what Christ said we are here to do?
Be of service.