In some churches, there is a decided feeling against mingling religious and secular activities. Obviously, I’m not talking about activities that are incompatible with our beliefs such as gambling or alcohol use, but it does beg the question, are any secular activities appropriate for the church? And if so, which ones are compatible with the church? Where is the line?
Churches are classified as non-profit entities, thus setting them apart from organizations just out to make a buck. So many people could be prone to think that the business world is too different and secular for the church to glean ideas from. Any concepts derived from the business world are quickly dismissed as being incompatible with church activities and the church’s purpose of fulfilling the great commission. But why?
The methods and techniques used by large and small businesses are not so different from what the church does. Or should I say, needs to do. I believe that the church could learn a lot from business, specifically from marketing, in order to spread the gospel.
What is marketing?
According to the American Marketing Association, marketing is communicating, delivering, and exchanging offers that have value for customers, clients, or society at large. Based on this definition it would seem marketing is completely applicable for churches. After all, don’t we have the best and most valuable offer available? And the great commission calls us to communicate that offer to all nations. “But,” I hear you asking, “isn’t that evangelism?”
What is evangelism?
Webster’s dictionary defines evangelism as the winning or revival of personal commitments to Jesus Christ. But that does not address the how. Wikipedia defines evangelism as the preaching (that’s the action) of the Christian gospel or the practice of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs with the objective of conversion. So it is communicating the gospel (the offer of salvation that has incredible value) to a group of people. Evangelism and marketing sound incredibly similar to me.
What’s the difference?
The biggest difference is who we have on our side. Most big companies rely on emotions, logic, or impulse to get them a sale. We have the most powerful agent for change working behind the scenes and in people’s hearts, the Holy Spirit.
The primary difference is the amount of resources that have been allocated to discovering how to achieve the best results from each. Millions, perhaps billions of dollars have been spent on marketing research, discovering whether a marketing activity delivered results, testing marketing ideas, and finding out how the public likes to communicate best. While there definitely has been time and money spent on finding the best ways to conduct evangelism efforts, not nearly as much as what has been spent on marketing. Companies such as Nike, Starbucks, HP, General Mills, and Toyota have spent countless dollars on researching what makes people do what they do. They have researched how people think when making decisions and when presented with options, and many other scenarios. The other important thing to remember here is, this research is about the same exact people the church wants to reach.
Marketing activities usually, when done correctly, start with a plan, known as a marketing plan (why be catchy when you can be obvious). These plans start with a strategy, which is built on the organization’s mission. The strategy is implemented through tactics and campaigns. Research is done on the target audience along with market segmentation and budget planning. Also built into the plan is the follow-up and evaluation of the activities, where the organizations review and evaluate to course correct for future tactical implementation. Plans can cover multiple years as the campaign evolves based on evaluation and feedback. Additionally, the strategy and plan are communicated throughout the organization so that everyone from sales to customer service knows how they can contribute when it comes to reaching out to potential customers.
Sadly, evangelism efforts many times do not have any sort of formal plan, at least not a long-term one. While done with all the best intentions, one evangelistic series, an outreach day for the homeless, or a yearly VBS program does not constitute a plan. At least not a comprehensive integrated one. And more often than not, the individual members have no idea how they fit into the bigger church evangelism efforts.
Does your local church need marketing or evangelism?
The answer to that question is BOTH! I don’t think churches need to go out and hire an advertising agency to make slick brochures and potentially meaningless slogans. This is work that should and can be done within the walls of the church. No one knows your church like you do. There are some areas where outside help is needed (I’ll get to that in a bit), but the overarching strategy and planning need to be done by church leadership, not marketing “mad men.”
Marketing and evangelism are not exclusive of each other. In a church, they overlap to the point where you probably can’t distinguish one from the other. Developing a marketing/evangelism plan for your church is a lot of work. It won’t happen overnight, or in one board meeting, or even in one month, but it’s worth it.
So you want to be a marketer?
Jumping into evangelism and marketing without a plan is like going to the home improvement store with a picture of a finished house and saying, “I’m going to do this today. Can you sell me the supplies?” You need a blueprint as well as qualified people to help you create your vision. This is where that help comes in. It may be in researching your community because you need to know who you are talking to. It may be in graphic or website design. It’s up to you to know where your strengths are and where they aren’t and find help when you need it.
I don’t know one pastor who would tell you that spreading the gospel is a one-time job. The same goes for marketing. It is not something you do once and it’s done. It is a process that grows and takes time.
Very few things in life succeed without a plan. God, Himself gives us His perfect example in the plan of salvation. Christ did not come to earth just for fun or a quick visit. The birth, ministry, and death of Christ were planned even before Eve touched the forbidden fruit. If the Creator of the universe plans, then who are we to think we don’t need to plan?
The work we are doing is too important not to plan. As you begin the process of implementing a marketing plan, thought and prayer must be given to everything we contemplate doing on behalf of the Kingdom.
God has already given us a head start, not only through His example in the plan of salvation but through the gospel of Jesus Christ. His life and ministry can be an inspiration for our planning.