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Learn more about my journey in church and marketing.
Have you ever wondered... What if Starbucks marketed like the church?
The book that started a movement; get your copy of ChurchMarketing 101.
BEYOND RELEVANCE MUSINGS ON CHURCH, STRATEGY, AND CULTURE

BY RICHARD REISING

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Nov 13

The Video: Marketing is more than you realize

Nov 13
Nov 13

About ten years ago my wife and I left the corporate marketing world on a mission to serve the church. We had received a clear calling on our lives that drove us to leave house and home--literally. We sold a brand new house we built in Scottsdale, sold one of our cars and moved in with relatives (better know you have heard from God before you do that) in order to pursue this passion. We left two executive level salaries for a life serving churches that qualified us for welfare for several years. God sustained us. He sustains what He starts.

As we were in this transition to serve the church with God-given, world-tested, marketing principles and ideas, we were struck by how the term marketing was handled in the church. In my previous career, as a marketing professional, I had my hand in everything from market research, client profiling, customer experience development, sales analytics, pricing, sales oversight, advertising, facility decor, public speaking, branding, public relations and client billing. When we put up our shingle as a firm, churches were struck by the concept of a "church" marketing firm and routinely asked us, "Oh so you can design my mailer?" We could and we were gracious to do so, but to many churches--the small area of marketing that we call "advertising" or "promotions", was what they thought marketing was all about.

What is marketing all about? Webster’s says that marketing is “an aggregate (sum) of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer.” So how does that apply to the church? The sum of everything your church does to connect Christ with your members and the outside world is marketing. Many might wonder why the video is about marketing. It's because marketing (connecting Christ with people) is in your parking lot. It's on the outside of your building. It's in the way you greet me. It's in your members. It's in your message. It's in everything we do that forms the perception of who we are and what we value to the world we are called to reach.

The challenge is, if we think door hangers or websites will solve our marketing problem, then we have a bigger problem. The average church in America has less than a 15% retention rate of first-time visitors. If I owned a pizza parlor and more than 85% of the people who ate there once decided to never come back, I would think a mailer might just kill the business. It would bring people in faster and increase the speed of my demise. I, more likely, need to be working on things like... my recipe, my wait staff, my decor--anything and everything that could increase my retention rate outside of bringing more people in. The principle is stewardship. What are we accomplishing with what God is sending us? If we are not converting that, scripture would reveal that we are not ready for more (Luke 16:10).

Most churches are not successful at marketing because they don’t quite understand the fact that it encompasses every aspect of church life. They often make the mistake of assuming that marketing is about having the coolest website, but it’s so much more than that. Reality: every single church out there is currently marketing whether they know it or not—there are just some doing a great job, and some doing a not-so-great job.

The truth is, God is not as interested in promotion (mailers and the like) as He is in preparation. He is more concerned that you have created an environment to connect with and retain those who visit your church than He is with how you compelled them in—He wants you to create an environment that a non-believing visitor would actually want to stay in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I imagine some sort of uprising where you all start yelling at me and telling me we’re supposed to be in the world, but not of it. I know that. The fact is, you don’t have to be of the world to create an environment where worldly people would feel welcomed and engaged. The truth is, not everyone is going to come back. Not everyone will accept Christ. But I pray that it will never be the way we miscommunicate with them that causes them to not come back. Take a look back at my post called A Pastor’s Prescription for More Golf. You’ll be surprised.

If this topic intrigues you, I would highly encourage you to check out the book. I spend several chapters redefining “marketing” and pouring a biblical foundation for it. In a few days I will start breaking down the video further--talking in detail what is in there and why.

© Richard L. Reising

14 comments

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Jim H.

Richard, thanks for the clarification. I loved the video and thought it was hilarious. I just had a problem with understanding exactly how it fit in with my church. The definition and explanation you gave in this post clears things up!

Please, continue to write more. I am intrigued by the experience God has allowed you to have with churches and ministries.

I would love to hear about a case study in one of your posts.

Continue doing the Lord's work.

JH

Posted on Thu, Nov 13, 2008 @ 3:23 PM CST

Bradley Buhro

Another excellent post. I especially liked the idea that God is not as interested in promotion as he is in preparation. Excellent insight. However, you note that most churches have a retention rate of <15%. Is this, in your opinion, something that can be significantly changed? I've read elsewhere that even the stickiest of churches manage to integrate only in the neighborhood of 25%. In your experience, can we hope for better? (Not to suggest that we shouldn't aim for better, even if we can't hope for better.)

Posted on Thu, Nov 13, 2008 @ 3:31 PM CST

randi :)

WOW this was so so so powerful. You just put into words what I have been trying to say for years....but I never could put it into words! It's just been rustling around in my heart/mind as I work with our "pr team" at church. But this is beautiful haha it just exactly sums up what I've been wanting to communicate. THANK YOU!!!!!!! :) awesome stuff!!!

Posted on Thu, Nov 13, 2008 @ 6:20 PM CST

Bob Hyde

I'm serving as a church leader in England and the points you make are spot on for us as well. Thank you - and I look forward to reading further posts.

Posted on Fri, Nov 14, 2008 @ 2:47 AM CST

Jonathan Surridge

Really excellent, especially the bit about preparation, and that we are always marketting ourselves.

Thanks. I look forward to reading more
Jonathan

Posted on Fri, Nov 14, 2008 @ 5:48 AM CST

Lena

Wow. this was right on point.
Thanks for the reminder :)

Posted on Fri, Nov 14, 2008 @ 10:27 AM CST

Ryan

It is indeed quite frustrating to have people think marketing is only about advertising...marketing does, in fact, have a real definition problem.

Really love the blog...looking forward to hearing more about how you help push christians to "let their light shine" without being too over the top or promotional (a real challenge)

Posted on Fri, Nov 14, 2008 @ 2:29 PM CST

Richard Reising

In response to Bradley,

When I wrote 15%, I was leaning a little on the high side. The truth is, retention rate is probably closer to 10%.

25-30% is an optimal range for churches to fight for–something that is realistic. Over 30% is not a realistic retention rate, usually.

Great question!

Posted on Fri, Nov 14, 2008 @ 4:33 PM CST

Bradley Buhro

Richard, thanks for your response. I'm looking forward to continuing to read the lessons we can learn from your parable!

Posted on Fri, Nov 14, 2008 @ 4:50 PM CST

Mike

Thanks for the clarification. I now appreciate your video even more.

I also wanted to let you know that you’ve inspired me to write about how your message relates to visitors and new residents in rural communities. The corollaries are remarkable.

Posted on Sat, Nov 15, 2008 @ 12:11 PM CST

Lauren

All I can say is thank you!!! My husband and I recently were hired on by a church of about 40 members as their PandW leaders. He is almost done with his degree in marketing, and we have been talking to each other about this very thing. Reading your book and blog has shown us that we are on the right track, and has given us some great practical tools for accomplishing our church's goals!

Posted on Mon, Nov 17, 2008 @ 1:32 AM CST

Russ

I am a marketer by profession and video producer. We also do allot with SEO. There is a great need to improve the way religious values are being posiitoned in the "marketplace". The opposition is in a major initiative to destroy Christian values in American society by trivializing them and misdirecting youth. Your insights on marketing are needed at the frontline. Please feel free to contact me.

Posted on Mon, Nov 17, 2008 @ 6:51 AM CST

stanford

Hmm. I am kind of surprised all of the comments here are positive. I don't think the Arminian-Calvinist debate draws as much ire are marketing in our ecclesiological environment. Most of the concern is about inoculating people to Jesus as some commodity.

But as you describe it, creating ‘an environment to connect with and retain those who visit your church’ is something we need to think much more carefully about. I understand the resistance to ‘worldly’ principles, but we can either do this well or do this poorly. I do not see how Christ is glorified by the latter.

Posted on Sat, Nov 29, 2008 @ 5:07 PM CST

O.M.

I thought the video was great, and laughed out loud at all the dated signage that was clearly meant to be "relevant" (anybody remember those "Jesus is Rad" banners?). I especially liked the way the couple was made to feel excluded, even while being pressured to come back and get involved. The greeters didn't greet them; nobody made an effort to really try to get to know them--they had them fill out a form instead (that also made me laugh out loud). I've had that experience in churches across the protestant spectrum.

I believe that this is why the megachurches are so successful in getting people in the doors week after week: they have people who know how to really connect with other people. The few that I've been to have just had a more welcoming feeling than even the friendliest traditional church, but I prefer a smaller congregation and a lower-tech worship experience. :-) Perhaps not coincidentally, they've also had a much better marketing package, often including a well-written, nicely produced newsletter, with a style that matches their banners, bulletins, web sites, etc.

The church I go to now is good with marketing. All publications have a consistent look and feel. We don't do bumper stickers, but the posters and other visual clutter inside the church are current and minimal. Both of the senior ministers are fairly hip Gen-Xers, which I think helps a little. They've grown up understanding the importance of marketing, even as they might disparage it. And our congregation actually grows from year to year. In a traditional church in a traditional part of a town steeped in tradition. Go figure.

Posted on Mon, Dec 15, 2008 @ 6:53 PM CST

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