Marketing the Church, Part 2

kinnon —  December 15, 2006 — 4 Comments


Marketing the Church

The Marketing Opportunity of Christmas Eve
A couple of years ago, I was working with a church that had never done a Christmas Eve service. They claimed that Christmas was such a busy season that they didn’t want to take away from people’s time with family. I was shocked. Christmas Eve is one of the few times of year people from the neighbourhood will actually darken the doorways of the local church.

Churchsign1After many emails and a meeting or two, senior leadership was finally convinced. Our marketing consisted of putting up a sign near the entrance to the property on a busy street announcing two Christmas Eve services. The senior leader still worried that we’d only end up with 600 people in two services…and most of them church people. (The venue held around 1,800.) Both services were at least 70% full and less than half of the people were from the church.

Of course, we used the opportunity to run well produced videos about who we were and the things we offered. And the service, for the most part, had great production values. At the end, we had hot apple cider available in the hallways and the latté bar was open. We even gave them a CD of a message from the senior leader as a parting gift. (Just what they’d been hoping for, I’m sure.)

The people seemed to enjoy themselves but anecdotal evidence would suggest that the retention of new people was minimal. They’d had a felt need to go to church Christmas Eve. The megachurch on the corner was opening their doors. They came, they saw, they left. Consumers consuming another production. They’ll probably check out The Nativity Story this year.

What we were offering, they bought for an evening. They just weren’t buying it as an ongoing option. Our production values were good, but they couldn’t compete with the local Cineplex, professional Theatre company or network television. And if they wanted a latté, Starbucks dotted the landscape with Third Place environments catering to their community needs.

Marketing Might Get Some Through the Doors
Our simple (but effective) sign made people aware that we’d be open Christmas Eve. They had a desire to go to church that one evening – perhaps a residual sense from childhood – most of the new faces were boomers.

Our hope was to grow the church. This was a perfect opportunity. Get them in the doors, tell them our story, wow them with our production values, give them free drinks and a CD and our numbers were bound to go up. They didn’t. The new faces weren’t buying what we were selling. To requote Sarah from Part 1, “Many of your appeals have been carefully calculated for success and that turns our collective stomach.”

Possible Insight from A Networked Conspiracy
In my book, A Networked Conspiracy, I talk about the world we find ourselves in. I refer to the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe on recurring generations in Western Society and the building on that by Roy Williams. Strauss and Howe identify an 80 year cycle of four recurring generations. Williams believes that there are only two, the Idealist Generation that waxes and wanes in a forty year cycle, then the Civic Generation that runs it’s forty year course. Williams sees 1963 as the beginning of the Idealist Generation epitomized by Boomers. From my book,

If we look at the patterns in the previous forty-year cycle, we find some interesting trends. Music, clothing, social interaction styles that were adopted by teenagers in the first few of years of the new cycle, by five to eight years into the cycle were adopted by their parents. If this year (2005) is equivalent to 1965, then within the next three to five years we can expect Boomers to begin to reflect the attitudes and activities of Emergents.

Emergents communicate at the speed of fiber-optic light – using whatever communications device happens to be at hand. Take the movie Gigli. The pre-release buzz on the Internet was that the movie was problematic. Hollywood countered with massive Bennifer spin. Within hours of its release the movie’s box office receipts were destroyed by the power of the network – via cell phones, SMS, Instant Messaging and email. The movie made just over five million dollars at the box office.

Now look at Pirates of the Caribbean – released with nowhere near the hype of Gigli – a movie based on a Disney theme park attraction. Emergents raved and the box office exploded with receipts of a third of a billion dollars. “Word of Net” went viral. “Sneezers” infected their friends who themselves spread the “virus” to others. The better the story, the bigger the audience.

And to begin to understand Emergents, we need to understand their attitudes and values.
They have:

A hunger to be part of authentic community.
A commitment to lasting relationships.
A desire for their stories to be heard.
A disdain for hype and empty rhetoric. – Don’t tell us what you believe, show us – be real.
A mission in life beyond money, sex & power.

Emergents want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They thirst for significance rather than success. As Daniel Pink, in his important book, A Whole New Mind states, “meaning is the new money”. And Emergents long for a community that allows them to express their creativity. Richard Florida, in a Gallup Management Journal interview says “Creative people respond to intrinsic rewards… and it’s a mistake to think they’re motivated by financial incentives.”

This generational change is having a huge impact on the organized church whether the church realizes it or not. If we want to influence and impact Emergents, then we need to begin to listen to their voices and engage in their conversations.

How do we engage a culture that hungers for authentic community – that longs for lasting relationships? We’ve used attractional events to try and pull people in – and some have experienced great success at that, if size is the only measurement of success. But the world is shifting. Techniques and hype won’t cut it amongst a people who want truth and reality.

Let me end this post (which is already too long) with another quote from Earl Creps‘ book, Off-Road Disciplines. He quotes the prophetic voice of Lesslie Newbiggin

How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last on human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live it…Evangelistic campaigns, distribution of Christian literature, conferences, and even books such as this one…are all secondary, and…they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community. Jesus…did not write a book but formed a community. (PG 147 quoting from Newbiggin’s book, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society.)

Marketing the Church, Part 3 should be posted on Monday.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

4 responses to Marketing the Church, Part 2

  1. Bill, great post, thanks for the insight on the challenges of marketing and church. the compulsion for numbers keeps pushing churches to rely on techniques and hype for growth when in actuality, this exerts an ethos of control and manipulation for success, rather than trust in the movement of the Spirit in response to a faithful community that actrually believes what Newbigen suggests….

    keep the great thoughts coming.

  2. Doesn’t the level of hype have to keep going up? Children, for instance, will get tired of sliding down the same slide each week to move from the church lobby to their class area. What’s next? The same goes for all other aspects of church life.

    I’m with the Fernando Ortega song “Give Me Jesus.”

  3. Bill I agree with all that you have said here. I am 56 years old and feel we are long overdue for this pattern of positive thinking to emerge.


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