“When I visit a church, they immediately try to recruit me and get me to start tithing. I feel like it’s all about the money.”
This conversation got me thinking about the way that most churches market themselves to visitors and I quickly came to the conclusion that we need to adopt a new, although really an old, approach to growing our congregations. This isn’t because the comment above is necessarily right, but perception is reality. And, when I really took time to examine my own habits, I realized that I too felt the same way he did.
Lately, I’ve been hunting around for a new church or, at least, a church home for a while. So I’ve been visiting a variety of churches. At each church, I was immediately rushed when entering the building by greeters who then gave me information about the church and guided me to a seat. At the seat, I was passed the sign-in book sometime during the service. I put my name and checked that I was a visitor, but nothing else because I didn’t want to get mugged. For those of you that aren’t familiar with church marketing and recruitment, “mugging” is where the minister or some other prominent member of the congregation stops by your house to say hello and drop off a coffee mug. Below is one of the mugs from my small (and hopefully it will stay that way) collection from churches that are REALLY good at hunting down addresses.
Also, usually on my first visit, most churches tried to immediately recruit me for something, whether it was a Bible study, small group, the praise band, etc. I always decline. I don’t even know if I want to stay there yet, so why get involved?
The current format
From what I can tell from my above experiences, the current format for all church marketing is a direct (hard) sales approach. The formula goes like this: approach, engage, involve. When entering the church, the visitor must be approached as soon as possible and greeted. Then, they should be immediately be engaged by giving them literature about the church and sitting them with loyal church members to make sure the visitor has a good experience. Finally, after the service, members of the church should immediately approach the visitor and involve them in some activity (praise band, Bible study, gender-based group, it doesn’t matter). All of these things must be done on the person’s first visit.
This approach may have worked in the past, but especially to people like my coworker mentioned above, this can seem very intimidating and seem like a sales tactic (oh, wait, that’s because IT IS). As a young, professional worker, this is also frustrating to me because I don’t have any tolerance for sales pitches and, quite frankly, I don’t have enough free time to make a snap decision to, say, join a Bible study that meets once per week. Nor do I want to make any sort of commitment on my first visit.
The new (old) approach
What I’m recommending is that church marketing shift to a new (old) approach. It’s usually referred to as soft-selling. I’m recommending a format that more looks like approach, approach, ask about information, and offer opportunities. First, Approach the visitor on the first visit and say hello. That’s it. No muggings, no literature, nothing. On their second visit, approach and say hello again. This time, ask them if they would like addition information. Depending on if they ask for them, you might then offer opportunities. If not, wait a few months, then offer to talk with them about opportunities (but tell them about all of them, don’t decide for them what is applicable or “best” for them).
The key differences are the timeframe, the passive approach, and offering information instead of giving them unwanted information. I know this may seem like a sure-fire way to not get new members and, at first, this will probably be the case. However, this offers the opportunity for a visitor to choose your church instead of feeling forced into the church. This will always lead to longer-term and happier members.