Church marketing, a new (old) approach

“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.  

A coffee mug from a United Methodist Church I visited (the name of the church is not shown)
The evidence from a church mugging

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.

Yes, Virginia, it’s still ok to ask the question

The phrase used to be “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” Recently, however, I’ve had several people tell me that, in the age of Google, this phrase is no longer relevant, that there now IS such a thing as a stupid question. Although I understand where they are coming from, I’m going to have to argue the opposite in my usual old school/contemporary way. So here are four reasons that I think there is still no such thing as a stupid question:

Let me Google that for you homepage screen shot

The phrase used to be “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” Recently, however, I’ve had several people tell me that, in the age of Google, this phrase is no longer relevant, that there now IS such a thing as a stupid question. Although I understand where they are coming from, I’m going to have to argue the opposite in my usual old school/contemporary way. So here are four reasons that I think there is still no such thing as a stupid question:

  1. The complete phrase is “There is no such thing as a stupid question, there are, however, lazy questions.”  This phrase I agree with and fully believe in, especially in the age of Google. If you need the formula for percentage change, it’s a simple Google search away.  So is the date that the movie Back to the Future traveled into the future and who holds the World Record for the longest fingernails. These are factually based answers that are just a click away. So, yes, if you ask one of these while having access to the internet, it’s a lazy question.
  2. There is a lot of incorrect information out there (and it gets repeated). The Internet provides the fuel for old wives tales and rumors to spread like wildfire.  There are some ways to tell the crap from the good stuff, but they are no foolproof, and if it’s a topic that you are not at least somewhat knowledgeable about, it’s going to be hard to decipher the good information from the bad information. If you already know an expert, it’s much more reliable to ask them. At the very least, they can point you down the right path.
  3. Sending “Let me Google that for you” links is rude.  I don’t care how you try to rationalize it, sending one of these links as an answer to someone’s question communicates that you think they are stupid or lazy. Clearly, this is not the best way to build a relationship with someone.
  4. Asking questions is one of the most fundamental ways of having a conversation with someone.  If a person is asking you a question that isn’t covered under #1 or #2 on this list, then they are probably more curious about your slant/opinion/view of something or they are just plain interested in you. They are not looking for the standard information they are going to find online. They are trying to form a relationship.  If you are on the opposite side of this equation, and you are nervous that you might get a “look it up” type of answer, consider rephrasing the question to say something like “I’m curious your personal thoughts on,” or “What does x mean to you?” This takes a lot of practice and self-discipline not to just think “I’ll Google that later,” but it’s much better for your relationships.

Got it? Or do I need to Google it for you?  Smiley Face