Where Should You Focus the Church’s Promotional Efforts?
The cost of media resources in the North American marketplace has fallen dramatically–especially in the age of the web. Still, churches operate from very limited budgets, and media is rightly not as important an expense as the core ministry needs to which the church is instructed to carry out in Acts 2. Promotion is a secondary role for the church, but necessary in the North American culture. Where, then, should the church focus her promotional efforts to yield the best stewardship of limited resources?
Often church communicators will slap the word “mass” in front of “media” prior to thinking through the best stewardship of resources for promotion. Really, for most local congregations in North America, there is little if any hope of a media effort impacting the masses with any meaningful way. Thousands or tens of thousands of dollars can be spent on anything from billboards to radio and television ads to publicity stunts.
I have seen churches buy ice cream trucks, give away gasoline and movie tickets, hold crazy neighborhood events and try all manner of paid advertisements in an effort to attract an audience. I believe for the most part these efforts are wasted. It’s much like shooting a fire hose in the desert–we will never see a parched land begin to yield fruit over time if all we’re doing is engaging in a vain effort to get everything wet and then just see what happens.
Instead, let me suggest three finite and effective targets for the church’s promotional efforts. These will not result in the “big bang” of a major ad campaign, but focusing here will build effective channels for communication over time.
First, promote the church’s ministries and opportunities to the church. If you are a Christ follower and you want to begin to disciple others, where do you begin? Would you employ a recruitment program and have some kind of matching process to pair people with mentors and so forth? Or, would you simply do as Christ did, and begin by teaching those closest to you? Of course, your immediate sphere of influence is the most ready made group of friends, family or peers to disciple.
Likewise, in any promotional effort for the church, the most ready-made audience will be the one closest to you–the church herself. And this should be the first and most prominent effort of promotion. This audience is most attuned to the teachings of Christ, the goals of the church and their responsibilities as members of the body. They are also the most likely to listen and respond to your promotional efforts.
The temptation is to fire our marketing efforts out as far as possible, right over the heads of our own congregation. Yet our own church members are the ones most likely to listen to, digest and move toward involvement in any promotional effort we are undertaking. Remember that the most informed are also the most involved.
Second, have the church promote herself to those outside the church. Once you have effective means established to keep your own church informed, you can begin to reach beyond the congregation to inform the larger community. Here, too, avoid the temptation to pull out the mass-media arsenal and make this a staff-driven objective. Instead, our focus should be to mobilize our most valuable and effective asset within the church organization–her people.
Jesus’ ministry was people-focused. In John 17, Jesus begins a prayer to God the Father by saying, “I have finished the work [you have given Me to do on earth]”. He then relates more than 40 separate pleas on behalf of the men He discipled. Left out of Jesus’ recounting of “His work” are the mass crowds that gathered around, the miracles He performed and the great messages He preached. At the core of Jesus’ ministry were 12 people. Because Christ invested in their lives, we are worshiping Him today.
Do not look past the people of your church in an effort to reach out to those beyond it. Remember a simple multiplication illustration. If your mass media to the crowd reaches 500 people a year for 30 years–you’ll get yourself a church growth award for reaching 15,000 people. If, however, your efforts involve just one believer reaching another one, and those believers reach one more the following year, doubling each time and so forth, your church will reach more than 2.1 billion people in that same 30-year period.
In church promotion, we must constantly be asking the question, “What media or information will better equip and enable our people to take the gospel to their friends, neighbors and the world?” And, we must begin to look beyond this week or this year and our own made-up numerical goals that define our success. Effectively managing our media and promotion to our own congregation, consistently year after year, will help yield a long-term impact for Christ we can only imagine.
Third, promote the church’s ministries and opportunities to those outside the church. As a congregation is informed, and we have mobilized and equipped them to tell others about Christ, informing them of opportunities along the way, we can now consider ways to promote the church directly to those outside the church. Yet again I would caution against blowing lots of dollars on big media campaigns.
Jesus never sent out any 4-color brochures. Nor did He sit down with His disciples at the Last Supper and say, “I’m leaving soon, so let me go over my PowerPoint for what you need to bring in the crowd after I’m gone.” Christ let His example speak for itself, and then men who had lived with Him for three years knew what to do based on what they had seen Christ do.
Fast forwarding to now, the most effective means of promoting the church directly to non-Christians is through acts of service. Christ Himself said, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve…” (Matthew 20:28). We see this modeled in the first century church that “began selling their property and possess and sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:45).
Note that we do not find in the New Testament where Christ or the Apostles applied any “economy of scale” to the church organization. In other words, there is not one set of commands for small churches or house churches, and another set as the church grows larger. So the core element of service in the life of a Christ-follower does not get handed-off to a service-organization at some point so we can focus on other things. Consistent, sacrificial service is something in which every believer should be participating.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.