My curiosity is certainly well intentioned. I just wanted to know.
I’ve always seen churches as spiritual havens. And as businesses. They are organizations that face the same struggles and successes that others have, especially when it comes to cash flow, and building and retaining “customers.”
So, how do churches market themselves? Beyond a great “product” and “relational selling,” what are their marketing communications approaches and how much do they spend?
I didn’t find my answers online. So, I figured, why not ask them. So I did.
I sent 100 e-mail notes to various church leaders that spanned the country; Some were mega-churches and some were itsy bitsy. Most of them were Protestant and evangelical churches. I gave them two weeks to respond to the online survey. I also posted the survey opportunity on my personal and professional Twitter and Facebook sites.
On deadline day, I checked the survey results. I was disappointed. I garnered a 6 percent response rate. Based on the experts, an online survey will often generate a 20 percent to 30 percent response (that sounds high to me, but …)
I wasn’t ready to give up, so I reviewed the findings. Here is a “snipshot” of results—not even a snapshot. Here we go:
- Respondents of this survey were both male and female; Churches varied in size, from 146 members, to 455. Four of the six respondents provided their names instead of titles when asked, with one responding with the title of “Mobilizer,” another as “Senior Pastor.” Five of the six respondents are Texas churches, one is in Ohio.
- Among marketing communications tools—listed as brochures, phone calls, Website, e-mail and social media–40 percent of church respondents say social media is their most used marketing communications tool. The least used tool is direct mail (postcards and letters).
- Respondents ranked the following as most used to least used marketing communications tools:
1. Social media
4. Phone calls
5. Direct mail (letters or postcards)
- 84 percent of respondents say they spend between one percent and 5 percent of their annual operating budget on marketing communications. The remaining 15 percent said less than 1 percent.
- The majority of respondents (actually at 50 percent) say the primary purpose of their marketing communications is to promote an event. The remaining 50 percent was evenly split among “introducing the church to the community,” a special sermon series, children’s, youth, women’s, men’s and social services ministries.”
- 67 percent of respondents say the quality of their marketing communications is average, 16.7 percent said good, and 16.7 percent said below average.
- When asked who they primarily targeted with their marketing communications. 50 percent of respondents said members; another 50 percent said non-members.
DISAPPOINTMENT, PART II
Confession. My disappointment extends from the survey’s lack of response. It was more than that. The people in the know – the church leaders, consultants, speakers and influencers with strong voices and opinions, did not respond. I’m not talking they declined. I’m talking, no response. I approached Tim Schrader at www.churchmarketingsucks.com for comment. Nothing. I emailed contacts for Chuck Swindoll and Stonebriar. Nothing. There were a few more. Still nada. That’s the real disappointment. I understand busy schedules and priorities and hold no contempt for any of them. Just disappointed.
The snipshot tells me that churches remain cash strapped, despite what appears to be luxurious, evangelical churches “bring home the bacon.” These perception may be an actual aberration; I’m betting that most churches struggle month to month to pay bills. That’s why social media is so popular. It’s virtually free, as is e-mail. Even Websites are low-cost, with many already established and costing nothing but hosting. Not using brochures and direct mail is surely related to their hard costs for design, writing and printing—and the fast-paced ubiquity of online communications. And phone calls? They require real people and real commitment. The struggle for committed volunteers is constant for any non-profit organization.
The only real surprise is that churches—respondents—say they spend most of their marcom dollars on special events vs. other ministry opportunities. I’m betting these dollars pay for events that draw community participation and potential new members, i.e., free Easter egg hunts with face painting, bounce houses and more. There is nothing wrong with that, although I question spending the majority of a marketing budget on one event . Could it more effective with a consistent marketing campaign to key audiences? That’s where metrics and evaluation enter the picture.
Lastly, the results show that churches—ministries as whole, I’d bet–do not have professional marketing experts planning, executing or measuring their marketing communications efforts. It’s mostly “what can be done” by “anybody” at “any time.” Perhaps that’s why the majority of respondents say their communications efforts are average or below average.
Bottom line, it’s the bottom line. Budgets and resources.
THERE’S HOPE … HELP OUT
Help church leaders not fret, or burn out by being everything to everybody, all the time. Be a volunteer. And for communicators out there, use your brain and creative capabilities to support your local churches. Help them understand and apply strategic communications.
One final note. Churches should not be intimidated or ashamed of the word “marketing.” In a world where churches sit on every corner, marketing is required. How is your church distinct from my church, and why should you be at “my church” vs. “that” church? Marketing shares those messages and helps churches grow as a distinct body of believers.
Tell me your stories and thoughts. Comment below or send me a note. I want to know.