The average church population has been in gradual decline since the late twentieth century. Therefore, the ability to draw in new membership and retain old membership is a rising concern amongst churches nationwide. This concern has led to increased research and analysis of the situation, and new methods of gaining membership are emerging day to day.
When considering which methods will be most effective for each, individual church, that church must consider which specific segments it wants to target. Meaning that there is no such thing as catch-all marketing strategies for churches; instead, it is important that each entity develop a church marketing plan that appeals to different levels and ages of the population of which that church is aiming. Learning how to market a church is the first big step in transitioning into a successful religious organization.
Where a church is located will impact how many people it draws to its congregation. New urban and suburban growth contributes greatly to the growth of church attendance, as families or individuals moving into a new area often take it upon themselves to seek out a religious home to go along with their new home. Churches that establish new branches (or even those that choose to start new) in these areas of new growth have a leg up on the “competition” that exists within a location.
2. Join the Social Media Movement
Social Media has become the wave of the future, and it is definitely not going to slow down any time soon. Thus it is in the best interest of religious organizations to start making themselves known on these platforms, if they have not already.
Facebook is still a viable platform from which a church can establish an online community and keep them updated on upcoming events or specialized sermons. Furthermore, with Facebook’s ability to market to a wider audience (as well as members who can spread the virtual word), this is one of the easiest ways to get heard and draw people in. From here, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms are just a short step away to continue this virtual form of marketing.
3. Traditional Advertising
Despite the modern push towards the virtual world, traditional advertising and church marketing strategies can still prove beneficial. In a study done on the effectiveness of church marketing, researchers found that personal referrals and direct mail (such as a flier advertisement) were more effective at drawing in new members as well as retaining old members than face-to-face home visits and telemarketing attempts. Most people respond better to these more “subtle” forms of communication, in large part because they offer a greater deal of choice.
Consider this: with a flier or a recommendation given by a friend, the individual in question will have more time to consider attending without any undue pressure. Door-to-door and telemarketing are already negatively viewed in modern society by the majority of individuals, and that negativity transfers over into the religious realm, as well. Thus, understanding how to market a church positively is crucial in drawing in and retaining members.
Although a church is not a retail market, the benefits of branding in a church marketing plan cannot be understated. “Branding” is an easy way to establish a highly recognizable symbol that will help members and the public can directly associate to the church in question. Branding is a claim to a highly recognizable identity, and can help members associate good memories or ideas with that brand and thus with the church.
Especially with the advent of Google and other virtual search engines, having a brand that is quickly and easily recognized (or appealing, if a potential new member is searching for a congregation to join) is essential in ensuring that any search a new or establish member makes regarding churches will immediately show that church’s unique brand. Just like a business, the ideal church marketing strategies are those that focus on the growth of the church in all areas of that business.
5. Foster Discipleship
As with any religious organization, the key to a strong, healthy church is its ability to not only bring in new members, but to help those members grow as religious individuals. The power of disciples cannot be understated: a true believer who has been nurtured with the ability and skill to go out and share a message of faith is one of the best marketing strategies for churches and a powerful recruitment tool that requires only the strength of its own faith to operate diligently.
This form of church marketing focuses more on the quality of one’s followers rather than the quantity. However, the quality will inspire others to seek out what makes those disciples so sturdy and self-assured. Disciples who are grown within the foundation of a church will walk out as moving beacons to draw in others who seek an answer to their own doubts.
6. Set Up a Detailed and Welcoming Website
Going back to the idea of virtual marketing, remember that most people will use online search engines to look for a new place of worship. That being the case, it is essential to make sure that you have an online presence and that that presence is both intriguing and welcoming to potential members.
Key organizational items every website should have include:
- What times services are held
- An address (a virtual map with the church’s location would also be a helpful step)
- A description of the church, its mission, its values, and a general idea of what to expect when attending a sermon
- Contact information (phone, email, social media–everything you have, list it)
A helpful and intriguing website is crucial for any successful church marketing strategies to implement; it is, after all, the first impression potential members will have with the church, so it has to make a good showing.
7. Invite Feedback
A big mistake that many organizations make is not implementing a way to gauge interest and understand what areas they may need to improve. There are various ways to collect feedback from a congregation, from a simple “suggestion box” in a prime location to digital or print surveys that can be given directly to members.
Imagine after a sermon, having a small slip or sheet of paper tucked into the back of every seat and within easy reach of members. Before announcing the end of the service, the pastor can reach out and ask that those who are in attendance kindly fill out the survey so that the church can work on ways to improve its overall tone, outreach, and message.
8. Practice Inclusiveness
With the current social upheavals taking place across the globe in terms of gender, race, sexuality, and cultural differences, it is important to stand as a bastion of inclusivity that can appeal to and accepts all followers of Christ. Communities and society changes with time, and to prevent being swept away, religious organizations must learn to adapt. In the United Methodist Book of Resolutions, Resolution 361 states: “God is the Creator of all people and all are God’s children in one family…” Thus it is unjust that any who desire to be a part of a congregation should be turned away so long as their faith is genuine.
9. Create Interest Outside of Service
A church is more than a Sunday meeting place; it is a leading force of community togetherness. It should be the goal of every church to implement activities that fall outside of the weekly sermon, both to attract new members, retain old members, and just offer extended means of worship as a whole. Consider a weekly event that can draw attention from both those within the church as well as the wider public. Appeal to a greater variety of sensibilities (within reason) and maintain interest, and people will want to be a part of the celebration.
10. Managerial Focus
While a church will always be a house of God, it is important to remember that, in this world, a church is also a human organization. To ensure that the church is heading in the right direction and being handled properly, the managerial structure of the church should be carefully considered and kept strong. Meaning that the onus of responsibility should not fall entirely on the pastor’s shoulders: every pastor or central leader of a church needs a strong organization behind him or her to help foster growth and keep the church running as smoothly as possible.