Allow me to be honest: There are a lot of mistakes that you can make in your church’s marketing strategy and a lot of landmines on which you can inadvertently step. It’s not like you ever set out with the intention of blowing your ministry’s goals and ambitions to smithereens, but hey, it can happen before you even realize it. Some of you reading this know exactly what I’m talking about. You wonder why you’re not experiencing any engagement or connectivity with your local community, much less your own congregants. You wonder why you’re not seeing growth or even the slightest hint of enthusiasm from staff or volunteers. You might even be wondering why your church doesn’t seem to be taken seriously in some community venues.
It’s not until later that you realize you unwittingly neglected to adhere to the most basic principles of marketing, many of which would’ve inspired and encouraged your team and your church. I know some of you as pastors are probably thinking: I don’t like the idea of “marketing” my church. It sounds like I’m selling something.
Well, you are. It just so happens to be the free gift of salvation and the eternal message of hope and redemption found in Jesus Christ. What you’re “selling” doesn’t cost anything, which is pretty Good News if you ask me. (See what I did there?) And you’re also trying to persuade folks to join you on the journey of following this Jesus dude.
Anyway — whether you’re a church communications director or a senior pastor running everything yourself because you have no staff and haven’t trained your dog to manage social media — you should avoid these three painfully obvious marketing blunders:
#1. Failing to have a solid logo.
I’m not trying to insult your intelligence here, I promise, but you’d be surprised how many churches have been in existence for several decades without a basic logo. In fact, many of them try to dive into social media or websites without realizing they need a logo in order to distinctively brand themselves to their congregants, their local community, and the world. Here’s a pro tip: Don’t create a Facebook Page for your church and use a photo of your actual building as the profile photo (especially if your building isn’t much to look at.) This isn’t good marketing. Don’t even use a photo of your pastor and his wife. This will confuse people all the more. Photos of people should generally be reserved for personal profiles and personality Pages.
If you’re dead set on showing off your building, then create a custom cover photo for your Facebook Page using a simple graphic design platform like Canva and place it up there at the top. The profile photo, however, should always be your logo. Before you even attempt to have a web presence of any kind, make sure you have a contemporary, attractive, well-designed logo that reflects your church’s brand identity, messaging, or overall personality. This logo will eventually be placed on everything from t-shirts to car decals so make sure you’re happy with it.
#2. Lack of web presence.
Speaking of websites and social media, your church needs a digital strategy in order to survive in today’s culture. Start by asking yourself some basic questions like: What do I wish to achieve by putting my church on social media? Do I only have time to manage one platform? What platform is most popular among my congregants? (Hint: It’s probably Facebook.) Will I be uploading sermon audio/video at some point? How do I plan to most effectively communicate with my congregants? Will the majority of my congregants be confused by links to other sites like YouTube and Vimeo? Do they even know what these platforms are?
Once you’ve got a basic website and/or Facebook Page, don’t neglect them. In this world, you can’t afford to go weeks or even days without regularly posting content and updating your site. It defeats the purpose and honestly you’ll just be shooting yourself in the foot. If you’re going to have any chance of building a decent web presence and a social media following, you’ll need to post and engage on a consistent basis, even if it’s just once a day. (For more on this, see my column on social media engagement here.)
#3. Remaining oblivious to your target audience.
Too many small churches fall under the impression that they have to compete with the megachurches in order to stand out on social media or gain any traction. This just isn’t the case. Take a deep breath. Chill out. You have a completely different demographic of congregants and a different local community than they do. And if you’re a senior pastor running everything yourself, your congregants are likely to be more understanding and forgiving if your Facebook Page and/or website lacks a little professionalism or creativity. No one knows your people and what kind of church you are better than you do. And remember that, oftentimes, small is actually what many people are looking for in a church. There’s no reason to be insecure just because you only have 60 people on Sunday mornings. Use this to your advantage. Play it as a strength. Tailor your digital and social media around this and allow your platforms to reflect it. Your target audience will be drawn to the honest community atmosphere and will be more likely to engage with it.
There’s plenty of other marketing blunders that you should avoid and landmines you should be able to sidestep, but these are a good start when it comes to the fundamentals. Stick with it and before long you’ll basically be the Rambo of church marketing. And who doesn't want to be Rambo?
Before I even launch into this post, let me just start out by asking some loaded questions: How are you guys doing? Hanging in there? Still maintaining your sanity? Has anyone else been tempted to put their fist through a laptop screen or hurl a camera and tripod into the eternal fires of Mordor? Maybe kick down your pastor’s door and tell him he’s asking too much of his staff and volunteers in the midst of a global health crisis? (Bad idea. You’ll probably be banished to a Zoom anger management class and that just sounds, well, awful.) Have you been wondering why your church’s technology, equipment, and software worked flawlessly right up until a deadly virus shut down the entire planet?
Or perhaps you’ve been on the verge of calling up Facebook’s corporate hotline and demanding to speak with ‘ole Zuck about why your church’s livestream videos keep crashing week after week? (Like he would really care, right?)
Let me see a show of hands. Anybody?
No? Well, ok then. Moving right along.
At this point, at least two things are clear about the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic: It’s not going away tomorrow and it has forever reshaped the way we do and think about church. Yes, forever. I hate to burst your bubble, but things won’t just return to normal overnight once this national quarantine has ended. That’s going to take time. Months. Years, even. In fact, things may never look, be, or feel the same again. You may have to adapt to a new “normal.” You can hate that all you want, but it’s just a simple fact of life. I’ll elaborate more in a moment.
As we continue to navigate these uncharted waters together, you’re probably starting to wonder what our society — and our churches — will look like once the dust settles. Me too. Personally, I think we’ll return to our buildings at some point, but the process is going to be slow and gradual, at least in most places. And even when we do finally get the clearance to return, some folks will remain hesitant and distant for weeks or months. As leaders, we will need to be patient and understanding with these people. This is a new reality and we can’t just ignore it or pretend that it never happened. Think about it like this: Most Americans didn’t go rushing back to airports the day after September 11, 2001. Granted, a virus isn’t the same as a terrorist attack, but the principles of fear, anxiety, trepidation, and paranoia remain the same. That’s human nature.
Speaking of new realities, we’re all utilizing digital technology more than ever before. I’ve been mulling over the future ramifications of this and asking myself how we can reshape and enhance communications in order to be more effective. Here are a few things that I believe we should be pondering:
VIRTUAL CHURCH AS A CONNECTION POINT:
Whether our pastors like it or not, this whole digital church thing has and will become the norm for many people and let’s just be honest: The people are getting used to it. They’re getting used to staying in their pajamas while singing “Raise A Hallelujah” with the worship band and watching the pastor’s sermon while cooking breakfast for the kiddos after changing stinky diapers. They’re getting used to gathering their whole family around the computer or TV for “church.” Some of them are even more comfortable sharing thoughts and emotions over Zoom or Facebook Live than they ever would be in person. This might not be right. Some would argue it’s not even biblical. But nevertheless, it’s what is happening. Digital church. Digital discipleship. Digital small groups. These will become weekly or even daily occurrences.
Rather than fight this new reality and create unnecessary drama and tension where it need not exist, let’s instead focus more heavily on using our virtual services as connection points to keep our people engaged with one another and with the local community throughout the week. Besides, most churches that have gone full-scale digital have experienced tremendous growth in terms of viewership, engagement, and interaction from people who had never previously darkened the doors of a physical building. People who were never interested in Christianity are now asking questions. We should be celebrating that. We should be finding out who these new folks are and drawing them into a deeper relationship with Jesus. You know, that whole discipleship thing.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t meet corporately as the Body of Christ. (So don’t start slaying me in the comment threads.) I’m simply saying that Online Church is a reality. It’s not going anywhere. And it will only become more polished, effective, and normal as time goes on. If you’re going to prioritize people, you’re going to have to prioritize Online Church. Period.
DITCH THE PERFECTIONISM, BRO. AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FO' DAT.
I’m preaching to the choir with this one, but right now isn’t the time to be stressed about broadcasting the perfect service or designing the best social media graphics. We’re all under enough pressures in our personal lives due to the pandemic. Seriously, there’s no need to be Superman. In fact, at this point, if you’re using Facebook Live and managing to make it through your entire service without a crash, you’re doing great. Give yourself a pat on the back and stop worrying about what other churches are doing. There will be plenty of time to work out the kinks when this is all over. For the sake of everyone’s mental, physical, and emotional health, be cautious of placing unnecessary strain on yourself and your team. Do your best and leave the rest in God’s hands. The most important priority is that the Gospel is still being presented and is readily accessible.
ADAPT TO THE NEW NORM, LEST YE BECOME A FORGOTTEN RELIC OF THE PAST.
The more you as an individual — and your communications team and your church as a whole — can adapt to COVID-19, the more likely you will survive and come out stronger on the other side. Don’t resist or condemn every change brought about by this crisis. People are going to view church differently when this is all said and done. Seek to leverage the tools you have at your disposal during and after the quarantine to foster as much connectivity within your congregation as possible in order to remain relevant to them and to the culture while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the Gospel. Yes, it can be done.
WHAT DID I MISS?
Enough rambling from me. I want to hear your thoughts on how COVID-19 is reshaping Church Comms. Drop some wordage in the comment thread below! And more than that, I want you to know I’m praying for you and cheering you on. You guys are doing great and I believe the Church is going to be stronger than ever when this is over. Hang in there!