Digital Outreach: 6 Marketing Habits of an Effective Church
Most pastors and church leaders don’t think in terms of “branding” or “marketing”.
They’re understandably suspicious of methodology that tells you to run your church like a business, and they worry that their appeals to the community will start to sound like sales pitches.
Plus, they understand that they’ll never be able to compete with the the newest strategies and technologies of Hollywood or the marketing industry.
But here’s the reality: you don’t get to decide whether or not your church has a marketing strategy. It already does.
Just think of marketing as the process of communicating who you are to other people and working to capture the attention of the people you are called to reach.
Whether you realize it or not, your church is already sending that message to the people in your city.
You can call it church marketing or digital outreach, but whatever you call it, you really can’t afford to ignore it. Your church needs a strategy for engaging your community.
It’s more important than ever for churches to tell their stories in a way that engages others.
You can get someone’s attention with your words, but you can capture their imagination with stories. So think in stories, not just information.
People need to connect with your church, and stories are one of the best ways to do that.
And here’s the wonderful thing about your church. You already have those stories. They’re already available. You don’t have to manufacture them.
There are people in your church that have seen God transform their lives and families. Those are the stories that you want to put center stage - the stories that put God’s grace and power on display.
One of the best places to find these stories is with new believers.
When someone is getting baptized, they have a story. How did they come to the church? How did they get saved? What led them to make this public profession of faith? Who was involved in bringing them to Christ?
In fact, when someone comes to faith in Christ in your church, there are actually two stories. There is the story of one person who heard the gospel and trusted Christ, and there is the story of another person who faithfully proclaimed the gospel and saw that person respond. Why not let people hear both of those stories?
One church in Texas uses their baptism services as a way to highlight these two stories. Four times a year, they have “celebration weekends”, where most of the Sunday worship time is spent proclaiming the gospel through baptism. They ask their members to baptize the people that they lead to Christ, and they have both people share their testimony before the congregation.
Many churches will use a video testimony to communicate these stories. The great thing about a video (as opposed to a testimony from a platform) is that you can use it over and over again.
If you asked people in your church what happened 6 weeks ago in the announcement, they probably wouldn’t remember. But if you asked them about a testimony of a new member or new believer, they would be much more likely to remember that.
We’re not just talking here about avoiding outright deception. Obviously, you shouldn’t promise a new car to first time visitors and then give them a toy car instead. That’s dishonest. God’s never going to use that to reach people.
But there’s more to authenticity than just being honest. Authenticity involves using strategies and words that accurately reflect the personality and values of your church.
There are quite a few ways to do this effectively.
For example, instead of using stock photography on your church website, why use your own photos. It’s getting easier and easier to capture great videos and pictures. Even cell phones can capture high-quality photos. So use those on your website and on your printed materials.
You should also work at being clear and accurate in how you describe your church to your community.
If you’re just trying to get your youth group started, it’s probably not a good idea to call your youth group “vibrant” and “dynamic”.
But going back to the first point (about telling stories), it really shouldn’t be difficult to find good words to describe your church and your ministries.
If God is at work in your church (and He is), then there are definitely things that you can point to and say, “Look at what God is doing here. Look at how He’s blessing here. Come and be a part of what God is doing here.”
The application here will obviously look different, depending on your church and context. But there are two specific reasons why this habit is important for your church.
Number one: you’ll get feedback on how to reach people in your city.
This is why it’s so helpful to partner with churches in your area. You’ll can help each other find the best strategies for reaching people in your community. You can share ideas, bear each other’s burdens, and pray for one another.
When you ignore the wisdom and experience of brothers and sisters who are laboring in your backyard, you are cutting yourself off from one of your most valuable resources.
God has promised to help you reach your city. And for most churches, at least some of that help is going to come through other pastors, other believers, and other churches.
Here’s the second benefit of partnering with churches in your area: it will also help your members see the larger, global mission of the church.
The mission of God is bigger than any single person, and it’s bigger than any single church.
This is good news, because it means that we don’t have to bear the weight of the mission on our own. It’s also good news, because it reveals the beauty of God’s plan to use a diverse group of people to reach the entire world with the gospel.
Give your church a picture of that spectacular reality. Help them see what they are a part of. It will encourage and challenge them to be more passionate in your church’s outreach.
If we’re not careful, we’ll start doing all of our ministry within the walls of our buildings.
Every week, your church gathers to give, worship, pray, sing, and come under the Word of God, but then, your church scatters to live out the mission God has given them.
Our communities are watching us. They want to see if we are willing to serve in the city.
You may say that anyone is welcome at our church, but you should be able to point to evidence of that love and acceptance. The people in your community should be able to see that love in action.
And there are probably dozens of way for you church to do this.
Is there a crisis pregnancy center in your area?
Can you serve at a rescue mission?
Are there other non-profits that you can volunteer at?
Your city has big needs and real problems. You already know this to be true.
Of course, your church can’t solve all those problems. But you can do something.
And you don’t need to wait until you have the resources and experience to build out a complete ministry from within you church. You can take advantage of other believers (and even unbelievers) who are serving your community.
Get involved. Love. Give. Show the love of Christ.
We already said that church marketing is about capturing the attention of the people that you’re trying to reach. But your job doesn’t end when you have their attention.
It’s very common to see printed materials or even websites that don’t have a clear call to action.
Think through what you want people to do when they see your website or your invite card or your Facebook Ad. Then, tell them what you want them to do. Don’t expect them to figure it out on their own.
Don’t expect them to automatically understand that they are welcome at your church. In our advertising heavy culture, people are frequently getting offers or invitations that do not really apply to them.
Marketers try to nail down their niche group and advertise to that group. But they don’t always get it right. And many business just mass market without even trying to focus on a specific demographic.
As a church, you have the incredible advantage of knowing beforehand that the message you are carrying is for everyone. There are no limits on who needs to hear the gospel. There is no one who is not welcome to visit your church.
So be clear in what you want them to do. Give them the time, location, and event details. And then say something simple and clear - something like “We can’t wait to meet you” or “We’re saving you a seat”.
If you don’t have a clear call to action, your digital outreach may sound like you’re just talking about yourself.
Know what you’re trying to say. If you’re unclear or confusing, you’ll always lose attention.
When it come to church marketing or digital outreach, we are often told to focus on the quality of the content and presentation.
And of course, quality matters. If you have typos on your printed materials or bad audio quality on your videos, you will distract from your message.
But for most churches, there is a much more common and (probably) more serious problem. It’s the simple problem of inconsistency.
Many churches hear about a new marketing strategy or outreach idea, and they implement it for a few weeks before getting distracted by the next idea or by the demands of ministry.
For these ideas to be effective, they need to be consistently applied and adapted over time. That’s why we called them ‘habits“.
So build these principles into the rhythm of your church. Create a system. Write down a checklist. Put stuff in the calendar. Train the people who will be helping in these areas of service.
None of these habits will make any difference if you don’t implement them consistently. So this is really the one habit that rules all of the others.
Take some time to run through the ideas here:
- Have a plan for what to do when someone wants to be baptized. Think through how you want to capture their story. Enlist help from someone who knows how to record and edit video.
- Take a fresh look at the language you use to describe your church. Are you using cookie-cutter words to describe your ministries? Are you missing opportunities to highlight real people who are part of your church family?
- Look at the churches who are serving around you. Do you have relationships with those pastors? Have you tried partnering with them for gospel outreach or service in your community?
- Get your church out in the community serving others. Research the options for serving in your area - pregnancy centers, rescue missions, non-profit organizations, etc. Are you giving your people a variety of options for loving and serving your city?
- Make sure your invitation to your community is clear. Look over your printed materials, website, and social media accounts. Are you just talking about yourself? Or are you really talking to the people want to reach?
We hope these 6 marketing habits will help your church be more effective in reaching your community. If you have other strategies or ideas that you have found helpful in your church, please share them in the comments.
We love learning from churches who are passionate about reaching people with the gospel.