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Marketing can build churches

By Ronald E. Keener

The use of marketing within the church is still seen as controversial, says one of the authors of Building Strong Congregations (Autumn House Publishing). Bruce Wrenn says, “It depends on whom you ask. Some critics will always be opposed to the use of marketing because they find its function at odds with the spiritual life of the church. Other critics might be won over if their opposition is based on a misunderstanding of what marketing really is, or if they mistakenly believe we are proposing it be used for all components of a church’s mission.”

Wrenn is professor of Christian ministry at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI, and wrote the book with marketing expert Philip Kotler and church consultant Norman Shawchuck. Dr. Wrenn responded to questions from Church Executive:

Should religious institutions and churches be marketed?

We believe religion, that is, Christianity, shouldn’t and can’t be marketed. But a church and its ministries can and should be marketed. Marketing involves the deep understanding of people’s needs and the development of need satisfying services – exactly what churches are trying to achieve by fostering fellowship and offering ministries as part of their mission. Attracting other believers without a home church to join your congregation is also part of the “can and should” territory of church marketing.

When should a large congregation begin to consider staffing for the marketing function?

Congregations of any size should realize that they are already doing marketing if they are trying to serve the needs of people. So, staffing may merely consist of volunteers or paid staff learning how to do it better. In one sense, staffing the marketing function is merely helping congregants become more committed to understanding and serving people in need.

A case can be made, however, for the strategic planning team to create a marketing plan as part of the planning process and assign responsibility for its implementation to a specific individual.

What is branding when applied to a church?

I recently was talking with a church marketer about how marketing is sometimes defined as removing the barriers to exchange, and that he might be faced with barriers of knowledge, motivation and trust that stand in the way of engaging in exchange with the audience he was trying to reach.

Branding can be an effective means of breaking through such barriers. I see the most successful churches as having a well-established “corporate” brand, plus scores of individually branded ministries, events and programs. My guess is that they are giving a lot of attention to continuous improvement of their branding strategies and tactics.

Is religious programming on TV or radio past its prime? Where might pastors be spending such dollars more wisely for outreach?

It is certainly true that narrowcasting – using media to reach a specifically targeted audience – has replaced broadcasting for many marketers, including church marketers. This question also points out the necessity for churches to develop comprehensive communication plans that include all methods of communicating your message. Churches, with their limited marketing budgets, must be careful to allocate funds among the media in a way that capitalizes on the strength of each medium. In other words, don’t send a radio ad out to do a blog’s job. Radio, TV and newspapers still have their place in the church marketer’s arsenal; it’s just a smaller place than it used to be.

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