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Photo by William Iven | Unsplash

How a small church can build a big marketing plan

 

By Bret McCardle

When you imagine a corporate marketing plan, it’s easy to think of advertising campaigns with print ads, broadcast commercials and glitzy websites. A hefty price tag goes with that, and most local churches have neither the budget nor the interest in paying that sum.

Yet, small churches with limited resources can think like a marketing firm and achieve their goals for local visibility. The same process used by ad agencies seeking to win new accounts can be thought of as a two-phase approach: research and strategy.

Let’s unpack that process.

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Research is the cornerstone

Huddle up – A successful effort starts by recruiting your church’s marketing team. That team can take a number of forms. The pastor will likely serve as the leader since his or her guidance and support are necessary from beginning to end. From there, your team may include both staff and members. For recruitment, it may help to announce that this project is limited in time and is not ongoing.

Data defines your members and community – A lack of research can actually hinder your plans. Put another way, learning about your audiences and their interests adds relevance to your messages, engages each person and inspires action.

How do you take the temperature of your congregation? It’s easy to say, “Let’s run a survey,” and more difficult to build it right. That’s why it’s helpful to consult the Church Marketing Plan Tool, which gives you access to an existing survey built for the needs of churches.

To ease the research phase, your church can request free demographic reports about your community, ranging from population trends to numbers about charitable giving to levels of education in your area.

Listen to outside voices – Any ad agency can recommend holding a focus group. A better and cheaper idea for your church is to sponsor an annual breakfast or luncheon for community and business leaders. This event would bring together a cross-section of your community, giving you the perfect opportunity to ask about perceptions of your church and its ministries, which can influence your marketing plan. Plus, the attendees may become visitors and, later, members.

Vision gives direction – Between data and word-of-mouth, you have a foundation of knowledge about the state of your church. So what about the future?

Whether your church has seen a turnover in leadership or your original vision statement could use freshening, developing a new vision statement can answer key questions such as:

  • For what will your church be known in five years?
  • What community-facing ministries will thrive?
  • To whom does the church reach out?

Strategy builds real-world solutions

From strategy to goals to tactics – This is where your team will see its plan take form. Your data and vision shape the outlines of a strategy, which explains what your church seeks to accomplish within a time period. Take this example:

Our church will grow its summer programming for young parents and children by expanding its Vacation Bible School.

Note how the statement references a specific time and ministry. After defining your strategy, your team should develop specific goals, which are the steps involved in your strategy. Because your church is unique, you’ll find no right or wrong answer to the number of goals you build. Need a real-world example of how a goal leads to objectives, then to underlying tactics? Consider how to communicate with members about registering 150 students for VBS.

Be realistic – One common thread must unite your strategy, goals and tactics: available resources. In looking at your membership, finances and facilities, can you accomplish your goals? Applying a downloadable resource allocation chart can help your team visualize how resources are spent throughout your weekly activities.

This step might be called “the rewrite” because goals and resources must mesh. Don’t be afraid or unwilling to edit your goals or prune your programs as needed. The success of your strategy may hinge upon some adjusted metrics.

Raise the curtain – Successful marketing plans are no accident. With your pastor lending support to the overall project, schedule a time to reveal your work to the congregation. This is an opportunity to build excitement for the future of your church.

To capture the largest audience at once, debut your plan during a worship service. Members of all ages will see the full depth of your effort, leadership can hear feedback, and the congregation can quickly express its enthusiasm.

With these steps in mind, your church can act as its own marketing agency. Now that’s a good use of talent!