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Marketing research: a valuable investment

SUMMARY: It’s human nature. We recognize dramatic changes far more frequently than we do the smaller changes in our everyday lives.

Your congregation wants to change lives by helping people to know Christ and engaging them through Christian discipleship. By researching and understanding demographic data, your church can identify what’s happening in your area and create a successful, relevant strategic marketing plan.

That guiding principle points out the perfect reason to create and use a comprehensive marketing plan for your church. United Methodist Communications on its Web site here can guide you through the multistep process.

The Church Marketing Plan site details the many aspects of how to develop the plan, including who should help create it. The process details five steps: values and vision, perception and needs, strategy, implementation and adjustment.

“Often churches focus on tactics and communication tools rather than developing a strategy based on solid information and analysis of themselves and their audience,” says Chuck Niedringhaus, United Methodist Communications director of strategic marketing, product marketing and research.

He knows firsthand the value of demographic data over casual observation. His church board thought their rural community was aging and had few families moving into it. However, the data said otherwise. In reality, the area’s population grew 24 percent since 2000, primarily from new families.

Because the board hadn’t seen any new housing developments, members assumed they lived in an area with “no growth.” They hadn’t noticed the subtle changes—a house here, a trailer there, a younger family replacing an older, empty-nest couple. Not only did the data reveal these families, but it also showed these families spent an average 45 minutes commuting, demonstrating a need for more support for after-school programs for children.

Identifying community needs truly starts by identifying the community. ”Demographics allow you an opportunity to look at your community in a different, more critical way,” Niedringhaus says.

So how do you collect the data? United Methodist Communications provides demographic information free, usually within a day of a request.  United Methodist Communications provides data for 2000 and 2008, plus forecasts for 2013. You can find answers to questions such as: Is my area becoming more ethnically diverse? Are more households having children? Are we seeing more two-income families? Is the population “aging”?

“The investment a church makes is a willingness to look at their community without the filter of their preconceptions,” Niedringhaus says.

“Making good marketing decisions is not a function of budgets,” he explains. “Good marketing comes from a superior understanding of your internal and external audiences, and developing programs and ministries that meet their needs.”