I mentioned recently that I was reading Greg Stielstra’s Pyromarketing, and wondering whether and how it might be applied to church outreach. Stielstra was the architect of The Purpose Driven Life marketing campaign which began by recruiting 1200 pastors to offer the “40 Days of Purpose” series in their churches as a way to get the word out about the book.

Here are the four steps and my thoughts on how it might apply to church outreach: I’m thinking out loud here.

1. “Gather the driest tinder: Focus your promotions on those people most likely to buy, benefit from, and then enthusiastically endorse your product or service.” Every church has people it can reach more easily than others. Sometimes that is geographic and sometimes it is demographic. It also has to do with reaching out to people who are already coming toward you, who are motivated to hear your message. (On the other hand, we are not only called to minister to people “just like us.”)

2. “Touch it with the match: To the extent you can, give people an experience with your product or service.” Stielstra is practicing what he preaches by offering the free audio download and other resources on his site. For churches, this might mean a two-step approach: giving people an experience outside the church walls in some way, and giving them an experience within the church walls.

3. “Fan the flames: Fanning the flames means giving people tools to help them spread your message throughout their social network. People spread messages more effectively than advertising.” Many people who join a church were invited by someone they know. Giving people tools means more than telling them they ought to invite theier friends. If a church offers some experiences as suggested in number 2, those could be opportunities for people to spread the message by inviting someone to an intriguing event outside the church or within its walls.

4. “Save the coals: Saving the coals means keeping a record of the people you encounter through your marketing so you can quickly and easily reach them to fan the flames or to tell them about new products that match their interests.” Does your church have a way to track visitors? To find out their interests? Are there creative ways you might contact them about programs that fit their interests and needs?

Church is not just about marketing, of course. But I wish that when I was a local church pastor I’d known a tenth of what I’ve learned about marketing in recent years. What do you think?

2 replies on “

  • Margaret Marcuson

    Israel, thanks for raising these important questions. I do think that marketing can be undertaken in a self-defined way, although it is not easy. When we think clearly as a congregation about who we are and who we can best serve, and how do we want to say who we are to the community, that can be growth-producing.

    I think a generation ago pastoral training focused more on the shepherd leadership function, and the focus now is more on the organizational. As you point out, both are important and difficult to balance.

  • IGalindo

    Pastors of congregations straddle two functions: (1) faith community leader (shepherd) and (2) organizational leader. For better or worse, while congregations are by nature a type of community, they are also a type of organization. Few pastoral leaders seem able to balance the two different leadership functions required of those two elements—which at time, are contradictory and at cross-purposes. Some pastors over-focus on the organizational-institutional aspect. They love to read business management, marketing, organization, and “leadership” books. Others are more “shepherd”-oriented. They love spending time with the people more than they do planning, administrating or thinking about institutional development. So much so, that they often neglect caring for the institution in necessary and appropriate ways.

    I suspect that marketing books appeal to the first rather than the latter. As important as it may be, it’s hard to know how much weight to give to concepts like marketing and branding for a church. When does self-definition and identity degenerate into image-managing and branding? At what point is marketing a type of corporate pseudo-self?

    I don’t have any answers, just questions.


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