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Behavioral Marketing

January 6, 2005 by

I was reading a post titled “News from Australia” on Seth Godin’s blog (author of the marketing books Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside) a few days ago. The second half of the post talks about a dentist who gets much happier after firing his “C” patients; those who complain constantly, don’t pay on time (or ever) and make his life miserable. I was reminded of my time in retain marketing when we’d joke that we’d love a churn rate of 2% (losing 2% of our customers every month), if we could hand-pick the 2% that left.

Now, in the church, we simply can’t ask people to leave. Right? Right… I’m always telling my clients not to make assumptions, and that when they come to hard-and-fast rules that they’re sure they can’t do without, they should stop and spend some time looking at them very carefully. Sometimes we build an entire edifice around one very small brick that we’re sure we can’t move, reshape or get rid of, simply because we’re afraid to question something that has been there so long. “Sacred cow” being the term we’re familiar with.

I’m not even going to propose an answer here, but I’m going to ask a question: what would you do if you found out that the negative behavior of 2% of your membership was responsible for severely limiting the growth and renewal of your church?

In marketing you sometimes run into these weird situations where, for some reason, you end up hanging on to a product that no longer fits in with your brand, your new product line, your store design or your image. And every now and then you have to make a decision to lose a product that may still have some “shelf life” or appeal to certain customers, because it is, frankly, hurting the overall business plan of the organization.

Now, I am in no way saying that Christianity changes the way fashion and retail trends do. I am also not suggesting that anyone ever be asked to leave your church because they are difficult, ornery, hard-to-please or what-have-you. I’m one of those people, and, yowza… we need the Lord more than anyone. But, from a marketing standpoint, the behavior of your members does have an effect on the growth and success of your church (as well as the mental and emotional well-being of your clergy and staff).

Healing some kinds of negative behavior may end up being one of the most important marketing programs your church ever undertakes.

Post By:

Andy Havens


Andy Havens brings 15 years of experience to the table and is the founder and president of the marketing firm Sanestorm, as well as a number of different blogs. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his wife, Christina, and his son, Daniel.
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4 Responses to “Behavioral Marketing”

  • kevin
    January 6, 2005

    Right on, Andy! I was a little worried about where you were going at first, but you came through in the end. The church is one of those marvelous places where people who are jerks, selfish, rude, loud and just plain impossible (I’ve often been some of those things) are welcomed with open arms.
    While we’d never want to change that fact, we do need to recognize that we messy people sometimes make it difficult for others to want to be around us. Healing is definitely what’s needed. Being aware of these things and dealing with them, as opposed to just shaking our heads and moving on is what needs to happen.
    It’s also fun to notice the other point from the Australian dentist: his ultimatum to those clients who stayed on was that they had to refer three people. What if a “requirement” for church membership/attendance (and I use quotes because no one would want this to be a legalistic rule) was that you brought three people to church over the course of a year?


  • Brian Baute
    January 6, 2005

    I’ve been thinking a good bit lately about church membership issues and how it’s such a moment-in-time thing. There are requirements to BECOME a member, but no requirements to REMAIN a member usually. Some have remedied this by changing “membership” to something like “covenant partnership” with ongoing requirements for some level of participation in and giving to the community. It’s a fine line to walk and we must not become legalistic with it, but I’d welcome a change that would make church membership meaningful (because in our current state it’s not).


  • Andy Havens
    January 6, 2005

    I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine recently about the nature of “good acts” in relationship to religion. In most religion, acts are necesarry in order to “prove” that you are good enough to be a member and then earn status of some kind. Funny thing about Christianity, though, is that to get in, you have to abandon the idea that you are, in any way, worthy. You aint. Nothing you can ever do will make you worthy. Grace and mercy, baby. Grace and mercy. Once you’re in, though, you want to do good things to be more like Him who let you in.
    What is the goal of “The Church?” That’s the whole church, Body of Christ, all denominations put together. Stated simply, I’d say it’s to bring more people into a relationship with Christ and to improve the relationship with those already there. More Christians, better Christians. So marketing has two roles to play; evangelizing and customer satisfaction.
    Once someone is in the church, then, they should be involved in; 1) improving their own Christian life, 2) helping others in their walk, 3) helping bring in new members. How far along in #1 you should be before working on 2 and 3 is an excellent question. We don’t let 8-year-olds teach adult Sunday School for a reason. And we don’t let new converts go evangelize either. Or we shouldn’t, except in very rare instances.
    Levels of membership maybe? New member? Growing member? Learning member? Apprentice? Journeyman? Tutor? Helpmeet? Apostle? Marketing Member? Evangelist Member? Community Growth Member? Just Want to Sit Here and Not Explode Member?
    Not sure if this really relates to this post, but I felt like rambling and didn’t want to do it as a main blog entry.


  • srotpar
    January 7, 2005

    Thanks for the article Andy although I disagree with part of your second post. You state at the end of it “we don’t let new converts go evangelize either. Or we shouldn’t, except in very rare instances.” yet in your article you recognize that “But, from a marketing standpoint, the behavior of your members does have an effect on the growth and success of your church”
    New “converts” are the best tool for sharing Christ with the world outside of the church and especially inside! They haven’t developed the weird looking deformities that the rest of us have at least not to the extent of mine.
    Why do we (the church) keep acting like there is some kind of hierarchy. Look at Jesus, walked up to guys said folow me and then they were fully engaged in His mission, sure He trained them as they went along and they eventually stepped out on their own, but he never gave them second class membership.



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