Gene Mason is the Communications Minister at the 5,000-member The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala. He’s been doing communications ministry in local churches for 18 years, and this is the third church where he’s started such a ministry. He also runs a web site called Communicorps.org that shares some of what he’s learned.
You’re the Communications Minister at your church—what do you actually do?
Mason: My department (ministry) is responsible for all media and promotion, including print, the web, video, displays, press relations, writing, editing, filming, photography, etc. We also handle all the technologies for our church (IT, copiers, printers, network), since we use it the most.
What’s your background and experience in the communications field?
Mason: I’ve been doing church communications for 18 years. I actually came into it from the computer end, having trained folks on Macintosh systems back in the late 80s. God called me to use my talents in technologies and graphic arts for the church in 1987. At that time, church communications wasn’t really on the radar. I did primarily print media for the first 5 years or so. I was blessed to grow into and learn on the job for nearly a decade before a clear mission and vision for communications in the church got solidified in my mind.
What’s your vision for communicating the message of your church?
Mason: At The Church at Brook Hills, my desire is to use tools at our disposal to effectively communicate the message of the church to inform and inspire. Our effort centers in five areas:
- Imagination – creative use of promotional tools
- Innovation – presenting things in a fresh way
- Integration – using all the media means at our disposal together in an effective way
- Involvement – coaching lay leaders to communicate
- Inspiration – telling the stories of God at work in people’s lives
What’s a communications ministry? Is it volunteers doing marketing? Should every church have one?
Mason: Communications Ministry is really centralizing the media, means and methods of communication, just like we have one team to clean the facilities and one team to do the finances and one team to care for children. It’s the steward of the church’s information and message. It is really a servant ministry because rather than initiate programs or events, we serve the other ministries of the church to make their programs and events more successful. About 1/3 of our work is done by volunteers, the other 2/3 by staff. I think every church needs a communications ministry.
What’s your vision for Communicorps.org?
Mason: Communicorps.org is really just a brain spill that has happened over the last 5 years or so. It’s a collection of things we have learned in Communications Ministry (do’s and don’ts) as well as some of our resources for the creative process. There’s also some downloadable work we’ve done over the years that we want to share. The desire is really just to use the site to connect with people who do similar tasks in the church and learn from one another.
What kind of work has your communications ministry done?
Mason: Right now our workload is about 1/3 print media, 1/3 website and 1/3 video. Over the years we’ve gradually shifted away from print media to online media, and I think that will continue. We’ve done magazines, direct mail, brochures, large displays, specialized websites for specific events, video segments for promotion, DVDs, press conferences.
What type of marketing have you had the most success with?
Mason: I know it’s a cliché, but word of mouth is the most effective means of “marketing” the church. Our biggest wins have been when we put tools in the hands of our own members to use in inviting their friends. The church is a community, and there is no more effective means to draw others into a community than a personal invitation. When we market, we’re not thinking, “How can we connect this ad with the lost community.” We’re thinking, “How can we use this to help our entire church body connect with them?” People forget ads. They remember the relationships they form with others.
How important do you think marketing is to the growth of a church?
Mason: I don’t think church growth really comes from marketing. There are so many factors involved in a growing congregation—the Bible teaching, worship, adequate children’s facilities, mission and vision, history of church, staff personalities, parking, schedule, community makeup, housing starts—believe it or not these factor in much more than marketing to the long term growth of a church. Often overlooked fact: Very few growing churches are not located in growing communities. A church can often market it’s way to a spurt of high attendance, but I’ve not seen marketing lead to long-term growth.
And let’s be careful and define growth. Growth to me is not Christians bouncing from one congregation to another. It is people not associated with any church becoming an attendee of a church and (hopefully) making a connection with Christ. Another often overlooked fact: Most growing churches can point to 75% or more of their growth being those who are already believers. Moving eggs from one basket to another doesn’t make more eggs. I’m not sure why growth at the expense of dying congregations or population shifts is considered “real growth” by most churches. When it comes to growth, I’m thinking, “What are we adding to the Kingdom?”
It’s important not to read too much “secular marketing” philosophy into the church—what motivates a consumer is not what motivates someone toward Christ. The Holy Spirit is at work in our realm and we can’t discount the work of God drawing people to Himself by thinking that marketing is creating that draw or desire. It doesn’t—God does.
What good marketing does do is help the church “fire on all cylinders.” It helps the church be more consistent in it’s message and vision. It gives the members confidence that they know what’s going on. It helps to alleviate misunderstanding. It clarifies. It helps focus the church on a central theme or thrust.
I’ve seen many successful churches with really bad marketing. But I notice, revisit and learn from the churches with the best marketing, because their message is clear, concise, consistent and easily grasped.
What’s the biggest mistake churches make when it comes to marketing?
Mason: Not taking it seriously. If our message is the most important thing… If we really want to share who we are with others because we know that life in Christ is better, and that it’s one critical relationship in life—then why don’t we devote the resources to making that message clear, concise, sharp and effectively presented? So many churches have great facilities, fine preachers, wonderful music and you’d never know it. We use insider language and judgmental tones, we’ve turned double-talk into an art form, we communicate through a haze of unclear newsletters, month-old web pages and neon direct mail cards, and it just turns off those we supposedly want to reach.
Information has become a top commodity in the world. Yet the church is a very poor steward of information. We need to apply the same level of stewardship and accountability to our words and vision that we do to our dollars and cents.
Who are your marketing heroes and why?
Mason: Of course, Disney. Proctor & Gamble. GE. Apple. They’ve made an art out of communicating a message. Their marking isn’t even really about their products so much as the emotion their products evoke. My marketing heroes are usually companies (versus churches) that I look at and think, “Those guys really believe in what they are doing.”
Very few churches are in that category for me. How many churches can you look at in terms of marketing and say, “Those guys really believe in what they are doing?” I think Willow Creek is effective. Southeast Christian in Kentucky. Saddleback. Fellowship Church. Brooklyn Tabernacle. I keep these churches bookmarked in my browser for the same reason that most other ministers do—they know where they are going and why and can explain it clearly to others.
Look at the effort that companies put in to crafting their message—and all they get to do is make money. We get to have a role as God changes lives for eternity. I wish there were more marketing heroes in the church. I’d like to think we relish the opportunity we’ve been given and would push ourselves to the very best in communicating our message. It’s such a privilege. Why are so few of us shouting “Seize the day!” and making something of it?