The Message Drives the Marketing

August 24, 2005 by

A recent article touts the high demand of marketing skills in church leaders, but unfortunately the article doesn’t entirely get it. On several fronts.

Civil Rights and Marketing
The article quotes a professor about the potential downsides of church marketing:

Thinking in terms of customers and markets, however, might not always bring out the best in a church leader, according to Jackson Carroll, a professor emeritus of religion and society and former director of research at the Pulpit & Pew Project at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He cites the example of Southern preachers who took up the cause of civil rights in the 1960s despite vehement local resistance.

“It didn’t help marketing at all,” Professor Carroll says. “People left churches in droves when pastors or leaders in the congregation took a strong stand in favor of integration, [but] they did it anyway.”

Today, he says, pastors who make marketing a top priority run the risk of fostering “a congregation that refuses to deal with issues of individual or social justice because it might offend someone.”

I hate to correct a professor, but Professor Carroll is a bit confused.


He claims supporting civil rights in the 1960s was bad marketing for churches, or at least “didn’t help marketing.” That assumes marketing is only concerned with not offending people, and that’s not at all what marketing is about.

Marketing is about communicating your message, and taking a stand in the civil rights movement was a tremendous way to communicate the message of the church. Certainly it offended people. But the aim isn’t butts in pews no matter the cost. Marketing has to stay true to the message. And with the hindsight of history, supporting the civil rights movement was probably one of the church’s better “marketing” moves in the entire 20th century. Obviously you don’t make a stand like that because of marketing, but rather your stand determines your marketing.

Marketing Is Not Numbers
The article continues to get it wrong when it confuses marketing with numbers in a sidebar poll that asks if it’s appropriate for churches to use marketing. The ‘no’ response says churches should “focus on their message, not their numbers.” Again, we’re a bit confused.

Your message determines your marketing which helps maximize the numbers. Marketing is not about numbers, but rather it’s about making the most of your resources, it’s about being a wise steward.

Marketing seeks to maximize a message’s impact; it serves the message, it definitely doesn’t serve the numbers. Numbers might suggest a change in method, showing what’s working and what isn’t, but it doesn’t change the message.

Justice is a message. Boycotts are a method.
Grace is a message. Events are a method.
Love is a message. Postcards are a method.

The methods can change, the message doesn’t.

Any marketing that attempts to undermine the message in order to boost the numbers is anemic and will eventually fail. Church marketing, and honestly any good marketing, must stay true to the message.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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3 Responses to “The Message Drives the Marketing”

  • Brian Baute
    August 25, 2005

    This is just another item in the avalanche of evidence that shows when people think about marketing they don’t think about the 4 P’s (product, price, placement, promotion) but the one P – promotion (aka advertising). And because they look at promotion in a vaccuum they think all else becomes a servant to promotion rather than promotion, as you rightly say, being the outworking of the other components.


  • M Squared T Blog
    August 25, 2005

    Marketing and Messages

    Another good one from Church Marketing Sucks:
    Marketing seeks to maximize a message’s impact; it serves the message, it definitely doesn’t serve the numbers. Numbers might suggest a change in method, showing what’s working and what isn’t, but it doe…


  • Paul Stein
    April 23, 2007

    Church Marketing — oxy moron or moronic statement? Marketing 101 is always to identify a need and seek to meet it. But isn’t church marketing to be held to a higher standard? Sure, the message cannot be compromised or else. But what about heart… is it possible to get great at blogging, squidoo and other strategies with the right message and still miss the point – love.
    The greatest of these is after all, love. May it drive every sexy marketing initiative and creative “wow” we are looking for in this journey called “church marketing”.



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