Tony Morgan Thinks Churches Should Stop Marketing

November 18, 2008 by

Tony MorganTony Morgan, chief strategic officer at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., co-author of the Simply Strategic Series, former pastor at Granger Community Church and author of the soon-to-be-released Killing Cockroaches (and we’ve interviewed Tony and linked to him on dozens of occasions), says that marketing is evil and your church should stop.

So what is Tony talking about? Essentially, he says ministry trumps marketing. If we try to fix the church’s problems with marketing, we’re going to fail:

“Direct mail won’t fix your problem. Billboards won’t fix your problem. Neither will platform announcements or bulletin ads or bumper stickers. At some point marketing may be a good option, but until you answer the right questions, marketing could be what’s preventing your success.

If your church has stopped growing, marketing is not your solution. If you have stopped seeing life change, marketing is not the answer.”

And to that, we say amen.

But as much as we love Tony, he’s a little off base.

What is Marketing?
First off, marketing is a tool. It’s inherently neither good nor bad, it all depends on how you use it.

Secondly, marketing happens. Even if you say you don’t do marketing, you do marketing. Tony’s web site, by the way, is full of marketing. The way he pitched this, throwing out a teaser one week and then the explanation the next? Yeah, that’s marketing (though not very good marketing ).

Thirdly, marketing is not simply promotion. And this is really where Tony gets off base. He talks about marketing as though it’s only direct mail, billboards, web sites, etc. But he misses the bigger picture, that the real work of marketing happens long before you open up Photoshop and long before you even decide to do that fancy new campaign.

Marketing is all about making those big picture decisions about how you’re going to communicate your message. That component of marketing is too often skipped over by churches (and everyone else). When Tony says we should stop marketing, he doesn’t seem to be talking about this aspect of marketing. In fact, he seems to be encouraging this type of big picture thinking.

We can forgive Tony for confusing the issue of marketing because he ultimately gets it right (and we forgive him for telling people to stop reading this blog).

You can’t rely on low-level tactics like postcards or videos to grow your church. Marketing is a lot more than that, and to be effective it has to be a lot more than that. And frankly the message of the gospel deserves a lot more than that.

So is Tony Morgan Right?
Sort of. We’ll give him points for effort:

Is marketing evil?

No. But it can certainly be done poorly and in a way that deceives and corrupts people. That’s not cool. But it can also be done well.

Should churches stop marketing?

No. You can’t stop marketing. But it might make sense to put some of your promotions and tactics on hold and rethink your bigger strategy. Get back to the basics. But that doesn’t mean you stopped marketing. If anything, it means you’re doing smarter marketing.

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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20 Responses to “Tony Morgan Thinks Churches Should Stop Marketing”

  • Eric Dye
    November 18, 2008

    I think he has a really good point. If churches would spend more time and money helping those in need, they wouldn’t need marketing. It’s called, “Word of Mouth.” I’m all about wise marketing and good graphics, but that’s not Kingdom building.

  • Eric Granata
    November 18, 2008

    If Tony is taking this in the “less promotion, more ministry” direction then I agree. His delivery of that message, however, could use some work. It seems we’re debating semantics, with all this marketing vs promoting verbiage. Which is a fine thing to debate but might be clouding a valid point of Tony’s.

  • Doug
    November 18, 2008

    I think we’re parsing Tony’s comments a little. I think when he’s talking about “marketing,” he is referring to the intentional marketing that happens of a corporate nature…ones that require $$$. I think what he is saying is this: If you’ve got no life in your church, if people aren’t coming, there is no magical marketing ($$$) cure. Your people are the problem (and that may be YOU). The best marketing starts from the inside out, which is why viral is always the most effective. But no one wants to spread cancer, you know?

  • Brice Bohrer
    November 18, 2008

    Finally someone articulating what I thought the whole time reading Tony’s posts on this.
    thank you thank you.

  • James
    November 18, 2008

    Honestly, the sense I get is that he’s setting up a bit of a strawman here. Like you said, marketing happens. But I think the point he’s getting at is that all the money and effort and brainpower expended on presenting a public image or marketing campaign is useless unless there is something of substance there. And this is exponentially more important when you’re talking about a church or a ministry. If we’re not winning souls, discipling them, and reaching out (in every sense of the word) to our community, then all of our efforts are nothing but vapor and wasted resources. When we have something of real substance to offer them, then we have something worth marketing…

  • Paul
    November 18, 2008

    After having read the post a couple of times, commenting and blogging about it myself, I would say that this is a case of over-sensational language. It seems like throwing statements out there like marketing is evil, he is trying to draw a crowd, which he did. But the gist of the message doesn’t seem to confirm the statements. Either way, I lost a lot of respect reading this post.

  • Paul Stewart
    November 18, 2008

    Excellent response. Thank you for bringing clarification to Tony’s original post, which, I think was just written in that way to grab people’s attention (also marketing).
    I also found it ironic that 5 out of 7 of the sponsors on Tony’s blog are in the business of church marketing. Hmmmm…
    In my mind, marketing is nothing less than communicating an eternal truth to a lost community. It is about building the reputation the church has in its community.
    This involves everything from feeding the homeless to inviting the community to a sermon series via direct mail. It is communicating what the church does and who the church is at its core. It is taking control of the way the church is perceived in the community.

  • trevor
    November 18, 2008

    funny that the name of your deal is “church marketing sucks”. You might be making tony’s point for him.

  • Jonathan Brink
    November 18, 2008

    As the church went down the road to explore corporate ideas and strategies it would eventually run into the realization that the corporate world eventually runs into. No amount of marketing can fix a dead horse. No amount of cash or spin can make a fake presentation of the Gospel work. Eventually people get tired of the show and entertainment and ask if this is all there is. They want real discipleship and they are likely not getting it.

  • JC
    November 18, 2008

    Marketing is not evil. People who abuse marketing techniques are evil. I’m familiar with Tony’s blog and he’s the pot calling the kettle black. Between his blog and his church, their marketing is aggressive and very slick, from their sites to their over-the-top productions.
    Tony is pretty funny calling marketing evil when his blog is filled with sponsors. People who are supposed to be leaders in church should do their job and stop trying to be mini-web celebrities. Church leaders need to lead and should not even be talking about marketing. Leave marketing topics to experts.
    Too many preachers are attention junkies and their followers need to put them in their place…

  • SeanPdesign
    November 18, 2008

    A bad product is a bad product, and a good product sells itself.
    In essence a good product is your best marketing, and if its truly something for people to see its the only marketing you’ll need.

  • C. Holland
    November 19, 2008

    Whew! When I read Tony’s posts, I thought being a missionary in Europe had really skewed my thoughts about church marketing. I’m in agreement with both Church Marketing Sucks and all the comments here. Glad I wasn’t the only one that noted the marketing sponsors on his page.
    Calling marketing evil kind of reminds me of how people misquote 1 Timothy 6:10 when they say “Money is the root of all evil.” It’s not. “The love of money…” just like how you use marketing, not marketing itself.

  • David (Marketing Integrity)
    November 19, 2008

    You got it right. Marketing is communication. Seth Godin defines marketing as telling a story. The tools Tony is talking about are just that – tools. The church must never stop telling the life-changing story of Jesus!

  • David
    November 21, 2008

    Nice article. Tony is absolutely right on this. To many gimmicks and not enough substance. Church at times have gone the easy way to promote themselves rather than doing it the old fashioned grass roots effort of actually talking to people. We have to remember that marketing, branding, promoting, is just that, a tool and not the actual means to cause people t grow. Paul said it plainly, “I plant the seed, and Apollo will waer but its God who makes people grow.

  • Gene
    November 21, 2008

    I just wish Tony would smile. His pics always make him look so danged serious…

  • Jeff
    November 24, 2008

    nice post. i like the idea that churches can’t stop marketing. if you define marketing as communication of a brand or product/service, then the only way that you can stop marketing is by closing shop. fascinating.

  • Sara
    January 6, 2009

    Marketing is a tool. True. Marketing is a tool that promotes a product. (Let’s not confuse it with advertising, tho.) But what does ‘church’ marketing promote? Churches? That’s what I see more and more. Little shops inside churches promoting that church. On bookmarks, on bumperstickers, on coffee mugs. We want everyone to come to Our Church first and pout if someone stops coming to Our Church or chooses a different church over Ours. The Good News almost always comes second. And ‘xtian’ marketing… that’s an entirely different blog.
    I like what Shawn Claiborne wrote in his book Irresistible Revolution, quoted by a preacher he heard: “Christ is coming back for The Church, not a harem.”
    So what are we marketing anyway?

  • jeremy
    January 6, 2009

    Seems like it goes back to what Seth Godin says – your “substance” or product IS the marketing. That’s what makes your message spread. Something worth talking about is what effects action. “Promotion” is merely advertising, and if the product isn’t worth advertising, then there’s no reason to advertise. But if there’s something legitimately worth telling people about, if there’s substance to what you’re doing, then creating awareness can be a good thing. But all the advertising in the world can’t fix something that’s broken (taken from Wizard of Ads). So, yeah, marketing all the above – substance, design, message, advertising & promotion, but it’s easy to separate advertising & promotion and think that’s the full extent of marketing.

  • Anthony
    January 6, 2009

    If your church is ALIVE with the Spirit of God and founded on the true and balanced Word of God, then “marketing” will let more people know about it and the more people know about you – the more people they will then tell, and so on. However, if your church is as dead and dry as the first fruitcake ever made, then “marketing” will simply let more people know how dead and dry you are. EVERYTHING we do IS “marketing” – from the way we greet at the door, to how clean the building is,to your web site, to what kind of nursery/children’s/youth program/facilities you have. Marketing does NOT trump substance and should NEVER been seen as a substitute for Truth or Substance. We should be “wise as serpents, but harmless as doves” and use whatever legitimate AND Spirit led tools are available to promote the Kingdom of God.

  • Tisha
    January 7, 2009

    Wow Anthony!!! I believe you summed it all up…We are written epistles known and read by everybody.
    I do not think church marketing is evil, unless your motives are wrong. Just think…Our lives are marketing, so who are you really marketing for???

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