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This Isn’t What I Ordered

April 16, 2009 by

I love a menu with lots of pictures, I’m much more apt to order what looks good than what sounds good. I’m a visual guy, that’s just how I’m wired. But when I order that steak that looks so good on the menu and you bring me something that looks like something just short of a hamburger … big fail. (here are some great examples) I think there’s something for the church to learn here.

I’m a big advocate of setting expectations that you can achieve and better yet, go way above. So often marketing fails to set up a realistic expectation, which leaves nothing but a bad taste in your mouth (pun intended).


You want diversity in your church. Awesome. But just because you find a stock photo of a Hispanic family for your web site, doesn’t make you diverse. In fact, you’ve set someone up for failure for when they walk through your doors, excited to find a place where they can feel welcome and not feel like an outsider to look around and see not a single Hispanic couple in the building.

Or maybe you want to be the cool hip church like the one down the road. So you put together a super cool, edgy billboard campaign and the people come in droves … into a church that delivers a very traditional, conservative atmosphere. Think they’ll ever be back?

Marketing is an inside out endeavor. It’s easy to find the right stock photo that shows the perfect family, hire a company like ours to put together the next campaign–it’s easy to set a high expectation. But if we don’t meet those expectations, we’re going to let people down, we’re not going to connect with them.

That’s why knowing who you are as a church and as a ministry is so valuable. That’s why a logo can’t just be a pretty mark, it needs to show your personality. That means you must first understand who you are. Spend time getting to know you and being true to that throughout all that you do.

If you want to be diverse, begin by being diverse. If you want to be hip … probably time to lose the polyester suit coat. Start from the inside and work your way out.

Post By:

Michael Buckingham


With the goal of making the church the most creative place on the planet, Michael founded Holy Cow Creative, the church’s creativity and design studio. He is also the creative director for the Center for Church Communication and Church Marketing Sucks. You can find him speaking at conferences such as HOW, Echo, and MinistryCOM. Check out his blog, Jesus Hates Papyrus, where he continues to help the church intentionally reflect Christ in how it communications.
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6 Responses to “This Isn’t What I Ordered”

  • Eric Partin
    April 16, 2009

    I thought the same things when we planted our church in a town of a demographic of 97% white. To do pictures of a church with many different ethnicities, which seems to be popular with churches as well as Madison Avenue, would be lying. At the same time, to do pictures of just white families would speak that other races were not welcome. So, in our first post card, we thought about what made our town unique and went with the landmarks that said, this was Destin and so is this church. We had good response it it.
    The other dynamic that I thinks goes with your post but is marketing too is the practice of over promising and under delivering. Most of the time, that is communicated verbally, not just through billboards, etc,
    “this week will change your life” or “this will be the most powerful series we have done.”
    For me, verbally, I would rather under promise and over deliver.


  • Thanks Michael. You raise a three critical marketing issues here – genuineness, authenticity, and transparency. So many people investigate a church online before they step in the door. The online representation (whether or not it includes stock photos) had better come close to reality. The church’s trust factor is at stake and will be completely destroyed if the two are not congruent.
    However, if they do match, you score major points and have a much greater probability of building on the relationship. So many churches fail to realize the correlation and the impact their web site plays.


  • Nancy
    April 17, 2009

    How true! I have thought the same thing! Why do we do this? Jesus says to mingle with the people. Take an interest in them and what they are doing. The rest is false advertising!


  • Mark
    April 18, 2009

    You wrote:
    >”You want diversity in your
    >church. Awesome. But just
    >because you find a stock photo
    >of a Hispanic family for your
    >web site, doesn’t make you
    >diverse.”
    Interesting question! Lets take it a step further. If you post a photo on your church website of people who don’t even go to your church (hispanic or not) isn’t that deception? What does the Bible say about deception?
    How many sins are committed daily by church marketing efforts?
    Next week we can talk about the idea of slapping a copywrite on the word of God and claiming it as our own intellectual property, not God’s. How many Christians are going straight to hell over that one?


  • Mark
    April 19, 2009

    One thing that bugs me in the UMC is how we purposefully do this with our leadership.
    It’s false advertising. False diversity. And, it’s a tremendous lie about who we are.
    We are as segregated as anyone on Sunday mornings (huge sin), but whenever the cameras take a picture of our leadership, we look like the most diverse group in the USA.
    Perhaps if we want diversity, we should work at planting churches that are intentionally diverse!?!
    AND, making our churches welcoming to everyone…of any color or race.


  • ryan guard
    April 20, 2009

    I would never wear a polyester suit coat… I’d sweat like TD Jakes in that thing.
    Sweet post. Keep it coming.



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