I am a church planter. By nature, that means that I am in the marketing business. (There is no way to start an organization if you don’t let people know about it.) Unfortunately, I have never been very good at marketing.
When we launched Traceway six years ago, I had no idea how to “brand” the church. Like many church planters, I thought if I created some eye-catching postcards I was a marketing genius. I never really considered the fact that the billboard space we would buy a few months later should be connected to those postcards. I knew which type of marketing would catch my eye; I just didn’t know how to execute a branding strategy for our church. I didn’t know how to pull it into a memorable, cohesive unit. I failed the branding test.
Asking for Direction
In late 2009, we began to ask God a branding question. We honestly didn’t even know it was a branding question, but we get it now. Our question was simple, “What do we need to do so that this community will see you when they look at us?” In other words, we were asking God, “What is your brand and how can we accurately reflect that?”
As we our church leadership focused on this prayer, we received an answer that shocked us. In fact, it made us go back and start praying again—this time with fasting thrown in! It was one of those, “Are you sure about this, God?” moments. The answer that God gave was not the answer we expected.
His answer? “I want you to give everything away. For one year, I want you to give all of your tithes and offerings to the people of this community who are hurting.”
Making It Happen
At first, we responded kind of like the rich young man from the Gospels. Our jaws hit the floor and we had to lean on our knees to catch our breath. We really did not know how this would work. But, we didn’t want to walk away sad. Therefore, we decided to give it our best shot.
From January through March of that year, we formulated a plan to reduce our budget. We also developed a strategy to raise outside funds and cover our financial necessities. Then, from April of 2010 through April of 2011, we gave away all of the tithes and offerings that were given to our church. Some of this money went to keep families out of foreclosure; some of it paid medical bills; some went toward buying a car for a man in dire circumstances; some went to buy groceries and pay light bills; but all of it went to our community. All of it went toward making disciples.
As ironic as it is, we now understand what God was doing. Not only was he actively sending us into our neighborhoods with his message, but he was also establishing our brand.
Generosity Is Our Brand
Do you remember the descriptions of the early church from the book of Acts? At several points in Luke’s account, we are told things like, “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:45). Acts says that Barnabas sold a field and gave the proceeds to the apostles to help “anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:35). Later, Paul begins an amazing Middle-Eastern journey to take up collections for the church in Jerusalem to help cover the needs of the persecuted believers.
Apparently, generosity was the brand of the early church. I know, it’s convenient for me to say that now—but I really think it’s true. The early church was defined by loving generosity. And just so you know, we didn’t make that connection right away. It was only after we started following this path that we realized the significance of the mission. As God shaped our young church plant, he was asking us to take on the brand of the early church.
In all reality, no one is going to confuse Traceway for the early church. We’re not even close. But, in spite of all of our failures, God has given us a marketing path that he wants us to follow. We have some major hurdles to work through as we transition this from a one-year project to a lifetime commitment. However, our outlook is much different now because we know where we are going. We have our brand.
Who Do You Want Us to Be?
If you’re struggling with church marketing, maybe you should change the question you’re asking. Instead of praying, “God, what do you want us to do?”, maybe you should ask, “God, who do you want us to be?” Find out God’s heart for your church community and pursue it passionately. From my personal experience, I believe that’s the best marketing plan that money can buy.
- Buy the book, Giving Away the Collection Plate: ReGifting God’s Love and Money by John Richardson
- Read our review.
- Check out Generous Church, an organization that helps churches embrace generosity (John is their communications director).
- Read more posts about the church and money.