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Does Church Marketing Still Suck?: Meredith Gould

Does Church Marketing Still Suck?: Meredith Gould

July 1, 2014 by

Editor’s Note: We’re thrilled to have Meredith Gould kicking off this 10-year anniversary series asking if church marketing still sucks. We’ll be discussing this question all month long and we welcome your input. As part of the anniversary festivities, we’re giving away copies of Meredith’s book, The Social Media Gospel. Read on for details.

Has it really been a decade since Church Marketing Sucks launched? Happy and blessed anniversary to you/us!

Church Marketing Sucks has been my guiding light for as long as church communication has been my ministry; a source of inspired commiseration when combining the words “church” and “marketing” were viewed as vaguely (or fully) satanic.

These days, “church marketing” is viewed more favorably and church communication is (pretty much) viewed as a valid, vital and valued ministry. I believe we have online digital technology in general and social media in particular to thank for this change of mind and heart. As a result, content sucks less, possibly because anyone with a passion for sharing the gospel can log online and provide great content.

Church Web Design
But some aspects of church marketing still stuck. In my (rarely) humble opinion, church website design still sucks. True content management systems have made it possible for church communicators to rescue the church website from IT (i.e., HTML coding) hostage situations. But that doesn’t—and hasn’t—automatically rescued church websites from being hobbled by stunningly poor navigation, horrid design (some of which is trendy to a fault), and sub-optimal content. Sucks.

Strategy First?
What also still sucks is the Empty Tomb silence church communicators often encounter when insisting that everyone start with strategy—identifying audience(s), clarifying goals, and crafting messages.

I believe church marketing would suck less if we could persuade our good-intentioned sisters and brothers in Christ to focus on that before diving into tactics and tools. No pressure, but I’m counting on Church Marketing Sucks to make that happen long before another decade passes. Can I get an amen?

Anyone with a passion for sharing the gospel can log online and provide great content.

Does Church Marketing Still Suck?
What about you? Do you think church marketing still sucks? Share your thoughts in the comments and be entered to win a free copy of Meredith Gould’s book, The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways (see our review). Here’s how to enter:

  1. Post a comment below answering the question, “Does church marketing still suck?”
  2. We’ll draw three winners at random on Friday, July 4 to receive free copies of Meredith’s book.
  3. One entry per person, legit email required so we can request your address if you win, [insert other disclaimers and addendums here].

Congrats to our winners: Rebeccas Llenos, Michele Koch & Anne Tanner.

So… does church marketing still suck?

Post By:

Meredith Gould


Meredith Gould ​is a sociologist, digital strategist and author ​ of 9 books, whose most recent one is The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways. ​Learn more: MeredithGould.com​.
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34 Responses to “Does Church Marketing Still Suck?: Meredith Gould”

  • Sarah Thomas
    July 1, 2014

    Does church marketing still suck? Yes and no. As someone who was in high school in 2004 (you’re welcome), I don’t have the long term perspective of you veterans, but in my experience on the inside of the church over the past few years, I have witnessed both sides. I absolutely agree with Meredith on the web design front. Look at your average church on the corner, and their website is either neglected or a huge encyclopedia of unnecessary information. The website I am in charge of is an awkward mix of the two…hoping to remedy that asap.

    But I do know that without CMSucks, I would be a lot more lost than I am in the process. Happy 10th Anniversary!


  • Nick S
    July 1, 2014

    It’s better than it was 10 years ago, but as Meredith disscused, it is too often (and painfully obvious) when strategy is not involved or reduced to an afterthought in marketing efforts. Just because you have tools and volunteers to do something, doesn’t mean you should.

    In regards to websites, I am surprised at how difficult it is (still) to find the information visitors (meaning visitors in the church sense) need to see (i.e. Where do I go and what time should I be there).


    • Amazing how many websites leave off the only information people really want: worship times, directions, contact info. No joke, I’ve worked with churches that just didn’t have this info on their websites but had picture sliders, (crappy) headshots of their leadership, and lengthy descriptions of every fit-fartin’ ministry anyone ever launched.


  • Sarah Kershaw
    July 1, 2014

    It seems like marketing has gotten better over the last 10 years.

    Yes I agree that many websites still suck. The problem is you can get really quality sites but they’re still so expensive. Small churches like mine just don’t have the budget for monthly fees so we stick with Dreamweaver and CSS site templates. :(

    However, other than finding our church through our website I think most of our online presence is mostly through Facebook and now Twitter.

    (Can I say Christian movies still suck?)


    • Kevin D. Hendricks
      July 1, 2014

      You can totally say Christian movies suck. But we’re not going to start that site. ;-)

      My church can’t afford monthly fees for a site either, but we’re using WordPress and it’s been a huge step forward. Still not awesome, but a big improvement.


    • Sarah: Try WeeblyPro. Affordable, easy-to-use. You/whomever still needs to have UX smarts, some design sense, and great content but it’s even easier to use and maintain than WordPress. In the past year I’ve designed and rebuilt local church and judicatory-level sites with WeeblyPro. Use it for my own site. Check it out.


  • Susan Kleinwechter
    July 1, 2014

    “Does church marketing still suck?” Yes. Although websites using a content management system have freed sites from IT gurus, and nimble social media has flattened structures and interconnected people in new ways, too many churches remain mired in outdated thinking about digital communications. As a result, many church websites and social channels still take a back seat or stagnate from lack of quality content. Churches can indeed blame the fast pace of technology & communications change for marketing suckage. Thankfully, in the age of internet learning, sites like Church Marketing Sucks have helped inspire, encourage, and equip communications leaders who’ve stopped saying, “We can’t do this new stuff like websites and social media.” Thanks for 10 years of fueling transformation!


  • Edith
    July 1, 2014

    It’s SLOWLY getting better. I try and put up-to-date, useful info. on the church website but it’s difficult getting info. from others. I include links to Sunday readings, photos of recent events (YouTube video) that can be paused, started and stopped when the user wants and coming events.

    I’m afraid though that a lot of church websites still lack up-to-date info.

    We’re also on facebook and twitter but a lot of churches don’t post very much very often.

    Hopefully it continues to get better in the future.


  • D. Harris
    July 1, 2014

    Yes, Church marketing still sucks! But I’m truly hopeful. I look at my own church and where we were 2 years ago when I joined our communications team as a member to where we are now as it’s chair. The future is bright. We’ve got some big plans, including a web relaunch with website that energetic and responsive like our parishioners. We have new members who also have marketing and tech backgrounds who make upgrading our approach possible. It just takes time and a little bit of patience, and maybe a few prayers.


  • Anne Tanner
    July 1, 2014

    Church marketing must reflect the individual church itself. And there’s the problem: few churches can do an elevator description of what makes their church unique (or unusual, or different). In my last public relations position we would be summoned each month to receive the latest New Idea, and the next month was to be spent trying to create it whether it fit the organization or not. Last week I thought I must have been propelled backward to those days–someone suggested that churches get rid of their church, which costs money to maintain and stands empty some or most of the time. Where my particular congregation would meet in a cold Iowa February was not explained. And how would I market that churchless church? No matter how I did it, it would suck. So yes, church marketing still does suck frequently, but if we would do the hard work of defining ourselves, it wouldn’t have to.


  • Michele Koch
    July 1, 2014

    Yes, Church Marketing still sucks when it comes to websites. I’m always aghast when I see a site that is either overly designed with bad navigation, out of date content, or a cookie-cutter site from one of those “we do church websites” places. Fortunately, our site gets good reviews from guests who found us because of our site. It’s got just enough design to be attractive, is a responsive, and is updated almost daily by yours truly.


  • Bethany
    July 1, 2014

    Yes, church marketing can still suck… But it doesn’t have to anymore. The resources, opportunities, training, and mindset of church communicators has transformed quite a bit over the last 10 years, and we’re not stuck with anything. Even a church with no budget for web design and whatnot can accomplish fantastic things.

    My church has far to go. But then I remember that the big picture isn’t my web design (or lack thereof) or graphics or whether the leadership has marketing as a priority like I do–the priority is the Gospel, and whatever little part I play in getting to communicate that–not simply market it–is a service to Christ.


  • Trisha
    July 1, 2014

    It does still suck, but at least it sucks less.

    I think the hardest part is making people realize that you have to market in so many different ways, because congregations have such a variety of people that respond differently to different marketing strategies.

    The fact that we are trying new things is a HUGE step forward!


  • Lauryn
    July 1, 2014

    ”Yes” to Meredith’s point about strategy and audiences. I think we too often put the ministry before the ”minister-ee” and miss the whole point of communication. I think that finding the right balance between what the audience is looking for and pastoral direction is the key to UN-sucking church marketing.

    To your question, I think we DO indeed suck less than 10 years ago. Thanks for your role in that, CMS!


  • ikechi
    July 2, 2014

    Church marketing does not suck much but I think churches are not yet there when it comes to church marketing. I see churches who still struggle to embrace technology for ministry.

    Some churches still hold on to old methods of marketing like using megaphones on the streets, screaming at people to come to their churches, distributing fliers and making announcements on the pulpit.


  • rick
    July 2, 2014

    Church marketing does lag behind. There are lots of reasons for that. People interested in applying marketing and creative talents in church communications know many of them. Budgets, not wanting to offend volunteers, not wanting to appear worldly, capable volunteers’ time being stretched too thin are some, but certainly not all, of the reasons.

    As I work on our publications committee (all volunteers) I try to share things I think will help us think strategically. After immersing myself in a study of church communications I found two things that seemed to come to the forefront: the best communications from the church connect people to Christ and let them know what their next step is, a call to action. I believe keeping these things in mind will help us focus as we do our part in spreading our story.


  • Theresa Decker
    July 2, 2014

    I don’t think church marketing sucks across the board anymore – certainly it still sucks in certain communities or churches that have simply turned a blind eye to what’s effective, strategic, and relevant in the world they’re attempting to minister to. However, as one commenter said, it doesn’t have to suck anymore because we now have excellent resources for improvement right at our fingertips, as well as the philosophy and rationale to motivate us. In the past 10 years, I’ve seen churches and faith-based parachurch organizations reach a tipping point in the argument for excellent church communications. And the tipping point is only itself the tip of the iceberg. It’s enough to start a revolution.

    I think one part of the on-going battle at the crux of church marketing is the inter-generational conversation among leaders who truly love the church and are invested in her success. Church work is not business, and it can be very difficult to initiate and endure those “crucial conversations” through to the end with people you care deeply for, but it’s something we must continue to do.


  • David arthur
    July 2, 2014

    Does all church marketing suck? No. But my own church? We’ll just say we have some room to grow…but I plan on doing that!


  • Lindow
    July 3, 2014

    Unfortunately our church website still struggles to look good, function well, and is not kept up to date. So I guess I have to say, our’s still sucks.


  • Laurie Dereszynski
    July 3, 2014

    It still kinda sucks. I’m maintaining a website that I wouldn’t have designed myself, trying to communicate online and in print for the older generation who have no desire or plan to connect digitally. I believe it is getting better. though.


  • Bonni Mace
    July 3, 2014

    Happy Anniversary CMS!

    I would say we do suck less, but we have a long way to go. Our greatest achievement yet is just the fact that the church is pushing for innovation again. The church used to be the innovators and we lost that along the way. I think it’s safe to say that many churches are over or getting over “but that’s how it’s done” syndrome and moving towards “how should it be done today?” We are getting really tired of short cuts and looking for really professional ways to present Jesus today. With that drive, we can only get better!


  • Paul Wright
    July 3, 2014

    Marketing is a lot more than website … but a website is supposed to serve a purpose. Yes, a website that doesn’t provide basic info sucks. A site that allows needed info to be found easily does not suck, eve if it is ” a cookie-cutter site from one of those “we do church websites” places”.

    1. Can people find your site?
    2. Can they find information on your site?
    3. Is the essential information up to date?
    4. Window Dressing.

    —–Paul—–


  • Rebecca Llenos
    July 3, 2014

    Does Church Marketing still suck? I believe it does…but if it didn’t, we wouldn’t work so hard to make it better. As a almost 10 year veteran, I have worked in two churches…one with big budgets and one with just as small budgets (current church) and the most interesting thing I have found is that the problems are the same..it is not so much about money, as it is about the staff and leadership and the direction in which the church is hoping to go.

    I am excited in my lower (much lower) budget and salary job to see my co-workers, clergy and lay leadership be open about Communication and that it is so much more than the weekly bulletin and web site, but that Communications also has to have strategy, planning and purpose.

    I use a lot of CMS info and references to back me up….thanks for giving me this resource and KEEP THEM COMING!


  • David
    July 3, 2014

    Church marketing stills sucks but not as much as 10 years ago of course. I think churches still have a long way to go when it comes to church marketing. There are many reasons that could be given as we try to shift the blame like lack of resources (human and capital) for me one of the major reasons I see churches who still struggle to embrace technology for
    ministry. For those who have embraced it their sites are not mobile friendly despite the recent trends that we are living in the mobile phone generation. The sites will take ages to open yet one will move away if it does not open in few seconds when browsing from the mobile phone. Others have out rightly rejected technology and still hold on to old methods
    of marketing like using posters and mega phones on the distributing fliers and the word of mouth hence being ineffective and it sucks.


  • Beth Shannon
    July 3, 2014

    I think when it comes to web design that CM can still suck. Sometimes all the information you want is in the website but it’s too difficult to find. The design isn’t logical. I also find trying to get everyone on board for an overall communication strategy is a challenge. I want to look big picture not at each individual event as it pops up. On the plus side, social media is bringing church communication into the 21st century and giving churches access to a greater audience.


  • Frank Sayford
    July 3, 2014

    Yes, it does still suck, but it’s worth keeping the faith. We are a small, urban congregation which means no professional [read: charges a fee] help and whatever we publish is strictly DIY. Not only must we do our own website development, but also try to understand Responsive Layout which i have yet to find any explanations for dummies like me. Church Marketing Sucks is a refreshing breath of air in addressing the needs of congregations like ours.


  • Pr. Michael Jannett
    July 3, 2014

    As a Georgia Tech grad with a B.S. In Computer Science, I can say, confidently, that church marketing sucks…but I’m trying to make it not suck.

    I’m a pastor of an ELCA (Lutheran) congregation in Murfreesboro, TN. At our area convention, I led a workshop entitled: “Website, and Emails, and Dollars, Oh My!” and referenced your site quite a bit (directly and indirectly).

    I have experience with websites and our church’s was horrendous. Now, not so much. I love that you mentioned planning! Our first two sessions for developing our website was mostly conversations around a white board. We discussed our identity and the flow of the site and what was essential information and where could we expand later on.

    In my workshop, I discussed planning, content-management tools, and even how to be careful when selecting your domain name.

    Anyway, I’d be happy to share more offline, but I really appreciate your articles and emails!!! (Is there a podcast coming soon???) : )


  • Lori Kay
    July 3, 2014

    Yes and No. There are some web sites that communicate very well what goes on with ministry and others that are hard to navigate. Personally I keep reading articles, blogs and surfing to get ideas – but then ask – does this communication piece I am working on convey the message to the target audience we are trying to focus on?


  • Alex
    July 5, 2014

    Meredith,

    Thought provoking post. I know that church marketing is a pain, but looking at it from the other side of the equation, finding a church can be equally as difficult.

    I think churches need to come clean and really express who they are when marketing to prospective new comers. Over 35 million people move each year and a hefty portion of those moving will end up looking for a new church home.

    I think a lot of times it’s just about being visible and making sure people know how to describe what you church is all about.

    Thanks, MyChurchMatch.com


  • Eric Dye
    July 11, 2014

    I completely agree. Thankfully, we have Church Marketing Sucks to help on reducing all church marketing sucky-ness. Keep up all the awesome, guys! :D



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