Church events offer marketing lessons
When I was a kid, attending religious services was serious business.
Members of the congregation wept for the dearly departed at funerals. They followed the Crucifixion story in Stations of the Cross. They listened to often confusing and macabre tales in Lenten Gospels.
Even weddings sometimes took on a somber note, especially if the bride was obviously pregnant. And then something changed. Going to church took on an entirely new tone.
This fall, United Church of Christ in East Goshen is throwing an Apple Butter Festival. Providence Church in West Chester begins an eightweek course called “Emotionally Healthy Relationships.” St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Exton is staging an Angelfest Fair.
Without any formal hoopla, religious institutions have become masters of event planning, a skill formerly practiced by marketing departments in large corporations. You think I jest? If you type church marketing into your computer search engine, you’ll come up with more than 100,000 different hits.
“Developing a church marketing plan is nothing more than setting goals and making a todo list that will get you there,” writes Sarah Weber at blog. d2design.com. “It’s really not much different than planning a party.”
So why the shift? Apparently, churches – like most other organizations – are continually trying to increase their rolls.
It’s an uphill battle, with an increasing number of 20-somethings disavowing formal religious affiliations, causing a growing number of churches to compete for a dwindling market of potential members.
What better way than to come up with innovative events to attract first-time visitors, especially young adults?
“Most church leaders want to see the people who attend their churches grow into fully committed followers of Christ,” says an article entitled “52 Ideas for Your Church” at www. factsandtrends.net. “We’re especially interested in
Having read numerous church promotions, I have come to believe that many sectarian event planners can learn a thing or two about planning heavenly events from the church crowd. To wit:
• Search for proven ideas. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In this internet age, you can copy events held in far off places such as California, Texas and Illinois. The concepts will be fresh in Honey Brook or Chadds Ford. One website I recently ran across was a brainstorming list published by members of a church in South Carolina. Their offbeat thoughts included providing free babysitting for a “Moms Night Out.”
• Write intriguing titles. Personally, if I were in my early 20s, I might be reluctant to accept an invitation to “College Graduation Party.” But name the
same event “Burgers and Beer Extravaganza” and I would be in. Just guessing, of course. I applaud Calvary Fellowship in Downingtown for calling its upcoming couples event a “Weekend to Remember.”
• Engage people. Why go to a dinner filled with lousy entrees and boring speeches? If you want people to attend a 50th anniversary party for your parents, why not set up a Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire type game where guests come up with answers for questions about your mom and dad? Prizes could be 50 items such as pennies, pencils and Hershey’s kisses. Use your imagination, just like the United Methodist Church of the Open Door in Downington. It’s having a series of discussions about race based on the popular TED talks.
• Target the market. Most churches have events
for different groups: youth, singles, couples, newcomers and the like. Instead of trying to attract everyone on Earth to your event, focus on a specific group. An example would be a Dog Wash to raise funds for a horse-riding therapy group. Obviously, you should cross animal haters off your contact list.
• Use social media. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Get the word out any way you can, just like churches do. If you have been invited to a wedding lately, you probably have discovered that most couples today create a website exclusively about their big day. Many brides and grooms are entirely foregoing traditional paper invitations. I recently received a video invitation delivered via email.
• Tie into big names. Several Chester County churches currently are sponsoring financial peace seminars based on books
and videos by money guru Dave Ramsey. His photo appears on many of their websites. Celebrities draw. Think about it. If you came across an advertisement for a presentation on making documentary films, would you be more likely to go if it featured Joe No Name or PBS superstar Ken Burns?
• Capture data. When was the last time you went to a funeral or a wedding without a guest book at the entrance to the place of worship? You should put one out at your event, too. Be sure to include a space for email addresses and text numbers.
• Ask for feedback. At the end of an event, you may be hoping you never again have to go through all the work involved in planning and staging one. But, just in case, hand out written forms giving participants a chance to tell you what they liked and disliked about your efforts.
That way, next time around, you can build on the positives. God willing.
Kathleen Begley of East Goshen owns Write Company Plus. She gives communications seminars and writes for business publications. In entertaining and informative training sessions, Begley helps clients achieve success by teaching them ways to present with confidence, write without stress, deal with difficult people – and more. She has taught at 12 colleges and universities around the nation, including the MBA program at Penn State Great Valley. Begley produces this column packed with news-youcan-use tips every Sunday in the Daily Local News. She responds to all reader feedback. You can reach her at KBegley@ writecompanyplus.com.