Church events of­fer mar­ket­ing lessons

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - Kath­leen Be­g­ley Colum­nist

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.”

Amen.

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

youth.”

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.

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