This Easter more than others I was surprised at the number of church flyers and brochures I found tucked under my windshield wipers and stuffed in my mailbox. I was invited to the open and affirming Baptist service, the gospel church two doors down from my apartment, the Vineyard, and a church that calls itself a fellowship, as in First Fellowship instead of just First Church. The mailers were all well designed and cheery, with spring-y birds and vines (sadly no bunnies), and Easter egg colors.
As a marketer, I wonder what kind of response rate churches find on their Easter Sunday mailers. Does anyone collect all of the little flyers and then decide to attend one service or another? How do churches measure ROI, or do they?
Churches have been marketing since revival preachers pitched their tents and members volunteered to rearrange the letters in those once-ubiquitous churchyard marquees. Now, churches use subway advertisements, billboards, and unique URLs pointing to integrated media-rich Web sites. Graphics are relevant, not clip art, thank God. They don’t use Papyrus font as often anymore. It’s no longer true that all church marketing sucks. Churches have got the tactics, the metrics, the staff, maybe even the agency.
But what’s the message? It can sometimes seem like the main objective of modern-day church marketing is to increase the number of butts-in-seats, especially on a church-marketing-saturated holiday like Easter. I’d like to go on the assumption that most of the marketing messages come from a sense of gospel: that churches believe they have good news to share.
If it’s the case that churches want to share good news and not just increase attendance, I suggest they take a cue from the Islamic Society of Boston, which has been running a series of ads in Boston’s MBTA featuring key ideas of Islam like equality and peace. Each ad includes a passage or two from the Qur’an, the Islamic Society’s logo and a url: presentingislam.org. The primary point of the Islamic Society’s ads doesn’t seem to be to make converts. Instead the aim is to open the minds of a sometimes-paranoid commuting public, and to invite them to find commonalities with a religion that’s often vilified.
The American public probably has an idea of the basic tenets of Christianity, and maybe that’s why the Easter Sunday ads all seem to try to out-do each other. They might include a photo of the attractive pastor or graphics that look like they’re from an Urban Outfitters catalogue. The designs may be clever, but they say little about the church or why anyone should consider attending. If the ads are about good news, and hope, and new beginnings, then just say so. That’s a message that will resonate.
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