Tag: church marketing

Wipeout: Join my campaign against one verb conference names


Figure 1.0: What can go wrong when Biblical verbs are functionally shifted, nominalised, or gerunded, then homophoned, and removed from context…

Maybe this is me showing my age. Though I’m still under 30. So I don’t feel that old. But I yearn for the days when Christian conferences had descriptive names, names that didn’t need to be explained with a subheading, names that explained in a nice tight way what attendees could expect.

Names like the Queensland Youth Convention, National Training Event, Mid Year Camp, Katoomba Youth Leadership Conference. These names meant something. They may have been a triumph of substance over style. But so what.

Marketing can be about substance. I’d argue that communication/marketing is more effective when you know what you’re getting when you make a transaction.

Tell me what the following things are – from their titles:

  • Stir
  • Spur
  • Thrive
  • Engage
  • Kickstart
  • Grow
  • Forge
  • Refresh
  • Twist
  • Merge
  • Transform

Some are better than others. Some of these verbs carry a pretty strong idea. None works without some sort of clarification that takes, time, space, and creativity (to link an obscure verb with the substance in an authentic way).

Disclaimer: I have been to many of these events and believe they are valuable. I enjoyed them, was stirred, spurred, transformed, refreshed, and engaged by them – I think they are valuable and worthwhile. It isn’t my intention to undermine the work people are doing promoting these – you should go to them because the events are good. The product is worth investing in. This should be the case with everything you choose to invest your time and money into… But the one word verb thing is cliched, and, in my opinion, wasn’t ever a great idea anyway.

I’m an equal opportunity offender – so if you’ve got examples from outside the organisations that I’m familiar with (or involved with) – feel free to share them.

One of the problems here is that you’ve got to invest a whole lot of energy into developing and explaining the concept behind the verb as it relates to your product, and if the product doesn’t match what you’re aspiring to, it very quickly becomes just another stupid product name.

And tell me – if not me – a guy conversant with Christian culture, engaged in the Christian scene, who likes camps and conferences – who are these titles for? Who do they appeal to. I don’t get it.

And that’s the problem – these names offer nothing except some sort of wishy-washy aspirational verb.

And where do we go next? Adverbs? Conferences called:

  • Faster
  • Better
  • Stronger
  • Higher

Enough. The conferences or events I’ve gone to and benefited from most in the last two years had such sexy titles as:

  • QTC Preaching Week
  • Piper in Brisbane
  • Don Carson: Looking back, looking forward
Conferences rise and fall on the quality of their content – the quality of the speaker(s) and the relevance of the topic. Fancy names might help build a brand over the long term, but if the product quality drops your brand takes a hit. A hit it may not recover from. Personally I think you’re far better off having a strong brand behind a series of events, where people trust the organisation involved to put on something worthwhile. Investing in an essentially meaningless brand name is pretty short sighted. I think.
Plus everyone’s doing it. So it’s not cutting edge anymore. It’s blunt.


Book Review: “Likeable Social Media” and its implications for ministry

I really enjoyed this book. This was actually my second time through (I’d read through it on a previous holiday) – but I wanted to skim over it again having read Platform… its fundamental thesis is that the social media success is tied to being Likeable , which in turn is tied to being a good citizen of the web, giving content away, sharing, and being altruistic in order to win brand loyalty and create ambassadors. So its got some great tie ins with ministry – especially since the gospel should come with built in enthusiastic ambassadors, namely, the church (2 Corinthians 5:20).

“In the beginning, there was Adam and Eve. Eve said to Adam, “You’ve got to try this apple,” and the first marketing interaction in the history of the world had taken place.”

The fundamental conviction at the heart of this book is that word of mouth marketing is the most powerful form of marketing (I agree), but that harnessing word of mouth marketing and even generating it – especially in the age of social media – requires a bit of thought and deliberation, and then an ongoing commitment to being present in a persistent and authentic way.

“Who is better to defend you against negative posters, you or your thousands of happy customers? What kind of company would you rather do business with as a consumer—a company that publicly answers every single customer, or one who seemingly ignores many customers?”

The thought and deliberation happen at the level of thinking about your brand’s personality and the substance or content you aim to share to engage and benefit your audience.

Being authentic means speaking in a language that really represents who you are, but also in a language that resonates with the people you want to connect with – this means, in business, avoiding corporate weasel words or legalise, in the Christian sphere it’ll mean avoiding jargon and in crowd stuff.

You also need to have some grasp of the way each social media channel works, and use that knowledge and the thinking work you’ve put in to figure out a strategy for how you use them (or don’t). I’ve put together something like a social media strategy a while back which has some info about how Facebook works, amongst other useful things, but this book is helpful because it gives you practical homework at the end of each chapter that will leave you with a good sense of how to take your next steps into the world of social media.

There’s some stuff in the book that’s incredibly useful if you’re looking to promote a specific product where you want a purchase decision (which I don’t think you can do with the gospel – there are a few more categories that probably need to be esablished than a Facebook ad or status update can accomplish) – so this advice is relevant for events, or for people who are looking for tips for a small business, there are lots of pearls of wisdom along the way, like:

“Write five sample Facebook updates that combine an engaging question or valuable content with an irresistible offer, and link to your website to buy or learn more. Test, track, and measure the results in order to optimize for future ROI.”

To translate – even when you’re selling something you want to be hooking people with the update so that even if they don’t act, they engage, and including some sort of call to action. And you should experiment till you get it right. This is a theme Platform develops in more depth, I’ll be reviewing it in the next couple of days.

In my experience, and I, at last count, administer Facebook pages for about 20 different churches, events, and businesses, the pages that do this stuff well, and thoughtfully, are the ones that take off – so one page, for a popular drag racing team, has gone from 0 to 7,000 fans in about six months, just by having a well thought out brand, carefully driving people to their page, providing good content, and urging people to share the love and invite their friends.

Here are some examples of helpful “homework” from the book.

1. If you’re a one-person operation or a very small business, write down five things you could say that would seem inauthentic or that sound like marketing-speak to a customer. Then write five examples of how you could say the same messages in a more authentic way on Facebook.
2. If you are part of a large organization, create a plan for how to represent yourself authentically. Recognize that authenticity won’t be easy but that it’s essential. Meet with key stakeholders and management at your organization to determine how you can make communication more authentic across all channels, especially on social networks.
3. If you already have a social media policy, examine it carefully to ensure that it encourages authentic communication, and tweak it if it doesn’t. If you don’t yet have a social media policy, draft one now.
4. If multiple people are responding on Twitter on behalf of your organization, have them sign tweets with their name or initials.

1. Create a social media policy that insists on honesty and transparency as the default expectation. Review with other key stakeholders in your organization what company information, if any, is off-limits and how you can better embrace openness and transparency while still keeping this in mind.
2. If you work at a large organization, determine whether your chief executive officer can effectively use social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook herself to be the ultimate transparent representative of your brand.
3. Closely examine your social media policy to make sure it is aligned with the values of honesty and transparency at its core. If it is not, consider what you could add to help instill these values. Include references to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s code of ethics.
4. Write down three ways you could respond to questions and comments on social networks in a more transparent way in order to further build trust with your customers.

And here are some helpful quotes from the book…

“The formula for ad success is not to link ads to your website or shopping cart but to link to your fan page. Connecting users to your page encourages them to engage with you. They might enter a contest or ask you some questions about products, services, or your industry. They have the opportunity to connect with other people in your community.”

“Also, forget the notion that YouTube is about creating “viral videos” and getting millions of views. Is it possible to create videos on YouTube that will go viral? Sure. But think of the last 10 viral videos you’ve seen on YouTube. Chances are few of them, if any, were created by or for a business. Most of these videos take off organically. Videos that are “produced” don’t tend to go viral. What makes content viral is that very thing that often can’t be produced: the spontaneity of human experience. Even parody videos are based from the initial experience that was captured on video and released to the world, then deemed viral.”

“Many company blogs are unsuccessful because they are updated infrequently, and too often they’re updated with press release-like broadcast material, rather than valuable resources or content. With a blog, you have the opportunity to include longer text updates than you’re able to through Facebook or Twitter, as well as incorporate photos, videos, polls, and other multimedia. You can also tell stories at your own pace and on your own terms.”

One of the central theses of the book, if not the central thesis, is that being successful on the web means being prepared to give away good material in order to build your brand, and goodwill.

I think the great take home messages for people in ministry, or people who are thinking about how to use Facebook for Jesus, is that churches looking to use social media to help spread the gospel, as a way of connecting with people, the secret is in empowering those in the pews to be using your church’s presence as a bit of a call to action in their use of Facebook – we should be encouraging those who are keen ambassadors of Jesus, and members of our church communities to be talking about both Jesus and church in an authentic and engaging way online, we don’t carry the entire weight of producing good content that people will engage with (though our church/ministry pages should be doing that).

There are some interesting ways I’m thinking we could use Facebook advertising spinning out of this book – you could target people who say they’re Christians who have just moved to your area (changed location), you can target friends of friends to invite them along to evangelistic events, you can target people who aren’t Christians to welcome them to your area with the offer of a welcome pack if they like your page, you can target engaged or married people in your area to offer pre-marriage counselling or to advertise a marriage course. Facebook advertising is fairly powerful stuff – which is why it can be insidious when used by unscrupulous people. I read someone I respect greatly who said that the low quality of advertising on Facebook was enough to drive him away from spending advertising dollars, and someone yesterday suggested the inappropriate ads he was receiving were causing a rethink about Facebook’s values – but it’s not Facebook that does this, beyond an algorithm, it’s people using the data and likes you’ve supplied to target you – the key to improving the standard of ads on Facebook is liking more particular stuff (the ads I get are almost exclusively coffee related), and for advertisers – the key is producing relevant ads that might cut through some of the noise of weightloss ads, dating service spruiking, and whatever else you get coming up on your profile.

It’s interesting too that the emphasis on social media success seem to fall around characteristics that are emphasised by Paul as either parts of his ministry, so he has a fairly cross-shaped approach to ministry that emphasises ethos and substance over flashy and impressive stuff, or the modern equivalent. Authenticity. Loving others. Being selfless. Responding to situations that emerge with humility, integrity, generosity, and grace… the guy who wrote this book is basically the most successful social networking consultant going round – and he’s essentially advocating that people behave sacrificially in what they give out online, though he’s doing it with the expectation that it will eventually produce material returns, and we’re expecting that it will build goodwill that will get the gospel a hearing.

There are some great ideas in the book about what sort of content makes good Facebook content and boosts engagement – the ultimate goal is being likeable, and getting people to share the stuff you’re putting out there, which I guess raises a question about how we get people in our churches on board with this and thinking about themselves as ambassadors when they’re online, which probably taps into a bigger issue regarding how we get people to think about ambassadors when they’re offline. Part of authenticity is making sure that the experience people get of our church family is consistent both in the virtual world and the real world.

Convergence and Conversation: When the main thing is talking about the thing, not the thing itself

Sacha Baron Cohen has a new movie out, and by all accounts it’s incredibly puerile and terrible. I’m not going to see it. Borat was enough for me. I’ve always had a soft spot for Baron Cohen and the way he used outlandish characters to highlight the outlandish traits in normal people, as uncomfortable as that became. But his kind of under the radar shock humour, luring unsuspecting victims into making fools of themselves, always had a limited shelf life as his notoriety increased. I reckon he actually peaked with Ali G. Who is, for mine, the funniest interviewer ever.

It seems though that to create genuinely funny humour of the type he had become accustomed, Baron Cohen had to create a terrible movie that then became the vehicle for catching people unaware and reproducing some of his shock comedy, in character.

So, we have examples like this train wreck on the Today Show. I’ll embed it. But watch it at your own risk, it’s crude and it’s simply here to illustrate a point. It’s some of the most uncomfortable breakfast television you’ll ever see.

Baron Cohen is maintaining his brand – people will still think of him as an edgy, and funny, comedian who puts people in awkward situations, this time journalists, because of the press circus surrounding the movie. The TV opportunities are now the vehicle for his comedy. I’m no more likely to see the movie because of moments like this, but at least it has generated the kind of response I’m sure Baron Cohen enjoys most. It’s where the art is now. I wouldn’t be surprised if his press appearances become the main reason people buy the DVD version of the movie, so it’s a tactic with a bit of a silver lining.

Here’s how a boingboing review (which contains a vivid description of the offensiveness of the movie in the opening para) describes what’s going on:

“This is what The Dictator was made for; to spew, into the world of the living, the fully-formed obscenity that is Aladeen.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters come into their own when they are put into contact with real people—and even chat show hosts are people—because, as Ali G taught us, the embarassing reaction and our own cringing is at least half of the humour, innit.”

This is an interesting theory – treating content creation as a launchpad for something more long term.

As a media strategy it’s not bad – particularly in the social media world where engagement and conversation are the big goals that lead to conversion. The idea is that you develop loyal fans of your brand who purchase your products and become advocates who talk about your product to their friends. You do that by producing content they want to share, or content that gets people talking. And the movie and associated interviews have ticked that box.

This has me thinking a bit about how this principle applies to church communication and social media stuff. I’m doing a bit of thinking at the moment about how the church I’m part of can use Facebook better, and get people being ambassadors not just for our church, but for Jesus, when they’re online (incidentally, there’s a great Church Marketing Sucks post/series on this).

This is one thing I reckon Mark Driscoll does really well. He’s phenomenal not just at scouting out opportunities in the press, but creating them. I have started to wonder if that is why he and wife Grace went so far and were so graphic in their marriage book – for the shock factor. It’s pretty much the Christian equivalent of the Dictator. The book flew up the best sellers list, fanned the flames of controversy around the Christian blogosphere earlier this year (seriously, google it), it certainly had people talking, and Mark and Grace Driscoll have been touring the US on the back of the book seemingly ever since – including this amazing stopover on CNN with Piers Morgan, who’s not a massively successful TV superstar, but still gets around 500,000 viewers a night.

This isn’t all of it – you can read a transcript here. It’s pretty much a mix of everything that’s good and bad about Mark Driscoll.

“MORGAN: But why was — why should it be one rule for her and one rule for you?

DRISCOLL: I think I was selfish and I think I was being a hypocrite. And I’m not going to defend things that I’ve done or said or thought that were wrong. No.

But I do believe — and this is where we’re going to get to Jesus — that he died, he rose, he forgives me, he helps me, and I hope to keep changing and doing better.

MORGAN: But for people watching this, you know, especially younger people, for example. They said, well, it’s all right for you. You know, you had all this sex until you were 19, then you get —

DRISCOLL: Well, it wasn’t a lot of —

MORGAN: Then you got born-again so you had sort of sown your wild oats and then — and then you’ve become a born-again virgin. But for them, you’re trying to punish them and they can’t have anything.

DRISCOLL: Well, I think, ultimately, sex is best reserved for marriage. And I think if you look at the statistics of sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, there’s a lot of people that are suffering, too.

I mean you’re not your average pastor, are you?

DRISCOLL: I don’t know.

MORGAN: Saying stuff like that.

DRISCOLL: I have fun. Sometimes I get it wrong.

MORGAN: Do too many people in the world of religion take it too seriously?

Is that part of the problem?

DRISCOLL: I think we should take Jesus seriously. We should take the Bible seriously. We probably shouldn’t take ourselves nearly as seriously. And that’s how I approach it.

MORGAN: Do you think you’re a tolerant kind of guy?

DRISCOLL: I love people very much and it’s — it’s —

MORGAN: That’s not the same thing.

DRISCOLL: Well, it’s — how do you disagree, sometimes, with people that you love?

That’s a very difficult issue for everybody, but for a pastor in particular, because —

MORGAN: But do you preach tolerance?

DRISCOLL: I’ve preached that we should love our neighbor, that we should accept —

MORGAN: But tolerance — tolerance in particular.

DRISCOLL: Why — you keep hammering it. What — what do you mean by tolerance?

MORGAN: Tolerating people who may have a lifestyle or a belief that you don’t agree with.

DRISCOLL: Yes, we have to. And that’s — when Jesus says love your neighbor, you know, he knows you’re not going to agree with all your neighbors, but he wants you to love them, to seek good for them, to care for them.

However, like everything in life, shouldn’t it be dragged kicking and screaming into each modern era, and be adapted, like the American Constitution.


MORGAN: Because, you know, my — my view about this is — is not that I don’t respect Christians or Catholics or whoever who — who absolutely swear by every word in here. It’s just that it’s — I just don’t believe anyone who is genuinely Christian should be spouting bigoted opinions about sections of the community for their sexuality.

DRISCOLL: Well, I think when it comes to the Bible, you’ve got three options. Take it, I believe what it says. Leave it, I don’t believe what it says. Or change it —

MORGAN: Or adapt — or adapt the wording —

DRISCOLL: Which would be the changing it.

MORGAN: If it was in — the majority of Americans believed in it, would you then go along with it?

DRISCOLL: Would I officiate same-sex weddings and things of that nature?


DRISCOLL: I couldn’t, according to conscience, no.

I think the big issue for families in America is really men who walk out on their families. I mean, right now, the average child born to a woman under 30 is born out of wedlock —

MORGAN: Yes, but that’s why —

DRISCOLL: — with no father.

MORGAN: — see, that’s my whole point about this. There are so many feckless guys out there —

DRISCOLL: That’s really —

MORGAN: — right?”

I’ve gone a bit nuts with the quotes – but I reckon this is a great example of public engagement that is both Christ focused, and engages with social issues. Which is what Driscoll does best. This interview almost makes the (by all accounts justifiable) controversy around the book worthwhile. And like Baron Cohen’s work one wonders if Driscoll produced the book with half an eye on how things would play out past its release.

The third little example takes the form of a book review, a public discourse between critic and author, the book is Ross Douhat’s Bad Religion (which I’m reading on my bus ride at the moment), the discussion happened on Slate.com (starting here). It’s an incredibly gracious discussion which I think is probably more valuable than the book – and it was why I purchased it.

None of these cases simply involve the content producer reproducing their content – in each case there’s a development of the core concept before a wider audience, that adds value. It’s good stuff. And now I’m wondering how this works at the level of the local church – how we turn the content we produce regularly (sermons etc), into sharable chunks, or leverage the work on new mediums.

Anyway. That’s a long post about some stuff I noticed in some stuff I read.

Church Sign Fail

I have mentioned in the past that I’m less than excited by most church signs that try to be pithy and end up sucking.

Why churches don’t just use these boards to promote the big idea of each sermon, or you know, the gospel, is beyond me.

Here’s a bit of a doozy in Brisbane (sent to me by my brother-in-law).

Vintage Christian Marketing: How not to a tract people to Jesus

Get it. These are “tracts”… I’ll be here all day. These are from a blog dedicated to such ethereal ephemera called Old Time Religion. They remind me that I should finally start my “bad Christian books” blog – I’ve got about thirty books on my shelf that I haven’t blogged yet, and I still haven’t finished reviewing Help Lord the Devil Made me Fat.

Churches and the F word – because the sixth letter of the alphabet is “cutting edge”

I know it’s hard to show that you’re a church that isn’t like all the other churches. A church that’s a little bit edgy – like Jesus was. A church that’s down with the sinners – like Jesus was. A church that is prepared to insult the religious establishment – like Jesus was. A church that is prepared to challenge social norms – like Jesus was… But you know what Jesus wasn’t? He wasn’t edgy for the sake of edginess, hanging out with sinners because he was one, insulting the religious establishment for the sake of it, or challenging social norms to get attention.

So while you might think preaching a sermon telling everybody in your congregation to “F off” – where you mean forgiveness is the kind of sermon Jesus would have preached…

It probably isn’t. I can’t claim to speak for Jesus. I can claim to be faithfully reading and teaching God’s word. But I don’t need the spiritual gift of discernment to know that this is excessively stupid. And only moderately more stupid than preaching this sermon series:

“We’ve all said it; sometimes it’s the only words we have to describe our life… all F’d up! God doesn’t intend for our lives to stay that way, instead He turns our life around through His grace and forgiveness. With His strength and the help of true friends we can move forward. Life doesn’t have to stay All F’d Up!”

See, in this case they’re not even bothering to couch the language as some sort of adoption of the letter F. They’re just being contempervant. Where contemporay meets relevant in portmanteau glory.

One step better, but still incredibly stupid and naive, is the attempt to reclaim the letters WTF for the sake of your church community.

Does anybody actually think this is a good idea? This is why branding professionals exist. To stop you doing what you thought in the shower (when you were really tired and recovering from a bout of delirium, before you’d had your coffee) was a good idea. It’s not a good idea. It’s a dumb idea. You don’t want people looking at your church sign and responding with the very thing you’re trying to rebrand. It’s just a dumb idea.

From Church Marketing Sucks.

“We are aware of what ‘WTF’ originally stands for, and that is actually why we chose it,” says Rob James, with Copper Pointe Church, the Albuquerque, N.M., church behind the college and young adult ministry, Wake. “It is something that our target audience is very familiar with. We are a progressive college group located in Albuquerque, N.M., and we know that any college-aged person is a phone-weilding, text-sending machine. So why not use what they are familiar with?”

“WTF” was on purpose. In fact, it’s a main cornerstone in their branding. Their url is wakeWTF.com, their Twitter handle is @WTFisWake and their Facebook page is Facebook.com/WTFisWake.

Jesus is ___: Fill in the blank

In an advertising campaign reminiscent of Australia’s Jesus All About Life campaign – a church in the states is running a “Jesus is ____” website asking for people to submit their ideas about who Jesus is. A nice idea. Hijacked by atheists. So if you’re not an atheist, and you don’t think Jesus is a baseballer hitting at 0.216, then head on over and try to even out the numbers. This is the problem with user generated content in the day and age of pharyngulation. Atheists are aware of these campaigns and hit them pretty quickly. For giggles.

I like the campaign.

Here’s their blurb:

“What goes in the blank?

Everyone has an opinion of who Jesus is. That’s why this website exists: as a platform for people to express who Jesus is to them.

Jesus is a lot of things, but the answer is in the Bible. It says that Jesus is the Son of God, who came to earth on a mission to restore mankind to God. By living a perfect life, dying on a cross, and coming back to life, His mission was a success. We can know God because of Jesus.

So maybe the reality of who Jesus is remains too big for the blank.”

And the promo video.

JESUS IS ___. from The City Church on Vimeo.

Social media strategies for churches

I was talking to some people yesterday about churches and social media strategies. I’ve followed a bunch of people who are involved with ministries, and churches, and promoting ministries and churches on Facebook. And I think they’re doing it wrong… but what would I know.

The wrongness was the spirit of my speculative posts “Has John Piper ruined Twitter” and “Has Mark Driscoll ruined Facebook” – most churches rely on their minister posting pithy one line updates to Facebook and Twitter generating an echo effect where people retweet and like and share to their hearts content. Which is only part of the social media story, and is usually pretty lame. Blowing one’s own trumpet is never cool. No matter how good your faux-hawk is, and no matter how much you’re able to make grown men cry in your sermons. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate Desiring God and Mars Hill, and Piper and Driscoll, and I think they contribute greatly to the global church and use the Internet brilliantly. But you’re not (unless they’re reading this) Piper or Driscoll. And if you’re a minister of a church and you’re filling my Facebook or Twitter news feeds with how much God is moving in your church, or how great your sermon was, or how great it was to spend time with your church family  – and that’s all your doing – then that’s really not why I’ve added you Twitter in particular, or probably, being really honest, on Facebook. I’ve added a person, not a ministry PR machine. I want your reflections on stuff, and if you’re a minister then that will doubtless include stuff about your church and your ministry, and how much you love your people, and how awesome they all are… but please, don’t be a two dimensional caricature. You are not your church. Get a Facebook page for your ministry – but even then, don’t be lame about it. Don’t just spam people with endless things about how good the stuff they were already at was, and don’t spam them with things about upcoming events.

Social media is social. It’s meant to be interactive. The best social media strategies do what is called “seeding” content. You don’t blow your own trumpet. You get others to blow it for you. If you run a church Facebook account, or Twitter account, why not ask a bunch of tech savvy people at church to post their own thoughts, advertisements, photos or reflections to TwitFace? Why not ask people to live tweet certain events, or go home and serve their brothers and sisters by posting the thing that struck them most about the sermon. Don’t do it yourself. Why not get people to post photos of your events, get them to make them their profile pictures. Get them to talk to each other (that’ll show up in the news feed of mutual friends). Get them organically promoting events and inviting their friends personally, rather than sending out some form email.

Social media works best when it is social media – when people are participating in the production and distribution of content – rather than just contributing to the noise side of the signal to noise ratio on the internet. People’s inboxes (in all virtual forms) are so full of rubbish and spam – why not contribute some meaningful content and interactions to their lives instead of just trying to be an ever present presence online.

And if none of that seems to work, if you can’t get people saying stuff about your church online, then maybe consider this webcomic (via ChurchCrunch)…

Church Marketing on the Gruen Transfer

The Gruen Transfer last night (or tonight if you caught it on ABC 2) had a segment on how religion uses advertising.

They looked at the Jesus: All About Life TV ad from last year.

Todd Samson reckons the Jesus is cool, the church is bad thing was based on sound research – but that the church is let down by the “retail experience” which is church. He reckons Hillsong has done this well.

Russel Howcroft said the ads worked, and numbers increased.

One of the other panelists made a point that preaching to the converted is a valid and necessary function of advertising.

The next ad was a Scientology spot. “Know yourself, know life” – it was, in the words of one of the panelists “pure motivational speech,” and it didn’t feature any ugly people.

Todd says religions have traditionally been about community. And the scientology ad tries to capture that.

The next spot was a Scientology ad featuring Tom Cruise – for people within the cult. Russel calls Tom Cruise a total “brain smashing” advantage for the converted Scientology people. He says “aspiration is so important in branding” and celebrity endorsements are a key part of that. Todd says it’s “influencing the influencers.”

The Mormons had a really weird ad that tapped into familial guilt. A little girl asks her mum to go rollerskating with her, she says no, the precocious kid reminds her that she’ll grow up to be a disconnected teenager. One of the Gruen panellists said the whole thing looked plastic, was horribly out of touch, and that it was pretty awful.

Then my favourite. Answers in Genesis. With the kid in a singlet with a pistol. Wil Anderson quips “Are you feeling Godly Punk?” – “will scaring people into religion help?” Todd quips “I thought that’s what Hell was for.”

Todd says religious advertising is run most often in tough times. Todd has an impressive grasp of the argument Answers in Genesis is making about evolution and morality. He calls it an awful piece of communication. They are preaching to the converted. Fear is good at keeping people in, but not attracting people in.

If you missed the episode check out this advert for Australian Christian television:

Church marketing v Starbucks

I don’t remember if I’ve posted this before. It’s certainly been floating around for a long time.

I saw it first at Church Marketing Sucks, but was reminded about it at Glocal Christianity.

A case for putting the “gimmicks” back into church marketing

This may just be the former PR professional in me. But, I’m a big fan of ministry gimmicks. I love a good “love” gimmick (with a caveat that it actually has to be matched by the real thing).

When I was involved in AFES at uni we used to take the “shock and awe” approach to promoting our mission weeks. The process basically went:

1. Put up a controversial poster.
2. Put up a second controversial poster.
3. Hope somebody out there might be offended enough to put up a response poster.
4. Put up a poster promoting our talks/explaining our angle.

I think that was uni ministry marketing strategy 101, though I did hear about one group who dressed up as death (complete with scythe) and walked around the uni campus reminding people of their mortality.

That kind of gimmick, and the previously described “marketing strategy” doesn’t really do a lot for me. It doesn’t teach the people taking part anything except how to annoy people or put up posters. It is low cost, especially if you’re masked. I don’t think it really works.

One of our most effective gimmicks at uni was holding a shoe shining booth – we cleaned and polished people’s shoes while telling them about whatever event we had coming up – and explaining that we wanted to serve our uni community.

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about how churches can make positive contact with people they don’t know in their communities – and I reckon gimmicks are ideal for that. Like I said at the start – this only works if your church can actually back up the gimmick with substance, if you really do love your community and are prepared to put yourself out for them…

I think our “application” when it comes to the question of how we can serve others in Sunday School and in adult bible studies always ends up being a little inwards focused, or a bit “build it and they will come” – cooking a freezer full of meals that end up being distributed to your church family is a great way to serve one another, and kids promising to pick up their rubbish at home is also good (and a subset of “honouring your parents”). But I’m really keen for people to start thinking small about how they can meet non-Christians in a positive way, while obviously as Christians.

So here are three gimmicky ideas I’ve had (feel free to chuck some more in the comments).

1. Street Working Bee/Street Party – I like the idea of starting a community focus right outside the door of your building. Church buildings are brand assets because of their constant physical presence. If you can have all the people on your street thinking positive thoughts when they walk past, or look at, your building – then you’re on the way to getting them through the doors. But I digress. Here’s my idea – most churches have monthly working bees that attract a group of people willing to put in some hard yards to make the church facilities sparkle. Most houses in the street, and indeed most houses, would love to have a similar level of care and attention – so why not get our working bees serving others? Do the whole street. Send out fliers a month in advance advertising the availability of a few teams of workers and ask people to book in jobs. Hold a BBQ at the church at the end of the day.

2. Get matching shirts and hang out at the local supermarket offering to help people – If your church is near a shopping centre, or there’s a “local supermarket” that most of your congregation shop at, then that’s a great place to find other people who could be part of your congregation (geographically speaking). Shopping centres are our cultural Mecca. I was thinking getting a team of people obviously marked out as members of a church to hang out at the shops and offer to carry people’s bags to the car, that sort of thing, might be a really nice way to get some positive interactions happening. It’s a good chance to talk to people (and you can subtly check out what people are spending their time and money on as a way of exegeting your suburb).

3. Get your Sunday School to make something for the kids in the neighbourhood – we were talking, at Clayfield, about our new series of Church4Kids Material, which includes a lesson on service. I don’t think my suggestion made the cut – but I reckon a great way to model service for kids, and a great way to “love” our neighbours, would be for the kids to help make up a massive batch of playdough, portion it up into containers, and have the leaders deliver it to houses in the streets around the church who have kids – complete with a little card explaining why the kids at church thought the kids not at church might like some playdough, and how it’s all about serving Jesus.

What are your thoughts on employing such obvious gimmicks as a means for sharing the gospel?

How to name your megachurch

If you’ve been putting together your business planministry strategyvision statement… prayer letter in preparation for planting your megachurch, but you’re still stuck on finding a catchy name… then here’s a list of 129 to choose from. Coupled with this guide to picking a ministry job title, and this list of ten tips for planting a megachurch you should have no troubles getting from 0 to 10,000 in six weeks.

The list of titles comes from Mount Gambier Presbyterian Church’s Gary Ware – who needs a punchier name for his church… I think “Mustard Seed Presbyterian” – because they have the faith to move a mountain.

Tips for better church signs

I’m not really a fan of signs outside churches. Mostly because nobody is, and they’re never quite as clever as the person writing them thinks they are. But seriously. If you’re going to have one you need to make it original.

“God answers knee-mail” wasn’t funny fifteen years ago when email was relatively new. A pun on Email? Do you seriously think that posting this outside your church in 2010 is going to inspire a chuckle? Has anybody ever “found themselves in church” as a result of a dud sign? The Holy Spirit works wonders – but do we really want to put obstacles in his way by writing puns that aren’t clever or clear?

You get style points for trying something relevant to current events or technologies. You actually lose points, as in your sign has a negative effect, if it’s hackneyed, unoriginal, or stuck in the previous decade.

And don’t try to be too clever. Obtuse puns don’t work on a public sign. Especially if they can be interpreted two ways. And especially if a plain reading of the sign says something wrong or heretical.

“God is nowhere… read that again” still reads “God is nowhere.” People are driving past these signs at speed – and you’re putting “God is nowhere” on a sign. Dumb.

Those two signs were on the same church – one I drive past regularly – in the last two weeks.

But even worse are those churches that pull verses out of context to provide trite moralisms or ridiculous promises – like Jesus wants you to live your best life now… you can’t explain how that can possibly be the case (Biblically) on a sign.

I have never seen a sign promising suffering. They just inflict it on Christians who have any idea about marketing.

Five cheap ways to exegete your area

Here’s one of those posts where I try to synchronise a few years working with a marketing and economic development agency with the realm of ministry. Hopefully it’ll be useful both to me, and to you…

I’ve been trying to figure the suburb of Clayfield out. It’s a tough one. I’m sure others I work with have faced the same quandary (Andrew, Simone and Kutz) for years.

Marketing is a confusing blend of guesswork and social science – with new theories cropping up all the time – most marketing budgets are limited, so most marketers spend a lot of time putting their advertising in places that will get the best bang for their buck. Because most churches don’t have big marketing budgets or the time to conduct thorough demographic research here are five ways that you can let them do the hard work for you, which in turn will help you understand the people you’re serving.

  1. Read local magazines and papers – if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that has a media outlet particular to your context have a look at what is being sold in the ads. Work out what kind of person buys those products. If your local newspaper features Tag Heuer watch ads you’re probably looking at an upper class suburb with high disposable incomes. Have a look at what stories are featured – editors keep their fingers on the community pulse, they talk to all sorts of people from your neighbourhood on a daily basis – the paper should be a reflection of the community’s values.
  2. Watch people in public places – What’s in the average shopping trolley? No frills or brand names? Battery eggs or free range? Are people making ethical decisions when they shop or financial ones? Are they eating healthy food or junk, are they buying microwave meals or the ingredients for some sort of substantial and prolonged culinary endeavour? You can learn a fair bit about people based on what they buy. Are people buying instant coffee – perhaps you should hold a coffee event and convict them of that sin, while pointing them to Jesus as the cure for all sin.
    I think you can get a good feel for a place by going somewhere busy and just sitting back and watching people. Sit in a cafe, on a park bench, or in a shopping centre and just watch the types of people who walk by, those who stop briefly, and those who also sit.
  3. What’s on the billboards – While billboards on main roads are for those driving through your suburb, they’re also for people from your suburb. Billboard advertising is purchased by location. It’s expensive (and mostly dumb – don’t advertise on a billboard – have you ever purchased something because you’ve seen it on a billboard (other than Coke)?). Advertisers don’t like spending money (unless they’re in government). They spend pointless money with some thought – the kind of product being advertised at a prominent intersection in your place probably has some relevance to the people living there.
  4. Talk to the owners of small business – Cabbies are a great source of insight in regional areas, or if you want a general state of play in a bigger centre (there’s no guarantee they’ll hail from your part of the city in Brisbane) – but small business owners have an interest in knowing what’s going on in their part of town. Their livelihood depends on it. Good business owners know their clientele, they know their repeat customers. Businesses like newsagents that deal with the same people every day are the best bet. When I was a networking function attendee in Townsville I would always talk to the bankers, the media ad space sellers, and cafe owners to get a feel for how things were going.
  5. Join a club or community group – head along to meetings featuring people from your area, join the P&C… contribute, but also watch and listen. What is going on where you live? What are the issues for people around you? How can you serve them practically? How can you hit them with the gospel?

Some bonus points for regional areas, unless there’s a suburb based equivalent these aren’t going to be that great for your specific context in a bigger city:

  1. Subscribe to newsletters from your regional economic development agency.
  2. Subscribe to newsletters from the Local Council.
  3. Join the Chamber of Commerce.
  4. Go to networking functions (who knows who you’ll be able to talk to about Jesus).
  5. Listen to local radio, especially talk back.

Incidentally, age demographics are dead as far as tourism marketing is concerned. Age is irrelevant (mostly). Place is also mostly irrelevant (except that it has a bearing on income). People want experiences that they can fit into the narrative of their lives. Postcard perfect photos are a thing of the past – you’ll find most tourism ads from here on in (thanks to some new market segmentation work produced by the state tourism body) will feature a mix of people enjoying different experiences.

People want a holiday they can go back and tell their friends about. Holidays aren’t about collecting photos of the seven wonders of the world anymore – they’re about doing something authentic, learning something new, or meeting interesting people from interesting cultures.

This new way of thinking is possibly relevant if you’re putting together an event for your neighbourhood – because I think events are similar to holidays.

But demographics still have an influence over where people live – you won’t find many low income students living in the austere realm of Ascot (think the upper class eastern suburbs) so understanding one’s geographic context is important when it comes to pitching events and sermon applications at people.


Some churches just don’t get it. Particularly American churches – or at least in the case of the American churches I’m about to write about…

Just over a week ago a prominent late term abortionist was shot while attending his church. Those who are anti-abortion will no doubt not be grieving this loss as much as others – but most churches have been quick to condemn the killing (or at least to distance themselves from it).

Not these two…

The first, a church in Kentucky, is having an “open carry celebration day” – they want parishioners to bring their guns to church. Here’s what their “pastor” Ken Pagano has to say:

“As a Christian pastor I believe that without a deep-seeded belief in God and firearms that this country would not be here.”

Speaking about those objecting to his planned celebration he said:

“I understand their concerns and I applaud them for their expression because the whole point of this is to promote the First and Second Amendments.”

While he may not have made the link to the shooting directly – the journalist did – a link from the story’s intro takes you to the story about the killing.

Then there are those that have glorified in the killing…

I’m sure this is not the sort of commentary the church should be making about current events… nor the kind of mission Jesus gave us in the great commission.

But I propose, in order to take money out of the hands of these dangerous people, that we launch a range of Christian merchandise in the WWJS line – who/what would Jesus shoot… the money raised can be redirected to appropriate organisations like the Red Cross.