More on the place of “gimmicks” in ministry

Some have suggested that “positive interactions” is a better way to frame this than “gimmicks” (which I used previously) but thinking in a PR/branding framework is a blessing, and a curse, that I am unfortunate enough to carry.

Mikey has posted a great post pondering about how such gimmicks, or “goodwill exercises” can be used on campus to promote his AFES group at a university market day (when everybody is giving out stuff).

He shared in the comments that he’s started reading blogs about how to stand out at trade-shows to think through the issue. Here are a couple of the tips he picked up.

“1. “Market outside of what you paid for: A big mistake that many exhibitors make at tradeshows is sticking to what they believe they have paid for. This means only marketing from a booth, following all the rules of the event and not venturing out. This is the easy path, and one that is often taken because the staff at a booth is not incentivized to do more. If you think about the tradeshows that you have been to, the brands that stand out most are the ones that are wandering the halls, attending and asking questions at sessions, and generally taking a more proactive and guerilla approach to marketing.”

2 “Spend on the giveaways, not the booth. Everyone knows that nothing spreads faster at the tradeshow than a brand with a really big or valuable giveaway. ”

Both are good advice in my experience helping brainstorm trade show presence (and presents). But it’s not just about picking a big or valuable giveaway – the big or valuable giveaway needs to tie in to your key message, or your brand, in some way. The tradeshow idea is brilliant. We used to try to come up with really memorable tradeshow gifts that tied into our messages – you don’t just want it to be good. You want it to be good and relevant.

A few years ago, when we were marketing North Queensland in Brisbane I wanted to give people compasses and tell them to follow their way to paradise (but getting them to stop in Townsville would have involved purchasing a massive magnet (which, incidentally, is how Magnetic Island got its name)). Then, when water restrictions were biting I wanted to give people empty shower egg timers and water pistols (which would have been fun at trade shows). We ended up going with water bottles with North Queensland’s average annual rainfall printed on the label.

I think there’s something to thinking about how we can use a good gimmick as a hook for our message, not just in the university context but in the work of promoting our churches.

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?