By Jon Vaughan
Marketers of top brands like Nike and Apple live by a cardinal rule: “Thou shalt know thine audience!” I think Jesus was the ultimate marketer. He knew his audience intimately, and he knew how to change his approach and message based on who they were, not on who he wanted them to be.
I talk to pastors who tell me story after story about how their members don’t volunteer, don’t bring others to church, don’t participate in important committees. In short, they “just don’t get it.” I listen intently and nod politely, but what I’m thinking is “Maybe you, my dear pastor friends, are the ones who don’t get it.”
Can you imagine how my marketing leader would react if I went into his office and told him the reason people aren’t buying our products is because they “just don’t get it?” Well, I can, and here’s how it would go: He’d look at me intently and nod politely. Then he would pick up his phone and ask HR to escort me, pink slip in hand, out of the building.
So I have a few words of marketing advice for pastors and church leaders.
Step 1 – Go talk to your folks. Talk to them a lot. Ask a lot of questions. Listen to what they say, how they say it, and what they don’t say. And take notes (literally, take notes). Get your entire leadership team to have at least seven of these conversations a week.
Step 2 – They’ll know if you’re faking it, so don’t. Be genuinely interested. I’m always interested because my career is on the line with every marketing effort I produce. If it helps you to be more genuine, remind yourself that the success of your church is on the line. When you get past surface conversations, you’ll learn more about your people, and you’ll find out what they really think of your product (a.k.a. your church).
Step 3 – Come together as a team and share. In the sharing process, group members of your congregation by age, marital status, education, interests, life story, ethnicity, profession, and even pastime or hobby. You’re “creating your segments,” which is marketing-speak for “starting to know your people.” Identify three or four primary groups (segments) based on commonalities. These, my friends, are your primary audiences.
Step 4 – As a team, agree upon who your primary audiences are, and start making strategic decisions that move your church forward. By making decisions based on who your congregants really are as opposed to who you thought they were, you’ll start doing ministry that will engage them on a whole new level.
You’ll be amazed at the ways in which your church and leadership team will begin to grow. For what you once knew in part…you will begin to experience in full. So, get out there and have deep conversations, identify some segments, and “know thy audience.” I double-dog dare you.
Many churches claim that they are attracting young people, specifically the Millennial Generation (those born after 1980) but they are still using old traditions and methods that don’t match up with that generation’s felt needs. According to a study by the Barna Group, Millennials are looking for ways to participate in their faith, rather than sit and be lectured. That is why we created Lifetree Cafe and Fearless Conversation, both of these resources are designed to get people talking and participating in their faith.
Jon Vaughan is the Marketing Champion at Group Publishing. He has spent over 25 years in fundraising, e-commerce, product development, and digital marketing with some of the top nonprofit organizations in the country.