Churches use different tactics to attract membership. Every year and sometimes numerous times during the year most churches create membership drives. Traditionally these drives are about asking membership to invite friends, family and neighbors to attend the church during a special event. Membership drives have been mixed and yet the methods remain fairly static. Besides trying to attract new members there is the issue of how churches encourage member attendance to services.
According to the Zondervan “Attendance at American churches is less than half of what has been believed in the past, according to Dave Olson, director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, and director of the American Church Research Project 2006 study.” So one must wonder what needs to change to make “church” a more attractive proposition.
Is It The Message or The Media?
The church message has remained fairly consistent for centuries. The message centers around salvation, hope, joy and the fruits of a spiritual life dedicated to serving God’s purpose. The Purpose Driven Life (2002) is a book written by Christian author Rick Warren and published by Zondervan. The book has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for advice books for one of the longest periods in history, while also becoming arguably one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time, topping the Wall Street Journal best seller charts as well as Publishers Weekly charts with over 20 million copies sold worldwide. Churches adopted the books message and created a series of small group programs supported by reference material. The popularity of the book and the subsequent message was successful because of the media used to promote the message. Warren’s Saddleback Church was founded in 1980 by pastor Rick Warren. Weekly church attendance exceeds 23,000, making it the largest church in California and the 4th largest church in the United States.
On August 16, 2008, Rick Warren arranged a meeting between Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama at Saddleback called the Civil Forum on The Presidency. The format of the forum was structured such that Warren first asked Sen. Obama a series of questions; he then asked Sen. McCain very similar ones subsequently. Held inside Saddleback’s Worship Center, the event is notable as the first time the two Presidential candidates met during the campaign. It was broadcast live on national news networks and streamed online. Notice how effective Rick Warren has been in using media to extend the reach of his message. He has and continues to create an attraction to the message and the church by leveraging the use of media.
Media Futurist writes: Overall, the trend is clear: don’t push anything to me. Be attractive enough that I want to pay attention to you, and pull you in. Wait until I like you enough to pull your stuff in, and then talk to me, and then go from there. Bottom line: don’t market to me, market with me! Notice the emphasis to “market with me”? Rick Warren marketed his message with the people’s interest and needs as foremost to his messaging methods. His books addressed a crying need to understand “purpose” and his Civil Forum on The Presidency enabled all churches and their members to feel like they were having a conversation with the candidates.
Do Churches Engage in Marketing?
When you use the term marketing it typically carries a secular connotation with emphasis on business messaging. The irony is that churches are in the business of serving the spiritual needs of a “community” but they historically have not engaged in modern marketing methods to increase their reach and extend their message.
Now the internet is changing the entire method of marketing to one with more emphasis on engaging consumers with conversations and listening to the needs of the consumer. This shift fits well with the objective of a church, engage with people and understand their needs. Sound familiar?
Web 2.0 technologies offer “churches” an abundance of methods to both increase their reach and to engage in conversations, one to one to millions. Social technologies offer churches the ability to broadcast their message 24/7 using multi-media tools. Additionally churches could set up live or on demand online educational programs, small group live meetings and a host of other relevant functions and features that would significantly enhance the “attractiveness” of the church to the “communities” they aim to serve.
Establishing a fully functional custom “church network” with all the functions and features imaginable can be done with little cost. The network would enable the church to reach more people with their message and their media with the freedom of enabling people to participate when it best suits their schedules. Members would quickly learn the valuable utility of having a network where they can meet other members, learn common interest and find ways to fill needs that previously may not have been known. The art of the social web is about understanding of how to create attention, attraction, affinity and audience. Is this similar to the process of building a church?
A lot more could be done and we will further define the capabilities in future post. For now just know that there isn’t anything you can imagine that can’t be done using social technologies. The big difference for a church is that the ministry would be interactive 24/7 vs. two days a week.
Here is something interesting. If this blog represented a church, in terms of # of people listening monthly, it would be one of the five largest churches in the United States. Go figure.
What say you?
Next up: Why Isn’t Your Church Networked?