The term ‘marketing’ can make some Christians cringe. But like it or not, ‘marketing’ is what churches and Christian ministries do everyday as they create content that they want others to see and engage with.
When done in God’s strength for the honour of God’s name, these activities are acts of worship that are pleasing to Him. But as people who are in the world and constantly exposed to ‘worldly’ marketing techniques, it can be tempting for the ways of the world to sneak into Christian marketing approaches.
These tactics may appear effective, but when the foundation is not Jesus Christ, this work will one day be burned up (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
As a Christian, here are some temptations to watch out for and some principles to guide you in your marketing.
1. Christian marketing must be truthful
As people who “rejoice in the truth” this may seem obvious, but there are many temptations to lie or exaggerate (which is still lying!). For example, if you are running an event you may be tempted to create a sense of urgency by saying “Hurry, tickets selling fast!”. You may hope and pray that tickets will sell fast, but unless they are actually selling fast, this isn’t true. Creating a false sense of urgency is manipulative and deceitful.
Likewise, if your church has 200 people on Christmas Day, but the weekly average is 40 people, you can’t write on your website: “We are a vibrant community of 200 people…” because when a visitor turns up at church and sees the reality, what impact will this have on them?
2. Christian marketing must tell the whole truth
Likewise, it can be tempting to leave out important information that should really be included. For example, if your church is hosting a community lunch that will include a short gospel presentation, it is important that the invitations communicate that there will be a lunch and a gospel presentation. Luring people in with a lunch, only to surprise them with a gospel presentation is deceptive and communicates that the lunch was simply a means of getting them in the church building (rather than a genuine act of love).
Reverse the situation – how would you feel if this happened to you? The big problem here is that if people feel misled by the content or messaging of your marketing, why would they believe what you have to say about the gospel?
3. Christian marketing must not over-promise
I recently read this bold claim by a pastor on a church website:
“I can promise a warm welcome if you visit us on a Sunday.”
This is an excellent goal, but one that is impossible to promise. Despite the pastor’s best efforts and fervent prayers, the experience of a visitor to church can be entirely unpredictable. What happens if a visitor arrives at church and doesn’t receive a warm welcome? This well-intentioned but flawed promise may dilute the believability of gospel promises.
4. Christian marketing must serve
Christians look out to the interests of others. We don’t think first “What will be easiest and best for me?” but rather “How can I serve the needs of others?”. This has many different and very practical applications. For example:
- Avoiding jargon that only makes sense to people who attend your church or are familiar with your ministry.
- Carefully considering and then providing people with the information that they are looking for on your website.
- Using the language/s that people in your community speak.
- Removing annoying pop-ups from your website.
- Providing people with advanced notice (avoiding last minute invitations that require others to scramble).
Attention to each of these small details is an expression of love – removing burdens, and pursuing the good of others to the glory of God.
5. Christian marketing must not appeal to selfish gain
So much of worldly marketing seeks to appeal to our sinful nature. “Put yourself first” is (and always has been) a powerful driver because apart from God’s grace, we love ourselves more than anything and need little convincing to do things that advance our cause and serve our needs. But Jesus has saved us from this me-centred existence, and we now live to the praise of His glory and grace.
For this reason, Christian marketing must not turn our gaze back to the way we once lived (Genesis 19:26) – a life characterised by selfish desires. This excludes tactics such as:
- “Come to church and get a free gift!”, or
- “Sign up now to go in the draw to win an iPad”, or
- “Sponsor a child and get a Veggietales DVD!”.
This is challenging in a world where we have grown accustomed to responding to self-serving messages. To run a marketing campaign that says “Sign up now and go in the draw for someone else to receive an iPad” doesn’t get us excited in quite the same way as when we could be the recipient. But then again, the gospel calls us to be driven first and foremost not by what “works”, but by what is pleasing to ”him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).