We live in a marketing-saturated world. The number of ads you see every single day is up in the thousands now (in the 1970s you would have seen about 500 a day … today it’s at about 5000 a day – CBS News). With that in mind, it’s no wonder the church is finding it difficult to “compete” in getting the word out about the mission and ministries we’re engaged in. And yet, advertising isn’t an option if you’re committed to growing your church. So, how can you cut through the clatter and the clutter? Two ways:

Spend a Ton of Money

If you have the money to spend, you can garner some serious attention. In 2015 figures, we’ve been telling churches that if they can afford to spend $25,000 about four times a year to advertise four highly relevant sermon series, you’ll be able to gather a significant crowd (yes, we really do mean $100,000 per year). Most of the money will go into direct mail (if it works in your area … effectiveness varies by locale) and into television advertising. Some will go into online marketing. And a number of successful churches put up a catchy billboards. Put that together with a highly relevant sermon series (and a catchy, perhaps an ever-so-slightly or even blatantly controversial series title) and you’ll fill some pews … probably a lot of them.

Expend a Ton of Creativity and Sweat

But most churches don’t have $25,000 laying around to do a full-blown marketing campaign, let alone $100,000. And so let’s talk briefly about what you can do with some creativity and sweat.

This isn’t a How-To kind of post, but a Start Here kind of post. If you need details, look for other posts on this site, products in our store, or do a Google search. There’s lots of information out there for you on each of these.

  • WOMM. The most effective advertising in virtually every field, including the church, is Word Of Mouth Marketing. Friends who invite friends; coworkers who invite coworkers; relatives who invite their relatives; and acquaintances who invite acquaintances; etc. is still the #1 way the Nones and the Dones become Christians and find their way into the church. There are quite a number of ways you can help your members more effectively invite others into the faith and into the church. You can find out more here.
  • Website. Well over 80 percent of first-time guests view your website before deciding to visit your church. That means two things.First, if you don’t have a website at all, you’re missing out on a bunch of visitors.Second, if you’ve created the website with your members in mind, the information you provide is unlikely to generate interest by potential guests.Third, if your website is out of date, shabby, dated, mobile unfriendly, or commits any of the three most common church website faux pas, you’re going to miss out on many visitors … and most young visitors.Fourth, if you don’t include the right information, potential guests are unlikely to visit. Be sure to include recordings of your sermons, your newsletter (so long as it’s a visitor-friendly newsletter), and LOTS of images of your church people, not your church building. Also staff images and welcome notes from each are helpful, as well as a good About Us and New Here page.After WOMM, your website is your #1 advertising tool. Getting it right and keeping it up to date is a worthy investment. Find out more about effective church websites here.
  • Church Sign. If you have a message board kind of sign, that sign is advertising gold – if you use it right. Sadly, most churches use their sign poorly … and some very poorly. Use your sign to advertise and invite potential guests to visit your church. And though many may smile when you do Cute and Clever (Ch_ _ ch: What’s missing? U R), unchurched people won’t be visiting your church because they’ve read it. Even if they Laughed Out Loud. We’ve written how to use your church sign in the past. You can discover how to leverage this important tool here.
  • Social Media. Few churches are yet filling up exclusively from their Facebook advertising, the reality is more and more people are finding their way to church from social media marketing. But too many pastors and even churches treat social media as if it’s a safe place to air their opinions, theologies, and discussions. They seem to ignore the potential social media has to market their church and Christianity in general – or they wouldn’t be so quick to alienate serious numbers of potential guests by airing their personal reactions to current events. In any event, churches can use paid and unpaid social media advertising quite effectively today to increase their first-time visitor count. Dig into this article for details to see how.
  • Leverage Traditional Media. One of the little realized realities is that the media desperately needs news and with some creativity you can partner with them to get free publicity. But there’s a learning curve here. Most church leaders simply don’t understand the difference between providing news and trying to finagle free publicity. In general, to be newsworthy means that something that has happened or is going to happen is new information to the reader/viewer, it’s interesting, it’s significant, and it’s unusual.Case in point. Your quarterly potluck dinner that’s open to the pubic is not news. Though it’s true it might be new-information to many people in your city, it’s not terribly interesting, significant, or unusual to most people. You can try and spice it up and make it newsworthy by calling it a chili cook-off or by auctioning off Aunt Betty’s famous apple pie, but when you notify the local reporter they’ll likely see right through your attempt to get free publicity. On the other hand, if the President of the United States was going to join you for the quarterly dinner and was bringing a Jell-o salad, that would be news because it meets all four of the criteria. In fact, the more unusual something is, the more likely your local news reporter is going to be interested enough to share your story. Thus, the key to getting free publicity is to ensure something you’re doing is truly news-worthy … and then letting your news editors know.

These five low-cost marketing tools can be effective advertising tools for the church. In fact, if you’re creative, if you’re willing to do the hard work, and if you get a bit of luck … or get an extra dose of blessings … then these tools can be every bit as effective as the expensive marketing processes.