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Mary Deckert

Mary Deckert has over 40 years’ experience in multiple communications and strategic functions including leadership, marketing, crisis management, creative and problem-solving roles in government and business (both private and public sectors); for-profit and ... read more

The 12 Disciples of Church Marketing: 12 Church Marketing Strategies to Help Grow Your Church

  1. Always be Inviting
  2. Facebook Ads
  3. Google Grant
  4. Photography
  5. Texts
  6. Plan Your Visit
  7. Website
  8. SEO
  9. Social Proof
  10. Community
  11. Heart
  12. Next Gen

Need a church marketing strategy?

Here are 12 essential elements (we jokingly refer to them as the “12 Disciples”) to help you get started!

If you focus on these, you’ll be well on your way to implementing an AMAZING marketing system for your church! 

Why is Marketing Important for Churches?

We get it, “marketing” in the church world often has a negative connotation, sometimes it’s considered “forbidden” or sacrilegious. For a more detailed biblical overview of church marketing, read  Is Church Marketing Biblical? 

For now, ponder these scriptures before we dig into proven church marketing strategies.

  • He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” – Mark 16:15
  • But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” – Romans 10:18

How can someone hear about Jesus unless someone tells them? And how can you tell them if they don’t know you exist?

That’s what Church Marketing is all about – giving you the tools to meet people where they are so you can tell them the Good News.

Marketing is nothing more than ways to help you start and accelerate relationships. At its core, marketing is intentional, strategic communications.

So let’s get strategic about letting your community know you exist and you care!

Church Marketing’s 12 “Disciples” – 12 Actionable Church Marketing Strategies

It’s all so confusing – direct mail, Facebook Ads, Social Media, Websites, Email, Text Messaging … yadda, yadda, yadda.

Everyone, it seems, has an idea about what marketing tool is best for churches.

It certainly can be overwhelming.

Rather than trying out the latest gimmick, strategize about what you want to accomplish – the “why” – and the “what” should easily follow.

After literally helping thousands of churches, we’ve boiled down all those options to these 12 things that have been proven over and over and over to help churches get new visitors every single week.

We fondly refer to them as the 12 Marketing Disciples.

Church Marketing Strategy #1: Always Be Inviting

Church Marketing University (CMU) developed its Always Be Inviting™️  System to help church leaders develop a culture in their congregation that is always inviting others to participate.

Why?

Because we know that personal invitation is the best form of marketing.

If you intentionally do these simple things, inviting won’t be what your members do, it will be who they are – but you need to be consistent and dedicated to the system.

What does that entail?

It’s as simple as this: At least once during your weekly service, lead your congregation to take out their phones and invite people to church – right then and there!

Give them examples on the screen of two text messages they could use to invite their family and friends to church. 

There are several creative ways to do this that are not disruptive to the service.

You can do it during your announcement time or at the end of service with a message about what’s coming next week.

In this way, you’re not simply telling people what to do during the week, you’re actually leading them with specific examples and giving them time during the service to invite people to your “next” – a bridge event, a sermon series, a special event (Christmas, Easter, etc.).

If you’re having a special event (i.e., Christmas, Easter, Movie Night, Back to School Bash, etc.), make sure you start 3-4 weeks ahead of time to encourage your people to invite neighbors, family, and friends to the event – include that in your weekly service invitation, follow it up with an email or text message to encourage members to invite family and friends.

Finally, celebrate when people join your church after a personal invitation! For ideas on what events to host, look at our 101 Outreach Event Ideas resource.  (It’s just one of the resources available when you sign up for a free profile)

Create Your Free CMU Profile

Church Marketing Strategy #2: Promote Where the People Go – Facebook Ads

If you’re like most churches, you may have already dipped your toes in the Facebook advertising pool by boosting a post you created for an event – it’s quick, it’s cheap, and doesn’t require a lot of effort.

But its effectiveness is limited.

Boosted posts are great for Page likes, comments, and shares – limited community involvement.

Facebook Ads, on the other hand, can be more customized to help you reach the audiences you care about most, typically people who live within driving distance of your church.

Facebook Ads are more effective for website conversions and video views, which help motivate people to actually come to visit or participate in a specific event, to truly become engaged.

For most churches, Facebook Ads work great around key momentum posts throughout the year like New Year’s, Easter, Mother’s Day, Back to School, and Christmas.

They work especially well if you are doing a fun bridge event for your community.

(See Strategy #10 below for more information about bridge events.)

They also work best when paired with two other marketing pillars – Plan Your Visit (#6) and Website (#7).

If you’re wanting to try Facebook Ads to bring more awareness to your church, run a Ministry First Marketing Campaign™️, watch Chris Abbott’s Prayer Ads video, and learn how a small church of 20 people got 209 visitors in only 5 months. 

Church Marketing Strategy #3: Take Advantage of Every Opportunity – Google Grant

We get it – advertising sounds great, but it costs money and your church doesn’t have an advertising budget. No worries – Google gives 501(c)(3) registered nonprofits (including churches) $10,000 per month in advertising money to rank first in search results through its Google Grant Program. So, when someone in your area searches for “things to do with kids,” or “local events,” or whatever other keywords you choose, your church ad would show up at the top of the page — you’d be one click away from drawing someone in from your community who’s searching for answers! 

And it doesn’t cost you a dime! 

Across the world, people make over 350 billion Google searches every single day. People are constantly searching for answers, how-to help, and resources. Wouldn’t it be great if your church showed up at the top of those search results when someone in your community searches for “church near me,”  “how do I find hope?” “who is God?’ or “things to do this Easter.” Would that impact your outreach efforts? You bet it would, again, at no cost to you. For more information about the Google Ad Grant program, read our Ultimate Guide to the Google Grant for Churches.

Church Marketing Strategy #4: Use Photography to Tell Your Story

Photography could be the breakthrough your church needs to reach more people.

Wait, what?

Pretty sure that the subject of photography doesn’t come up as you brainstorm ways to attract new people to your church, but it might just be the game changer you’ve been looking for because good photography of your real people (i.e. the people who attend your church) can help you reach more people with the Gospel. 

How?

Photography allows people to visit your church before they visit your church.

Think about it, going to a church for the first time can be a fearful thing for many people.

By showing the real you, people can see inside your church, they can see a bit of what to expect and have their fears eased.

CMU recently surveyed thousands of churches to discover what growing churches were doing that plateaued or declining churches were not doing.

One of the most surprising discoveries was that growing churches consistently capture and share photography.

Photography tells a story,  providing an opportunity to help those outside your church connect with those inside your church.

If you want to reach the younger generations who believe, “pics or didn’t happen,” photography is a must.

The 10 Photos You Need

You really only need 10 pictures to effectively show outsiders what they most want to know:

  • A warm welcome

  • Families

  • Friends

  • Kids having fun

  • Pastor(s) speaking

  • Your Lead Pastor in a casual environment 

  • Someone listening to a message

  • Singing/music

  • Groups 

  • Facility (w/ people) 

It’s easy enough for a teenager to shoot with their cell phone! Click here to learn more about how church photography helps you reach people.

Church Marketing Strategy #5: Utilize Latest Technology to Develop Relationships – Text!

Over 23 billion text messages are sent every single day!

And the vast majority of them, over 93%, are opened (only 20% of emails are opened); and nearly half of all text messages are replied to.

Texting is the most effective channel of communication today and is also the most powerful way to connect with young adults.

So if your church isn’t using this technology in your communications tool belt, you’ve fallen behind the times.

Developing a Texting System

If you’re looking to communicate with your congregation and your community in more relevant ways, you need to develop a texting system.

We say system because you simply don’t have the time to personally and individually text message all the people you want to reach, but an automated texting system certainly can.

It helps you take the best technology and leverage it for your church, allowing you to authentically and effectively communicate and, ultimately, frees you up to spend more time on ministry.

Texting can help you be in front of your congregation and community in a busy world to remind them of a sermon series or an event coming up – or just to follow up and let them know that you care.

Texting is crucial for any follow-up messaging.

How to Launch A Sermon Series Using Texting

Here’s just one simple idea for using texting technology to boost your engagement:

If you want to increase your Sunday morning attendance by 10-15%, set up a Sermon Series Text Bump each week.

It allows you to interrupt busy people’s routines and get them excited or intrigued about the new material that you’re going to be sharing.

It keeps your church in the forefront of their minds and maybe even creates a little FOMO (fear of missing out).

Best of all, it’s simple.

It’s just three intentionally timed and crafted text messages to invite and remind your people of a new sermon series.

It’s also a clever way to overcome the downside of a series–that if I miss one message I might as well miss them all.

Here are examples of the three sermon series messages:

  1. Invitation Message send Wednesday at 1 p.m. – or alternatively Friday at noon  (around lunchtime so your people are reminded to invite their coworkers). Example: Hi Jenna, looking forward to our new sermon series this weekend. I hope you enjoy it. Make sure to invite your friends.
  2. Reminder Message send Saturday between 9 -10 a.m. The timing is critical here because you want to catch people while they’re still talking through their plans for the rest of the weekend. Example: So excited for the new sermon series that starts tomorrow! See you at 10 a.m. The coffee will be hot! – Pastor Joe
  3. Follow Up (or Objection) Message  – Sent Tuesday (or as soon as the message is posted) following the first Sunday of the new message. Example: Hey Jenna, just posted the sermon from Sunday. Take a listen! Hope you can join us for week 2 of this powerful series. (include a link to the sermon). This third message deals with the false belief that people assume if they missed the first message they’ll be behind and never catch up, so it’s not worth going to church for the rest of the series.
  4. Additional Messages During The Series: You can send out additional text messages throughout the series to keep encouraging attendance. A few examples:
    • Saturday morning text: I found tomorrow’s sermon to be extremely relevant to my own life; praying it’s the same for you, Jenna.
    • Tuesday after sermon text: If you missed any of the sermons, don’t worry, they’re all online 🙂 (include the link here). Hope to see you Sunday.
    • Saturday morning text: Tomorrow is the last message in this series. Hope to see you there.

You can start using texting technology to encourage word-of-mouth marketing and personal invitation by signing up for a 60-day free Text In Church Test Drive.

Still not certain Text in Church is worth checking out? CMU’s Ryan Wakefield gives you 14 reasons he’s a Text in Church fan in his review of Text in Church here.

Church Marketing Strategy #6: Make It Easy for Non-Church People to Check You Out In Person – Plan Your Visit System

If you knew there was one thing you could do to attract a lot more unchurched people would you do it?

Of course you would!

That’s the heart behind Plan Your Visit.

At its core, Plan Your Visit is not a button or App you put on your website, it’s a ministry that’s an extension of your Guest Services.

It gives people the opportunity to schedule an appointment to visit your church ahead of time and eases first-time anxiety and the awkwardness of attending church for the first time in years – or even a lifetime.

Plan Your Visit is a strategic system for ensuring your church gets new visitors each and every week – and helps those visitors connect and become active members of your congregation. 

It starts with a growing list because a growing list is crucial to a growing church – if you want to be a growing church, you should always be growing your list.

What’s your church’s “list?”

We’re talking about a database of contact information your church has of people who’ve connected with you in some way.

This should include at least the first and last name of those contacts, their email, and mobile phone number. 

We all know ministry flows out of relationships and relationships take time.

But relationships can only start when you have someone’s contact information.

We call this the Law of the List and we cover this in-depth in Grow One (included if you enroll in CMU at the Pro Level or higher!).

CMU also discovered that growing churches prioritize gathering contact information.

A list represents the relationship opportunities your church has.

As you grow your list, you grow your ability to disciple more people.

The larger your list gets, the more people you can invite to church.

There’s a direct correlation between how many people are on your list and how many people you can get to show up.

We love Plan Your Visit because you can start building relationships before people even show up.

It’s also hands-down the best marketing call to action ever!

For more information about Plan Your Visit, check out these resources:

Church Marketing Strategy #7: Embrace the Fact that Your Website is Your Front Door

Your church’s website should be like a 24/7 outreach and hospitality leader and it serves as the offensive coordinator in tying all the other pillars together.

It’s where you can meet people every hour and invite them to visit in person or take the next step online.

Your church website should help your church rank higher in Google search results so people in your community can find you when they are searching for a church.

Bottom line, if your church’s website isn’t helping you reach more people in your community and bring in more visitors every weekend, it needs a major overhaul.

Because virtually every one of your people will first visit your website before they ever step foot in your building.

For help in making your church’s digital location effective, check out our Ultimate Guide to Church Website Builders.

Church Marketing Strategy #8: Help People Find You When They Are Searching – SEO Listing Sites

Are you tired of your church being the best-kept secret in your community?

It’s time to start listing your church on all the available online sites so you can help people find you when they are searching.

This is all free of charge, all you need to do is fill out your church profile.

Here are the Best of the Web Local sites currently:

Church Marketing Strategy #9: Social Proof Your Ministry – Reviews

Let’s face it – we live in a world where Google rules.

Want to know where to go for dinner? Look up those restaurants on Google and read the reviews.

Looking for a place to bring the kids that’s family-friendly? Look it up on Facebook and read the reviews.

Want to change service providers for your mobile phone or internet? Yelp is the place to go to see what other customers have to say.

Looking for a church? Any one of those services will be used to search for what people are saying about your church.

If people are going to look at reviews to determine what burrito they’re getting for lunch tomorrow, when it comes to who’s checking in on their kids, who’s watching them, and their spiritual life, they’re going to check out your church’s reviews.

There is no doubt that in today’s world, reviews drive decisions!

It’s what’s referred to as “Social Proof,” where the actions of others (normally in large numbers) help determine the best course of action for ourselves.

Why Social Proof Matters

So often in situations where we are uncertain about what to do, we assume that the people around us (experts, celebrities, friends, etc.) have more knowledge about what’s going on and what should be done.

Translated into Bible language – social proof is much like testimony time that helps build our faith in what God might do in our own life.

Reviews are the cars to your digital location.

So, the question is, does your church pass the car test?

If you don’t have at least 5 positive reviews on Google, Facebook, and Yelp, you probably won’t be successful at driving visitors to your church.

CMU can help you develop a system for getting regular positive reviews, including scripts for helping you recruit your raving fans, in our Grow One Course.

You can apply for a CMU scholarship or enroll in our CMU Pro Level.

Church Marketing Strategy #10: Become a Bridge to Your Community

If you develop a culture that embraces events that serve as a bridge to your community, you’ll open doors you never thought possible.

Bridge Events can be as simple as an afternoon Easter Egg Hunt or Christmas gathering; or as intense as a two-to-five-night event that addresses a felt need in your community (i.e. Health, marriage, parenting, depression/anxiety/suicide, etc.).

By hosting such an event, you introduce people to your church without the barriers that are often associated with longer series evangelism, hence they become a “bridge” to people learning about your church and checking you out. 

Hosting a fun event for your community is a great way to get to know people.

Whatever you do, be sure to collect contact information (name, email, cell phone).

This is critical if you are to build relationships after the event is over.

We’ve found people more than willing to provide their contact information at a Photo Booth set up during an event – everyone loves a family picture.

Check out how to do it well in this Photo Booth Guide.

Church Marketing Strategy #11: Develop a Heart for Outreach

Like Bridge Events, outreach efforts can go a long way to introduce your church to folks in your community in a non-intimidating way through service opportunities out in your community.

You want to demonstrate God’s love in tangible, practical ways consistently to those in need around your church.

This could be “adopting” a group (i.e., police, teachers, first responders, vets) and becoming known as the church that is all about them.

Or focus on a specific need, family-focused fun events every month.

The point is, to become a church where Outreach is a key value and mission!

One popular idea is something we call Fill the Fridge.

Basically, select a local public school; meet with the principal and tell him or her you’re the Pastor of X Church and you believe in what they’re doing.

You’d like to bless and thank the teachers and staff for what they do by coming once a month and filling the teachers’ fridge with snacks.

Be sure to ask them for their favorite drinks, snacks, etc.

Then, every time you do it, leave a sign or letter saying, “Hey, we filled the fridge, thank you for everything you do.”

Such a simple thing but such a huge impact.

We’ve got 101 Outreach Event Ideas for you to choose from. Set up your free CMU profile and get access to our 101 Outreach Ideas Guide. 

Church Marketing Strategy #12: Be Fully Focused on the Next Generation

The biggest indicator that you are going to be a growing church is that your lead pastor prioritizes reaching the next generation.

For rapidly growing churches, this is true 88% of the time.

For growing churches, it’s true 68% of the time while only 38% of declining churches are focused on the next generation.

Not much more needs to be said – whatever you do at your church, if you want to impact your community, put a large amount of focus, resources, and leadership into your children’s and student ministries.

Bottom line, the impact you achieve by using any of the marketing strategy ideas in this article can be multiplied exponentially by making sure you add a special emphasis on kids’ ministry within that idea.

Ready, Set, Go

In this article, we focused on strategies to get new visitors to your church every week, future articles will focus on getting those visitors to come back and ultimately connect to the lifeblood of your church.

Now you’re ready to intentionally and strategically let your community know you exist and that you care!

For more insights into church marketing, sign up to receive free resources from Church Marketing University. For access to more than 30 courses and dozens of sermon series/event kits, join Church Marketing University.

If you are a small church or struggling financially, apply here for a CMU Scholarship.

When you’re ready to go all in, set up a system with the right marketing plan, have a team of experts setting up the majority of the system for you and guiding you each step of the way, sign up for CMU’s Grow

It’s time to make heaven crowded!

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