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 Ultimate Guide to Church Merchandise
So, you’ve been tasked with coming up with engaging church merchandise/swag – why not?
Seems everyone is doing it these days! It’s great for first-time guest gifts, volunteer teams, and (in some cases!) conversation starters your people can use to invite!
So we’ve created this guide to help you figure out how to make that merch happen!
But first- let’s talk the marketing strategy and heart behind merch.
What's the purpose of your church's merch?
Before you jump into the deep end, there are a few foundational questions you need to work through:
- Do we use the church logo and name or a more generic missional wording?
- Do we intend to make money or just break even?
- If we want to use it as a fundraiser, which ministry/mission will it be funding?
Bottom line, you need to know the why behind your what before you can get to the appropriate how.
Basically, what are you hoping to achieve, what’s your marketing strategy?
Do you think merchandise can help your church members engage more people as part of your outreach efforts?
Are you wanting to reward volunteers with free merchandise and have a “look or brand” for those associated with your church?
Or, is this a way to creatively raise funds for either a ministry that’s struggling or even mission work?
Getting the idea yet that the “why” drives all other decisions?
Should we use our church's logo on merch?
If you’re hoping to get another tool into your people’s hands for engaging the community, then you probably don’t want to highlight your church’s logo or name, but rather a tagline that engages people to ask for what it means. That gives your people a chance to mention your church and carry on an engaging conversation.
If instead, you’re looking to have your biggest fans help advertise your church, then you may want to highlight your church logo and name.
Regardless, if you’re looking at hats, brands don’t normally put their logo on the very front unless you’re a sports team. The front is reserved for something eyecatching while the logo is moved to the back. You can utilize the same strategy for other clothing items, too.
One church decided to highlight its mission statement rather than a logo – “Changing lives that change lives.”
They felt that members of their church would be more open to something that was community/mission-minded rather than their logo and it was a huge hit, particularly with the younger generation. ‘
It gave them a reminder of where they belonged, but also opened up a conversation.
At CMU, we highlight the phrase “dream big, pray bigger, start small” motto on some of our merch. So far, people seem to love it FAR more than if we stuck our logo on some things.
The current trend, according to vendors focusing on the church market, is far more churches ordering swag with something other than the church logo.
Should we try to make a profit on our church merch?
The second decision involves financing the initiative – do you cover the cost as a ministry of the church? Do you try to break even and only charge your cost? Or do you use it as a way to raise funds for a ministry or mission?
Churches are doing all three, so it really goes back to the why behind your what – why are you offering church merchandise and what are you hoping to accomplish with it?
The answer to who’s funding this initiative may also help you choose the “how” – certain vendors are better known for each of those situations.
Where should we order our church's merch?
Whether you’re giving away special gifts to help people remember your church or you’re selling products to help your biggest fans spread the word about your mission, there will come a time when you need to find a church merch vendor.
So we went to the experts – your peers in church communications – to get their best options.
In addition to their recommendations, we’ve included links to contact them directly should you have any questions.
You can read through the online church merch discussion in the Church Marketers Facebook Group as well, or go there to seek more advice.
It’s wise to start with the tried and true church merch vendors until you know what you specifically need or desire with your church swag.
This list isn’t long, but these recommendations come from church communications professionals as their “go-to” vendors for quick and easy church merch:
- According to the 52 Threads Facebook page, this firm in Southaven, MS offers high-quality print and embroidery services. They print and design shirts and merch for anyone, anywhere, any need, and claim their design work is truly free and truly custom. “We help people that are helping people! We make it easy for individuals, families, or groups to fundraise for mission trips, adoptions, or any other cause.”
This recommendation came from Nick Smetak who says, “They can even set up a ‘short-term’ store, take payments, and handle other stuff for you!” They recently merged with Fund The Nations.
- Custom Ink also offers print and embroidery services, free and guaranteed shipping, and helps with fundraising efforts for churches and missions which is one reason they are Charity Lane’s go-to church merch vendor.
From their website: “We believe that custom t-shirts do more than just make you look good – they help you feel good and inspire you to do good as well. We’re passionate about custom gear, but what we love even more is helping you bring what you love to life.” Heather Lucas and James Gribbins also recommend Custom Ink.
- 4 Imprint is another go-to vendor for Charity Lane. They’re known for ideas, samples, art assistance, meeting impossible deadlines, and helping you navigate the custom merchandise world.
From their website: “From logoed masks and hand sanitizer to signage solutions and even services to package and send your items directly to people on your list, we’ve got what you need to succeed as we all navigate the brighter road ahead.”
Made to Order/Drop-Ship Printing Companies
Many churches are choosing made-to-order vendors for their eCommerce platform so they don’t have to stock merchandise or guess what constituents might want.
This is an especially good option if you have limited space or want to be able to offer merch without continually taking time out of a staff or volunteer’s schedule.
- When you need to have online orders dropshipped, Seth Muse says Printify is an excellent choice.
They are an on-demand company which means you don’t need to hold inventory, handle, pack or ship the products yourself.
From their website:“Drop shipping is convenient and low-risk, and when connected with Print on Demand, it makes it possible to design and brand merchandise while third parties supply the final customer.”
- Chelsea Marie Smith uses Printful for all her church’s clothing merchandise. They sell merchandise in their church’s foyer at cost only.
From Printful’s website: “We’ll make the products for you—print, embroider or sew whatever it is you’re selling, on-demand. This means the product is made only when someone buys from you. We’ll pack the products, too! Plus, you can add personalized pack-ins to your orders, like hand-written thank you cards, stickers, or coupons with special deals. Last, but not least—we’ll ship the product straight to your customer. You’ll only have to decide on the shipping rates.”
Online Store Options
If you’re planning to utilize eCommerce store church merch sales to fund a mission, program, or church ministry, experienced staff recommend starting small and choosing on-demand vendors at a minimum and an online store to augment your sales.
Charnice Hale says, “Made to order is great so you don’t have excess left over. Start small to test where your congregation’s interests are.”
See the pictures below for lobby display ideas.
- Online vendors that will ship to you directly are Stickermule, Redbubble, and Printify.
Stickermule offers an array of stickers, you know the kind we keep handing out, plus custom labels and t-shirts.
From the Stickermule website: “Sticker Mule is the fastest and easiest way to buy custom printed products. Order in 60 seconds and we’ll turn your designs and illustrations into custom stickers, magnets, buttons, labels, and packaging in days. We offer free online proofs, free worldwide shipping, and super fast turnaround.”
Redbubble offers literally millions of artwork designs by independent artists from all around the world.
From the Redbubble Website: “Get Artwork Printed On Anything From Clothes & Apparel To Home Décor & Accessories. Worldwide Shipping. Local Support. Secure Payments. Styles: Classic, Graphic Tees.”
- Charnice Hale is the Communications & Marketing Director at DreamLife Worship Center and she’s in charge of her church’s merchandise.
DreamLife does sell merchandise, they display a few items in their lobby and have an online store through its website.
Her favorite vendor is Promotique, a company by Vista Print. She also utilized VistaPrint.
From the Promotique website: “Here you’ll find a wide collection of custom promotional products, so you can stand out in a way that’s right for your business. Whether you’re looking for promotional clothing and custom uniforms, personalized bags, or custom sports and water bottles, we’ve got options for your team and company.”
From the VistaPrint website: “For more than 20 years, VistaPrint has helped small business owners, entrepreneurs and dreamers create custom designs and professional marketing. Our online printing services are intended to help you find custom products you need – business cards, promotional marketing, and more – to create a look you love.” Glory House also uses VistaPrint.
- Although it’s been several years since he’s ordered, Brandon Gilliam says CafePress lets you set up an online store where everything is made to order so you don’t have to worry about ordering, fulfillment, or customer service.
He also says you can set the price at their cost and earn nothing, or set it higher and keep the difference between their cost and yours.
You can also get 40% off your first order by signing up for email notifications.
In addition to customizable products, they claim to be the largest retailer of officially licensed merchandise. Glory House also uses CafePress.
- Bill Breed says the key is to create an on-demand store that doesn’t require inventory.
He works for ACES eCommerce Solutions and says their niche is faith-based.
He says, “If you want some hand-holding, direction, customization, and strategy we can help.”
- ACES eCommerce YouTube Video
- Contact Bill Breed with questions
Online Church Merch Stores (Examples!)
If you’re looking to start an online eCommerce store for your church merchandise, there’s nothing like learning from those who’ve gone before you. Check out these church stores for best practices ideas and then start selling:
- The Rock Church store, Spokane, WA
- Vous Church store, Miami, FL
- Life.Church store, Edmonton, OK home, multiple locations
- Church on a Mission store, Kenner, LA
- Red Rocks store, Littleton, CO
Sandra Raisch Potts of The Presbyterian Church of Toms River uses a combo of Printify to print on demand and Shopify to handle sales and drop shop.
Their store is not a fundraiser, they make enough on what they sell just to cover their costs.
Kay Pemberton says her church found a local vendor who gave them a link for their website.
They open the store 3-4 times a year for orders with items they choose that go along with the church’s brand.
The printer takes orders, handles the money, and then folks pick up their orders at church.
- Robbie Foreman recommends Intentional Merch
- Casey Hushon recommends The Church Shop
- Jackie Raimondi and Schuylir Armstrong recommend Bonfire; Jackie also uses Spring
For Spanish-speaking designers, Jeremy Victor recommends GC Designs