It might sound unsurprising, but religious organizations can be shy to market themselves. Or, they might do so in quite traditional ways and ignore more modern ways of connecting. This is hardly surprising, as they are not the same as a shop, restaurant or museum. Some might say that they get the people that want to come to them naturally. People who want to attend will attend and those who do not want to, will not. Well this is not quite the case these days. It is in the interests of the community and the religious organization that they reach out.
Reaching out can take many forms and should not just be to get seats filled for Sunday. This might be one consideration for the organization. However, others might be as simple as supporting those in need or outreaching. Some could be to encourage a greater use of the church, synagogue or temple as a building. There are many reasons why religious organizations might need marketing strategies. Our guide of 20 different strategies will not fit every organization. However, all should be able to utilise some strategies.
- Set up groups in the organization to support marketing
Whoever you are to the religious organization, you cannot do marketing on your own. Have a service on the theme and set up groups to support. Encourage people to come up with ideas of what your organization can do. Some of these may not be possible or will not be considered appropriate. Some people would think some things appropriate that others would not. Finding a common ground is therefore important, which is much easier in a group. Add to these, methods for implementing the marketing that you as a group want to do. Then together build a plan a short, medium and long-term plan to implement. This can be used over time to positively market the organization harmoniously.
2. Build a brand
It may not sound right for religious organizations, but in this it is the same as any business. Building a brand is a key feature of marketing any type of group. You want to have a timeless and classic look that is bold yet all-encompassing. This starts with an excellent logo that will give consistent appearance to all your materials. It should be used on all print and digital marketing. You might call yourself ‘Bingford Church’ but what is going to make that stand out for the community? Community leaders or those going out in the community might benefit from branded clothing. This very much helps with identification at activities.
3. Engage people via email and text
Handing someone a leaflet is no longer effective marketing. In the past, this used to be the only way people had to remind themselves of something. These days, there is email and text to give us reminders. The more time passes, the more we seem to rely on these. These are excellent methods of giving people information that they might well retain. Send out your monthly newsletter via email. Send a monthly text just to pick out one highlight of what is happening that month. This could follow the newsletter after a week or so. Most people in a religious organization these days will be well connected.
4. Have a professional website
If someone new is thinking about engaging with you, they will probably look at your website first. That is why your website needs to look slick and professional. If it is 15 years old with blurry, fuzzy photos then what does that say about the organization? That it is old fashioned and out of touch with modern times? This could be extremely off-putting. It could be off-putting to your own congregation too. Ensure your site looks good even if that means investing in some professional help. Additionally, make sure it is always up to date and relevant to your audience.
5. Engage with local community events
There will be lots of events in your local community. These could be summer fairs, wellbeing fairs, fourth of July celebrations. Always get involved, if your religious community can make it possible. To support these events is a way to reach out to the local community. Equally, to get involved gets the name of your religious organization into the public domain. Both religious and non-religious events are just as important to participate in. To be part of such events will add to your community and the local community.
6. Set up events that are not on a Sunday
This sounds so basic, but have you thought of having events that are not on a Sunday? Have a service on a Wednesday evening; perhaps some people are working on Sundays? You can also arrange to hold some activities not on a Sunday that the local community might enjoy. What about a crafting afternoon once each month? Or perhaps you can hold a bereavement group monthly on a Saturday afternoon? This could be for anyone suffering the loss of a loved one whether part of your organization or not. Think about what your local community needs support with. Then find a way to fill that need with your expertise.
7. Get in the business listings and local search
Add your religious organization to the business listings. You want people to know you exist if they are looking for a local church. This is a basic but good way to market yourself. Another way can be to pay for Google AdWords to list you at the top of the search. You can make it very specific, so when someone types ‘church Baton Rouge Louisiana’ you would come up. But you would not when they type just ‘Baton Rouge Louisiana’ or ‘church Louisiana’. This is Cost Per Click, so you only pay when someone clicks on the advert. If you are going to use this, it is vital to set a budget and stick to it.
8. Engage on Facebook and Twitter
Using social media is a very important part of engaging with people these days. If you ignore social media, then you are missing out on a very popular method of communication. Have a well-maintained Facebook and Twitter account. You can use a management system to pre-plan tweets and posts in advance. Schedule a month at a time in just an hour or so. Ensure there is someone on hand to answer comments very regularly. Perhaps that member of the flock who cell phone lives in their hand!
9. Have an entrance that is welcoming and friendly signage
Physical marketing is very valuable, especially when you have a physical building. Ensure there is some friendly signage to get visitors through the door. Then when they come in, that the environment is friendly. It should be well-lit and welcoming rather than old-fashioned and austere. The way it looks will be important to avoid people turning around and leaving again. You can have someone welcoming by the door in a positive way. Invite people to come in and compel them to stay.
10. Video sermons and put them on your site
Video sermons might sound incredibly alien to some preachers. However, they can be a really great way of engaging people within and beyond your religious organization. Create these videos and then host them on your site. You can additionally host them on a site like YouTube if you want to spread the word further. Videos are a popular way to get a message out the community. It can show potential visitors what to expect if they attend your services. For those who are unsure whether to come, this could be helpful. It means those who sometimes attend can benefit even if they do not attend that week.
11. Market directly to occasional members
There might be a value in speaking out directly to those who occasionally attend. If you have their details, then you might want to market to them specifically. Increasing their attendance could be exactly what your religious organization needs. In this way, you could additionally try to get them more involved in the overall marketing plan. This is especially true if a strategy tried on them worked well. It might simply be getting some feedback from this group about what might make them attend more often. This could be something simple to implement but without asking, you will not know.
12. Hold regular events not related to religion
That is, events that are for everyone but held on the premises. This sounds like such an obvious thing to do. However, it could be a good mid-point for those who are interested but nervous about coming on Sunday. This way they would get to see the building and meet some of the leaders and attendees. That would be without obligation to come again or to get further involved. An example of this might be a Games Night on a Thursday evening for a couple of hours. Equally it could be a Mother’s Day tea held on a Sunday afternoon with tea and refreshments.
13. Choose a specific group to engage and work to involve them
Is there a group you would like to get more involved in your organization? Perhaps you want to access your international community? Or do you have a focus on the lonely in society? This may mean focusing on young professionals or the elderly. Whichever group you would like to reach out to, choose a set group. Then develop strategies to access this group. Perhaps this is hosting an event that would be interesting to them. Perhaps it is simply placing an advert of interest in a local magazine or newspaper. Focusing on a specific group can be a positive and rewarding approach.
14. Join in with an existing community program
There might be local organizations that have community programs. Is there one that would be willing to join with you as a partner? Could you partially fund an activity or host some of the activities? Perhaps your members would be willing to providing friendship or refreshments for the group? Maybe they support bright young people to move onto college. There might be ways in which your religious organization can support. Joining an existing program shares the burden of work and/ or cost in a positive way.
15. Get fired up about a cause
Most religious organizations have causes they like to support. Whether this is something in developing nations, environmental or local, getting involved in a cause is great marketing. By supporting something external, you can meet and get involved with those who support that cause. Get them to come and speak at your meetings or have a special fundraiser evening. This is good for the cause and positive for your members. It could also bring new people into your organization. Even if they just come to an event related to the cause, they come to your building. It forms local networks, which are all relevant.
16. Have a ‘bring a friend’ day
Not as silly as it sounds. See if your members have friends that do not participate in your organization. Most people are likely to have a few. Ask them to bring their friend to the church one Sunday. Have familiar things such as songs and hymns that are well known. Hand out friendly information leaflets. Have sweet treats with a drink at the end. Have some crafts for any children, to be family friendly. You can do this just for younger members too, encouraging them to bring their friend. It is a way to market yourself to potential new members with ease.
17. Have a monthly open-house
You could open your building and organization up for a couple of hours once a month. This could be on a Saturday or perhaps a Sunday afternoon. People could be encouraged to come along but not to a service. They could come and see the building. There could be a focus on meeting some of the members and just chatting with them. There could be drinks and snacks for an extra element of being made welcome. Your members could answer questions about what you do and why. This can break down any perceived barriers between your organization and the local community.
18. Shake up Sundays
Not every Sunday has to be the same format over again. Have you considered shaking up Sundays and doing things differently? Have you thought about a Sunday with a shortened service followed by a cup of tea and discussion? What about getting the young people to set up and run a service? You could have a short service and then get everyone around the table for a craft session. Perhaps everyone could make a tree decoration in December for the local community? There are so many options for sharing the spirit of Sunday to benefit everyone.
19. Make sure locals know what is on
Create an attractive newsletter and ask each member to post 15 through local doors. This way, local people can know what is going on in your organization. If they like the sound of something then they might be willing to come and try it. Include your services but also your fun events for all. Have concise and relevant information without requests for cake on such a date or someone to do flowers. One day, those nearby might like to get involved and come along. Make sure to number each leaflet. Otherwise, one house could get five and others none.
20. Jazz things up – it’s visual
The look and feel of something so often affects the way we react to it. If your organization’s building looks austere and imposing, it is unlikely to attract anyone new. Try to jazz it up and make it as welcoming as possible. Perhaps a green-fingered member could create some pots or window boxes. Filled with bright colored, attractive flowers they could cheer up the external building. Make sure it is well-lit inside and the furniture and furnishings are clean. Patched up flooring, broken chairs and ancient mismatched tables are unattractive. Although these seem unimportant, if someone has taken the time to come inside, give a good impression. The same goes for members. A bright hello and a smile go a long way to welcoming someone. If you want to bring people in, be welcoming.
There are so many things that religious organizations can do to market themselves. Although this can feel uncomfortable to do, it is important. Being inclusive and welcoming in new members is usually an important part of religion. Equally, outreaching and engaging with the local community is a positive action. These can both happen in your building. Build a brand and create a welcoming place to come to for those living locally. While there are lots of tips and advice, not all might be suitable for your organization. Identify a few that might well work best for you. Most of all, change is hard, but it can be so positive to try something new. Working to bring in new people through marketing is a great step to benefiting your organization long term.