I am not against intentional marketing efforts by churches. Using social media, mass media and even old-fashioned print media can be helpful.
It’s just that they are less helpful than disciples of Jesus pursuing an authentic, vitalized faith.
Before a church even discusses marketing, the more primal question needs addressing. How much do we want others to be a part of this congregation?
Vitalized congregations are fascinated with the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, endeavoring to follow in the way of Jesus.
When this happens, with people authentically investing in this journey, they can’t stop talking about it.
Others want to be a part of this journey when they observe the energy, vitality and even struggle of authentic Jesus followers.
These congregations focus on the intersection of life, God and people; they discover mystery, power and transformation. Hence, no marketing plan is needed.
Not long ago, I helped a discussion in a congregation that wants to reach more young people.
We reviewed a fascinating set of data describing their congregation and its context (the U.S. Congregational Life Survey).
This survey used a particular denomination as its sample group, yet the outcomes are reflected in most denominational congregations.
By far, the most often cited reason for a person visiting and staying with a new church is the invitation of a disciple (member) from that church.
A person is seven times more likely to visit worship when a lay person invites him or her than when a pastor or staff member does the inviting.
The disciples in this particular congregation were shocked. They had seen the pastor as the primary person who brings new people to the church.
But this raises another thorny question. If the disciples of a congregation are so instrumental in bringing spiritual seekers, then why are they (we) not doing so more often?
Here are some of the answers we hear in our consulting work:
â— I’m embarrassed at how out of touch our congregation is with the reality of the world. I’m not sure I want to expose my un-churched friends to this.
â— Our church is answering questions no one outside the church is asking.
â— The negative and bitter attitudes of my church peers about issues of the day would surprise and discourage my other friends.
â— Our worship experience is so complex; it’s like Greek to those unfamiliar with church culture.
â— Our worship experience is so dry, brittle and boring that I don’t want to discourage my friends who want a spiritual experience with God.
â— Our unwritten dress code is an obstacle to people used to dressing down on weekends (and in their professional lives).
â— My un-churched friends don’t have the patience and toleration level it takes to learn the church culture with its language, relationships and norms.
â— It’s too much work for the average outsider to become an insider in our church.
We could go on. Most disciples don’t actually say these statements out loud, until they have a safe space to do so.
But when we really see church life this way, who among us wants to invite others to join us?
Congregations who resemble the statements above have some house cleaning and home improvement work to do.
Fortunately, we hear many other statements from vitalized congregations. When disciples start talking this way, then you know they want their friends to experience what they are experiencing.
â— When we worship, I encounter God. I have an authentic spiritual experience most of the time when I worship with our church.
â— Participating in this congregation’s life stretches me; I’m a better person because of my involvement with this church.
â— I’m allowed to bring my spiritual questions here, and still be accepted in this church. There is a culture of openness to sincere spiritual seeking.
â— This is a group of people that doesn’t just talk about changing the world. Our church rolls up its sleeves and makes a difference in our part of the world.
â— These are people to ride the river with. We are sharing life’s journey together, with a real sense of connection and community.
â— Our church challenges me to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ, not just wait around for heaven.
When congregations focus on pursuing authentic faith (becoming more fully developed disciples of Jesus Christ), then something remarkable happens. Organic, spontaneous, unplanned “marketing” happens. People want their friends to experience this.
Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates.