So you want to bring some “publicity” to your ministry within your church? And why not? It’s your passion, something you’ve poured your heart and soul into, and you’re excited to have others experience what God is doing in your particular sphere.
BEAUTIFUL! Now the question becomes how to do that. Let me ask: What is the first thing that comes to your mind on how to do that? Let me venture out and guess. It was probably either the idea to have your ministry/event promoted by the pastor from stage on Sunday morning, or to show a wiz bang video on Sunday morning, right?
Those two options are typically the two that people desire the most – and we’ll lump them together and call it the promotional approach. It seems to make sense right? I want to promote my ministry so I’ll go the promotional approach. But surprisingly a flashy commercial, or plug by the pastor, are not the most effective, and I would argue they have minimal impact on ministry success. In fact, there are two things that are MUCH more effective. But, before I share those let me share my theory as to why people believe the promotional approach is the best.
People elevate promotion and forget their desire for success. They believe that the former will get them the latter. "If we promote we'll succeed." So, they concentrate on promotion so much it actually replaces the most important goal – success.
Losing sight of the real goal of a successful minstry is what makes visibility the most alluring reason to go the promotional approach. The thought goes like this: If people are shown a snazzy graphic or video then they will come. And of course you would think that. You probably reason it this way. If I know it’s so great, and then the pastor gets up and says it’s great, then people will be busting down the doors to get in. I mean, from your perspective, why wouldn’t they come to such an awesome ministry/event? Realize that you know how awesome it is but those watching the video/plug do not, and a commercial is not going to change that.
The promotional approach interrupts by its nature, so people tend to tune it out. Further, it has three fatal flaws. First, it only holds attention for a short time. Second, it interrupts instead of offering something valuable. Third, unless you have billions to spend there’s no way you can compete with the advertising companies to break through the noise - even on a Sunday morning.
This is what I mean by noise. When people see a promo video for your ministry mostly what they experience is noise amongst the 20,000 adverts they see every day. To them it’s just another piece of junk mail. I know that sounds harsh. It’s harsh because this is your ministry we’re talking about here. It means a lot to you. You’ve poured your sweat and tears into it, right? So, with that let me press in and challenge you to be open to what I’m proposing because you care so much about your ministry and you want to see it succeed.
The other reason I believe people desire the promotional approach is that it feels good to be affirmed, and having the “main guy” do that from the stage feels like it gives your ministry a certain level of preeminence. But let’s peel the layers back on this. If we’re honest you’ll have to admit it feels good to get some notoriety. It’s why people seek their 15 minutes of fame – it makes them feel like they’re somebody. A Sunday morning video gives your ministry, and by extension you, 15 minutes of fame.
Did I just hurt someone’s feelings? Well if you keep reading it likely won’t be the last time.
This might surprise you but notoriety or affirmations by “the main guy” are not compelling reasons for people to get plugged in. I’ll admit it does create a level of awareness, but effectiveness is minimal. At this point you’re probably resisting this idea that the promotional approach is wrong, right? You rebut, “The promotional approach works for the advertising companies!” But does it? After American companies spent nearly $140 billion last year in promotion how much junk mail do you just throw away? What do you do when a commercial comes on TV? Do you really listen to the announcer at the stadium plugging local sponsors? If we’re honest those are the times we check out. We end up talking to the person sitting next to us, or rallying around some food. Both of which are community oriented. Which brings me to the two most effective ways at getting people to your ministry/event (No it’s not food, but food helps).
The promotional approach has a miniscule return compared to the community flavored approaches of invitational and attractional. The first, and by far the most effective means to get people plugged into your ministry is simply by personally inviting them. The one-on-one personal invite out distances all other methods by far, especially the promotional approach. The number one reason people don’t go to church is the same reason they don’t attend your ministry/event – they haven’t received a personal invitation from someone they know. The invitational approach is the most effective hands down.
There are many reasons why this approach isn’t embraced. My guess is that you’ve come up with half a dozen in the time it’s taken to read the last half dozen sentences. I acknowledge that, as much as the invitational approach is effective, it is just as intimidating. If we peel away the layers one of the biggest barriers is that it will take effort. You’ll have to cast vision, develop a plan, and motivate the people in the ministry to invite people to the ministry. And many in the ministry will resist that for the same reason they don’t share their faith or invite poeple to church – fear of rejection. It means putting in individual effort by those in the ministry, which carries with it the weight of success/failure. Removed is the scapegoat of not-getting-enough-support-on-Sundays-excuse. I know – ouch. I just stepped on some toes again.
It’ll always be easier to sit behind the blame bunker and toss out complaints about the lack of promotion on a Sunday morning, or lack of support by leadership as the reason why the ministry isn’t growing. Word of mouth has been and always will be the most powerful form of marketing. People buy products, and to a certain level they make those decisions based on a commercial. People almost never join a community/ministry as a result of a commercial. They do rather as a direct result of a personal one-on-one invitation.
If you get anything out of this article know this one thing. Invitation is the single most effective means of marketing your ministry – period (read the last two sentences a few more times). And I bet you still want a video/pastor’s promotion, and I have to ask, “Why?”
Do you want your ministry to be flashy or effective? Consider how you answer that because this could be indicative of what’s happening in your own heart (I know… ouch). Often we choose style over substance which sabotages our ministries. We want luster rather than life change, which happens one on one. We have to admit we live in a celerity culture and a “famous” ministry is alluring to us. Let me say it again, we want luster rather than life change even if we couch it in spiritual sounding jargon.
Still with me? If you are then good for you. You want a successful ministry, and I’m rooting for you.
Second to invitational is the attractional approach. I love this tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous. Of their 12 traditions the 11th says this: Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion. I would argue that this is one of the reasons why they are so successful. When stories get out about lives being changed, people being healed from past pains, relationships being reconciled and deepened, people realizing God wants to use them to change the world around them then people want to be a part of that community. You must understand, at its essence your ministry is simply a shell that contains community. If it doesn’t then it is an empty shell, and no surprise it’s not successful (Ouch! There I go again).
People want to be a part of authentic community. That’s just the way God wired us. That means people will be attracted to a community that is vibrant, transparent, and safe. People want to experience grace and truth. Depth of relationship is your best publicity and no superficial commercial will ever be a replacement. And again this takes effort. You’ll have to cast vision, model what you want the ministry to become, and lead people forward. And when this kind of community is happening then the people in the ministry will more likely embrace the invitational approach –they go hand in glove. It will always be easier to settle for a 2 minute video promotion on a Sunday morning than to develop a community that’s attractive to others, and go about the work of one-on-one inviting. So you’ll have to answer this question for yourself: Do I want easy or effective?
So, if you’re marketing shampoo go promotional. If you want a successful ministry, go invitational and attractional.
I'm willing to bet that after all this you’re still saying, “OK, so we don’t need a video or pastor’s commercial, but it sure would be nice to have one.” There’s nothing wrong with those things, but let them be the last thing you do rather than the first, and don’t expect great results, except a warm fuzzy seeing your ministry on the big screen.
Do yourself a favor and “market” your ministry the right way, but be prepared for God to deal with some of your own heart issues in the process.