Is Church Marketing Biblical?

Pastor Benny Perez at the Church at South Las Vegas needed a new way to reach out to the people in his community. Although his church was growing—slowly—he longed for an innovative way to attract the unchurched. So Pastor Perez and his staff tried a television commercial and direct mail postcards. In three years, The Church at South Las Vegas rapidly grew to 1,700 members.


Today, hundreds of churches and ministries just like the Church at South Las Vegas are actively engaging in “church marketing”—using communication tools like direct mail, door-hangers and even TV to proactively reach out to the unchurched in their communities—with amazing results. But have you ever wondered if there’s biblical support for this type of outreach? Does Scripture give us examples of these techniques in action?


Read on—the answers may surprise you.


Marketing Mandate


We’re familiar with Jesus’ “Great Commission” mandate found in Matthew 28:19-20:“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Sprit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This first-century command still applies. God wants us to actively live and speak His truth today—in ways that communicate to our 21st century culture.


Think church marketing is just a modern invention? Take a look at the story of Pentecost, an amazing picture of God using what we now identify as strategic marketing and communication principles to grow His church.


Strategic Timing


As the saying goes, “Timing is everything.” In order for a message to have the maximum impact, it must be delivered at a time when the most people are listening or watching. For instance, the Super Bowl traditionally draws more TV viewers than any other televised event throughout the year. Because advertisers want their message to be heard by as many people as possible, there’s a high demand—and high cost—for Super Bowl advertising.


God used this principle of “strategic timing” in sending the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Scripture says in Acts 2:1, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” Although “they” specifically refers to Christ’s most loyal followers, we know the religious Jews of the Roman Empire would have gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost as well. In fact, Pentecost was one of just three times a year when a large number of Jews would have congregated at the same time in the same place. In other words, if God wanted to speak to the people of Israel and make an impact, this was the right time to do it.


Moreover, the apostles were together in the temple precincts—the most public place in Jerusalem and the main location of the Pentecost ceremonies—when the Holy Spirit was poured out, and the first sermon of the new church was preached. Obviously, God did not want this to be a private event! Instead, He took advantage of a strategic moment He’d created, the Feast of Pentecost, to begin His Church.


Targeted and Receptive Audience


Without fail, candy canes and Christmas trees sell well every December.  That’s because the Christmas season is at the forefront of consumers’ minds, and a targeted and receptive audience is always critical for effective communication.


Of the large audience of Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast, most were God-fearing Jews, many of whom had traveled a great distance with the clear objective of celebrating and sacrificing to God. It was a unique time when the subject of God and religion was at the forefront of their minds. God took advantage of the large audience of religious Jews, their minds focused on a religious event, to send the gift of the Holy Spirit—and launch His Church.


Appropriate Media and Method


Today’s advertisers get our attention by using language and images that are familiar to us. For example, if you were advertising a dietary supplement for senior citizens, you wouldn’t include shots of skateboarders and surfers or use the latest slang. Why? Your audience doesn’t relate to those things or speak that language. However, use the same surfing and skateboarding images for a soft drink commercial, and your message is right on target.


We see this same use of “appropriate media and method” in God’s presentation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Acts 2:2-4 says:


“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”


God used the sound of violent winds, the visual of tongues of fire, and the multiple languages to capture the attention of other God-fearing Jews. Acts 2:5-8 continues:


“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked, ‘Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?’”


A religious Jew would have recognized fire as a symbol of the divine presence (Exodus 3:2, Exodus 13:21), and wind or breath as a symbol of the Spirit of God, of creation and of life (Ezekiel 37:5-19, Genesis 2:7, Psalm 104:29-30). Of course, God “spoke their language.” He used specific, recognizable actions to catch this particular audience’s attention.


Compelling Message


Good marketing is based on a strong, compelling message to the audience. This message should make an impact and prompt the audience to action. So what was God’s “compelling message” at Pentecost? Most importantly, it was to declare His [powers and wonders (Acts 2:11-12)] through the languages and the tongues of fire (which the religious Jews would also understand on a symbolic level).


In essence, God used this display of power to draw a crowd, which in turn would hear a presentation of the Gospel by Peter (Acts 2:14-40). As a result, Scripture says, “Those who accepted [Peter’s] message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).


Biblical Church Marketing


While on earth, Jesus spoke to people right where they were—geographically and emotionally. He touched and spoke to people individually about matters that were important to them. In marketing terms, Jesus used an appropriate media and method and drew a targeted and receptive audience. He always got people’s attention in a powerful way, recognized them as a receptive audience and then delivered a relevant, compelling message. This is church marketing at its best. 


Follow Jesus’ example. Examine the communication channels or media available to you, and strategize effective ways to use them for the Kingdom in your own community.


Remember, marketing is simple communication that prompts a targeted audience to action. Whether direct mail, advertising, radio, television or just the traditional church marquee, God is using marketing strategies today in much the same way He used them in biblical times. And while the methods can and should be tailored to reach people in a changing cultural landscape, the life-changing message of salvation is still the same.  


by Andrea Bailey Willits. Copyright © by Outreach magazine All rights reserved. Used by permission.
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Outreach magazine provides fascinating stories, field-tested ideas, and insights for effective church outreach. Awarded both secular and Christian recognition for excellence in content and presentation, Outreach magazine serves as a fresh stream of practical resources and tactics for pastors, lay leaders, and ministers in all areas. Outreach magazine also publishes the widely sought Outreach 100 issue, annually featuring the top 100 largest and fastest growing churches in America. Personalities featured on the cover of past issues include Erwin McManus, Franklin Graham, Josh McDowell, Dan Kimball, Francis Chan, and others.