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Is Marketing a Dirty Word for Churches?

When you think of business-related words that don’t seem to belong in a spiritual environment, “marketing” is probably one of the first that comes to mind.

Perhaps that’s because you associate the word with sleazy salespeople who are pushing you to buy an inferior product that you don’t want.

Or maybe you think of the high-powered advertising campaigns that are designed to manipulate people into spending money that they don’t have on things that they don’t really need. Or you may even think of a church or ministry that, in your opinion, has crossed the line with an inappropriate publicity stunt.

Admittedly, there is plenty in the world of marketing that is repulsive and clearly out-of-bounds for a ministry.

We should never be guilty of manipulation. We need to remember the vital role that the Spirit plays in a person’s journey toward God. We must keep in mind that the gospel is a “stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor. 1:23)

But before we banish all marketing to the trash heap of contemptible practices, consider this simple definition: Marketing is an intentional process that an organization uses to communicate the message about its “product” to the world.

Isn’t this what a church is called to do – proclaim a life-changing message to the world? Doesn’t this remind us of another message from Paul to the church in Corinth?: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

So perhaps marketing, when understood correctly and done appropriately, isn’t a bad thing. The challenge is to decide what is appropriate in your context.

One final caution: some people think that a “marketing campaign” is the answer to their church’s lack of growth.

If they want to use marketing as a crutch to replace personal invitation and evangelism, their efforts are misguided. The best “marketing” of the gospel always has been and always will be relational and word-of-mouth. Traditional marketing should supplement and support this primary channel.

I hope you’ll rethink your understanding of “marketing” so that more people in your community will hear the message of hope that they desperately need.  

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mikebonem@churchleaders.com'
Mike Bonem is the author or co-author of three books, including In Pursuit of Great AND Godly Leadership and Leading from the Second Chair. An experienced consultant, he loves to work alongside the leaders of churches and other ministries to help them turn their visions into results. Mike’s previous experience includes over 10 years as an executive pastor, business strategy consulting with McKinsey and Company, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.