Is Church Marketing Biblical? With Ryan Wakefield

Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 106

By Mary Deckert and Ryan Wakefield. Republished with permission from Church Marketing University.

Is Church Marketing Biblical?

At Church Marketing University, we hear questions along this line a lot.

Honestly?  We wouldn’t have it any other way.  After all, as Christians, the Bible & the gospel must be central to everything we do.  That’s why we’re committed to creating resources like this video series that encourage a Biblical approach to evangelism and discipleship while using modern marketing tools.

So, is Church Marketing Biblical?

The Short Answer: Absolutely.

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Church Marketing in the Bible

If you want to truly know if church marketing is biblical, well, it makes sense to search the Scriptures themselves. Marketing is, at its core, a communications tool, and Scripture talks A LOT about the need to communicate:

14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

– Romans 10:14-15

We’re all familiar with The Great Commission, really the reason we, the church, exist and do what we do:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

–Matthew 28:19-20

But here’s the question – HOW do we do that if we’re not able to communicate with those who don’t know Christ, meeting them where they are so they can hear the Good News? That command from the 1st century still applies, but it demands we use the tools available in the 21st century in order to reach the people we’re trying so desperately to reach.

Marketing: A Tool to Build Relationships

Marketing is, quite simply, using communication tools in a way that allows churches to build relationships and draw people into a relationship with Christ. And a walk through Scripture proves marketing, when used appropriately, is definitely biblical.  In fact, it’s a powerful tool you can use to advance the Kingdom.

And isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?

The Problem May Be Your Definition of Marketing

Part of the issue with the term “Church Marketing,” no doubt stems from the less than stellar reputations some organizations have acquired using unethical marketing techniques, but that’s not a problem with marketing.  It’s a heart issue on the part of the people utilizing the tools. Like anything else, how and why your church uses marketing tools is critically important.  However, when used properly, church marketing is definitely biblical.

Ultimately, the issue is not about whether a church practice fits under the label “marketing,” but whether it lines up with Scripture.

Marketing is often associated with business greed and money, what the King James calls “filthy lucre” (1 Timothy 3:3). Pop-ups, spam, junk mail, commercials; we hate them all. If what you mean when you use the term “marketing” is slimy tactics or manipulation, the church should have nothing to do with it. If a “marketer” tries to tell you that you need to avoid mentioning sin, water down the message of the Gospel or promise unequaled prosperity, they don’t belong in church.

Church marketing is NOT telling people what they want to hear, it’s reaching people where they are, connecting with them, understanding their pain and offering the only solution to whatever they’re suffering – Jesus himself.

According to the American Marketing Association, Marketing is “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

What is it churches offer of value? Eternal life with Jesus. Now that’s worth communicating and communicating well! When a church marketer is marketing Jesus and how one can be saved by him, they are biblically communicating – marketing – the very message we’re all commanded to send. 

Your Church is Already Marketing-Whether You Know It or Not

Does your church have a phone listing, a sign out front, a Facebook page, a website, or a logo? If you answered yes to any of those questions, guess what?   You’re already marketing. You’re probably just not very good at it because you’re not doing it intentionally.

Here’s the deal:  As long as you’re communicating a message, you’re marketing- whether you want to or not!  You might as well learn how to do it well.

If there’s a tool that can be used to share the gospel, then let’s use it. Before COVID-19 hit in 2020, many churches wanted nothing to do with digital marketing – social media, text messaging, and even websites were seen as either something to fear or evil itself. But, when we had no other options, we suddenly figured out how to use those tools for God’s glory!  Guess what happened? Digital church attendance went through the roof!

Whatever the tool, you can look at it one of two ways.  You can either fear it, or view it as a way to start new relationships and reach people with the Gospel. What others may have meant for evil, God can and does turn around for good for His glory!

The fact of the matter is, you CAN be a biblical church and use marketing tools. This doesn’t have to be an either/or mentality; this can be a both/and. We can hold fast to the bible, center our thoughts on Jesus AND we can use marketing tools to start new relationships. It doesn’t have to be either/or.

Go Into All the World

You can have a passionate, Jesus-centered approach that also uses marketing tools. When you say “go into all the world and tell them about Jesus,” marketing helps a church go into all the world:

  • Go into YouTube
  • Go into Facebook
  • Go into the Internet
  • Go into the world where there are billions of people and preach the Word there

Marketing is your strongest tool for furthering the gospel, and it is most definitely biblical.

Marketing:  A Calling

“Why are you so passionate about church marketing? Jesus doesn’t need your marketing plan.”

“The church is not a business and it shouldn’t be run like one. Marketing is for business.”

“We don’t need your marketing/communications gift; all we need to do is preach the gospel.”

“Somehow ‘church’ and ‘marketing’ don’t sound right together.”

Ever hear those words? Ever say those words? This may be a revelation to you, but church marketers want to do exactly the same thing that you do– preach the gospel. We just want to do it well with all the tools available to us – video, and art and branding.  In other words, we want to do it with “marketing.”

Your congregation is full of people with spiritually significant fittings just waiting to be utilized.  Yes, we’re talking about the storytellers, the designers, the video editors and photographers, directors, copywriters, and yes, even marketers!  These people have God-given gifts, and God has chosen to put them in your church to bless you!  He wants to use them for His kingdom. Maybe it’s time to empower these people, by allowing them to use their gifts! You will be amazed at what God does through them for your church and His kingdom.

Biblical Examples of Church Marketing

Paul in 1 Corinthians

The Apostle Paul adjusted his presentation of the gospel, in some degree, to fit the audience, and talks about it in one of his epistles:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Cor 9:21-23

Paul in Acts

In Acts 17:22-34, Paul shows an understanding of the local culture and the felt needs of his audience. When he went before an Athenian audience, he didn’t preach Scripture as he typically did with his Jewish audiences. His main appeal was a general revelation, to the god the Athenians knew because God had given them “life, and breath, and everything” (verse 25).

Everything Paul said was true to the written word of God, but he alluded to their religion and their poets in order to effectively lead them to the truth of Jesus.  In other words, he used marketing, went to their gathering, and used the communications tools they used to be a part of the public discussion. His message never changed, but he allowed his knowledge of his audience to influence how he communicated it. Paul doubtless adjusted his language (Aramaic or Greek, for example), his clothing, his diet, his conformity to Jewish ceremonial laws, local customs, etc. according to what would most enhance communication. Marketing allows us to do this, too.

Jesus: Biblical Church Marketing in action

Jesus did much the same in his teaching and outreach. 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. He went to where they were, using the things around them to get his message across.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” -Mark 2:15-17

In marketing terms, Jesus used an appropriate media and method and drew a targeted and receptive audience. He attracted 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. Often, He upset the existing religious system and leaders to do what he was sent to do – to bring the lost back to Himself.

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. Whether online or through 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.

Back to the Great Commission

So, what is marketing’s place in the Great Commission? Marketing consists of 4 stages (some would say 5):

  1. Awareness
  2. Understanding, or “cultivation”
  3. Conviction, or “conversion”
  4. Action (Five would be repeat action – coming back or doing over and over again)

Let’s break down the great commission in marketing terms.

The Great Commission in Marketing Terms

First, awareness. Jesus said, Go. Create Awareness of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the ancient world, almost no one would travel. The only way to create awareness of Jesus was for His followers to go. We can’t sit around waiting for people to come to us to find out about Jesus, we have to seek them where they are and make them aware of their need for a savior. And there is no denying that the majority of people in the 21st century worldwide can be found online.

Second, understanding. Jesus said, make disciples.” Show and convince them of the value of Jesus and ask them to follow, help them understand. That takes time, it requires communication and most especially it requires relationship. This is called Cultivation in marketing, and it’s where marketing tools can shine.

Third, conviction. Jesus said, baptizing them.” Jesus explicitly commanded us to do a specific and distinct public behavior to clarify objectively that someone has indeed become a disciple – to prove they were convicted of the need to be disciples. In marketing, this is called Conversion.

Finally, action. Jesus said, into all nations.” Spread the news everywhere. Nations are people groups, and traits distinguish people groups. What do you call the practices of distinguishing the traits of various groups in order to communicate something of value to them? Marketing. In fact, “persona” is a marketing term for a summary of traits that describe a “nation.” We define nations by traits, not geography. And through marketing you can spread the news to all tribes and nations in terms all tribes and nations can understand and embrace.

Marketing:  Giving People a Chance to Know and Follow Jesus

There are many different types of marketing: events, movements, opportunities etc. But for those of us who are trying to build God’s kingdom, they all come down to one thing: giving people a chance to know and follow Jesus.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” 

(Romans 10:15, ESV).

Our beautiful feet are no longer physical. We run with digital feet to non-physical marketplaces to bring the good news to those who don’t know or follow Jesus. We use keys on keyboards and wireless mice to preach the good news and fulfill Jesus’ marketing plan, the Great Commission.

The Choice is Yours

Much like salvation, God will not force you to open the gift of marketing he is offering to your church. But make no mistake, that gift has been offered to you. Marketing may make you uncomfortable.  You may not understand how it works or why you need to listen to the people who ask so many questions and want to do so many “crazy” things.  Think of it this way: delivering a message onstage makes many people uncomfortable who aren’t called to preach. Others would rather die than stand up on a stage and belt out a song. Don’t let your discomfort with marketing rob your church of utilizing all its God-given gifts in your mission to reach the lost.

Think for a moment to the lessons learned in 2020 during the COVID pandemic. Who among your people were the first to respond when COVID hit and you couldn’t meet in person? Who was able to pivot and reclaim tools once thought evil or wicked for the Kingdom? And what tools served you best during that time of quarantine? If you’re like most of the churches that thrived and grew during that pandemic, it no doubt was marketing. And judging by the fruit of those initiatives, you can know that marketing, done right, is most definitely biblical (“By their fruit, you will know them,” Matt. 7:16).

Perhaps it is time to not just open that gift but embrace it, to put the people God has uniquely gifted your church into leadership, recognizing their place as a calling that completes your team’s ability to go out together to make disciples of all nations, telling them about Jesus.

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