ChurchETHOS

Marketing Your Church Plant: Philosophical Foundations

Posted in church leadership, church planting by Nathan Creitz on February 17, 2010
Image courtesy of flicker user au_tiger01

Creative commons image courtesy of flickr user au_tiger01

Would Paul use modern marketing techniques if he was planting churches today?

Did Jesus need a direct mail campaign to establish the Church in the first place? The Church was established and spread through the power of the Spirit and by word of mouth so why would we waste money on telemarketing or a smokin’ website? Why should we waste time developing relationships with social media? Is it a lack of faith? Besides, even today in the Majority World the Church is spreading much in the same way that it did two thousand years ago.

With all the talk today about “viral marketing”, we can only hope (and pray) for the kind of movement that swept through the Roman Empire in the days of Jesus and Paul. In the West in general and the US in particular, it seems like the main technique is to market a worship event through mailers, calls, websites, and tweets. The church that invests the most in these techniques will be the most “successful” (at least numerically, but there are numerous churches who used these techniques and are genuinely making healthy reproducing disciples).

A Simpler Church?

Others in church leadership are calling for a simpler approach; one that rejects all the artificial means of propagating the Gospel and focuses only on personal, intentional, authentic, and meaningful relationships. If truth be told, I lean more toward this as an extreme than to the one mentioned above. But generally these aren’t extremes. In fact, I really don’t know anyone who exclusively starts churches with mailers and billboards and I don’t know anyone who exclusively starts churches with twelve people in a living room who only go deeper and deeper together while never sharing with others outside the group.

So these are the two polar extremes that pull us as we consider how to reach our neighbors. Let’s call them the Market Driven Church (MDC) and the Relationship Driven Church (RDC). Again, no one is exclusively starting an MDC or an RDC. I only mention them here because many church starters are somewhere on the continuum in between. For example, many of the church planting books talk about the ROI (return on investment) of bulk-mail campaigns and telemarketing and offer them as tools that can be used to reach the community. However, those same church planting books spend a lot of time talking about personal evangelism and small groups and preaching and teaching, etc. The relationship focused church planting books will talk a lot about building relationships but they also talk about getting the word out to others.

Developing A Marketing Plan

But is there room for both personal, relationship evangelism and developing a marketing plan that won’t be a waste of God-given resources? More importantly, as you pray about how to reach your neighbors has God made available certain marketing techniques or is He leading you a different direction?

Just like with most things, a healthy balance of both is how many of us will answer that question. As much as I think my pull is more towards the RDC, I don’t know if ethically I could discount at least some marketing ideas.

Would anyone be opposed to having a free ad in the telephone book, a free press release for the local newspaper, or a free business listing on google? The only thing that separates those free and simple marketing tools from, say, sending a bulk mailout announcing the launch of your church is money. But money isn’t the only resource we have available to us.

So, it seems to me that we should prioritize our marketing plan around the cost, the time spent, and the expected results. Let me illustrate with a few simple graphs.

Relationships are always worth it!

To begin with, it seems that there are some things that are worth ANY amount of time spent. Relationship evangelism that is focused on getting to know people and their needs, caring for them and even sacrificing for them is maybe the highest of priorities and is highly reproducible for any follower of Jesus. Jesus spent a lot of time with the Twelve but He also spent a lot of time with the crowds! Consider the different ways that Jesus made disciples.

Marketing is sometimes worth it!

Are there some things that are worth ANY amount of money spent, though? Maybe not, but there are probably things that are worth SOME money spent, right? Consider how much it costs to throw up a website with no images and very little creativity (emphasis on “throw up”). Would it make a difference in my neighborhood which is filled with young professionals who are very successful, well-educated, and technologically savvy? Who am I trying to reach with a website? Maybe you wouldn’t even bother with a website in the first place? Even if a large majority of people go to work and then come home and watch TV and surf the internet and never interact with their neighbors?

Marketing is most useful when it’s targeted and relevant!

There are some marketing ideas that cost very little money and takes very little time such as creating a facebook page or listing your church on google maps. These sorts of “techniques” create very little controversy because they are free. On the other hand, facebook ads or google ads are just as easy to create, with very little time spent, but they cost a little bit more and yet, they are more effective at getting the word out than a static facebook page. Would you consider investing in a facebook ad for your church? What if I told you that you could target that ad to only be seen by people who are searching “church” in your zip code and you only pay when someone clicks through to your church website? Does it make it more valuable?

What About ROI?

ROI (return on investment) is something else to think about. Consider the following illustrations:

Time AND money are commodities that have limits!

In this grid, relationship evangelism does take a lot of time but maybe not so much money. The ROI is high because the quality of the relationships that have been formed is high. In this case we are investing in people who will eventually be mobilized and equipped to invest in others. Growth is exponential (we pray). Again, we can’t underemphasize the importance of relationships as we consider how to reach our neighbors.

The ROI may be similar whether the main commodity used was time OR money!

But is it possible that spending less time but more money could bring about similar ROI? For example, if your church spent $5,000 on a direct mail campaign and you mailed a postcard to 5,000 homes. Assuming only 1% responds, that’s 50 people who came to your weekend gathering where you’ve just started a sermon series entitled “The Case for Christianity”. You spent 10 hours setting it up and now people in your church have a chance to follow up with 50 people. Say only 5 of them respond favorably to the Gospel and become fully mature, reproducing, followers of Jesus. Was it worth it?

Additionally, now all 5,000 households in your neighborhood know there is a church in the area! If you are advertising a practical sermon series with your direct mail campaign such as Financial Peace University where you are hoping to help your neighbors take control of their finances from a Biblical perspective isn’t the ROI even higher if people now have a more positive appreciation for your church and that you genuinely care about their needs? As a result, you now have 5,000 households that know about your church, 50 contacts for follow up, 5 new disciple-making disciples, and an increased favorability rating among your neighbors (I’m not talking about a popularity contest here, I’m talking here about your “good reputation among outsiders” – see 1 Timothy 3:7).

Final Thoughts

In my next post I want to talk about “Marketing Your Church Plant: Biblical Foundations” but I wanted to talk about philosophical foundations first to get us thinking reasonably about this issue. In other words, I’m trying to use logic to get us thinking about the issue so that we can talk about biblical principles in the next post. So, am I making sense? Do you see a way we can strike a balance between relationship-only outreach and market-driven outreach?

What sorts of marketing techniques would you consider using to broadcast your message to your neighbors?

Why I’m Not Planting a House Church

Posted in church planting, discipleship, ecclessiology by Nathan Creitz on January 29, 2010

Image courtesy of patchworkpottery

In the past few weeks my wife and I have made the decision to start another church in the Boston area. We have been thinking through what form or expression this new church should take and we’ve come to the conclusion that it won’t be the house church model.

So what is wrong with a house church?

Nothing!

The house church model is one of many church plant models. I believe the creativity and variety that God gives us as we make disciples and start churches is a strength of God’s kingdom. House churches can be effective and can perform biblical functions of fellowship, worship, and disciple-making just like other sorts of new churches can.

I hold the house church movement in high esteem, not just because some people do them well but also because I have friends who are starting house churches and I believe God is using them in a powerful way. But, in addition to all of this love sauce that I’m pouring on the house church movement, I want to go one further:  I am in total agreement with everything that the house church movement values. Values of community, authenticity, relevance, experiential faith, discipleship, etc. I even agree with the form that these values often take; that is, small gatherings and intimate settings where fellowship and discipleship can flourish. Let me go still further: I hope that our church plant will embody ALL of the positive values, forms, and expressions of the house church movement!

In short, I believe the house church movement is a valid model of church planting. I have tremendous respect for my friends in the house church movement. And, I hope our new church will embody all of the positive qualities that can be found in house churches. I should also say at this point that ANY model is subject to fail if the leadership doesn’t possess a high Christology and ecclessiology that is informed by God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

So what is missing?

I have a high regard for the house church movement, but I personally believe that something is missing. The piece that is missing is in how Jesus made disciples. I’ve accepted for years that Jesus made disciples by investing a considerable amount of time in a few men who would then go on to do the same. In that way, Jesus multiplied His own ministry. This is the discipleship model that I often hear from the house church movement. I always have a question mark floating around anytime I hear this discipleship model but I never knew how to ask the question.

Not too long ago, the question popped into my mind: “What about the seventy?” Jesus had been investing in His disciples and spending a lot of time teaching and healing the crowds and in Luke 10, Jesus appoints seventy people and sends them out in pairs “to every town and place where He Himself was about to go.” This passage immediately follows the discussion Jesus has with three would-be disciples that He turns away because He knows their hearts are not in it. In other words, it’s clear that these seventy people weren’t concerned about their own comfort or other worldly distractions. These were true disciples who would be sent out as lambs among wolves and who would rely on God’s provision for their daily needs. They were spiritual warriors to whom even the demons submitted.

Where did they come from? Jesus couldn’t have spent the same kind of time with each of these seventy people as He had with the Twelve! Instead, they must have come to Jesus and said, “I will follow You wherever You go!” just as the three would-be disciples did in Luke 9:57-62 and Jesus knew they were speaking the truth. We can conjecture that He did spend at least some time with each of them – maybe a conversation. We can also conjecture that they had heard Jesus teach and possibly been healed at His touch. In some way, their lives had come in contact with Jesus and now they would never be the same.

In other words, Jesus didn’t just make twelve disciples. There were hundreds of disciples. In fact, by the time Jesus dies and is resurrected and then ascends, the disciples get together in an upper room and there are 120 gathered together. That’s a HUGE house church!

Jesus made hundreds of disciples who were touched by Him and were taught by Him and He didn’t spend a considerable amount of time with each one personally. After the Spirit descended on Jesus’ followers, they began to speak the gospel with boldness and in one day the church grew to over 3,000 people! Again, that is a huge house church!

What does all this mean?

At one time in Jesus’ ministry, there were at least seventy committed disciples that Jesus knew He could trust to send out into the towns and advance the kingdom. These seventy came because Jesus was willing to engage the crowds and not just a few. That number grew exponentially, not incrementally. Jesus is the foundation of the church and the Spirit is the One that empowers the movement. If it were up to me and my few relationships, my town of 15,000 would never be reached. My conclusion, as I have been thinking about what it means to start a church is that I need to be relational (just like Jesus), but I also need to reach the masses and allow God to touch lives and draw them to Himself (just like Jesus).

I believe every new church leader has the desire to make disciples. I don’t question anyone’s motivation, but the purpose of this post is to think through our methods. Whatever method or model we use we must remember that every person deserves to hear the gospel! I will use whatever avenues at my disposal and that are contextually appropriate to advance God’s kingdom. I’m not saying that house church leaders don’t, I’m just explaining where I’m coming from.

Now it’s your turn. How has this prompted your thinking concerning church planting? Please be clear, this is not an attack on the house church movement. I am simply stating why we’ve made a personal decision not to plant house churches and some of the principles that led us to that decision. Thanks for your considerate response!