The instructions from Christ are very simple. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,” He says, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Go. Teach. Disciple.
The concepts aren’t hard to understand, and yet so few of us actually make the time to do it.
Perhaps that’s because we’re too busy fighting our own battles, resisting temptation after temptation in an effort to simply stay pure in an age where sin seems to be all around us. Perhaps it’s because the congregation we attend evangelizes pretty well already. The preacher has at least three studies a week with non-Christians, and the elders are actively involved with following up those studies and checking in on visitors to invite them to future services.
Or perhaps it’s because evangelizing is one of the more hidden, unquantifiable measures of being a Christian that’s just far too easy to ignore. After all, Jesus Himself said the success rate would be slim anyways (Matthew 7:13; John 6:66), so why even bother? Whether I’m talking to people about the Gospel or not, no one else will know.
I’ll throw out another reason why some people don’t evangelize: We don’t know how. Between flip charts, Gospel Meetings, formal Bible studies, and just casual, off-the-cuff remarks, it’s hard to know what evangelism is and whether we’re actually doing it in the first place.
That’s not to say that any one person has the right method; on the contrary, the more tools in your toolbox you can have to teach others, the better. Some love knocking on doors, while others excel in face-to-face conversations with their direct peers. More power to them.
One of the greatest tools that we have in this modern age is the internet, and more specifically, social media. Often the domain of sharing funny cat videos and the evening’s dinner plans, social media can be a game-changer when it comes to evangelizing in the 21st century.
What is Digital Marketing?
Simply put, digital marketing is any marketing that’s done in the digital sphere: online, social media, e-mail, etc. There are specialists in every area: Some excel in optimizing search results (called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short), while others are purely social media coordinators, finding content and sharing it on the appropriate platforms.
A church can (and should) employ all of these tactics. Their website needs to be updated constantly, and done in a manner that reflects well upon the church (Colossians 2:3; Proverbs 22:29). Their social media presence needs to be engaging and informative, constantly up-to-date with relevant information and Biblical truths.
Why? Because the internet is the first place your prospective visitors will come to before visiting your church. There are over 3.5 billion searches on Google everyday, (not to mention Bing and other competing search engines), and 97% of people go online in order to find a local business. 63% will use that website to engage with a business, and 75% of people admit to making decisions on that business based on the design of its website.
What does that mean for you and your church? In short, if your website is poorly done, you could actually be hurting your evangelism efforts rather than helping it. And if you don’t have a website at all, then you’re missing out on the ballgame altogether.
Think of your website as your second church building. Every year, churches devote nearly five figures of their budget to maintenance, cleaning costs, mowing services, utilities, and everything else that goes into keeping the walls vertical (some buildings even cost six figures to maintain).
Yet that same website will then turn around and devote, if they’re thoughtful, one deacon to maintaining the website, who may or may not have any technical skills. That’s not a slam on that deacon, but it does represent a blatant lack of focus on a part of your church’s presence that is equally important – if not more so – than their physical location.
The Evolution of Evangelism
Historically, Christians have used just about everything at their disposal to help spread the Gospel. 100 years ago, it was banners plastered all over town and newspaper advertisements. 50 years ago, it was AM radio stations and billboards. 25 years ago, churches started paying for their preacher to appear on a local television spot on Sunday morning.
Today, many churches are still using those methods, and many are still successful. Indeed, nearly 60 million people listen to AM radio every single week, so it’s not as if that’s money down the drain.
Still, what if you could reach a more targeted audience with less effort and fewer dollars spent? What if there was a way to reach your ideal market with a focused message in a place you knew they frequented often?
Enter, paid advertising. Between Google ads and Facebook ads and every other type of ads platform, churches have the ability to gain leads for Bible studies, drum up interest in their local community for Gospel Meetings, or even to advertise a short video series on water baptism. The possibilities are truly endless.
The catch is, and always has been, how to do it properly. In 2017, companies spent nearly $204 billion worldwide on digital advertising efforts, and a good portion of that was poorly used. Either by a misunderstanding of how to target specific audiences or what to do with the leads once they came in, a poorly designed advertising effort has led many companies to abandon the idea completely and rely solely on “word of mouth” or more traditional, time-honored advertising methods.
Churches are no different. And yet, instead of yielding the high ground to denominational churches that don’t mind throwing thousands of dollars at expensive social programs, we have the ability – and necessity – to learn how to do basic digital marketing, and do it well. In return, we’ll be better stewards of the church’s money and our time.
Consider the average “marketing” campaign for a Gospel meeting for a sound church in the United States. First, a preacher is identified and scheduled for a Gospel Meeting sometime in the future. Then, a few months before the scheduled time, announcements are made at the local congregation and flyers are printed up. Those flyers are mailed to the surrounding churches within driving distance, and a graphic is made for members to share on social media. Nothing wrong with any of that.
The problem is that there is very little organic reach outside of individual networks and other churches. Rarely does an invitation extend beyond one degree of separation from a church member, and when it does, there’s no personal touch added to it. No real message except for the very simple “Come and see!” approach.
With the right marketing and a few hundred dollars of capital, a church could send a short video message to anyone that identifies as a Christian on Facebook to upwards of ninety miles from the church’s location. Or if it’s doing an apologetics lectureship, target atheists and agnostics. The possibilities are endless. Never before has a church been able to target a specific type of person with the Gospel so closely.
It makes financial sense as well. The average “cost” of hiring a Gospel Meeting preacher can range anywhere from $1-3,000, factoring in travel and lodging expenses. Consider the time it takes to create flyers and distribute them, and you’ve got a significant resource commitment. If a church is spending all of that, why not spend an additional $300 to reach thousands of people in your local community?
Paid advertising isn’t the only option to consider. Between websites, mailing lists, organic social media reach, chatbots, and more, there’s never been a more efficient way to spread the Gospel.
Is Church Marketing Biblical?
As with everything else we do as a church, it’s important to ask the all-important question: is it Scriptural?
While Paul certainly did not have access to Facebook ads platform to invite people to his sermons at the School of Tyrannus, there is a substantial amount of evidence to show that digital marketing is completely in line with what you find in Scripture.
For starters, Paul made a habit of always going to the places where people gathered the most. Upon entering a city, one of his first stops was usually the local synagogue, where he found numerous “ready-made” converts that are already religiously-minded and ready to learn (Acts 9:20; 13:14; 16:13; 17:2, 10, 13).
The internet affords us the exact same advantage. The average American spends almost 2.2 hours every single day on social media and messaging platforms. And it’s not just on Facebook either; sites like Snapchat and Instagram are steadily making progress in terms of average daily users, so churches would be wise to start developing their presence there.
Secondly, Paul also understood the value of meeting people where they are personality-wise. His famous “all things to all people” passage in 1 Corinthians 9 stresses the value of changing the mode of delivery to cater to different types of audiences.
His own life bears this out. His message to the Athenian philosophers was totally different than what he communicated to the Jews on other occasions. In Athens (Acts 17), he made absolutely zero references to Old Testament Scripture. In Antioch (Acts 13), that’s almost all he talked about. His three defenses in Acts 22, 24, and 26 are also notable for their different approaches that are reflective of his different audiences.
Furthermore, consider the activities that we are already engaged in. Printing up flyers and mailing correspondence courses to people require money to distribute; what’s the difference in that and a short video boosted on Facebook? To further cement the case, most of the activities that a good church marketing plan consists of are free. It costs zero dollars to sign up for Facebook, launch a page, develop content, and share it. It costs zero dollars as well for a church to make their website look halfway decent. These are simple steps that every church can make today to help spread the Gospel in their community.
When marketing a church, it’s imperative that two things remain intact:
- Scriptural Integrity. Paul didn’t compromise the message to draw more people to hear the Gospel, and neither should we. His “all things to all people” approach only determined the mode of delivery, not the message itself. If Scriptural integrity is lost, all is lost.
- Church Integrity. Authority issues are absolutely included in this list, but those aside, a church should simply not be engaged in using unScriptural lures to try and achieve Scriptural goals. Having a motorcycle giveaway to attract visitors only invites people to the giveaway, not to the service. It’s dishonest at best, and unScriptural at worst.
Brethren, What Shall We Do?
Let’s get real, the time is past for us to simply sit by and wait for people to walk through our doors and hope we can set up studies with them. The very first word in the Great Commission discussed above is “Go.” We need to go also. Go out into the world and find the souls that are ripe for harvest (John 4:35). The Great Commission is not the “Great Suggestion,” it is a command for every single person to spread the Gospel far and wide.
If we don’t, someone else will. There’s a reason the denominational world is thriving, and it’s not just because of the fancy social programs and laser light shows. It’s because those churches are using every single tool in their arsenal to find people. It’s telling that the fastest growing religion over the last several decades is Mormonism, due in large part to their zealous door-to-door evangelism program.
The Parable of the Shrewd Manager is very telling. Oft-neglected because Jesus appears to be condoning sin (spoiler: He’s not), there’s one verse at the end that remains central to the overall theme of the parable. “And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.”
We have the most powerful message on the planet, but we’re losing ground to the “sons of this age” who are actively evangelizing, while we stand on the sidelines, using outdated methods of evangelism, while crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. If your congregation has any kind of evangelism plan in place, my hats off to you. Most do not. And that’s wrong.
There are some who claim that the only “marketing” a church should do is to simply share the Gospel. “Preach the Gospel,” they cry, “and people will come.” Fair enough, but in the words of Paul the Apostle: “How will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will the preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15).
Nobody will hear the Word of God unless we get the message to their ears; from there, God can cause the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). But I need to be doing my part to spread the Word, by any Scriptural means possible.