Church Marketing Tips - The Psychology of a Seeker’s Decision to Visit Church
The Four Phases of a Seeker’s Decision to Visit Church
Let me start by saying I believe the Holy Spirit is continually working in people’s lives, whether they are born-again believers or not. My basis for this is my own life experience. Before I became a follower of Christ, I was lost. But after my conversion I could look back and see specific instances when the Holy Spirit was guiding me, keeping me safe, and urging me to come to the Lord.
I took on the task of launching Truth Advertising nationwide over ten years ago. Before that, I made my living for 20 years in secular advertising, sales and marketing. I devoured any training I could find that might help my clients, and me, make more money. I learned early the secular secret to success: Make enough people around you successful and you will be successful.
I studied the buying behaviors of people so I could structure my clients marketing for maximum effectiveness. I learned what makes people tick and how to motivate them. The principles I learned apply to both secular and Christian marketing. If you use them correctly, they can increase the response rate on your next marketing campaign.
So, here is the thing: People are not just sitting home on the couch, and then one day they suddenly decide to come to your church. There is a real, definable process leading to that decision. Your ability to understand that process and use it to win those seekers over to the Kingdom is what will differentiate your church from most other churches in your community. I say most because, according to statistics, over half of the churches in America have 75 people or less.
As a church marketer my main focus is helping churches attract new members. While we must always be diligent to care for our present members, we must also continually infuse our churches with new growth. To use a business analogy, if I only concentrated on my current clients here at Truth Advertising, I would soon be out of business through natural attrition. To use a farming analogy, if I eat my crops and do not plant any more, I soon would not have any crops at all.
It is estimated that 80 percent of churches in America are not growing or are in decline. This does not shock me. What does shock me is the explanations people give for this predicament. There is no shortage of doom-and-gloom reports about the disappearing Christian, or how the church can not reach millennial’s. But we only need to look at the statistics on business failures to understand the real reasons. How many new businesses fail and go out of business in the first three years? You guessed it, 80 percent. Are they failing because consumers are in decline? Or, because millennial’s do not shop? No, these businesses are failing because they did not bring in enough business each day, month, and year to cover the costs of doing business.
I cannot tell you how many times I have seen new businesses struggling to make it, and then deciding to cut their marketing budgets. Unfortunately, most of them go under shortly afterward. It is a pretty simple principle: Without new clients, you cannot grow. This is the same approach many churches take when it comes to attracting new visitors. They will not invest in serious outreach efforts, but hope that people will somehow find them and visit. The truth remains: The only way to grow is to attract and keep new members.
However, before you spend your hard-earned money on new marketing efforts, take a look at the decision-making process a potential visitor goes through before attending your church, or any other. In secular marketing this is called the Four Phases of the Buying Experience. It is familiar to most marketing companies, and is a main component of virtually every marketing plan written. I have revised it here to apply to churches.
The Four Phases of a Seeker’s Decision to Visit Your Church
1. Need Recognition. I will illustrate this with a hypothetical seeker named Dan. He has grown disillusioned and unhappy with his life. He has a coworker, neighbor or friend that he respects who goes to church, handles money well, and has a super marriage. He wants that for himself. Like many others, Dan was raised in church, but lost his way as he grew older. Now he is wondering again if there may be something to this church thing. He is beginning to recognize his need. It is human nature to avoid change until we are desperate. As an example, how many people take the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace class because they are in great financial shape? Most of them have piled up mountains of debt and do not know how to get rid of it. That is why they are seeking answers. They have recognized their need.
There will always be people in a state of pain or need, and smart marketers capitalize on that. This is why Wal-Mart continues to send you that circular every week advertising a 52-inch flat screen TV. There is always someone who feels a need for that flat screen, and they are betting that you will eventually be one of them. Applying this idea to churches, we know there are always people ready for the Holy Spirit to do His work in their lives. We call this the Church Buyer’s Box. This is why direct mail postcards work so well. There is always a group of people in need of a church.
There are also many people who have needs, but do not realize it. This is where expert marketing consultants do their best work, building trigger-specific messaging and content into their campaigns. With the proper headline, graphics, and text, they can bring those pains to the surface and elicit a need recognition.
It frustrates me to see churches spending money that is not even theirs on sub par marketing that does not trigger such a need recognition, or even address any real need or pain. I recently passed a billboard in my city that I happen to know costs $2,800 a month. A church had purchased that billboard and this was their marketing campaign: Doing anything this Sunday? (followed by the church logo). So, their message was, IF you don’t have anything better to do this Sunday, no plans of ANY kind, then maybe you might consider visiting us! No wonder most of our churches are in decline, when even the church does not place any value in itself.
A better campaign would have been: Want a Better Sex Life? Followed by: New Marriage Series Begins Sunday @ Our Church. How about that for triggering a need recognition? By the way, one mile down the road from that billboard is another one advertising a sex toy shop. So, am I worried about offending people with my marketing message? No. If they were inclined to be offended, that other billboard would have been taken down already. And by using this headline I am using that billboard to reinforce my own billboard marketing.
– MAKE SURE YOUR MARKETING ILLICITS A NEED OR TRIGGERS AN EMOTION!
2. Information Search: In this step your potential visitor begins gathering information to solve the problem or satisfy the need. For instance, a marriage falls on tough times. They begin to search out ways to solve their problem. Should we seek counseling? Call some friends? Visit our local church? Take a marriage class? This is when your church name should pop up in their minds. Your church should always be in front of your community. They should always know you are there. They may not have needed you when you knocked on their door, or sent that last direct mail postcard. But if you have reached out consistently, they will remember you when there is a need. This is the reason marketing companies push repetition so much.
A pastor client of mine shared a story with me recently that illustrates this perfectly. An older man had stopped attending church over 40 years before because of a sin in his life. Then he received a direct mail card with this message: God Does Not Care about your Past Flops, Failures and Fumbles. That was what triggered his need to come back to church and deal with his sin, which had been causing him pain for 40 years. Afterward, he told the pastor that he had been saving all the postcards he received from the church and putting them on his refrigerator. He had accumulated seven of them. But it was the God Does Not Care postcard that finally triggered that pain response. And based on the previous seven cards, he knew that this specific church was his answer.
– MAKE SURE YOUR MARKETING IS ALWAYS IN FRONT OF YOUR COMMUNITY!
3. Evaluate Alternatives: Details, details, details. It is all in the details. Do not sell your marketing short by neglecting the important details people need in making a decision. In this phase your potential visitors have already determined they have a need. They have also decided that church might just be one of the ways they will use to solve the problem or meet the need. They will now begin searching out churches to visit. But they have no particular loyalty, yet to your church or any other. How many times have you received a circular in the mail that identified something you really wanted, and almost instantly you began looking for a way to get it cheaper, or delivered for free, or installed? Consumers have no loyalty. And oh, in case I forgot to mention it, that 82 percent of your local population that is sitting home on Sundays and not going to church? They are consumers. And they have been conditioned by our culture to think like consumers.
Just because you triggered the response does not mean you will get the business. Your seeker may respond to your message, but still decide to visit another church. You need to spell out as many benefits as possible in your marketing. For instance, if you trigger a pain concerning marriage, you should offer a marriage group, marriage classes, marriage sermons, and so on, all of which are spelled out and visible in your marketing. The messaging on the website should also correspond to your marketing campaign.
– MAKE SURE YOUR MARKETING SPELLS OUT YOUR BENEFITS AND VALUE!
4. Decision. Now that our seekers have evaluated their various options, they are ready to choose the one that seems most appropriate. If their decision is to visit your church, make sure you are ready for them. You should have a well-organized parking area, a greeter team in place, a good childcare area, and messages that are clearly understandable. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
– MAKE SURE YOU ARE READY TO CREATE A GREAT FIRST IMPRESSION!
If people were able to find their way to God on their own, there really would be no need for the local church, or for God to send His only Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins. In the Great Commission, Jesus said, Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The key word is go. It demands an action.
What action is your church taking to go and make disciples of the people around you? Are you actively seeking ways to reach the unbelievers in your community? Or have you closed your doors and stopped accepting outsiders? Are you using creative ways to reach nonbelievers? Or are you hoping they will hear about your church and simply stumble in on Sunday morning?
There is a reason Easter and Christmas are such high attended church days. The first step (and the hardest step) has already been taken care of for you. People already feel the need and draw to attend church on those holidays. Your church just needs to make sure you are in front of them when they make that decision.
Have any of these ideas triggered a need in you? I founded Truth Advertising on the belief that all churches should have access to the same marketing expertise as secular companies, without having to pay extra for it.
Our team can help your church grow. Give us a call and see if our ideas are a good fit for you. 1-844-TRUTHAD.
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