Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Marketing your Church

A few days ago someone sent me a link to a Youtube video clip with the title: What if Starbucks marketed like a church? I was able to watch it then, but unfortunately it seems to have been removed from Youtube in the meantime. (It’s worthwhile to go to http://eugenecho.wordpress.com/2008/11/12/what-if-starbucks-marketed-like-a-church/ On this blog the video clip still seems to be working and there’s some great comments written about the clip.) It’s really quite funny and although it’s obviously exaggerated, the message comes across. If we want to market the church, we have to get more professional about it.
But then I thought that the title of the clip could also be put the other way round and someone innovative would probably be able to manufacture an equally funny clip: “What if the church marketed like Starbucks?” I’m all for becoming more professional in the church. I’m all for making use of certain business principles in the church. I believe that a vision and mission statement can really help a church to get focussed. But I’m not convinced that churches should be run entirely in the way that a business is run. (By the way – I had a cup of coffee at Starbucks at Cairo airport earlier this year, and not only was the coffee terrible but the atmosphere was even worse with a group of teens shouting and screaming at two in the morning, while I had only one desire – to get some sleep while waiting for a connecting flight. That morning I felt as if I would never set my foot in a Starbucks again!)
Let’s get back to the analogy of Starbucks. What do they want to do? Starbucks’ vision reads as follows: “Establish Starbucks as the premier perveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.” I can immediately sense a problem if we start marketing the church in this way. In fact, many churches do exactly this: “Establish XYZ Church as the premier perveyor of the gospel.” I read Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church not long after it was first published, and one of the things I remember is his attitude that there are many churches doing wonderful work. At their church they have a certain vision and a certain way of doing things. People who feel that they do not fit in, are free to worship at another church. Saddleback isn’t in competition with other Christian churches. Starbucks, on the other hand, is in strong competition with all other coffee shops and have to ensure that their standard is at such a level that people will prefer to drink their coffee instead of going to their competition. To achieve this aim, they do things in a certain way: Buy the best coffee beans. Install the best coffee machines. Give the staff the necessary training to make and serve the coffee.
The church, even though it needs to be run in a professional way, has an entirely different way of doing things. The church isn’t there to market the gospel or to market Jesus Christ. The church, one could say, is demonstrating what it means to live under the authority of Jesus Christ. The church, contrary to Starbucks, isn’t the place which I visit when I have a “thirst” or a desire for a good sermon. The church is there to change my entire focus on life, to change me (mostly focussed on myself and my own desires) in such a way that in my family life, my business life, my recreational life and wherever I am, I live as a changed person, now focussed on God and His desires, which means that I’m not in the church business because it makes me feel good, but because I know that this is what God wants from me. Contrary to going to Starbucks, I’m not part of the church to have a good feeling about myself, but to willingly go through the process of dying unto myself so that God can live through me. And this is not always an enjoyable process!
As I said: I’m all for churches being run more professionally. But I know of churches which are run extremely professionally but which still fail to get the main message across of a changed life, focussed on God and on the world for which Jesus gave His life.


Thursday, November 13, 2008 - Posted by | Alternative Society, Building relations, Church, Humour, Mission, Theology, Vision, Worship


  1. Jesus didn’t ask us to go out and “market” and build churches. He told us to “make disciples.” Big difference…..

    Comment by Michelle | Thursday, November 13, 2008 | Reply

  2. I’ve seen that clip — I wouldn’t be surprised if it was taken down for copyright infringement. I’m sure they didn’t get Starbucks’ permission…which would be a great marketing blunder!

    Michelle, I get your point, and I agree. But church marketing is an increasing necessity as the world continues its slide toward post-Christian. We need to be able to get the message and the calling of the church into people’s minds and hearts in ways beyond the typical ‘visit our building’ way. Because lots of people have no idea what our faith is about — at all!

    Marketing itself can be (and should be) an intentional form of evangelism. If it’s just about showing off a facility with splashy new multimedia presentation, then it’s already a failure, no matter how many people it attracts. But if it can connect people with the reality of faith and its need in people’s lives, well, that’s how I would define success.

    There are some great thoughts in here, Arnau. It’s important to point out the lie of competition. Too many churches and people feel like they’re in competition with other churches, or international missions, or whatever. When all your focus is on the money (marketing isn’t the only corporation element co-opted by the church), that’s a natural consequence.

    And there’s the thought of church existing to give people what they want. Which ignores what they need. And there are many things about church that people need that they do not necessarily want…

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean by ‘professional’. As long as you don’t mean slick, superficial and saccharine (my chief beefs with ‘professional’ Christian media), then I completely agree. 🙂

    Comment by brad | Thursday, November 13, 2008 | Reply

  3. Thanks for your comments, both Michelle and Brad. Michelle, you should know by this time that I strongly agree with you. But I think Brad also explained things very well (better than myself) on the need for the church to market itself. The church has a very bad name amongst a great deal of the world’s population and we need to change this negative attitude into a more positive feeling.

    Brad, when I refer to “professional” then I have in my mind things like children’s ministry, where people who run this need to be trained to do this well. When we send out evangelism teams, they need to be trained so that they can do this in an acceptable way. When we have conferences at the church, do it in such a way (which does not have to be flashy) that people can sense that those who organised it really cares for the people and for the cause. We don’t need the latest multi-media gadgets to impress people. But do whatever you do in the church in such a way that people can sense that you’re sincere.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Friday, November 14, 2008 | Reply

  4. Evangelists, Missionaries, Disciples and all the followers of God – broadcast their message. All marketing is – that is the word ‘marketing’ is in this case “putting the message or ideas into the hearts and minds of those who want to listen.”

    The message still exists for those who don’t want to listen right now – and this is fine; however the message still has to be broacdcast.

    One of the reasons why the word ‘marketing’ gets a bad reputation is simple: it’s closely aligned with ‘sales.’ And while the cliched, “No one likes to be sold” holds true – the important part here is that without the ability to ‘send your message’ no one will know you exist.

    The only way to stop the bleeding of declining numbers of attendance is to re-invigorate and re-inject the spirit of the message.

    Comment by Nicholas | Monday, November 17, 2008 | Reply

  5. Nicholas, I’m fine with your way of defining marketing. My problem comes in when I start to market my own church because I’m looking for more numbers than the church across the street has.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Monday, November 17, 2008 | Reply

  6. Nicholas, I think what you’ve defined is advertising. Advertising is a sub-set of marketing.

    In our modern context, marketing means creating relationships between a brand and people, hopefully to turn them into consumers. Traditional advertising is an increasingly small percentage of that. The internet in particular has given rise to many relationship-building alternatives and initiatives.

    I don’t actually put much stock in church marketing. I haven’t been a proponent of the term since I first wrapped my head around it. Because, of course, it ends up being very church-centred rather than God-centred. But I do think that more than ever we need wise, prophetic people who ‘get’ connecting people to Christ and His Church (as opposed to one specific church). If we’re talking capital-C Church marketing, where our core message is Christ, then I’ll buy in. Wholeheartedly. Otherwise, no. (That’s a crazy challenge because churches don’t have the vision for jumping into Kingdom growth, just their own home.)

    Your criticism of ‘sales’ is legitimate. The problem is that marketing in the church starts to take on the trappings of the corporate world (e.g. focus on numbers). Seriously, the root of marketing is “market”. It’s already squishy!

    Comment by brad | Wednesday, November 19, 2008 | Reply

  7. Brad, I think the one thing which the younger generation may be teaching us (and one of the strong points of the emerging church) is that we need to be much less focussed on “church” and much more focussed on “Church”. I know that we will have denominations until the end of time and I’m proud of my own “Reformed” background, but if we want to market the “Church” then we will have to focus much more on the Kingdom, as you also said.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Wednesday, November 19, 2008 | Reply

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