The Traditional Church in Twenty-First Century: It Pays to Advertise

david at david at
Fri Jul 16 21:46:30 EDT 2010

The Traditional Church in Twenty-First Century: It Pays to Advertise

By Robin G. Jordan 
July 10, 2010


One of the reasons that the traditional churches have not flourished is that they are using the wrong advertising approach and therefore are failing to attract people. If you do come across a Internet or newspaper ad for a traditional parish, or hear a radio spot ad for one, it is likely to emphasize the church's use of the traditional Prayer Book and the traditional Hymnal. 

This is like trying to attract folks to your church with an offer of free buttonhooks and celluloid collars in age when no one wears high button shoes and men wear shirts with button down collars. I am not suggesting that the traditional Prayer Book and the traditional Hymnal that your church is using are obsolete but that they are the wrong things to use in attempting to draw people to your church. 

They should not be used as the centerpieces of your church's advertising. The number of folks who are acquainted with the traditional Prayer Book such as the 1662 Prayer Book, the 1928 American Prayer Book, or the 1962 Canadian Prayer Book and the traditional Hymnal, much less think highly of the two books is shrinking every year.

The number of people who are becoming acquainted with these books for the first time and even developing an appreciation for them is not keeping pace with the number of the two book's admirers who have died. 

Most people have never heard of the traditional Prayer Book and the traditional Hymnal, much less held a copy in their hand and turned over its soiled and timeworn pages. It is the wrong draw. It may have worked in 1979. It is not going to work in 2010.

In the mid-1980s I learned that if you want to catch fish, you must choose what kind of fish that you want to catch and then choose to your fishing tackle and bait to fit the fish. 

If you want to go home with a nice catch, you pick the easiest-to-catch fish, not the rare and elusive ones that are picky eaters and might ignore your bait. You also do not fish for bottom feeders with a fly. The same principles apply in fishing for men. In the part of the country in which I lived in the 1980s, the traditionalist Episcopalian who was churchless fell in the category of being a rare and elusive fish. It was an extremely picky eater. 

On the other hand, waters of southeastern Louisiana were swarming with unchurched folks with a non-Episcopal background or no church background at all. They were much easier to catch and there were plenty of them. 

At the time I was involved in a new Episcopal church plant. We chose to focus upon the fish that abounded in our local waters. When you are fishing out of a storefront church with no stained glass windows, no pews, no kneelers, no organ, no flickering candles, and no polished brass, the rare and elusive traditionalist Episcopalian is not going to even approach your bait and give it a nibble, much less jump into the boat. The fact is that traditional churches have for too long been fishing with the wrong bait for the wrong fish.

The most effective form of advertisement is still word of mouth. There is nothing like first time guests who are excited about what your church is doing. They will tell their friends, their relatives, their co-workers, and everyone who will listen to them. The trick is to get them to visit your church and then to send them away full of excitement about your church. 

What is likely to excite first time guests is a friendly and welcoming environment, refreshments before the service, great worship-more about that later, great preaching-more about that later too, a great Adult Christian Education hour (if there is one), a great Children's Ministry, and familiar faces. Church members and regular attenders whose excitement has not cooled are also make good word of mouth advertisers.

I am not implying that traditional churches should not attempt to advertise but they need to learn a thing or two from churches that make effective use of advertising. These churches often use multiple mailings to invite the public to special events-a Christmas Eve Service, an Easter Morning Service, a ground breaking for a new building, the launch of a new Children's Ministry, a concert, a music recital, and that sort of thing. 

They also frequent use multiple mailings to inform the public of a new preaching series or a new community service project that might interest them. 

A traditional church can build bridges with the community by sponsoring community service projects that bring together churchgoers with non church-going folks who share common interests. 

Radio spot ads are also used for the same purposes. Churches that make effective use of advertising may use a combination of multiple mailings and radio spot ads.

Newspaper ads have limited usefulness. They usually end up on the religious page and are read by those who already go to a church in the community. They still may be effective if they are run in a community newspaper that is widely read and the ad is not placed on the religious page but near the front of the paper, if not on the front page. This will cost more but it may be a good investment. 

The deciding factor is the circulation of the newspaper and its readership. If your church's principal ministry target group reads it or another group that you are seeking to reach reads it, then it may be worth the extra expense. If the newspaper has an Internet edition, be sure that you ad is published in that edition too.

Providing the religious page editor with a regular flow of press release and other information regarding what your church is doing will help to keep it in the public eye, and a reader of the religious page may mention to unchurched friends, relatives, or co-workers something from an article that he or she had read and it may pique their interest. It does not hurt to cultivate a good relationship with the religious page editor.

An attractive, well-designed state-of-the-art Internet web site is an absolute must for churches in the twenty-first century. A full screen video clip intro to the website and full screen video clips on the pages make a significant difference. The web site should also be easy to navigate as well as informative. The cost of constructing and maintaining such a web site is definitely worth it. Before people visit a church, they will check the Internet for a web site. The web site is their first impression of the church and will influence their decision to visit it. You cannot under-estimate the importance of a good first impression.

Among things that are most likely to excite you first time guests and pay off in free word of mouth advertising is great worship and great preaching. In non-liturgical churches great worship translates great music. In liturgical churches it also means great music. In addition it means that the lay readers read the Word of God with authority. The congregation prays the prayer book so that the prayers lift the first time guest's soul up to the gates of heaven. The priest does not mumble his part of the service. The first time guest through the music, the readings, and the prayers experiences the presence and power of God.

In both non-liturgical and liturgical churches great preaching means that the preacher holds the attention of the congregation as he unpacks the Word of God and show how it truths and principles apply to their lives. First time guests come away from the service with the feeling that they have received a personal word from the Lord. God has spoken through the sermon directly to them. They want to return for another visit because they want hear more of what he is saying to them. Their salvation may hang in the balance.

If anything will dampen first time guests' excitement about the worship and the preaching, it is an unfriendly congregation that is too absorbed in its own fellowship to take the time to greet first time guests, chat with them, introduce them to others, and make them feel welcome. One of the most important things that we can give another person is our time. It sends a powerful message to that person that they matter to us.

It does pay to advertise. But advertising alone is not going to attract people to your church and bring them back. What will really make a difference is what your guests experience during their first and subsequent visits. While you certainly should advertise your church, you should also make sure that what you advertise is worth advertising.


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