Do It Yourself Market Research for Churches

September 28, 2006 by

Sometimes the best things in life don’t cost any money. This is a fact that is very easily overlooked in the realm of church marketing. From fliers and mailers to complete demographic surveys–there is a lot of money you can spend in marketing your church.

Let’s face it, to market your church effectively you are going to have to spend some money–but I think I’m preaching to the choir on this blog. There is a potential hazard down this road, however, and it is overlooking the simple, inexpensive ways to find out about our market. One of the most effective and least expensive things I’ve ever done to learn about my church’s market is simply going around the neighborhood and asking people questions.

I can’t take credit for this idea myself. I ripped it out of Aubery Malphurs’ definitive church planting tome, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century. I took his suggestions and contextualized them to the South (where I was to be planting a church).

After introducing myself and telling them that I am starting a new church in the area I begin to ask these questions:

“What do you think is the greatest need in this community?”
You will get a range of answers to this question–some you or your church might be able to help with but most of which you can do nothing about. Listen anyway. This is your opportunity to distinguish yourself from people with hidden agenda who have also appeared at their door. This question sets the tone for the rest of your conversation–and tells them you are sincerely interested in what they have to say.

“How often have you attended a church in the last year?”
Don’t ask if they go to church. If you do most people will say, “yes.” You want to know how churched they are. Frankly, if their answer to their first question was spiritual in nature and they tell me they go to church every Sunday, I usually thank them for their time and move onto the next home. I am interested in what nominal and non-Christians think so I can reach them, rather than becoming the new, hip church in town for Christians. This is also an opportunity to tell your interviewee you are not there to judge but listen–just write down whatever answer they give you and move on.

“Why do you think people in the area don’t attend church regularly?”
This is an indirect way of asking them why they don’t attend church regularly. Nevertheless I’ve found most people will not speak for anyone else but themselves. This is a very important question–it will tell you the excuse most people in your target area give for not attending church.

“If you were looking for a church in the area, what would it be like?”
This is a very helpful question if you want to overcome their excuse and provide for their perceived needs.

“What advice would you give to a new pastor?”
This might be the only time a pastor asks them for advice. I’ve found that people are usually very grateful you asked and more than willing to give you some good advice. Again, the key here is to listen! Don’t justify yourself or make excuses.

After your interview thank them for their time and move on. Don’t use this as an opportunity to preach at them or you will have undermined your entire survey (this is very hard for most pastors, and especially for type-A church planters). Only give them information about your church if they ask for it–this is a fact-finding mission, not a mission trip. The most I ever did after interviewing someone was write down the address and name (if I got it) to send them a brief, hand-written “thank you” for taking time to help me out. There were a couple of people who visited our church as a result of these efforts, but if that was my primary goal it would have been a big waste of time.

As I traveled the neighborhoods I noticed a couple of things made it more likely for people to answer their door.

  • Don’t travel in pairs. You will look like you are there to proselytize them. For safety’s sake, since you are alone, don’t enter a home under any circumstance to avoid dangerous or sticky situations.
  • Don’t dress up. Door-to-door salesmen (and Mormons) dress up as they go door-to-door. I had the most success when I wore shorts and sandals (which was a necessity in a Southern summer anyway).
  • I got the best response between dinner-time and dark. This limited me to the hottest time of the year, down here in the South, because of daylight savings.

I don’t want to tell you the results of my surveys not only because I want you to do your own work, but because I am curious of whether the responses will be different based upon region or social class or if most people will give the same answer regardless of any demographic distinctions. Of course, the results will be slanted because people won’t be completely honest to a stranger, but it is at least a starting point to begin to address their perceptions and for you to understand your target area–for free.

Post By:

David Zimmerman

David Zimmerman is a former pastor who lives in Lake Wylie, S.C., with his wife, Christie, and his step-dog, Murphy. You can also check out his personal blog.
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6 Responses to “Do It Yourself Market Research for Churches”

  • Pastor Sandy
    September 29, 2006

    I guess “What advice would you give to a new pastor?” is the best question. In any other church planting book i read, the always tried to get demopraphic information in the first place – but they never really wanted to hear the peoples thoughts about the church they wanted.

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  • C. Michael Pilato
    September 29, 2006

    You mean face-to-face, in-person, non-evangelistic interaction with members of your own community?! What are you trying to be, Christ-like or something?

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  • brad
    October 6, 2006

    Radical, no? :-)

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  • Ted Smethers
    December 25, 2006

    Sounds like a great idea. We should do this. Probably won’t though. #1 too much work and we are not that ambitious. #2 we are afraid of people, especially pagans. #3 wrong turf, we want to engage people on our terms in our comfort zone, not theirs.
    Oops. Sorry, I was starting to get “authentic”, I better knock it off and go back to the fake it until you make it mode.

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  • David Mills
    September 14, 2007

    b>You can reach hundreds more Taking this idea a bit farther, you can use a team approach to completing a community needs assessment. This is the official method for any new organization to understand the culture and needs of a community, and when a church does it, it gives them access to lots of people and can help change the way that people view the church (relevant vs. irrelevant) We love this process so much we developed a kit and support– lots of effective church planters are finding that it works.

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    May 13, 2010

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