Our Marketing Budget is $0

February 15, 2010 by

This year our church made the decision to pull all of our traditional marketing dollars (phone book, newspaper, radio, etc.), and we moved it to equipping our people and staff to engage and connect with the lost. That sentence makes it sound perfect and glamorous. It wasn’t, but the end result and current culture shifting has made it all worth it.

As the director of communications I spent the first month talking to, let’s say, “established” members of our congregation and leadership who were deeply concerned, and even offended that we had pulled our weekly newspaper blurb noting the sermon title and preaching pastor. Our executive pastor also had many conversations with people who were confused and worried. It was a rough few weeks, but once we were able to articulate our reasoning (see catalyst #2, below), everyone was pretty much on board.

Two Catalysts for the Decision:

Number one: I was feeling increasingly uneasy with the monthly expenses of keeping up with the newspaper and telephone book ads (that stuff costs big bucks!).

Number two: We discovered that about 50% of guests were finding us through whoisgrace.com and the other half were coming through personal invitation.

Truth be told, catalyst #2 was the reason we moved that money, and it almost automatically shifted the staff’s expectation of what our marketing strategy should look like. We started speaking in terms of “relationships,” “investment” and “customization.” We also stopped saying “marketing” and started saying “communication.”

It is now way more important for us to listen for and tell stories about people coming to Grace through friends and relatives than it is to have a big “successful” marketing campaign with community buzz every year.

How We’re Using Our Marketing Budget Today:

Sermon Promo: We still promote sermon series on our web site and to our people in the building, and we also will give them inviter cards from time to time, but it’s so they can pray about and discern who they should be inviting to hear that particular message.

Database Management: We also used some of that budget to beef up our database. We now have centralized data and a better way to care for our people on an on-going basis.

This move might not be for everyone, but it worked for us. We now have a congregation that is empowered and willing to bring people to church. They are our marketers. They define our brand. And my job? It’s a lot more rewarding these days.

Post By:

Danielle Hartland

Danielle Hartland is the director of communications at Grace Church in Erie, Penn., where her goal is to create and foster accessible communication strategies that cut through without cutting in. You can find her fastest on Twitter: @daniellesuzanne.
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14 Responses to “Our Marketing Budget is $0”

  • Luke
    February 15, 2010

    This post reminded me of another recent post about marketing. I would suggest that your ADVERTISING budget is now $0, but your MARKETING budget is even more defined than it was before.

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  • Mitch
    February 15, 2010

    great post danielle.
    we’re doing our database update now, so hopefully we can make something work better with that. it should allow us to offer more customized and focused communication.
    last year is the first year we didn’t send out a mailer for our Christmas Eve services. we still had a packed house (overflow in 2 services). we posted our service times to the website and Facebook, and we outsourced a bunch of invite cards. it goes to show that mailing isn’t a worthwhile point of contact anymore.
    love this. i’ll pass it on to my boss. he’ll enjoy reading it.

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  • Rick DeBruyne
    February 15, 2010

    We came to the same conclusion several years ago. Did same thing – beefed up database and added mapping program. We follow 5 P Priority in what is most powerful at reaching people: Prayer, Personal Contacts, Programs, Property (location and inviting), and Promotion. We’ve never really spent much on the 5th P.

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  • Katie
    February 15, 2010

    Love it! We are a new church and have never done a phone book or newspaper ad or anything of that sort. I still get a few suggestions a month, but kindly explain that’s not the best use of our money:) We print up business cards for most of our series which our people take and hand out or leave around town. They love them.

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  • Sarah
    February 15, 2010

    I must admit, comments like this make me sad. You see, I work in the newspaper industry, and see how little churches advertise… and how much other places (such a strip clubs, etc) do. I’m NOT suggesting you run large ads, or even need a huge budget… but I know a lot of people are spiritually seeking, and I think pulling away from marketing avenues (such as print) isn’t wise. Sure, pull back if need be. But be aware of a void that can be left… which is apparent when I open up a paper and see NOT ONE church represented.

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  • Greg
    February 16, 2010

    Is your budget really $0? How do you pay for your website? I’m reminded, unless you are using strictly volunteers to run your website using all free tools, there is a cost. Even if someone on your staff is using free tools to manage your site, there is a marketing cost.
    What about the time to create sermon graphics? Do you do any internal communication like bulletins? There’s a cost there too.
    Even the time a volunteer would use has a “cost” associated as they are working on these pieces rather than being plugged into other ministries.
    I don’t think any church has a marketing cost of zero. You may have removed your ads from the newspaper and yellow pages, but I would challenge you to think of what the actual cost of all the marketing you do is. This post is pretty misleading. Churches, especially smaller ones, need to invest time or money into some form of marketing as the reality is people will not be invited. The church at large is no longer mobilize in the US to invite their friends. Knowing statistically, 7/10 people have NEVER been invited to a church speaks volumes to this point.
    That said, I think every church should evaluate the cost/effectiveness of all the marketing they do, but you can’t axe every form of marketing. Otherwise, you’d have no church sign, no sermon graphics, no bulletins, no invitation cards, blank white envelopes, no staff shirts, no website, no anything.

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  • Danielle Hartland
    February 16, 2010

    @Greg: all of our website costs are under a communications budget, as are the bulletins/graphics, because they are considered to be in-house communication tools. Our website is, definitely, used by people who don’t attend our church, but it’s not considered “traditional marketing.”
    I agree with you that it isn’t for everyone, just my perspective and what’s working for us. I wasn’t exaggerating our 50% statistic of people being invited – it’s a reality for us.
    @Sarah you make a good point, but because we had no data telling us that people are responding to the ads, we pulled them. If it was effective, we’d do it for sure. On a side note, I think the newspapers (in my area at least) need to take a hard look at how they handle print vs. online advertising. I’d be much more willing to run an ad that would make it online, but they are two different revenue streams for the paper…and two different departments.

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  • Joshua Skogerboe
    February 16, 2010

    This is an interesting post, for several reasons. I think it is relevant both in regards to church methodology AND our current economic reality, with giving and budgets down for MANY churches in America.
    One question about this that I’d love to see discussed after you hve a few years to look back on it: Is it sustainable over the long haul? I ask because I am on staff at a smallish church in the NW metro area of the Twin Cities (Living Hope in St. Michael, MN), and we have put most of our eggs in the “invest and invite” basket for our marketing strategy. We want to continue to create a culture of inviters. BUT… we have found that for our core members, most of us have somewhat “tapped out” our warm martket. We live by the same neighbors, work with the same people, rub shoulders at local businesses and play ball with the same guys we have for the last 4-5 years. Once we’ve invited these people to join us a few times, there’s a limit to how far nad fast you can spread the word about your church in this way. So we do sort of “both and” with our marketing. I’d love to hear how this goes for you over time.
    Thanks for the great post!

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  • DM
    February 16, 2010

    Not trying to be nitpicky, but I would assume your salary, as Director of Communications, would be a part of your advertising budget.

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  • Lindsay
    February 16, 2010

    We actually did something very similar in the last few years. We re-did our website and have changed the way we advertise both internally and externally. Just trying to be intentional with the dollars we’ve been given and meet our people where they are has been huge to us.
    Thanks for the article. It made me feel like I’m doing something right!

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  • Danielle Hartland
    February 17, 2010

    ha @DM – actually, it’s part of the “Elder” budget, if you want to get specific. ;-)
    I know what you’re trying to say…what I’m trying to say is that we moved all of our “traditional marketing dollars” to other uses for this ministry season.

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  • Derek Iannelli-Smith
    March 4, 2010

    personal invitation always makes disciples versus catering to the consumer mentality.

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  • GM
    April 7, 2010

    A few people were concerned that we did not have a special Easter newspaper ad this year. We’re Christian–If we didn’t have Easter services, now that would be news! (Christmas is different, since it isn’t necessarily on Sunday and churches have different type services.)

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  • Ad Majorem
    July 31, 2010

    Good, practical advice about marketing on a zero or near-zero budget. (Must admit I was a little startled by the title of your blog.)

    Here’s a perspective from inside a large ad agency:



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