Reflecting on 10 Years of Church Marketing Sucks

Reflecting on 10 Years of Church Marketing Sucks

July 31, 2014 by

For the whole month of July we’ve been celebrating our 10-year anniversary. Today the celebration comes to an end. It’s your last day to get discounts and enter our final giveaway. We’ve also got one last surprise.

But being the editor of this little blog and here since the very beginning, I can’t pass up the opportunity to reflect on 10 years of helping churches suck less. It’s like a massive Throwback Thursday—I hope you’ll indulge me.

The Very Beginning

The roots of Church Marketing Sucks go back to a meeting in downtown Los Angeles. Brad Abare had gathered a team to launch this new idea.

We were young. Were eager. We were idealistic.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter dated April 7, 2004 sent out in preparation for that meeting:

“Our purpose is poignant: to change the way the world sees the church. … This is not another system or self-perpetuating product to create, package and sell. It’s not a 5-step program for churches to be better ‘marketers’ of the gospel. This is revolutionary. This is bigger than you and me. And this is going to impact the kingdom of God for generations to come. Are you beginning to catch it?”

I said we were idealistic, right?

In some ways it’s embarrassing to look back and read those words. We had no idea what we were getting into. We were trying to launch a for-profit company and sell a book, and neither of those things are what we’re known for today.

Today, 10 years later, we’re a nonprofit known primarily for our blog.

If you have any delusions of how awesome we were back then, here’s a glimpse at the initial logo designs for the name we actually considered—Church Marketing Sux (yes, spelled with an ‘x’).

Original and unused Church Marketing Sux logos

Any time you call something revolutionary you’re going to get in trouble. And as wrong as we were back then—we didn’t launch a for-profit company that changed how churches communicate—I think we did something right. We realized that it was bigger than us. We weren’t out to create some slick product. We knew this had to be more than fixing typos and mocking Comic Sans (as important as those tasks are).

As my notes from that April 15, 2004 meeting say:

“We can’t just help the church look good. We have to help them tell the story.” -Brad Abare

That’s How We’ve Always Done It

And so the blog started on July 22, 2004. The very first post looked at a successful example in the business world and wondered what the church could learn from it:

“Could your greeting team actually have a ‘CARE’ plan when new visitors encounter your church?”

Here’s what the site looked like back in the day:

Church Marketing Sucks 10 Years Ago

Our first real press coverage came in a December 2004 story in, which quoted Brad:

“If Target can make toothbrushes look cool, certainly Christians can present the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that causes [others] to want to learn more,” Abare says. “It’s a tricky place to be, because some Christians will fear that you’re following the world or selling out, but the fact remains that there are useful concepts out there worth exploring.”

In late 2004 we printed up some promo cards. Anyone still have one?

Original promo cards

The press continued in 2005 with The Door, Ministry Today, Leadership Journal (a story written by Skye Jethani, who would go on to write The Divine Commodity) and Relevant Magazine. The interview in The Door prompted this comment:

“I gotta confess, every time I read more about what you guys are doing I want to jump in myself.”

That commenter, David Uribe, is now our board president.

We celebrated our one-year anniversary in 2005 with a press release and a redesign:

The 2005 redesign

We had some crazy ideas back then, including an unmanned booth at the Youth Specialties convention in Nashville. Does anybody remember seeing us there (well, not us… it was an unmanned booth)? Since we weren’t even there we didn’t get any pics, but here’s what the mock up looked like:

A look at our booth: Just a table and some logos.

In 2006 the mainstream press took notice and we found ourselves in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Herald, Advertising Age, the Detroit Free Press and more.

In 2006 we also started projects. First up was the Church Marketing Lab. Right from the start a typo was caught and fixed, and church marketing was getting better. Church marketing events started cropping up in 2005 and 2006—such as the Buzz Conference, MinistryCOM, Innovative Church and Catalyst—and so we started the Events Calendar to keep track. The Job and Freelance Boards started in 2007 in response to the growing job market for church communicators. In 2008 we started tracking local gatherings of church communicators with the Local Lab.

We also celebrated our second anniversary in 2006 with our ‘heart and soul’ series, which included guest posts from Mark Batterson, DJ Chuang and Kem Meyer. The support we’ve had from some of the giants of the community over the years is incredible.

In late 2006 we launched a one-time run of T-shirts. We gave away the last of those T-shirts this week, but it seems there’s one left.

Church Marketing Sucks. Word.

In 2007 Seth Godin’s Squidoo named us one of the 59 Smartest Organizations Online (right up there with Ferrets Unlimited).

In 2008 our team gathered in Chicago—a central location for a group spread across Michigan, Minnesota, Georgia and California. Our board of directors came out of that meeting, which gave us oversight and direction, making us more than just a blog and some ideas.

Our Chicago meeting in 2008.

Josh Cody, Brad Abare and Michael Buckingham in Chicago, with Kevin D. Hendricks taking the picture (this was pre-selfie).

Also in 2008 we created a fun little PDF for MinistryCOM, “You Know You’re in Church Communications If…” with the help of the Church Marketing Lab.

You Know You're In Church Communications If...

We celebrated our 5th anniversary in 2009, though the festivities were much more subdued:

“It’s hard to believe we’ve been at this for five years. In Internet terms that makes us a dinosaur. In human terms that makes us a kindergartner.”

After that observation, we just got back to work. After all, we had our first conference to plan: Cultivate.

Cultivate Conference

A blurry glimpse at Cultivate in 2009.

We also joined Twitter in 2009, after much kicking and screaming. Facebook followed a month later (let’s not talk about our MySpace page). Here’s the very first tweet:

We were voted Best Ministry Blog by COLLIDE magazine in 2009.

We grew up in 2010, announcing new leadership with our board of directors and a new executive director in Cynthia Ware. We also released our very first annual report. We still didn’t have an office, business cards or wear ties, but we were somehow more legitimate. Getting a real website helped. In 2010 we ditched Movable Type and joined the rest of the world on WordPress

In 2010 that book idea finally got rolling, thanks to Tim Schraeder. Tim had the guts to gather more than 60 church communicators, and a year later we published Outspoken: Conversations on Church Communication and launched it at STORY. We were pretty proud to see it come together and share it with the church comm world:

Kevin holding copies of Outspoken.

The copies of Outspoken arrived!

In 2011 Cleve Persinger hatched Creative Missions, a missions trip for church communicators that we’ve been proud to support every year since—from Albany to Joplin, Anchorage to Baltimore.

2011 Creative Missions

Here’s part of the 2011 crew. Left to right: Chuck Scoggins, Pastor Grantley of Harmony Fellowship, Andy Burns, Brad Huss, Danielle Hartland and Kyna Moore.

2012 was a good year for stories. One of my favorites is Anthony Miller, who declared:

“Church Marketing Sucks inspired my career.”

Today Anthony works at Saddleback and continues to inspire. Not too shabby.

In 2013 we launched more books—Dangerous and Church Communication Heroessurveyed the church communication community, and launched our first training event—the Certification Lab. We also scored our own booth—staffed this time (much more effective)—at the very last Echo Conference:

Church Marketing Sucks booth at Echo

So far 2014 has seen the launch of our street team, the Getting Started ebook series, a brand new Church Marketing Podcast with Dave Shrein, and our second Certification Lab. And the year is just past halfway.

Bigger Than Us

That’s quite a history. A rather incomplete and piecemeal history, but still pretty lengthy (thanks for indulging me). The conversation has shifted over the years. We talk less about justifying the need for marketing and more about how to do marketing. The community has also shifted, with new projects starting and old ones going away. The people have also shifted.

As Church Marketing Sucks and our nonprofit parent the Center for Church Communication, we don’t have an office you can come visit. The self-indulgent recap I just gave involved the work of dozens (hundreds?) of people from all over the place. We wouldn’t be here without them (and if I try to name them all I’ll leave somebody out, so I won’t try).

Today we have people in Anchorage, St. Paul, Los Angeles, Nashville, St. Louis, Miami and more. It makes it hard to get a team photo. But we’ll try:

The 2014 Certification Lab Atlanta Team

2014 Certification Lab Atlanta team photo (left to right): Katie Strandlund, Gerry True, Kelley Hartnett, Chuck Scoggins, David Uribe, Mark MacDonald, Phil Bowdle and Stephen Brewster.

Brad Abare & Kevin D. Hendricks

The two guys who have been with us since the beginning: Brad Abare & Kevin D. Hendricks

And that still leaves out Adam, Laura and Dave. Never mind our guest bloggers, our street team, our Church Marketing Lab moderators.

This is more than a company or a group in an office. Brad nailed it 10 years ago when he said this was bigger than us. This is a movement. It’s happening all across the country, and all across the world. That’s why we’re still here after 10 years.

That’s why you can join us in this work. This work of helping churches communicate the greatest story every told. It’s not just making things look better, it’s telling our story. It’s connecting. It’s changing how the world sees the church, and how the church sees the world.

This is the work we do. As a church communicator, we want to thank you for all you do to help churches suck less. We know it’s not easy, but know that you’re not alone.

The Day We Don’t Suck

Hopefully, in some small way, we’ve helped the church do that over the past 10 years.

We’ve asked if church marketing still sucks (12 times! I’m proud of the crew of folks who stepped up to answer that question). During our hangout on Monday the answers was yes, but it sucks differently today.

We long for the day when we can be (and yes, we have the URL ready to go).

But that day is not today. The church still has a ways to go. This broken institution has more work to do. To be honest, I don’t think we’ll ever have it down. I think there will always be room for improvement. Something is always broken. Something can always be done better. Something always sucks. That’s how we’ve always done it will always be a ready excuse.

But one day the kingdom will come and we can stop striving. Until that day we’ll continue to frustrate, educate and motivate.

Thanks for 10 years.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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4 Responses to “Reflecting on 10 Years of Church Marketing Sucks”

  • Brian
    July 31, 2014

    2005 design, wow so small – I remember it was super hard to get the widgets setup with that blog software. Now WordPress is so much easier. :)

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    • Kevin D. Hendricks
      July 31, 2014

      Widgets?! Movable Type didn’t even have widgets. It was all code, though at least it was in a sidebar file.

      It’s been so long. Thanks for your early design work. And being there in that downtown LA meeting back in the day.

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  • Aleena Khan
    January 1, 2015

    This is awesome. I’m a relatively new reader and had no idea how far back y’all go. I’m not even Christian, I’m just fascinated and very interested in what you’re trying to do. If Church marketing sucks, then Mosque marketing is downright awful :)

    I love this blog and it has been an awesome resource. Thanks for sharing your insights for ten years. Here’s to another year!


    – fellow fascinated muslim reader

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    • Kevin D. Hendricks
      January 2, 2015

      Thanks Aleena. Appreciate you sticking around and seeing what you can learn from churches.

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