The Christmas story doesn’t change, but planning for it does. That is why two online marketing sites are partnering together this year to help churches prepare for the Christmas season.
Planning Christmas 2011, a site sponsored by ChurchMarketingSucks.com and OurShirtsDontSuck.com, has brought together church leaders from across the country to give them an online platform to share their ideas on how their church promotes Christmas.
The site launched Nov. 2, and each week new videos and resources from church creative teams are posted. The site says, “For most churches, Christmas is a key time for outreach through special services and marketing targeted to their community.”
Evan Courtney, a staff member at The Fields Church in Illinois, shared a video on the site about how his church used the theme of an “unexpected Christmas” as their marketing strategy.
One of the first unexpected events they held consisted of members of the church heading to the local Walmart. They went up to where the Salvation Army bell ringer was standing and began ringing bells they had brought with them. After a few minutes of ringing they dispersed into the crowd yelling “Merry Christmas.”
The Fields Church also partnered with a local student dance group called She Dances to create a flash mob on Eastern Illinois University’s campus. The group helps girls involved in human trafficking in Honduras, and the flash mob was to help them raise awareness for their cause.
Members of She Dances and Fields Church showed up on campus and did a dance for three minutes. At the end of the flash mob the crowd dispersed, but as people were walking away, volunteers passed out cards to people watching with information about She Dances.
Courtney said these different flash events “mirrored how the Christmas Story was unexpected for Mary and Joseph, and also how in our services and in the community what we could do was unexpected.”
Other videos on the site include pastors talking about different insights they have learned when planning for Christmas, a sneak peek of a new Christmas song and video from Hillsong for Christmas, and a video of Maurilio Amorim, CEO of the marketing agency The A Group. Amorim works with churches to help their branding, marketing, and communication strategies, and he talks about some of those strategies in the video.
Dr. John Hardin, a writer for 9Marks, a D.C. organization that helps “church leaders define success as faithfulness to God” rather than numbers, recently completed his dissertation on the history of church promotion in the 20th century. He told The Christian Post today that church marketing isn’t really anything new or innovative. Churches have been adopting modern business methods to promote themselves since the First Great Awakening in the early 1700s.
But, Hardin said, what’s different today is that marketing methods do not simply publicize a church, but alter its messages and services to please targeted customers. "Church marketing is about a shift in authority. Instead of shaping a church around traditional and biblical principles, pastors use sophisticated consumer analysis to shape a church around the customer's individual desires," he wrote in an email.
He cites the Crystal Cathedral as an example of one of the costs of marketing. “This was the quintessential promotional church,” he said. “Robert Schuller was the most innovative religious promoter of the 20th century, his legacy passed on, quite directly, to other leaders like Bill Hybels and Rick Warren who laid the foundation for the church marketing industry that we see today.”
But the church ultimately ended up dying once Schuller stepped down. There was no “grand salesman” to keep it alive. Hardin said often churches who embrace modern marketing strategies to expand their numbers and promote their church don’t always consider the implications.
“Pastors should be wary to note that when you adopt the methods of the marketplace, you also adopt its values,” said Hardin in an email to CP. “The market’s values of rationalism, individualism, pluralism (ironically paired with discrimination) coupled with a consumer based production system, will eat away at the God-centered, theologically precise, doctrinally faithful foundation that a church must hold if it is to serve God's people well.”