November 13, 2008 Tony Morgan

Churches Should Stop Marketing

I’ve changed my mind.

For over 10 years, I’ve been a proponent of church marketing, but I’m at the place now where I think it needs to end. It’s time for churches to stop marketing.

No more direct mail postcards. Stop the billboards and the radio ads. Take down the clever cliches on the church sign out front. End the platform announcements the bulletin announcements and the email blasts. These tactics need to be avoided.

Don’t read any more Seth Godin books. Stop visiting the Church Marketing Sucks website. (Most of it still sucks by the way.) Don’t go to workshops and conferences on marketing topics. And, whatever you do, don’t take advice from ex-marketing-proponents like me.

Marketing is becoming a barrier to the advancement of the Gospel message. It’s becoming a hindrance for the church. Ministry is being negatively impacted because churches are attempting to use marketing tactics to reach people for Jesus and help them take steps in their faith.

I’m serious about this. It has to stop. And sometime in the next few days I’ll explain why.

Go ahead. Tell your friends. Everyone needs to know.

Marketing is evil.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

Comments (0)

  1. gee, so what should we do with all this money that we’ve devoted to marketing? give it to the poor? surely you don’t mean that? i pray for your soul tony. &:~)

  2. Glad you’re sharing this when the budget is finally putting in a marketing line item — can’t wait to hear …. the rest of the story! Can you go ahead and post it please? Pretty please?

  3. Wow, too bad you spent all that time on the new website for NewSpring just to take it down now. Bummer.

    Tony. Come on…marketing is a barrier when it’s not done right. When it’s done right and for the right reasons it propels communication.

    You’re right though marketing CAN be a hindrance. So can preaching, so can a church building, so can bible studies…do we shut those down to?

    PS. Will you now offer refunds for the, I assume, cancelled Unleash conference?

  4. Tony Morgan

    dawn, you ought to be interested. you may have to start flipping burgers by this time next week.

    all these smiley faces in your comments make me think you’re assuming i’m not serious.

    no more marketing!!!


  5. Marketing = trying to sell someone something (the promotion of a product). I’m a marketer when I have my corporate / consumer hat on and well… when I am actually trying to leverage opportunities to get someone to buy a product or service that my client has.

    When it comes to churches, nonprofits or a social cause that are movement and relationship driven… I don’t like using the word MARKETING at all. Makes me feel icky to use it in that context. God is not a product. In these cases, to me, we should not be trying to SELL something. We sell commodities. We don’t sell salvation. That comes by inviting people into a relationship, loving them and caring for them.

    Marketing is slick. Loving others is rough around the edges.

    Maybe in the context of the church, the word marketing should be replaced with connecting.

    Interested to see where you go with this. Play on words or really suggesting dropping the vehicles that communicate.

  6. WOW, what an idea – get before the people and preach the gospel truth. Call them to worship in song, studying the word and living for God through LOVING those who are hurting and need a real touch from a real God.

    I see it! So I guess without marketing we are left to the gospel to draw people? To people to care about their neighbors enough to invite them? Excited to hear more of your thoughts and see how NewSpring works this out.

  7. Matt Farina

    I’m curious if you’ll explain the difference between marketing and communication.

  8. Tony Morgan

    michael, this includes marketing done right. that could even be more damaging. all church marketing should stop.

    daniel, i’m talking about dropping the vehicles that communicate. this isn’t a play on words.

    this isn’t about businesses or conferences (but it could be). i’m talking to churches.


  9. Sounds like this post is ‘marketing’ to readers for and to make sure we stay tuned for the follow-up post! Hmm…..

    Does this mean that Tony will stop advertising books on his blog that promote church marketing? Will he stop accepting sponsorships from companies that help churches market themselves? Hmm….

  10. I just clicked on “creative sermon series packages” on the right column up there. I assume if you get money for that click you will give it back, and you will be taking down all those ads.

    But of course you got me to post. So you win either way. You want us all to clamour (sp?) for the next post, pine away how you are wrong and then get us with the answer or some clever way of spinning it.

    If you mean it. Great. Let’s see you really do it and not talk about it.

    If you don’t mean it. Great, you got me. Congrats to you.

  11. Can someone help me? My browser won’t refresh, I still see all the banners for church marketing companies on Tony’s blog…

    Shoot, without those it looks like Tony will be flipping burgers with Dawn and I.

  12. Yes. Interested indeed to see where this goes. Your ability to create anticipation here is done well.

    All this after I just hit sent on an email blast to our church list of 8,000 letting them know that together they donated almost 13,000 POUNDS of food last weekend for those who are in need in our community.

    Maybe next time I will bust out some smoke signals to communicate the message. :)

  13. I look forward to hearing your fully-formed thoughts on this Tony. Until then I’ll reserve any judgment on your stance. I can imagine this is going to be a steeply divided issue. As someone who’s paycheck depends on church’s doing marketing, I definitely have a horse in this race.

  14. Juan Diego

    Wow! Great thoughts with this bold pronouncement. I guess the good news reflected in our changed lives should really be the only marketing plan thetinued church needs, but it is so hard not to follow the ways of the empire. I look forward to your continued thoughts on the matter.

  15. Trace

    This isn’t a new concept. There are churches all across the US practicing this methodology. I could name 100 of them.

    Let’s see, there’s…

    Oh, wait. I’ve never heard of any of them because they didn’t believe in marketing!

    Seriously though. Can’t wait to see the rest of the story…

  16. Please don’t wait too long for your follow-up post, Mr. Morgan. As someone who cares deeply about what I’m doing with my life (church communications), this post has left me with an uncomfortable YUCK in the pit of my stomach: Shame? Fear? Sorrow? I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t feel good. At all. Please explain soon . . .

  17. I don’t know where this post is going because on screen it looks like a ploy. Good or bad – I don’t know.

    I would guess that if this was not a ruse, you would have gone on to tell us why it is evil instead of inviting us back after telling all our friends that marketing is evil. So its coming across as gimmicky instead of clever. It appears to be a negative approach to marketing.

    Its an invitation without substance which I would equate to most church advertising that I have seen.

    You have painted marketing in a large broad brush with the vehicles that you have specified. I am under the assumption that marketing is a specific form of communication and not adverse. We can communicate without marketing which some of the information vehicles that you have listed could accomplish without being marketing.

    I am intrigued where you are taking this but suspect that expectations won’t be met by actual revelation… again, much like church marketing that I have seen.

    Sign me Curious About Which Shoe Will Fall.

  18. Here is an interesting statement from Seth Godin’s most recent blog….

    “If you are promised big returns with no risk and little effort, you know the person is lying to you. Every time.”

  19. And now I am listening to the Matt Cleaver podcast about marketing to see what they are saying… is that like eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

    If so… Eve made me do it. :)

  20. I bet Mark Batterson will be sad since he just posted this yesterday:

    “2) The greatest message deserves the greatest marketing. I know that marketing is a dirty word in some church circles, but does it get anybody else riled up that Madison Avenue is far better at pedaling its worthless wares than the church is at preaching the good news? I have a problem with that. We need sanctified competitive streaks.”

    We’ll have to get him to chime in.

  21. I can’t wait to see the rest of this, but as the Marketing Director at a church I sometimes feel like the church is stepping back from sharing since we have a marketing guy and he has a budget to spend on whatever and if the church isn’t reaching people then it he must not be very good.

    I think I heard you say once that many churches don’t have marketing problems, they have ministry problems. If most people are waiting on a personal invitation to go to church then maybe we would be wiser to invest into strategies that help more people personally take on the mission of reaching others and developing as authentic disciples who are able to clearly communicate the Gospel to others.

    Having said that I am going back to work on the television and radio spots for our upcoming Christmas production.

  22. I thought Sebren had already covered that topic earlier on… the ‘hired’ professionals having been replaced by the ones who were called to be church.

    Isn’t that the danger of any paid position on a church staff…that since we are paying for a hired gun we no longer are responsible for the work ourselves? I don’t think this is limited to this loose assessment of ‘marketing’\’communication’. This is happening across the board.

    My questions would be:

    Is this a result of current church culture?
    Or the by product of an American culture long too comfortable and not willing to leave their zone?

    But, more importantly, how do you reverse the trend?

    Do we market/communicate to our congregations that something is missing? Isn’t that what we hired the pastor to do? (Yes, I am being facetious… but I have found this whole post to be facetious as well.)

    If my words come across a little harshly, it may be that I misunderstand the intent of your post and am disappointed in where I perceive that it has gone. My apologies in that case.

  23. But, doesn’t marketing strengthen the message of the individual? If someone sees or hears about a church event or series, then receives a personal invitation, doesn’t that have a stronger appeal?

    PS Are the NewSpring signs coming down on 417 now? Just asking… :)

  24. I have no doubt that you’ll take this somewhere that makes a great point, etc. but the getting there, in my opinion…well, let’s just say there were better roads to take.

    I. like Kelley, care deeply for what I do and I’m passionate about helping the church communicate better.

    Some understand what that means, others don’t….to the point that I’ve been belittled and attacked for what I do.

    I’m afraid this post has simply perpetuates that thinking. And while I have no doubts that is not your intention…it stings.

    Just take a stroll over to the Church Marketing Lab and walk in their shoes a bit…there is a lot of hurt that’s associated with picking up the spear of changing the way the church communicates.

    I guess I’d just remind you that you’re not just talking about marketing as a thing…you’re also talking about communicators as people.

  25. The church as a whole confuses marketing with advertising. The point of marketing is to create Impressions. The point of advertising is to announce or herald a product or service. Radio Ads, billboards and postcards are advertising. Good marketing unites everything you are doing from environments out to make one memorable impression for people. Obviously the point is to get people to stop long enough to hear the Gospel. Stop worrying about your advertising and start worrying about your environments, how your serving and loving people and the impression you make.

  26. “If most people are waiting on a personal invitation to go to church then maybe we would be wiser to invest into strategies that help more people personally take on the mission of reaching others and developing as authentic disciples who are able to clearly communicate the Gospel to others.” – Jeremy Davidson

    This is EXACTLY the conclusion I have come to over the past two months of working with a pre-launch church plant. I even have a draft waiting for me to finish on my blog about this exact same conclusion.

    Our church has been focusing on how to find people, connect people, and grow. I am the one who is in charge of marketing (under my worship and creative arts responsibilities). I have finally come to the conclusion that the Church (BIG “C”) has to be relational in its “marketing.” The Church grows by the BODY taking on the responsibility of INVESTING in other people.

    Not billboards. Not mass mailers. Not radio ads. THE BODY IS RESPONSIBLE.

    We HAVE to invest in our neighbors, friends, coworkers, etc. If you haven’t invested in some enough to take them to lunch or coffee during the week, then you probably have no right to ask for their time on Sunday. We need to stop pushing off our personal responsibility onto mass mailers and radio ads.

    People are just waiting for someone to TRULY care about them and SACRIFICIALLY love them and then invite them to church.

    Tony, I truly hope that you are serious about this. After my last couple months, I’ve landed on that side of the philosophical fence too. I live around Anderson and I’d love to take you out for coffee or something to pick your brain further about this.

  27. Tyler Ford

    I joined the conversation late today, but my first thought was perhaps along the lines of what Jeremy said, which may be what you were hinting at, Tony.

    Too often, the marketing of the church gets left to the staff…to design great stuff, budget enough for postcards and dream up the most controversial billboard.

    Having been part of a successful church plant, and being the person doing the dreaming and designing, I know what problems can potentially rise up.

    Does your congregation sit there waiting for the staff or leadership to fill the seats with great “marketing”, or are THEY your #1 marketing vehicle? They should be. What leadership should be doing is equipping them to be the most effective “sneezers” (thanks, Seth)…letting every person in their sphere of influence know about what is happening at your church.

    I’ve also seen first-hand how an incredibly successful new church can reach thousands in only a few years, and be able to definitively point to numbers and stats that support the fact that 90% or so of their growth is attributed to their people inviting people, not their postcards, billboards or press clippings. ( but they still work tirelessly to be excellent in that as well )

    Your people may not even know they are in the church marketing business. Make sure they do…and give them what the need to make the sale Monday through Saturday!

  28. Shew! Thanks Tony. We were about to spend a bundle on marketing that we didn’t feel good about. Seriously! We agree with you at Rocky River Community Church!

  29. Michael

    excited about the rest of these thoughts.

    i think most churches need to stop focusing on marketing and instead focus on having something that is worth marketing. if life-change is happening, people are meeting jesus, people are worshipping and serving, then people will care.

    a postcard or a billboard won’t cause those things to happen, which is why most of the world has turned a deaf ear to church marketing…it turns out to be false advertising.

  30. Bill Morgan

    While I’ve never met Tony, I think he is one shrewd dude. As a Christian and 20+ year vet of the broadcasting industry, I can confirm that marketing – misused and/or in the wrong hands – can be damaging. See the success of Budweiser, in part due to imaging that utilized some cute horses, and in the frightening growth of the internet pornography industry.

    However, I also believe that marketing can be a POWERFUL tool for winning lost souls to Christ. If a billboard, website, or any other marketing tool brings somebody who has never known God into a relationship with Him, then we’ve saved him/her from rotting for eternity in the firey depths of hell.

    Whoooo…. that kind of puts things in perspective doesn’t it ?!

    That’s not too say that we shouldn’t be developing personal relationships with non-believers…… God directs us to do this and it, like marketing, can save spiritual lives.

    My perspective, for what it’s worth, is that we need to BOTH with the guidance of and for the glory of God. Have a great weekend !!!

  31. Xandyr78

    Okay, folks…seriously? Cyber-mud-slinging?

    Let’s look at this from a slightly modified standpoint:

    1) This is Tony’s blog. It’s a place for him to voice his thoughts, opinions, and frustrations. However he sees fit to do so. You don’t agree with him? Fine. You have this amazing little thing called a “mouse,” and it will let you click the “Back” button on your browser. Navigate away. It’s not hard.

    2) To assume that someone’s simply attacking a concept or a set of people without cause or justification is…detrimental. He’s already stated that he has more to say on the subject. Whether his stance is one you agree with or not, he’s NOT finished talking about it. Do yourself a favor and hear out the full story, THEN make judgment calls. If you don’t WANT to hear out the rest of the story, but you still want to point a finger and continue name-calling or character-maligning, perhaps some introspection into the areas of YOUR life that might not be so “stellar” is in order.

    3) Obviously, regardless of where he ends up on this issue, one of the purposes of THIS particular post is to get people thinking, talking, and/or dialoguing about the issue. Just because you don’t agree with him, or with his methods, doesn’t give you the right to lambaste him.

    4) Sarcasm is not a spiritual gift. It does not accomplish anything for the Kingdom, and in fact does more to tarnish our reputations as the image of Christ.

    Let him finish. THEN make your call.

  32. Carey

    I’ve been saying this for a long time. It’s why I left a full-time job in church communications to go to grad. school, studying Higher Ed. Administration.

    I have a feeling when I stop by in a few days, the message in this post won’t really be what I wish it was. But I do agree that Jeremy’s got a point. Everyone is a minister, everyone has a hope has a message to share. (Now, it’s a whole ‘nother issue that too many people aren’t equipped to share their faith at all, or even know what that would look like for them…but I’m not bitter, not at all.)

  33. At the end it is God who attracts people (and most importantly changes them). Imagine filling a church because of a marketing campaign and people are not changed… this adds no eternal value. If we depend more on God and on His lead He brings the people. Perhaps a little bit out of context but I kind of relate this to John 12:32 “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

  34. Didn’t finish the thought… If we lift Christ up in our church and in everything we do… He will draw the people. The problem is that we are too preoccupied with programs and church growth methodologies and have forgotten the reason why we do ‘church’ to begin with.

  35. I guess I am just not getting it.

    God protects you so why do you lock your doors?

    Lift up Christ and He will draw the people. Of course. So take down your sign outside. In fact don’t tell anyone you are having church. God will bring them after all. Take your number out of the phone book. God will let them know your number if they need it.

    Everyone is trying to be so spiritual and missing out on God’s common sense.

    100 bucks says this turns out to be some philosophical thing about marketing and nothing changes. They still have billboards, still an ad for sermon branding up top there and so on. Do we believe in gambling?

    And I am allowed to be critical. Or is this like Christian movies out there and we all just have to like them and not rock the boat. I can click away, but what would the fun of that be. Tony’s marketing has already worked on me. I am here to see what happens.

  36. Would love to know if Tony Morgan thought he would generate the response that he has received on this post… not the numbers but the content of the feedback.

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