Church marketing is another term for outreach. Marketing is a way to reach our community with the tools God has provided for us. Relationships are key to our mission, and a central part of what marketing is all about.
In this episode
The Rock Church in Spokane, Washington
Friendship Church in Canton, Michigan
Mariners Church (Instagram) in Irvine, California
Red Rocks Church (Instagram) in Colorado
From Social Media to Social Ministry by Nona Jones (affiliate link)
Jeanette: It's 2021. And after a year of pandemic life, it's safe to say churches have realized the importance of great communication and marketing. Now that we can see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, what should your church think about in the area of marketing? What trends are going to stick around? We'll talk about that and more in today's episode.
Bryan: Hey, church communicator. Welcome to The Church Juice Podcast. I'm Bryan Haley, the producer of Church Juice, and I'm joined with my cohost, Jeanette Gates. We are here energizing church communications.
Jeanette: That's right, Bryan we're energizing. Let's get it going. Woo. Okay.
Bryan: It's been a minute.
Jeanette: That's right. We are energizing church communications and we're doing that by talking to our friends, Julianne Harris.
Jeanette: She's my friend. I don't know if you know her, Bryan?
Bryan: I don't.
Jeanette: But I feel like I know her because I see her all the time online. But she is, I like to call her and her friends like to call her, the Church Marketing Jedi over at Church Marketing University. Welcome to the show, Julianne.
Julianne: Hi, thank you for having me.
Bryan: Julianne, before we dive in and start talking about marketing and communications specifically, why don't you give us an idea of Church Marketing University, the organization that you are a part of, and what you do for that team?
Julianne: Yeah, for sure. Okay. So, Church Marketing University, on a very broad level, what we do is we have courses and coaching that help churches get more visitors every single week. There's a lot of aspects that go into that. My role on the team is I help develop some of our free resources, things that we use to help churches. And I'm also quite involved in our customer service and our online community because that's where we see the questions that people are asking and really develop those relationships. So I love both aspects of my job and really excited to get to talk about that a little bit today.
Bryan: How did you get connected with CMU?
Julianne: So I went to a secular online college, studied communications. I was looking after I graduated for my next role, had a friend whose church was doing a communications internship and marketing internship. And I was like, "Oh, that's interesting. And I grew up in church. I love Jesus. I would love to do my internship there." So I applied for the internship and my mentor, Sherry, got me connected with Ryan who owns and runs CMU, and just went from there. Started out freelancing, joined the staff in January of 2020 just before the world went crazy.
Bryan: Oh, wow. Good timing.
Julianne: So yeah, it's been a wild ride, yeah.
Bryan: All right.
Jeanette: We all are in the church marketing space and we talk about church marketing a lot. But just for people who might be listening today that are like, "That term is kind of thrown around a lot." And so we like to define it at Church Juice, and you can add onto this Julianne, but it's another term for outreach, right? It's basically just how are we using tools, what tools are we using to reach out to communities, our members, all that kind of stuff. Can you think of anything else you would add?
Julianne: Yeah. I think the term that we often use at CMU is marketing is another term for relationships. And I think that outreach and relationships are very similar uses, right? It's about being where people are and talking to them on their terms, meeting their needs, instead of... A lot of times when people hear marketing, they think of pushing something in somebody's face. But if you've studied marketing in any detail you know that that doesn't usually get the results that you want, especially if you want that long-term relationship with, in business terms, a customer, but in church terms, a person that you're trying to disciple.
Bryan: I really like that. Relationships are key, for sure.
Jeanette: Yeah, that's good. Yeah, that's cool. So now that we've established that base, "This is what we're going to be talking about." I'd like to ask you, Julianne, you interact with churches and church leaders all the time, every day in various roles in their ministry. And I want to know, over the last year, what trend have you really just noticed being the biggest trend in church marketing this last year?
Julianne: So I think I could delve into a couple of things. Probably the most simple one is just a lot more people are paying attention to it than they were before. When I first joined this world, it was like it's new, it's exciting, you've got the geeks and maybe the artists and storytellers who are really excited about it and different churches, but you're not necessarily getting that attention on a broad level. And now I've heard from so many people that, "I have been trying to plant these seeds for years. And finally, during the pandemic, my lead pastor was like, 'Here's the stuff go for it. What do you need?'" And obviously, that's not the case for everybody. There are still a lot of people who are like, "I have things I want to do and my board or my lead pastor says no." Or there are lead pastors who are like, "I have things I want to do and my congregation just doesn't understand." But for the most part, I think that there has been a shift in how people view it. And they're suddenly seeing it as like, "Okay, you know what? This was legitimate when we couldn't gather in person." And I think the tricky part is, and we'll probably get to talk about this later, is carrying that momentum and saying, "You know what? It wasn't just for then, there's still ministry to do here."
Bryan: Yeah, so when it comes to marketing, and going off of that conversation a little bit, what do you think that churches need to focus their attention on? Like you were saying, there's a lot of pastors or leaders who may not get everything that they're dreaming of at the moment, but there is that renewed, or maybe even not renewed, just new emphasis in marketing. So what do you think should be that primary thing that churches focus on?
Julianne: Well, there's a couple of things. I'm not sure I can pick a primary. The first is, just on a very broad level, relationships.
Bryan: For sure.
Julianne: And that needs to affect everything. Going back to what we said, it needs to affect how you do your live stream. It needs to affect what you post on social media. It needs to affect how you think about your website and the ads that you run. If you're thinking, "We need to get a message out there so that people will hear it." Then you're probably doing it wrong. Instead of you want to focus on it, "What are the needs of people in our community? Who are we trying to reach? What do we know about them and how can we speak into their lives in a way that's going to be affirming, that is going to actually show them that Jesus loves them and that we care about them because God cares about them?" So that's one thing. In terms of more tactical or practical things, I would say, if you don't have a website dialed in and a Facebook page dialed in, that's probably where you need to start. And probably the website first, just because a lot of times your Facebook page is going to lead to links on your website.
Bryan: Do you have any churches that come to mind that you think do this really well right now?
Julianne: The relationship building? Yeah, actually I was thinking about this. My friend, Zac Minton, and his church, I believe, is The Rock Church in Spokane, Washington. Really, really good job. When we first started coaching churches during the early stages of '21, we were saying, "Go live. It's just easier. You can insert questions and get that relationship building." And they actually prerecorded and I loved his thought process behind this was because he said, "I can get those relationship elements in the prerecording, but then if it's prerecorded, I can be in the comments, personally, as the pastor." And I just thought that was a really good reason to prerecord and they're always doing creative stuff.
Jeanette: Well, and I love that you said that, Julianne, because I think whenever we're sharing church marketing tips or strategies and things like that, you have to say, "Yes, this is a great strategy, but how is it going to work best for my church or my community or the demographic I'm trying to reach?" And adjust accordingly. There is not going to be a cookie-cutter thing that fits every single thing. You're going to have to go in and customize for what your specific goal is, for example.
Julianne: Yeah, I mean, if you go one of their live streams or prerecorded live streams, whatever, you can see they have a thriving community. There are people, it's not just him and his wife talking to each other in the comments, it's everybody in their church. And it's really great.
Bryan: That's awesome.
Jeanette: Well, and he does a combination of the live streams for service that are pre-recorded, but he'll go live too.
Bryan: Yes, exactly.
Jeanette: He does a combination of those things.
Jeanette: So, speaking of going live and being on social media, you and I spend most of our days on the social medias and y'all do a great job over at CMU of just basically just resourcing churches nonstop, not only through the platform but also actually in your Facebook groups and things like that. What can churches learn from you and the CMU team? And what have you seen working lately and not working on social media? So you can talk about as far as group building and that relationship building inside groups, but also just what are churches doing on social media that seems to be working or not working?
Julianne: Yeah, for sure. So a couple of things from our team perspective, something that we talk about and try to model is if you want your church to engage on social media and your community to engage on social media with you, then your leadership has to be plugged in. If my boss is on a live and I'm in the comments and he says, "Put this word in the comments." I put it in. I don't need the link that they're about to send me, but I put it in. If he asks a question, we all answer it. And our community responds to that because then they're like, "Okay, it's not just you wanting information from me, you're sharing part of your life too." So that's a big deal.
Inside of the Facebook groups, I also just think something that we do from a just relationship standpoint is if somebody posts a question in one of our groups, we have a rule basically that the moderator that approves that post needs to be the first to comment. Now, sometimes you approve a post and people get so excited to answer that you're the second or third comment, but you're typing your answer while other people are answering. And I think that's a pretty big deal because people know, "Okay, once somebody sees my question, I'm going to get a response." And sometimes it's not an answer. Sometimes I'll be like, "This is a great question. I'm excited to see what people say. I have no idea who to tag on this conversation, but I'm sure they will find it." And that's cool as well, as long as I go back and make sure that somebody did find it.
Jeanette: Or she'll say, "Huh. This sounds like a great question for Jeanette Yates or Tyler."
Julianne: I do tag you. Sometimes I'm like, "I'm tagging Jeanette. I'm tagging Jack or Tyler or somebody." And I do actually have a list of people that I keep and I resource my team with, where I'm like, "Okay, here are people who know things about these things."
Bryan: That's awesome.
Julianne: Which is also very helpful. And in your church, I'm not even sure you would need a list because you probably know, "Okay, here are the people who lead Bible studies. Here are the people who have a heart for single moms or outreach." Or whatever the issue is that's happening. And if you don't, the Facebook groups are a really good way to find those people.
Bryan: Absolutely. So let's pivot for a second. You've been at CMU for the last year and it's basically all been pandemic-era, right?
Bryan: So in the next year, as we come out of this pandemic season of ministry, what's one thing that you are excited for, that you're looking forward to?
Julianne: Oh, there's a lot of things I'm excited about. Personally, I was one of those people who was like, "I don't know if I can go back to in-person church until I have a vaccine." I go to church with a lot of people who love hugs and all that stuff. And so I'm like, "That's insight. I'm so ready." And I feel that when I'm talking to church leaders. There's a lot of pastors who are just ready for it to be, even if it's socially distanced and masks, just ready for it to be at in-person church. And so I am excited for that as well. I'm excited to be back in a building.
Julianne: But at the same time, I really want to make sure that we don't forget what we've learned here about the value of online community. And it can be discouraging sometimes when you see those numbers go down or when people are like, "Well, I can watch the live stream anytime." And then they just don't watch it and they maybe aren't as engaged. But I think that there have been a lot of lessons that this time has taught us about engaging people, about meeting people online. And I'm excited to see us take the lessons that we've learned and start equipping our people to actually reach out into our communities online as far as using social media and all of those things. So that's what I'm excited about.
Jeanette: Well, I want to ask, and you kind of already talked about one church that's doing things well. But I want to ask you, if you think about church marketing in general, that outreach, especially in the digital realm, who is killing it right now? Who's doing a great job and what are they doing well? And what can churches learn from that church?
Julianne: Okay, let me think about this because Zac's, church is such a good example. But there are a couple of different ones. The one that I interned at, Friendship Church in Canton, Michigan, they do a great job with their outreach and things like that. They're semi-back in person, but they're still doing their groups and their live stream, things like that. Dani Mackey, one of our CMU people, her actual title is Social Media Mentor for her church.
Jeanette: That's awesome.
Julianne: Which is the coolest thing ever. So that's really awesome as well. They're always doing innovative things with video and social media and things like that.
Jeanette: Well, and I think that is something that churches can learn. Over the past year, we've had... Bryan just said pivot, we were pivoting-
Bryan: For sure, yeah.
Jeanette: Pivoting to live stream and trying to get volunteers to help us out and be in the comments and do the... And then some churches have set up, I think you mentioned, small groups online and things like that. And I think to invest in that moving forward, let's not stop. You mentioned this in the last thing you discussed, we need to, as churches and as people leading church leaders, or helping them with marketing, really equip them to build that volunteer or staff base, depending, mentor people and use social media as a discipleship tool. We're talking about church marketing outreach-wise, but we also can use social media especially for discipleship. So those people who are already invested in some ways in the church, let's go ahead and help them grow in their faith, whether can meet online or in-person, maybe they do a combination of both. Maybe it's a hybrid situation, things like that.
Julianne: I think that's great. And as you're talking, I'm thinking about like some of the church social media feeds that I like to look at for inspiration on that. So I think a couple that I like to look at are Mariners Church out in California, as well as Red Rocks. Both of those churches do a really good job of balancing depths with breadth far as all our posts aren't like, "Oh, you're a new person. Come to our church." There are some of those. And then there are also, "Okay, here's a verse and a thought that you really should stop and meditate on today if you're part of our family." Which I think is great.
Bryan: I think the thing that we go to a lot when we're talking about examples is the well-established or the larger churches. So what would you say to a church probably smaller or a younger demographic, whatever that is, who's just starting to purposefully think about marketing for their own church? What kind of advice would you offer to them?
Julianne: I would say a couple of things. The first is it's okay to look at the big churches and what they're doing as long as that is inspiring you. If it is discouraging you, take a step back, remember that you don't have to be big to nail relationships. And in fact, in some cases, it's better to start with that small group so that you can really focus on the people that God has for you right now before you grow. So that's one thing. The other thing is to just take one thing at a time.
Julianne: At CMU, this is kind of a shameless plug, I'm not saying this is the only way to do it, but we actually really encourage all our people to go through what we call the foundations course. And it's eight weeks, and we have one step that they do each week. And they're significant steps. They're going to make a big difference in your church's marketing thing, but the whole time we're going, "This is a small step." We're not going to be like, "Okay, you joined CMU, and tomorrow you're going to be running Facebook ads and have the best website. And blah, blah blah." Nope. Stop. Do one thing. Because otherwise you're just going to get overwhelmed and the stuff that you're doing is not going to be effective.
Bryan: Yeah, that's good.
Jeanette: I also love that you talked about smaller churches because I think Greg Atkinson posted it on his social media feed today, there are small churches doing things really well and we need to pay attention to them. And I think one of the reasons that is is because they're forced to have to be innovative and creative. "We need to do this thing that is a big thing, but we have a small budget or we have a small staff or no staff."
Jeanette: And so I really liked that. And since we're shouting out some churches today, one of the people that is in our Facebook group a lot, her name is Elizabeth. And I think her church is Bethel Church in Alaska.
Jeanette: And she talks about how they use texting as a way to communicate with their guests, but their members as well. And she says, "Listen, I'm just using the app on my phone and I'm communicating with our members all the time, and through this pandemic." And it gets cold up there in Alaska, all of these things. They're able to really make some relationship-building happen. And it is something that is... They don't have a big staff to respond to all the texts, so she's doing that herself. But she loves it. And they love knowing that that's a real person talking to them. And so it's just been really great to watch that. But anyway, pivot again. And I'm going to go back to social media because it's my jam. And so we talked about a website being the basic thing for churches, do that first, probably.
Bryan: For sure.
Jeanette: But when you're talking to churches about social media, what is something that typically gets overlooked that churches need to focus on in their social media that would make a big difference? So what's something important that a lot of churches miss the boat on?
Julianne: Well, I'm biased. I think a lot of churches understand Facebook pages. I think a lot of churches want to jump onto Instagram because that's where the younger people are or maybe TikTok or whatever. They're just like, "Oh, we're going to do all these accounts." If you can only do one social media platform for your church, which if you're smaller and you're the one person department that's actually a pretty solid strategy is to do one, it probably needs to be Facebook.
Bryan: And do it well.
Julianne: Yeah. It probably needs to be Facebook. And you probably need to have more than a Facebook page. You probably also need to have a Facebook group. And I know Jeanette and I have talked about the Facebook groups that we run as part of our jobs. There's a couple of reasons. The first is that Facebook loves groups. Groups are where people actually connect over things, and so they will put group posts in somebody's feed long before they're going to put a post from your page into the feed. And then if somebody is really plugged in and connected in the group, they'll see way more. They'll go to the group itself and actually scroll through, where most people don't do that for a page. Pages are just a little more ad-y. And even if you're trying to build relationships and stuff, it's going to take a bit to get people over that hurdle of like, "Oh, it's a page. I don't really necessarily want to spend a lot of time there." So that's the first thing.
Julianne: The second thing is, if you're actually trying to go deep with people to develop relationships and stuff, a lot of people are way more comfortable discussing something in a closed group on your page. I mean, obviously, you're going to get the people who just share everything or the people who are angry and want to rant on your public page, which is fine. But a lot of times, if you're really wanting to have a discussion, a group is a better place to do that because it feels more private. And in a lot of cases, it is because you want to make sure that people understand, "Okay, this is just a place that we're sharing things and we're not going to attack people." But it's a really good tool, both for getting your church's community into your people's feeds, but also just for developing that community and keeping it strong.
Bryan: Yeah, so kind of advice would you offer or what kind of group do you think that a church just getting started with Facebook in general, or maybe they've just never delved into groups for whatever reason, how would you recommend that they get started? And what kind of groups should they create?
Julianne: Well, I think there's a couple of different ways that you should do it. If you're just getting started, I would just say do one group for your church. A lot of churches go like, "Oh, we've got to have one for the different ministries." And if you have somebody who's willing to lead a group for their ministry, that's not necessarily a bad idea. But if you have everybody in one place, you can have a lot of conversations, and people can just pay attention to the ones that affect them. So I would say, do one. Make sure that it's a welcoming place, that it's a healthy place, that if you are putting new people in there, there's something for them. It's not all just inside jokes. And I would make sure that you also set some rules about, "Are we going to allow prayer requests in this group?" Some churches do a separate prayer group because that's very private and they really only want members and they want a group where they can let anybody in for the other thing.
Julianne: Some churches have a thing where they're like, "Yeah if you want to give something away, post it in the group." But that can get a little sketchy because if people want to give things away or sell things, suddenly you've got everybody's multi-level marketing posts. So just think through those things. And the other thing that I would say is even if you're small, be praying and looking around for somebody that can help you manage that group because there are going to be days you can't. Life happens, you can't always get to the posts. And so if you have a team, it relieves some of that pressure and it also helps you laugh things off when maybe there's some drama or you're like, "Man, everybody's posting in the group today." It's a lot easier to just... My work team, I've got a couple of people that I'll text and I'll be like, "Did you see that post?" And they'll be like, "Oh yeah." And it just makes it a lot easier than when you're just doing it by yourself. And you're like... You got someone to share that with.
Bryan: That's awesome. Jeanette, do you have any other questions to ask?
Jeanette: Well, no, I think we're good. I think we could have a whole nother podcast on groups and how to do them well for your churches. But I think Julianne gave us a really great primer for just how to get started thinking about some of the logistics like closed group, open group, private group, all those kinds of things.
Julianne: Yeah, and actually, a great book on that if people are like, "I need more information," Nona Jones, From Social Media to Social Ministry, that is basically a book about how to really thrive in social media ministry, and Facebook groups are a huge, huge aspect for that.
Bryan: For sure. And we'll make sure to link to Nona's book, as well as all the churches that were listed today. We'll list all of that in the show notes for today. So for today's episode, just so that people can access those a little bit easier.
Bryan: So thank you, Julianne, for hanging out with Jeanette and me for a little bit today. If someone wants to reach out to you for more help or to get more information about Church Marketing University and what you guys offer to churches, what's the best way to contact you?
Julianne: The best way to contact me is to email me. So it's [email protected] If they want to get plugged in to the group and actually see it in action, it's called The Church Marketers Group on Facebook. Anybody can join. So we would love to have anybody who wants to come along for that crazy journey.
Bryan: Awesome. Well, thank you again for joining us today. I really appreciate it. And I know that our listeners will as well.
Julianne: Well thanks for having me.
Bryan: We love being able to talk with church communicators from across the globe, and we believe that every church and every communicator's story is unique and valuable. This week, we'll be continuing today's discussion on the Church Juice's Insiders Facebook group. You can join the Insiders group, as well as get today's show notes and a discussion guide for leading your own team talk by going to churchjuice.com/podcast.
Jeanette: Church Juice's podcast is a listener-supported production of ReFrame Ministries, a family of programs designed to help you see your whole life reframed by God's gospel story. Church Juice is produced by Bryan Haley, with post-production by audio engineer, Nate Morris in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information about Church Juice, visit churchjuice.com. For more information on ReFrame Ministries and our family of programs, visit reframeministries.org.