Savvy marketing types are heeding the call and applying their skills to help religious denominations. Advertising, promotions and public relations are playing a bigger part in the struggle for souls. The Good Book is not enough these days-churches are using all kinds of secular media.
No one denomination seems to be the chosen people of marketing expertise. The Lutheran Hour Ministries is running TV commercials. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which already owns Salt Lake City ad agency Bonneville Communications, recently hired outside PR company Edelman Worldwide. And come May 1, you'll be able to chat with the pope via Catholic Online.
"Because there are so many choices out there, if churches want to be
heard, the quality of communication must be superior," said George Barna,
president of Barna Research Group, Glendale, Calif., which specializes in
religious marketing. "Some churches are beginning to do real first-rate
advertising and marketing in terms of design, message and creative use of
secular media, unlike 20 years ago."
The goal is to reach-and ideally convert-the 55 million-plus
non-churchgoing adults in the U.S., or 27% of the population, according to
Another factor may be the more temporal concern of contributions.
Donations account for between 85% and 90% of the operating revenues of
most churches, according to the American Association of Fund-Raising
Counsel. Religious donations totaled $57 billion in 1993 but experienced
very slow growth between 1987 and '93.
Research on nearly a third of the 350,000 congregations in the U.S. by
Empty Tomb Inc., a Christian research and service organization in
Champaign, Ill., revealed that in 1968 each member donated on average
about 3.14% of his or her yearly income to the church; by 1992, that
number had dropped to 2.52%.
"Church members appear to have changed from stewards into consumers,"
said Sylvia Ronsvalle, exec VP at Empty Tomb. "There's an attitude now
that people are buying services from their congregations, and churches
seem to be embracing that mentality rather than maintaining a distinctive
Many churches are experimenting with different marketing mixes to find an
"We're talking about feeding the soul and growing the spirit," said
John Cevette, creative director at Cevette & Co., a Minneapolis agency
that handles the pro bono account for the Church Ad Project. "Most
churches know that people are feeling a void when it comes to finding
spiritual nourishment, and they've realized that advertising and marketing
could be the