Oftentimes, there can be negative undertones when you use the verb “marketing” in conjunction with “church.” And we get it. Bring up the topic of marketing and branding your parish, and people start getting flashbacks of past “Mad Men” episodes, ad agency gimmicks, and commercial jingles. They may think the end goal is money, fame, or a popularity contest. In reality, that is the farthest from the truth.
While it may seem superficial to spend time thinking of, planning, and implementing marketing strategies for your parish, it’s actually one of the most important things you can do to bring people through your doors — here’s why.
Highlight What You Have
You are part of a beautiful, vibrant faith community, grounded in the Gospel and committed to serving the people of God. You have a solid social justice ministry and a healthy bible study program ready for participants. By all intents and purposes, your parish is set up for success. However, unless you’re actively marketing your parish to the outside community, no one will know about it. Like Jesus and his disciples, you need to go out and proclaim the Gospel to those who are searching for something bigger than themselves.
One of those obvious ways to tell people about your parish is visually. Does your parish have a professional logo? If so, use it! Use A-frame signs to promote Mass and confession times and banner flags to let people know when the doors are open for Eucharistic Adoration. You can even give parishioners a role by giving out T-shirts with the parish name and car magnets with the logo and website address.
Speaking of websites, have you analyzed yours recently? Is all the information current, are links in working order, and are keywords entered so your listing easily appears on Google? A great way to get started in marketing your parish is to make your church more visible with Google My Business. Typically, people visit your parish website before they visit your church, and they find your website using a simple Google search. Here’s an article explaining the process, and how you can easily claim your listing.
While it’s essential to have a professional brand and presence in your neighborhood, not many parishes can afford the materials you need to actively and effectively market itself. No worries — there are work-arounds for that! Ask a parishioner who has a marketing background for assistance in coming up with a logo or design. Or connect with your diocese for assistance or for any grant programs they can recommend. There are many programs out there designed to help parishes do just that.
Meet Them Where They Are
In order to effectively invite people to come into our church, it’s important to go out into the community and meet them where they are. Does your community have neighborhood social events? Think outdoor music concerts, festivals, or farmer’s markets. If so, consider renting a table or a space and bringing a few volunteers from your parish to hand out parish “swag” (like stickers or water bottles), and invite people to come worship. Allow the personality of your vibrant faith community to shine through, so people can see that there isn’t anything to be weary of.
Our weekend celebrations of the Mass are the Church’s “front porch.” For most Catholics, and even non-Catholics, the Mass is where people first encounter the Catholic Church. We have people attending our parishes who are visiting, are from a different denomination (or none at all!), have never truly heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, may be loosely connected, or are just searching. But the great news is there’s still incredible hope and opportunity for ways we can draw them in.
Give Them a Reason to Stay
Catholics move away from the Church for a variety of reasons. Maybe for some, it was personal conflict with the pastor or, perhaps, with how the Church as a whole dealt with the clergy sexual abuse issues. Or maybe they just never experienced a true moment of God’s grace growing up. Whatever the reason may be, going out into the community and inviting people to encounter Christ is essential to growing your parish — it’s what intentional discipleship is all about.
As humans, it’s natural to want to be part of something greater than ourselves, to have a purpose and a place in which to share your gifts and talents. The Catholic Church is the best place in which to fulfill these desires, but for years, we haven’t done a great job telling people that. People throughout our communities are hungering for meaning, truth, and beauty. We need to spread the message far and wide that they can find solace in the Church.