Three Dollars Worth of God, or Church Marketing 101

Three Dollars Worth of God

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

— Wilbur Rees

How Do Churches Grow?

Three Dollars Worth of God, or Church Marketing 101 by: Rev. Jeff GannonWhat is the single most important factor, apart from God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, in helping Chapel Hill realize our redemptive potential? For us as a congregation to experience the fullness of what God desires for us?

When you boil it down, it is pretty simple. There are only two ways churches realize their redemptive potential:

1. New people come “cold,” on their own.

2. New people come on the arm of a trusted friend.

That’s it. No option 3.

The Trouble with Cold Calling

Now, please hear this. Typically, churches spend boat loads of money on #1 – cold engagement. It is important to inform the community about our uniqueness as a congregation so they can make an informed decision should they decide to attend a service of worship.  This is the least effective way to grow a church. This is the most expensive way to grow a church and it has the least amount of return on a congregation’s investment of money, energy, human resources, etc.

The reason is that the bar for cold visits is simply too high. People evaluate their church experience as if it is a consumer decision. Faith Popcorn says that 80% or more of every consumer decision in the majority of American households is made by a woman. So, if we want to market ourselves carefully in order to get the greatest return, we need to market toward women. You get the point. At the end of the day, you can analyze your market until you are blue in the face but the research shows it is not very effective in getting people to check out our church. To say it differently, even if you do all things right, you still don’t get many cold walkups. And if you do, there are too many variables in reaching new people. People like one aspect and not another, etc.

Nothing Beats a Trusted Referral

According to the research, the most effective way for a congregation to grow into the fullness of what God desires for them, is to teach the people who call Chapel Hill their spiritual home to invite, invite, invite and invite some more. Most people attend a church service because of an invitation – the invitation of someone they trust.

Adam Hamilton, the pastor of the largest congregation in the United Methodist Church in the U.S. has said repeatedly,”If you want to know why we have 20,000 members, it is simply because this congregation has made it a priority to invite their friends, their neighbors, and their co-workers to worship.” Church of the Resurrection, where Hamilton is pastor, spends relatively little money on marketing and the majority of the persons who join COR so they do because of a personal invitation to attend worship.

Even if the first time visitor likes or dislikes different aspects of the worship experience,research shows the newcomer overlooks the negative because they trust the friend who invited them.

This is the million dollar question, if you will, when it comes to Chapel Hill becoming all God would desire in reaching our redemptive potential. You may like Chapel Hill personally, but is it worthy of your personal invitation to non-church friends and co-workers?

A Simple Litmus Test: Church Marketing 101

Based on a list by Richard Reising in Church Marketing 101, here are Four Experience questions that require a “yes” answer before most people will risk putting their reputation on the line by inviting a friend to church:

  1. Will they fit? This is a question of demographics. Is there a 25 year age difference between the average person in the room and your friend? Many churches get stuck here at #1. The answer is to know your neighborhood. Speak their language; don’t try to force them to learn yours.
  2. Will they feel welcome? This is a question of hospitality. How comfortable is the environment, the feng shui? Yes, it matters. If your paint is peeling and your floor stained, people notice and react.
  3. Will they get what you’re promising? At my church, we get regular inquiries on the Facebook page about the preaching schedule. They’re looking for the consistency of knowing the regular “A” team preacher is going to be in the pulpit. Same for music and production values. If the program varies greatly from week to week, people won’t feel confident to invite others.
  4. Will they get something out of it? This is the core, isn’t it? Is the church service worth going to?


As researcher Len Wilson says, “Marketing is not worthless. The four questions reveal true marketing. Buying ads is advertising, not marketing.”

As with most things, word of mouth is the most effective marketing tool.

So, each week, are you willing to risk your reputation by inviting unchurched neighbors, friends, and co-workers to worship? If not, I would like to know why. I am listening!

–Rev. Jeff Gannon

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