Spirit-filled marketing

Nine principles for attracting a crowd

Kermit L. Netteburg, Ph.D., is a professor of journalism at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
George A. Powell is a vice president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference in Calhoun, Georgia. Prior to their present positions they served as directors of communication for the Columbia and Southern union conferences, respectively.

A church in a small Southern town plans a prophecy crusade. Members ask the union communication department for help in attracting a crowd. The advertising plan includes 12,000 handbills and some ads in the local weekly paper and on the local radio station. More than 400 visitors flock to the meetings at the local civic center.

A suburban church analyzes its territory and pinpoints an area with demo graphics identical to those who typically become Adventists. They decide to con duct a Revelation Seminar in the church rather than in a neutral hall. From a mailing of 26,000 handbills only 70 visitors attend.

What attracts people to some crusades and suppresses attendance at others? What means joy for one church and disappointment for another? There are many determining variables, too numerous to explain in perfect detail here. But the following nine general principles form a foundation for drawing a crowd.*

Nine evangelistic attraction principles

1. Know your community. Drawing a crowd for evangelistic work requires knowing the community and then planning advertising and programming that fits local interests and needs. Identify your target audience. Where do they live? What radio stations do they prefer? What interests them?

Several resources are available for help. Contact your conference or union office. Consult the Institute of Church Ministry at Andrews University, or visit a local public library or chamber of commerce. They all have ways of profiling your community.

If you know about the community and still aren't sure what to do for evangelistic advertising, your union or conference communication director can help. So can the Institute of Church Ministry. Or you can contact one of the handbill producers around the country; often they can tell which handbill will appeal best to the type of people in your community.

2. Different strokes for different folks. People differ. What attracts a 29- year-old mother of three preschoolers probably will not attract a 29-year-old single anthropology professor.

This is precisely the point of Jesus' parable of the soils in Matthew 13. Some ground was immediately ready for the seed. Other dirt samples needed different approaches. Rocky soil required more careful cultivation. The soil on the path needed preevangelism to soften the ground. Some soil needs a Breathe Free program to get rid of the weeds.

3. Shoot a rifle, not a shotgun. The parable also teaches targeting. The fanner attempted to sow all the seed in the good ground. Likewise, our demo graphic studies should direct us to those most likely to respond to the type of evangelism and advertising we have to offer.

Perhaps you have an unlimited bud get. If so, targeting isn't important. If not, your resources need to be directed toward those most likely to respond to your type of outreach.

Target the type of programming you offer as well. Some pastors aspire to reach community leaders with crusade-style evangelism and thus direct their advertising to them, a group that rarely responds to this method. They have missed other types of people who might have been interested but weren't invited.

4. Count your sheep. Jesus' parable also illustrates accountability. It offers an explanation of why various efforts failed while others succeeded. Even in good ground some results were more successful than others: "some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty" (Matt. 13:8, NRSV).

The same is true for evangelism. Some methods work better than others. Keeping records of who attended, from where, because of what medium of advertising, along with other information will prove helpful in future planning.

5. The beast may not work. We should expect different types of people to respond to different types of evangelistic programs and handbills. The ongoing evangelistic advertising program of the Southern Union has found that the "News Clippings" handbill attracts a middle to lower middle class audience. The "Beast Rising Out of the Sea" hand bill draws a lower middle to lower class audience.

Unfortunately, no handbill currently available attracts an upper or upper middle class audience. Several are being tested, but there are no answers yet. This probably reflects the current disinclination of the upper class toward most public evangelism rather than a weakness in graphics or themes of any handbills.

Your church growth strategy should recognize that some people may never attend a crusade. Prayerfully analyze your parish and decide whether to begin a day-care center, open a Community Services facility, sponsor concerts, establish a vegetarian restaurant, provide a recreation ministry, or start a cruise ship evangelism center. (We're kidding about that last one.)

6. Mix it in. Handbills alone are not as effective as handbills reinforced with newspaper or radio advertising. Many people lump all junk mail in one letter carrier's bag. They see the free notation on Adventist handbills and think of the bait-and-switch tactics of unethical condo sales agents. Or they question whether it can be real; they haven't heard about it on radio or in the newspaper.

The mix of advertising through direct mail and through paid media adds credibility and crowds. The late J. L. Shuler referred to various approaches as prongs in a rake the more you have, the more people you'll rake in.

A word of caution. Radio and TV need sufficient repetition to stick in the minds of the audience. Allocating a meager amount to those media just in order to have more prongs is a poor investment.

7. A friend invites better than a brochure. Members inviting friends are better than any commercial method of attracting people to evangelistic meetings. Inviting friends with whom they have had Bible studies is even better. These are key reasons for the success of Black and Hispanic evangelism in North America. Anglos, on the other hand, do not seem to be inviting friends to crusades. Any thing a pastor can do to adjust this will help attract crowds to evangelistic meetings, especially crowds of people likely to be baptized.

To change this, Anglo churches should hold more evangelistic meetings. Adventists who have been members for 20 years seldom know any non-Adventists whom they could invite to meetings, while those who have been members less than a year or two have many friends they could invite to meetings.

If you held a crusade in 1992 and baptized 25 people, hold another one this year. Those 25 have lots of friends they are ready even eager to invite to meetings this year. Growth begets growth. As Jesus said: "For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance" (Matt. 25:29, NRSV).

8. The evening and the morning. Older people sometimes are reticent to come out to evening meetings. How ever, they attend morning programs. In communities with many older people, a 10:30 a.m. Revelation Seminar will be as well attended as one at 7:30 p.m. Conducting two seminars simultaneously is extra work for the pastor, but it doubles the attendance and the potential baptisms.

9. The right stuff. Jesus used different evangelistic methods to reach Nicodemus in John 3 and the woman at the well in John 4. To Nicodemus Jesus boldly asserted, "You must be born again." From the woman at the well Jesus quietly asked a favor: "Could I have a drink, please?" In both instances Jesus made a call for surrender, but His initial approach varied depending on His target audience. We too need to use varied methods in evangelism.

Prophecy-based seminars and crusades seem to attract fewer people than they did a decade or more ago. The current thaw in the cold war has required many pastors and evangelists to alter their titles and strategies.

However, prophecy-based evangelism is still the most common, and the results are the most predictable. People appreciate three things about prophecy-based outreach: (1) they learn Bible study methods; (2) the prophetic insights make a difference in their personal lives; (3) they make sense out of world events that seem chaotic on the evening news.

Archaeology-based programs attract a lot of people, including intellectuals and the upper class. John Carter drew more than 2,000 to a Los Angeles crusade that featured archaeology. Two problems, however, plague most archaeology-based efforts: (1) it is difficult to translate the large attendance into large numbers of baptisms; (2) some evangelists offer only an archaeology veneer. Attendees feel misled.

We need to discover how to preach the beliefs of the church while describing archaeological findings. And then we need to find a way to make archaeological preaching convict souls of their need for baptism.

Family- or health-related subjects have been tried frequently. For reasons not adequately researched, the response to most has been disappointing.

Three specific applications

These nine general principles of Spirit-filled marketing apply in different ways in different locales. We have space to review only three specific set tings and to determine the best way to attract a crowd in each setting.

1. Multichurch, multitown district. You're the pastor of three churches, each about 20 miles apart in towns that are quite small. What's the best plan to draw the largest group to your meetings in one of the towns? Probably the local newspaper and radio station. You might not even use handbills. Why? Printing costs depend on volume. With this small population, printing rates are greater per handbill than for a larger press run. Don't ignore handbills, but instead rely on a neat but inexpensive schedule of subjects. Then hand them out.

Use the newspaper because everyone in the small town reads the weekly pa per. It's probably only 20 pages or so, meaning your ad won't get lost in the clutter of pages. Rates are probably cheap enough that you can buy a half page for two weeks the week before you open and the week of your first meetings. Keep the ads similar, changing only the titles of meetings.

Likewise, the local radio station has great impact. It's the only place in town to learn the latest news. And it's prob ably cheap enough that you can buy a heavy schedule of ads for two weeks again the week before you open and the first few days after opening night.

One caution. If your town is in the shadow of a major city, the big-city media may dominate your town, vastly reducing the audience of any local medium, especially radio.

2. Single-church, small-city district. You pastor only one church, the only Adventist church in a small city. What do you do? Rejoice. You've got the most promising situation. Your city probably is large enough to be media-independent, to be the home city for the dominant newspaper and radio stations in the area. Yet the media are probably small enough to be affordable.

Buy newspaper and radio. Have a large enough newspaper ad so that it can't be missed on the page. Run it two or three times before the meetings open and once after the meetings start. Buy at least 10 radio ads, preferably 20 or more (especially on AM stations), so your message will be remembered.

Use handbills, too! Target them by selecting only the zip codes filled with the demographic segments most likely to respond. You might even be able to target carrier routes.

A word about television. Often it's too expensive, but in this kind of city you may be able to find bargain rates, last minute rates in the very time slots when your target audience is watching. The TV station can tell you who's watching what when. All they need to know is what demographic group you want to reach.

Small cities have another advantage. People here will have less resistance than people in rural areas, where church identities and family traditions are strong.

3. Single-church, metropolitan district.

You pastor only one church, one of several in the metropolitan area. What's your best plan? Black evangelism flourishes in cities, but Anglos face challenges. Advertising on a budget is one of them. Newspaper buys are expensive, and much of the circulation purchased is wasted because it is miles from your church. Moreover, the many sections and numerous pages can leave your ad almost unnoticed.

Likewise, radio stations cover the entire metro area, and ad rates are dread fully high. Further, there are so many stations that no single outlet has a comer on the market.

TV? Unless you're in a city wide crusade with a large budget, you can't afford it. Stations broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people spread over a 50-mile radius. Also expensive are public meeting facilities, which may be where some people feel uncomfortable going at night.

There's still good news. Give primary emphasis to handbills. Because you're printing many thousands, rates are low. Target just the area and just the demographics you want. Isolate zip codes, even carrier routes. Here's where the demographic analysis you've done will really pay off.

You can buy newspaper ads that tar get your audience. There may be one whose target audience is Black. There also may be Spanish- or Korean-language papers in a large city.

The big-city paper may have zoned editions. Advertise only in those zones that cover your area. It's a good buy. (Avoid the regional tabloids the paper may produce weekly; readers ignore them too.) Buy an ad large enough to dominate the page, but don't buy the whole page. You'll save money and still attract readers.

Radio isn't out. Pick a station whose format reaches the kind of people you want. Black radio stations have strong reach with Black audiences. Ethnic language stations also have a good appeal. A mix of adult contemporary, country, and religious stations will reach the most responsive Anglo audiences.

Another advantage of big-city evangelism is mobility. People who have just moved to the city often are looking for a way to blend into the city, for a new sense of identity and extended family. Your evangelism can show them that the Adventist church provides that sense of family in a setting of biblical beliefs.

Prayer is essential

We've dealt with advertising methods, the topic that the Ministry editors gave us. But all these materials and strategies can't overshadow the compel ling power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Any experienced evangelist can re count examples of people who attended in defiance of all advertising logic. The Holy Spirit knew where they were and saw to it that our humble, imperfect efforts reached souls searching for truth. Never substitute marketing expertise for prayers that God will lead you to those who desire salvation.

On the other hand, never ignore marketing methods just because you have prayed. A blend of the two will bring heaven's greatest blessing to your meetings. Without good demographics, results may suffer.

One church in an upscale community, for example, failed to research response potential before they plunged into their meetings. Had they checked, they would have realized that crusade-style evangelism was not the best method suited for their community. Many of the professional people there are out of town five nights a week. Beyond that, the summer crusade suffered from vacation schedules.

Only seven nonmembers attended the series. And the only one baptized had been ready before the meetings and asked to wait until after the series to be baptized. The church spent $8,000 on the crusade and prayed for God's blessing and guidance. They mailed 32,000 hand bills and organized child care, music, greeters and ushers. Then they urged members to "support" the meetings by attending.

Despite the disappointing results, the church found a way to call the meetings a success. Many members had been refreshed spiritually. Several children had learned about Adventist doctrine and had asked for baptism. But the pastor and the Saviour had hoped for more. More people attending. More people baptized. More people closer to Jesus.

So remember to research your community. What do they want to hear? How can they be drawn to the Saviour? Jesus adapted His methods to the needs and interests of His hearers. We too must adapt ourselves to our communities, finding the point of common contact where we can meet them and then lead them with the help of the Holy Spirit to a full knowledge of Jesus and His truth.

Attracting a bigger crowd doesn't cost more, doesn't take more effort, doesn't require another two months of planning time. Working smarter, not necessarily harder, means planning a crusade and promotional methods targeted at the responsive people in your area.

* Excellent sources to study church marketing include books by Dan Day, Bruce Wrenn, and George Barna, all of which are available at Adventist Book Centers.


16 guidelines for evangelistic advertising in the third world

Carlos E. Aeschlimann

General guidelines
1. Encourage church members to bring interests and visitors to the meetings. This is the best advertising.

2. Prepare a large number of candidates before the meetings. The doctrines can then be reinforced before the individuals take a stand for their beliefs. This increases results.

3. Present topics to attract the whole family.

4. Expect many young people and children and plan programs especially for them.

5. Give prizes to those who bring the most visitors.


6. Devise economical ways possible to reach the largest number of people.

7. Advertise in newspapers, radio and television, as your budget allows. Provide a script and try to get the media to give you free advertising.

8. Print handbills or flyers for each week of meetings, listing the topics,

9. Send a letter of invitation to all interests, radio school students, seminar attenders, and family and friends of the church members. If finances are tight, ask members to deliver the invitations in person.

10. Rent a prestigious, well-known public hall, if possible. Be aware that some interests may drop out when the meetings move to the church.

11. Conduct an evangelistic campaign each year in the church. It costs less to use the church, and those who are really interested in spiritual matters will come.

Duration of meetings

12. Begin the campaign on Sabbath or Sunday evening.

13. Hold the meetings every night, if the crusade is of short duration.

Topics for the meetings

14. Survey the public to learn what topics interest them. Start with those subjects.

15. Avoid titles that attack other religions.

16. Present Christ-centered, Bible-based topics and adapt them to the audience. The more the members participate, the greater will be the results.


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Kermit L. Netteburg, Ph.D., is a professor of journalism at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
George A. Powell is a vice president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference in Calhoun, Georgia. Prior to their present positions they served as directors of communication for the Columbia and Southern union conferences, respectively.

February 1993

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