First off, a shout out to our council who met tonight, had a great meeting in which we spent a good portion of the time around scripture, especially 1 Corinthians 5-7 (how do we live as free people). Great conversations about mission and ministry, how we use power and how power can be both a positive and negative in community.
But on to the purpose of the Blog today. The question that has been posted is...Do signs, advertising, mailers actually work in generating visitors?
My short answer is that I don't know definitively and nobody else can guarantee they know all that much either. But what I do know is that your local Mega-Church (or wanna-be) is probably spending 15-20x's what you would ever consider to spend on these tools.
These I believe are worth your investment. Initially expensive, probably costing you $15-30K for a good one, especially if you want it to have an electronic message board. But the benefits are significant for the 1) self-esteem of a community (nothing is worse than a business/congregation that doesn't announce its presence boldly) and 2) at least make the community aware that you exist. My congregation in Wisconsin had an unfortunately reality in that our parking lot, not our building, faced the main road in town. However, by having a good sign, which we could change the message on regularly, at least allowed us to get our message out. If 3,000 people drove by daily (conservative) that would be almost 100,000 views a year, which drives the cost of the sign down quite quickly. If you are in a bigger city (as my current parish is) multiply those looks by a factor of 5 or more.
We are currently debating this in our current congregation. Local phone books will run you into the hundreds of dollars per month for a good placement and ad with more than just your phone number. Does this generate leads and visits? Probably not as many as you wish, but then again, some of your local churches must be budgeting $10K a year for their ads. So I guess they must feel it is worth it and according to this, they are probably right. However, how much are you paying for each potential visit? My thesis would be that only those with significant budgets are going to get much bang for their buck there. They are moving towards the "major buzz" factor of being omnipresent and connecting to those folks the most, moving into other media as well. I won't even go into radio advertising or tv as most folks I know aren't even thinking about that market.
In theory a good idea, yet another tough sell unless you have lots of money to spend. Every Christmas and Easter I receive a postcard or two from a church in my neighborhood. Given that the DMA assumes a less than 2% response rate for a generic mail prospect list, at say $1.50/mailer, you would have to spend $500 dollars just to generate around 5 interests and do those actually visit more than your website? An anecdotal example would be that on internship we sent out probably 1,000 postcards inviting folks to a free cookout in our organic community garden. My gut on that day is that our response rate was closer to 0% than 1%.
So at the end of the day, I guess I am most driven to think about costs and also long term impact. A good sign will last you 10-15 years (unless you are a congregation that assumes you buy something once and never pay for another one, then it will last you 50). Even at a high initial price tag, that will have a much more visible impact/dollar than either mail or advertising.
But really nothing replaces relational advertising by your community, inviting others to be a part of their discipleship community, following Jesus. Walking your immediate neighborhood, getting to know them, their needs, dreams and desires.
Here I am linking a long article that tells you two major things. 1) Advertising isn't a complete waste of money but 2) word of mouth from those who have "bought in" is the best. You need to somehow generate "buzz" about your congregation to create a "ripple effect" in the community to justify that advertising dollar. Congregations with big money to spend can do that, create buzz through advertising, but many of us don't have that kind of money. Facebook is a nice alternative to connecting, but again, you are mostly connecting to your already convinced, the good news is, they can invite others to see.
I would love to have a $30,000 advertising budget for my congregation. But I know that most of you and we probably won't see that happen anytime soon. Until we reach a size where that $30,000 isn't justifiably turned into a staff position, generating that one-on-one relationship buzz that is most cost effective, we won't compete in that world. But we have to generate buzz and visitors. So now we turn to those who do visit, who are they? Why are they coming to your church?