**DISCLAIMER** This posting is incredibly long and intended for anyone that may be interested in church planting.
I have had countless conversations about our decision to abstain from advertising before launch of Center City Church and the weeks and months that have followed. After all, advertising has been a tested and proven way to build a new church. But in the early days of starting to plan for the opening of our church, I felt clear direction from God to go without.
This was as much a surprise to me as anyone, considering I enjoy advertising and marketing so much. I even oversaw all of execution of our marketing strategy in the first church plant (Hope Church) Dara and I helped launch in 2008. Here are some thoughts after experiencing both ways of opening. If you have any thoughts/questions, feel free to comment below and get the conversation going.
If you choose to advertise, you must have a plan in place to introduce community after the crowd comes. When we launched Hope Church, we had 150 people at our opening Sunday, had half that the next week (a normal reaction after the opening) and then swelled to 170 after six months.
Once we got to that six month mark, however, we realized that many people were coming, observing church and leaving. There was not much community being formed. Many people – for months after our initial mailing of 50,000 pieces to our community – were coming because of our advertising and online presence. Although it was getting people in the doors, we had a very hard time connecting that many people to each other. The crowd that came was so much bigger than our initial core of about 25 people. We introduced small groups, but it was a very, very difficult process to see community settle in with such a large number of people immediately attending our church.
ADVERTISE: NO (OR NOT YET)
If you choose to go completely organic (like we are currently doing at Center City Church), you have to be prepared to be very patient. The time spent with the core team is incredibly important. Communicating the message of who you are and why you are starting your church is paramount. And communicating to your team that THEY are the ones that will make the church grow is vital. This is a much slower process, but the benefit that I have found is that it is much easier to transfer the DNA from the heart of the leadership to the people that come along to be a part of this vision.
If you choose to advertise, another very practical advantage of having a large number of people come to your church is the fact that offerings will be much larger. Just like any other organization, it takes money to keep the doors of a church open. If you have a larger number of people (for the most part), offerings will be larger and fund raising will not be as necessary after the launch. That is a huge weight off the shoulders of a church planter when his/her church can be self sustaining.
ADVERTISE: NO (OR NOT YET)
On the contrary, I have learned a very practical lesson about slow, organic growth:
Slow growth doesn’t happen quickly.
Even though we are experiencing amazing things in our church and we continue to grow every week, we have had to make decisions to be extremely frugal with our spending. We had to count the cost at the beginning and make sure we raised enough money to withstand the fact that we wouldn’t have a huge crowd when we opened the doors.
One of the greatest enemies to killing this type of vision (slow and organic growth) is the pressure to pay the bills. We had to raise a enough money at the beginning so that we could carry out this vision exactly the way it was placed in our hearts. We have also had to continue to come up with new and creative ways to continue raising funds while we are still in the early days.
I don’t believe that there is simply one right model to church planting. Let God breathe into your heart what he wants. Just know that whatever you choose, preparation must be made to navigate the journey.
Fast growth is exciting, inspiring and lots of people hear about Jesus at your main weekly gathering. But it’s much harder to transfer the DNA to make sure the heart of the church stays the same as the dream placed in your heart at the beginning.
Slow and organic growth has been a beautiful thing for us to see at Center City. The people are catching the vision and we are growing together. But it also carries the inherent pressure of finances and the lack of the attraction of explosive growth.
If you want to start a church, take heart in the fact that God knows the way his church is supposed to grow. Ask him. He knows better than any of us what our communities need. If you are looking to start a church, ask yourself the question: Advertising: Yes or No? And then prepare yourself to fight hard to carry out the vision he placed in your heart.
What have you seen? Any thoughts on these observations?
Well said, David.I know I've shared with you some of my initial reaction to the lack of advertising and marketing that has been done. But I figured I'd add it here as well…As a graphic designer, I'm usually one to judge a company by it's aesthetic appeal – if it's obvious they put thought, effort, and money into looking they will probably put thought and effort towards their customer. But that's exactly what the relationship is: business to customer. The customer isn't expected to do anything for the company (other than buy stuff). It's purely a one-way avenue. The church, oftentimes follows that mindset – "How can we attract people?" – and then looks to the business world to see what works. It can so easily become about keeping the churchgoer happy and donating. Thanks for your heart in wanting to keep focused on God and community. The creativity will be even stronger when the time comes, because it will come from the people, not just for the people.
Great thoughts, Nathan. I love that analogy of business. The church was never meant to be a gathering of consumers. The slow and organic approach, for us, is resulting in an incredible amount of ownership in our church. I love what you wrote: "The creativity will be even stronger when the time comes, because it will come from the people, not just for the people."Very, very true. We'll keep at it for now doing this exactly how God has called us to do this. And enjoy the journey along the way!