Event tents. Tote bags. Ink pens. T-shirts. These are all items churches use to help get the word out about their church. Unfortunately, sometimes these items, even though perfectly branded with the church’s name, logo and website, sit unused in back rooms because church leaders just don’t know what to do with them. It can be hard to know where to begin.
There are important questions a church leader needs to ask to reach their community through promotional products. Keep reading to learn best practices for using promotional items and ways to determine the best items for your church, based on budget and your community’s personality.
Stepping out and trying new outreach efforts is worth it if you ask the right questions, such as:
Whom could you reach?
One promotional plan DOES NOT fit all churches. An urban church meeting in a coffee shop wouldn’t use the same promotional items as a church in a rural neighborhood or a church in the suburbs. Each church has its own personality based on the people who attend. Likewise, each community has its own personality based on the people who live there. It’s important to keep these aspects in mind.
Learning about your community will help you make strategic choices when choosing promotional items. Turn to demographic reports that give you data about the neighborhood surrounding your church.
Volunteers wearing matching T-shirts and handing out free items is always appealing, especially if it’s an item people can use on a daily basis. For example:
- Are there schools and many families with children? You may want to hand out backpacks.
- Is your community more rural with many local grocers? You may want to give away reusable tote bags.
- Are you located in an urban area? You may need to consider tech-related products, like PopSockets or cell phone wallets.
No matter where your church is located, everyone could use a good ink pen. You can even get customized cloth face masks and hand sanitizers in response to current events.
What’s your budget?
Once you understand to whom you’re marketing, you need to look at your budget. If your budget is small (under $200), you can still afford items like ink pens or business card magnets, and maybe enough matching T-shirts for a small group of volunteers who will take turns serving as your outreach team.
A larger budget would help your church purchase things like a tent and a matching tablecloth to use during outdoor events, such as drive-by communion until the pandemic slows down enough for you to begin meeting in person again. The good thing about these items is they can be used over and over, boosting familiarity of your brand as you consistently attend public events. Because of this, the investment may outweigh the initial cost to purchase these items (about $900 for both, including shipping and handling).
Who will distribute the products?
You’ve reviewed your demographics and budget, and you have your promotional items. Now what? It’s time to involve the congregation. What an opportunity to emphasize that the congregation (not just the pastor) can reach out to prospective members and newer members to let them know that they are valuable! Most people know what they need to do to make people feel welcome, but we can all use a reminder from time to time.
Distributing promotional products via the congregation works — first-person experiences are the most persuasive! Having your congregation on board will make distribution a quick success. Church members can carry small promotional items with them to hand out randomly. Having an extra tote bag or ink pen handy when someone needs one is a great way to market your church in a low-key way!
Where will you take the products?
When was the last time you looked at local community calendars? There may be festivals and other community events where your church may be able to have a presence. Setting up a booth is a great way to invite people to submit prayer requests, distribute general church information, etc. Handing out or wearing cloth face masks that display your church’s name and website is definitely the new way to advertise during the pandemic!
Put a plan in place ahead of time so that you’ll be able to implement the plan to its fullest potential. For example, if you want to give away string backpacks filled with school supplies, you need to start a couple of months before the event to give the congregation plenty of time to donate supplies and prepare the backpacks.
When I find an event, how do I set up?
At any event, remember: location, location, location matters! Ensure that your booth is in a high traffic area, ideally by the entrance. That way you’ll be able to connect with people before they speak with anyone else. If you’re giving away branded tote bags, this is the perfect opportunity to hand them out and tell potential visitors they can use it to grab freebies from other tables.
What should we say?
Volunteers should always begin a conversation with passersby by introducing themselves, offering your promotional item and sharing a brief invitation to worship or other events. If the person engages in a deeper conversation, share details about programs you think would be of interest to them. For example, if your church hosts Room In The Inn, mention this program early in the conversation, as some people may seek volunteer opportunities and this would make your church even more appealing.
If your church hosts other groups or non-secular activities, such as exercise or yoga classes, make sure to mention these opportunities also. Sometimes the best way to get someone in the door is through something other than a worship service. Talk it up!
How can we maximize our time at the event?
Fellow vendors are a captive audience. When the flow of traffic is slow, make sure you stop by other booths to introduce yourself and share an invitation. As you walk around, if you see someone carrying your church’s promotional item, point it out! Use it to strike up a conversation!
Don’t forget that events can offer social media content, too. Share information about the event on your Facebook and Instagram pages using hashtags. Take pictures and post them during and after the event. You can also ask other vendors to tag you in their social media posts, and you can tag and follow them. This is a perfect way to market yourself online.
Should I think outside of the box?
Yes! There are many places we normally don’t think of as places to market our churches. Look for “found spaces” in your community where items could meet a need and further market your church. One idea would be to sponsor a hospital’s ICU family waiting room, replenishing it weekly with business cards, snacks, ink pens, crayons and coloring books. Most of these items can be easily branded with labels that feature your church’s information. Leave prayer request cards and a box where they can be submitted, and make sure to follow up on all of the requests.
How do I know if our marketing is working?
Add a site counter plugin to your website so that you can gauge if your event or promotional items are bringing people to your website. Engage with your audience on social media and take note of new likes and followers. Make sure your website and Facebook pages are updated regularly and have a welcoming presence. And, most importantly, ensure the congregation is ready to receive new people. Ask members of the greeting team to let you know when they see new faces, whether it be a visitor at a worship service or at the next pancake breakfast!
The next time your church is preparing for a new outreach effort, and you don’t know where to start: Don’t despair! With a modest budget and a friendly congregation, you can make the most of your promotional products through community engagement. We all know word of mouth is still the best marketing tool, but using promotional items can extend your reach and build further awareness of your church, even during these times of social distancing. Be safe but don’t be afraid to reach out!
Questions? Contact us.
If your church needs marketing assistance, apply for help at ResourceUMC.org/LCS. One of our specialists will be happy to help!
Pam Buck has been serving the local church as a senior local church services specialist with United Methodist Communications since 2005. In her personal life, Pam enjoys books, movies, taking trips with her daughter and performing in local theatre productions.
Sara Pérez is a lifelong United Methodist and graduate of Middle Tennessee State University. When not working as a senior local church specialist with United Methodist Communications, she spends her time decorating her house and hanging out with her pup Berto.