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Marketing by the numbers. Applying research for effectiveness, part 1

Image by Levranii via Canva/Getty Images
Image by Levranii via Canva/Getty Images

No one wants to find out their marketing is a dud.  

It has nothing to do with a church’s vibrancy or culture of service. Poor ministry communications can suck the time and resources from even the most welcoming church. 

What gives a church the best chance for success? 


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Professional marketers point to testing and understanding what people need. As a church, we’re expected to minister to many needs. While many of those are known or anticipated, we sometimes may be surprised. Ever felt super enthusiastic about a program and poured energy into its promotion — only to be met with “meh” participation? Always remember the adage, “You are not your audience.”

Answers are mined from research, not assumptions. After all, it’s hard to argue with data. Yes, the laboratory of white-coated scientists with pocket protectors, slide rulers and charts has a place in ministry! 

Despite the research scientist stereotype, DIY research isn’t intimidating, hard or expensive. In fact, it may be just what you need to take your ministry communications to the next level. Market research is an efficient way to better know your audience, informing decisions about needed programs and communications. 

The two types of research

In qualitative research, you use face-to-face interviews or focus groups to test the opinions and feelings people have about the church, its ministries and how the church is meeting needs.

A focus group is a controlled interview of a specific segment of your market, i.e. millennials, singles. Typically guided by a moderator, participants are asked questions in a setting where they can interact with one another and discuss thoughts freely. The open discussion generates ideas that provide a wealth of information. Focus groups tend to be exploratory, framing issues that often guide the development of a second phase of research: the quantitative study.

In quantitative market research, you emphasize gathering the facts and statistics, usually through surveys. These are written with concise and direct questions for those representing your target audience. The larger the sample (number of people), the more reliable your results will be. 

Surveys can be completed in person through “on the street” interactions or by telephone, mail, email or smartphone. The advent of inexpensive — or even free — survey software makes developing surveys fairly simple; however, it can present problems when you have important decisions to make.  

Poorly designed questions can create misleading information. Fortunately, your World Service dollars allow you to access the professionals at United Methodist Communications who can review your questionnaires and offer advice.

The elements of a research project

So how do you get started? Here’s a preview of what’s to come in part 2: 

  1. Create a project team
  2. Define the research objective(s)
  3. Establish a timeline
  4. Identify the sample
  5. Develop a survey questionnaire or discussion guide
  6. Recruit participants
  7. Launch the project
  8. Write the report
  9. Act on the data and measure success
  10. Budget

The next article in this three-part market research series will dig into the 10 steps applied to qualitative research. If you want to get started now, check out the Church Marketing Plan Tool resources

Have you ever surveyed your members? How could research help you plan for more effective ministry with your community? What don’t you know about your members and community?

Teresa Faust

Teresa Faust is the Senior Manager of Research and Metrics at United Methodist Communications. She spent most of her career in advertising research, predominantly working with consumer packaged goods companies at a large market research vendor. She grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, when she joined UMCom in 2014. She has two adult sons and enjoys reading and walking. Contact her »

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