Vicars and Marketing

I get our parish magazine. Not because I am a big God-squadder (far from it) or a Hetty Wainthrop style nosey parker. No I get it because some poor soul came to the door on a wet November day and offered it to me for £5 per year and I simply didn't have the heart to say no.

So the other day I was giving it a quick flick when my eye rested on a sentence in the Vicar's report which said something along the lines of; one service recently we had only one worshipper.

Initially I was embarrassed for the poor guy but then I got grumpy (especially as further down the page he was asking for money). Clearly there is something majorly wrong with his marketing if he is only getting one soul to his gig. Approaching this from a classic marketing perspective and in Carrie Bradshaw style, I asked myself “Which of his 4Ps isn't working?”

Well Place could be an issue – draughty old church surrounded by crumbling headstones is possibly no competition to a sunny pavement cafe, a cosy kitchen, comfy bed or wherever his parishioners were at the appointed time. Maybe he should offer to move the service to someone's house? Sort of “pop-up” worship. Or maybe he could organise a bit of a Glasto-style event with music and fun in one of the fields around here and get out and meet some of the under 65s.

Price might need looking it – as far as I know church is free but there is a sneaky pressure to put something in a plate. Do people really value things that are free? (Ask newspaper owners). Maybe if he was totally upfront, charged £2.50 a service (£5 at Xmas when demand goes up but capacity doesn't) and threw in a coffee and brownie he might get more people.

Is he still offering the same Product he created whilst at theological college? A Christian calendar that never wavers and doses of morality – some of which appears rather racist, belligerent and misogynistic in today's world. We've moved on surely. Is it still realistic to expect people to subscribe just to one brand or formula of religion? Are there elements from other religions that might be worth at least debating. I like the idea of Christianity and Buddhism fusion. When I was in San Diego, I noticed that the local free sheet reviewed the various sermons that local churches had offered the previous Sunday and rated them Amazon-style. Would that be such a bad thing? It encourages quality and possibly demand. Does his product allow people to sing their hearts out or do they have to sit there at listen to lots of scripture? I suspect there is a bigger market for a good sing at the end of a hard week than a passive listen.

Finally promotion. I have no idea what to expect if I got up on a Sunday morning and went to church so I don't bother. (And in any case I am more likely to fit it in on a Wednesday night as I have to do the cricket run on Sundays). But if I was promised a stimulating workout for my mind on the great ethical and moral issues of the day, more debate than sermon, I might give it ago, especially if he slipped a little flyer through my letter box giving me a preview of what stuff was going to be on the agenda. Despite the fact that every brand in the world now has a two-way dialogue with its consumer, religion still appears to operate in monologue.

But overall the church appears to be making one of those classic marketing mistakes. It is too worried about holding on to existing customers to develop new ones effectively. However even that doesn't appear to be working if you only have one customer left.

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