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Church TV commercials for a buck

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–For many churches, your primary ministry field lies within a few miles of your church, probably in one or two zip codes. Just a few years ago, promoting your church’s ministries on television didn’t make sense. Not only was television advertising expensive, it reached too many people outside your community who were not strong prospects for your church.

My, how things have changed. Now that digital cable television has arrived, you have a unique opportunity to promote your ministries using television, and amazingly, it can be affordable to almost any size church. A local television schedule for your church where the commercials rotate throughout the day may cost as little as one dollar per message.

Through digital cable television, you can pinpoint your best prospects geographically by purchasing television commercials only in those zip codes most likely to visit your church –- and pay only to reach those living inside your church’s primary community. If your church community is very small, you even can narrow your television communications to a single zip code. Television advertising rates are based on audience size, so for one zip code, you may be able to pay less than the cost of a brochure to promote your church’s ministries on TV in your community.

You also can target the best demographic prospects for your church through digital television communication. Is your church primarily composed of older members, or do you have a large number of young couples with children? Perhaps you want to grow your youth ministry. Choose those cable networks aimed at key age groups. For example: Fox News, The Weather Channel and History Channel typically appeal to older demographics. Discovery Channel and Nickelodeon appeal to young couples with children. For youth, you have choices like MTV and Comedy Central.

Do you want to have your church’s name and message on MTV or Comedy Central? That’s a decision only you and your church can make. However, keep in mind what Jesus said in Matthew 9:13 when the Pharisees questioned his meal with publicans and sinners: “For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” You can go after the many lost and searching youth watching MTV, or you can leave them to the secular advertisers promoting who-knows-what. Ask your youth minister to have your church’s students write down the TV networks they watch –- without putting their names on the sheets. You might be surprised to find that many of your younger church members are tuned to MTV and Comedy Central during some part of the day.

You also will need to produce a television commercial for your church to run on digital cable television. If your community’s cable company accepts local advertising by zip code, the cable company will most likely help your church produce an appropriate commercial at a reasonable price. It may be as little as $500. There are also companies that specialize in pre-produced messages for churches where you simply add your church’s name at the end, but the costs may be higher than your cable company will charge, sometimes with residual expenses each year that you continue to air these commercials.

Carefully plan what you want to say and show in your church’s commercial. The message should be geared to the ages and lifestyles of the people you want to reach, and the commercial must be both appealing and inviting. Make sure you get input from a number of people about your commercial before you produce it. When you have an idea on paper, run it by people in your church who fit the profile of your prospects. Keep in mind that they may not feel comfortable telling you if the message doesn’t work for them. You might give copies of the proposed TV script to a number of church members and ask them to write down both positive and negative comments –- without them including their names. Leave a box where they can drop off the remarks. Also, the fact that they already attend your church may mean they aren’t the only ones who need to preview the TV script.

Find some folks who don’t attend church regularly, or at all, and ask them if your proposed commercial would encourage them to visit your church. Ask them to be blunt about it. You’re investing in the future of your church’s outreach efforts. You want honest answers about your planned message to the community.

After compiling all of the comments, remember this, too: You can’t please everyone. Someone once said a camel is a horse designed by a committee. You don’t want a hodgepodge commercial. If there is enough criticism of the proposed approach, you may decide to go back to the drawing board rather than revise the script. Better to find out now if it is off-target than pay to produce the wrong message and air it on television.

Consider having the person who produces your television spot also look at ways to adapt the message later for promotion of specific ministries such as Vacation Bible School, Christmas Eve and Easter services. Often a second commercial can be created at the same time as the first one for significant savings. You may want to produce a “donut” commercial which has a hole in the center to plug in your special church ministries at later dates.

Investigate digital television advertising with your cable company. You may find a cost-effective and powerful new ministry touch-point that will reach out to your community and bring in people you may not reach any other way.
Woody Murray is an independent church communications specialist who helps churches more effectively reach their communities. He has worked for 30 years in communications and marketing in advertising agencies and at a major Christian organization. Contact him at [email protected] or at 615-646-5725.

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  • Woody Murray