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Pastors, Churches Fight Back As Attendance Slips ...

With mainstream denominations struggling, and weekly worship attendance declining (down to 43% of respondents in 2004, from 49% in 1991), pastors and churches are increasingly turning to modern secular marketing methods to attract the faithful.

The days when churches could simply open their doors and people would flock in just because it was someplace to go, are mostly gone.

Increasingly, churches and ministries now have to not only compete with a wide, wide world of secular temptations, but often with each other as well.

Prospective worshippers will no longer sit still for the spiritual "hard sell". They want options. They want spiritual experiences that speak to their personal needs.

In short, church is no longer an experience that most people are willing to endure, just because it is "expected".

In response to an increasing chorus from pastors and religious leaders desperate to stop the bleeding, a whole new public relations industry has been born.

Going by the terms "church marketers", "ministry marketers", or "church development coaches", these (often secular) public relations and marketing professionals seek to help churches reverse their often precipitous decline, by employing many of the same methods and communications channels now used to sell everything from luxury cars to breakfast cereal.

Utilizing such diverse marketing channels as radio, television, newspapers, magazines, outdoor advertising, and the Internet, church marketers are helping traditionally publicity-adverse churches to "reach out", and to get their message to non-attenders, church "shoppers", and the unchurched, all of whom presently make up nearly 60% of the US population.

Churches are quickly adopting modern technologies as well. Inexpensive digital video equipment, for example, along with local cable access channels, is enabling churches to reach a vast stay-at-home audience.

The popularity of devices such as the Ipod for example are enabling many churches to reach a younger, technologically "hip" audience with services and programs made available for download and "podcasting".

Reaction among churches has been mixed. Like doctors and lawyers before them, many church leaders are decrying the trend toward advertising and "consumerism" of religion, arguing against the adoption of secular marketing methods and language.

Others argue that marketing is essentially the same process as evangelism, and that there is nothing inherently wrong with emulating the most successful methods of the secular business world, as long as those methods are congruent with the spiritual and moral values of the church.

One website in particular addresses the problem head-on, with resources designed to help pastors and church leaders to identify with and better adapt themselves, and their institutions, to adopt a "customer"-oriented approach, and thus increase attendance and worship participation.

Their report, "Evangelism and the Art of Church Ministry Marketing" is available for free reading and download at their website, http://Double-Your-Church-Attendance.com/index.php/main , along with other articles and resources for pastors and church leaders interested in church growth.

Christopher B. Nelson-Jeffers is CEO of Breckshire Communications, and publishes a free Church Growth Tips newsletter for professional pastors and other church leaders. More information is available at http://Double-Your-Church-Attendance.com

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