Nobody wants to be the promoter.
Promoting something means people will tell you “No” over and over.
Because of this, many pastors shy away from promoting anything at all.
As a result, people don’t show up to church events.
It’s easy to write this off: “Eh, my church isn’t committed to these events. They’re a lukewarm church.”
Dipping event attendance in any other space wouldn’t be blamed on attendees, but on promoters.
Pastors and church leaders, if you want engagement in your church outside of the Sunday Service, you’ll need to put on your “Promoter” hat as part of your not-so-9-5 job.
If you can own that this is simply part of your job description, people will love you for it, attendance will boost, and you’ll be looking at a spike in event engagement in no time.
Here are 12 plug-and-play promotion strategies that event industry insiders use to boost attendance when attendance is thin.
1. Sell, sell, sell
This may sound trite, but you need to press “Mute” on all those voices in your head that are embarrassed by promoting.
I’ve never understood why people were embarrassed by promoting events. It’s completely natural. Every successful business, event, product, and church has owned promotion as part of their marketing strategies.
Give yourself permission to sell the event.
When you do, you’ll find yourself bringing it up organically on Sunday, in conversations, in emails, and even with new people you meet.
If you’re always selling events, people will get the sense that you are actually excited about them.
Don’t be shy about your event.
Here’s something insidious about being shy toward your event: When people find out they talked to you, and you didn’t invite them, they might actually think you didn’t want them there (gasp).
That’s how humans work. A lack of invitation—a failure to sell—can easily translate as: “You’re not a good enough Christian to attend this event. You’re too ‘outside’ our inner circle.”
Sell. Sell. Sell every single event.
If it’s worth your members attending, it’s worth you selling.
Don’t shy away from the “Promoter” role of pastoral ministry. Your engagement really hangs on it.
2. Create a VIP element
One way of selling an event is by selling certain tiers of access or benefits.
For example, if you’re having a pot luck at church, create a “Contest” element that gives people the option to participate in the event at a deeper level. A generic pot luck could have a “Best Apple Pie” content to ensure that everyone will have dessert, and to incentivize families to come by entering their pie.
The Contest prize can be a $100 gift certificate to a local restaurant, an iPad, or even a cash prize.
Another way of creating a VIP element is by adding a pre- or post-event event that includes drinks, food, games, or fellowship that requires some kind of buy-in.
If everyone at the event ends up buying into the VIP event, all the better.
3. Host babysitting
If you want any adults past the age of 25 to show up to your event, you need to host babysitting.
Now, it’s important to have the proper church security protocol in place to ensure that those running childcare have been vetted, are trustworthy, and can relatively guarantee your childrens’ safety (as well as any professional childcare environment).
4. Run ads in your community
Run ads on Facebook.
Put signs up in your community.
Take out a page in your local newspaper.
Heck, run Google Ads.
Get as many people as possible to as many events as possible.
The result might be many pastors’ worst nightmare—people will actually show up.
Pastors often underestimate how many people want to be involved in their church, and they end up handicapping their church events by assuming nobody wants to come.
This is a fatal mistake.
Not only does running Ads get new visitors to your church (the gold rush of pastoral ministry), but it also makes your current members feel a swell of pride when they see your church’s ad in a local paper, on Facebook, or around town. They think: “That’s my place. I belong there. I’m really glad I go to this church.”
5. Push it on Sundays
Every. Single. Sunday.
Before worship: “Remember to sign up for our event!”
During your sermon (jokingly): “Esau sold his birthrights for a bowl of soup. Which reminds me. Our chili cook-off is happening in 2 weeks…”
Find ways to shoehorn it in there.
Make fun of yourself for it: “I know ‘pastor’ is always trying to get people to come to church. Dang right I am. I hope to see you there!”
People get it. In fact, they depend on it. People rely on pastors to try to get them to come to church.
In a sense, pastors are like personal trainers—half of why you hire them is to be the bad guy you don’t have the discipline to be for yourself so that you can live a better life.
Be the church event personal trainer, coaching people to take each small step to come to church.
Post on social media about it.
People want that.
6. Showcase the spiritual payoff of the event
This isn’t necessary for every single church event—for example, a post-service event. If you are promoting a post-Easter BBQ, the Easter service itself explains why people are getting together.
But if you’re trying to get people to find a babysitter, climb into their cars, and come to church, explain what is the spiritual payoff of attending this event.
Fundraising for the youth group mission trip.
But never, ever, ever, ever “Just because!”
If someone asks you, “Why should I come?” have your elevator pitch nailed.
Don’t apologize for your event.
Don’t say, “It’s really not that important—you don’t have to come.”
Obviously you don’t want to be pushy, but you should always have a backbone about the spiritual worthiness of attending each church event.
Quite honestly, if you don’t, you shouldn’t promote the event until you can figure out how to get one and place it square at the center of your event’s promotion.
7. Create benefits for pre-registration
This benefit can be anything—but make it something that compels people to register.
If there is food, make the food ½ price for anyone who registers before a certain date.
A free book.
A free shirt.
A free anything.
Get people signed up and paid for early so that you can secure attendees, plan better, and get people spreading the event word-of-mouth.
When someone asks one of your church members, “Are you going?” They don’t say: “Meh, I’ll play it by ear.”
They say: “Yep. Signed up yesterday. Did you know the food is half price if you sign up early?”
People can’t resist telling their friends when they get a deal. For that reason, pre-registration benefits serve as both a user acquisition and word of mouth marketing tool.
8. Create scarcity
Scarcity works to drive traffic to your event very well.
One way to create scarcity is to take your pre-registration benefit and cap that number at 100.
That way, people aren’t just interested in signing up—they’re rushing to sign up.
9. Guarantee a fun element
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a church event boring. It’s almost as if church events are intrinsically boring, and making them fun is like putting makeup on a pig.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
If you value fun, and you’re running events, people will want to be where you are.
Sell that you love fun by always doing fun things.
Showcase the fun element.
It won’t detract from the meaningfulness of the event.
10. Showcase the food
Everyone loves to eat.
There’s a reason that when you go on a road trip, 90% of the billboard ads you see are 20-foot tall cheeseburgers, tacos, and french fries—they work.
On the brochure for your event, pick a stock picture of the kind of food you’ll be serving from Unsplash.com (stock food photography is really good now, randomly), and include it on your marketing files for this event.
Where words fail, show pictures of food.
11. Network with your target audience
Is your event audience-specific?
Even if it isn’t, it’s important to ask yourself: Who is your primary demographic within your church for this event? Youth? Grandmas? Parents? Families? Young, new visitors? New families to the area?
Network with leaders in those sub-communities so that you can leverage their help to recruit for the event.
This network marketing works particularly well of those leaders are motivated to recruit leaders.
For example, you could say: “For every person you bring, we’ll give you a $5 credit at the church coffee shop.” Or: “Whoever brings the most friends will get this beautiful goat skin journaling Bible.”
Weirdly, even people with very nice Bibles will go a long way for a nice Bible.
I mean … I totally get it.
12. Get event registration software
Here’s a very hard pill to swallow:
If you don’t have an event registration software, you shouldn’t be doing any of the other promotional tactics.
You can’t electronically register people.
You can’t collect payments.
You can’t create kiosk sign-ups with your computers, iPads, and iPhones.
You don’t have any way of collecting data from prospective attendees (a crucial part of the event industry).
Use an event registration software like Tithe.ly Events, which works even better than most generic event management systems because it integrates with Tithe.ly Church Management System, Tithe.ly Giving, and a whole host of other church-specific tech features.
Get Tithe.ly Events so that you can collect sign-ups, payments, create discounts, and do everything else you need to get the maximum number of butts-in-seats the day-of.
Over to you
I know that church event promotion can be intimidating.
But you can do this.
With the right tool (Tithe.ly Events) and the right strategies (above), you are set up for fantastic success.
Just take it one strategy at a time.
Practice each strategy so that you become better and better at promotion.
After 3-4 events, you’ll feel like a pro.
Any pastor can drive large numbers to their church events if they’re willing to be unembarrassed by the promotional aspect of pastoral ministry.
Be a good pastor. Promote your church events with excellence.