Health and Growth

How to Market Your Small Church: A 9-Part System for Every Pastor

Low quality marketing keeps most small churches small. Use this 9-part church marketing system (from churches who figured it out) to build growth momentum.

How to Market Your Small Church: A 9-Part System for Every Pastor
by

Paul Maxwell

Let’s get real about marketing your small church—leveraging your “marketing team” is extremely straight forward.

Your marketing team’s name is “Steve.”

And your name is Steve.

Steve is you.

You are your marketing team.

You can’t hire Christopher Nolan to create your new sermon series promo videos.

Heck, you couldn’t even hire Bill Murray for a cameo.

If you can find room for it in your budget, you might be able to subscribe to one or two services that enable you to take aim at marketing your church really well.

Here’s the good news:

You can still implement a highly effective marketing strategy that gets you new visitors, higher quality engagement, and better brand professionalism.

You can accomplish 90% of what big-budget churches can accomplish with a shoestring church budget. And, quite honestly, a large percentage of big church budgets are wasted on vanity deliverables that see a very low return on investment (ROI).

The difficult part for you, as a small church, is discerning what’s worth your efforts, what’s worth your money, and how to leverage your resources best to help your church grow, mature, and thrive. 

In this article, we’re going to dive into nine tips to market your church like a pro.

1. Learn to like marketing

This is the biggest obstacle for most pastors.

It’s important to distinguish between two kinds of “small” churches and small church pastors.

  1. Old churches with older pastors
  2. Church plants that are small because they are young

The first kind of small church is simply seeking to stay relevant enough to its geographically specific demographic not to be outperformed by a cooler church down the road.

The second kind of small church is setting high goals for growth, needs to build a building in the near future, and has its aim set on becoming a high quality, high-growth church.

If you are the pastor of the first kind of church, then you need to learn to stop being embarrassed by marketing. A lot of older pastors don’t like marketing, because they are worried they will be seen as the church version of a used car salesman. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

It’s very possible to do marketing the wrong way: by adopting all of the shallow optics of marketing and none of the substance. 

But good marketing is simply about knowing your audience, spending your time and resources in the right place, and crafting an excellent church communication plan with measurable and realistic goals for engagement and growth.

If you are the pastor of the second kind of church—a younger church planter—then you likely already realize the power and necessity of becoming a marketer in your early phase of church planting.

Your first goal should be gaining market share in your community, evangelism, reaching out, meeting needs, connecting, networking, and looking professional enough that people are intrigued by your church and desire to visit.

What’s the takeaway?

Small churches—old and new alike—need to start liking marketing if they are going to either (1) survive or (2) thrive.

Marketing is the connection point between a church’s goals for relevance and growth and those goals becoming realities.

Don’t be shy about marketing.

Throw yourself into it.

Learn the trade.

Learn the lingo.

There’s a reason marketing is a growing industry—it works.

And if small churches had to choose one business skill to achieve their relevant goals for growth and sustainability, they should choose marketing.

People respect good marketing.

People are attracted to good marketing.

People want and look for good marketing.

Even from small churches.

2. Become a “full-stack” marketer

There is a way of talking in the software development world that refers to “back end,” “front end,” and “full stack” developers. Back end developers write the kind of code you see in The Matrix. Front end developers design all the pretty bells and whistles that people actually see. “Full stack” developers are those who can do a little bit of both—enough to do it all, even if not as deeply or well as everyone else.

In marketing, we can speak the same way. 

A “full-stack” marketer is someone who can build a marketing strategy, write copy that converts web visitors into physical first-time visitors, and do enough design work to pass as semi-professional when someone sees your websites, signs, and literature.

Whether you’re a solo team, or you have the budget to outsource tasks here and there, knowing how to do everything a little bit is better than diving deep into one area at the neglect of others.

Know enough to know what you don’t know so that you can strategically partner with professionals to make it look like your church has an entire communications team.

3. Create a brand guide

A brand guide should include the following elements:

  • Your mission statement (under 140 characters).
  • Your core values
  • Your color palette (no more than 3 colors)
  • Your logo (and how it should appear in multiple contexts).
  • Your Header 1, Header 2, and Body font.
  • Key words that express the heart of your church culture.

It’s possible to go into depth more deeply with a brand guide, but it’s ideal to set up your one-page brand guide to direct all of your marketing efforts first. Then, if necessary, you can add, specify, extrapolate, nuance, and change as needed.

The fundamental purpose of creating a brand guide is that you want to create a consistent, unified brand experience for your church.

Everything your print or post should look like it fits together.

Everything you say should make sense based on your values.

Everything program you create do should make sense based on your goals.

Digital and print should align.

Sermon notes and on-screen graphics should align.

Sermon messaging and Sunday School messaging should align.

Potluck, accounting, discipleship, and evangelism should all dovetail into one another in color, font, messaging, values, and key words.

In your brand guide, which should be exportable as a single PDF document, you want to store and package all of the original files of your digital assets. 

If you have any Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, PNG, or SVG files, those should all be stored, zipped, and saved as the same file in multiple cloud locations, both for security and for reference when training new staff or on-boarding a communications team volunteer.

4. Reach out to your community

This is the face-to-face element of marketing.

Everybody wants to know the pastor.

As a pastor, your invitation to have somebody visit your church is worth more than anyone else’s invitation.

You are a more powerful force for creating new visitors than anyone else.

Your personal touch will add a lot to a prospective visitor.

You should be out and about in your local town or city, meeting and inviting every single person you meet. 

People understand that you can’t be best friends with them.

But the personal touch from the person in charge means something

Your time is valuable. People know this. It costs you nothing to spend 15 minutes listening to someone’s story so that you have the relational credibility to invite them to church.

Of course, it’s important to have a funnel in place so that when they visit your church, there is a clear and easy on-ramp to becoming involved in your community as a member.

Nevertheless, your personal efforts at invitation and evangelism, networking with business owners, and making yourself a known, generous quantity in your local community, will be critical component of your church’s marketing success.

5. Run digital ads

Churches often overlook digital ads, because they think they don’t work.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The most effective audience for a church’s digital ads are *drumroll* … people who just moved to your area.

They are, as marketers say, “bottom of funnel.” This means they are alone, looking for community, and ripe to become plugged in with your community. They are high-value, high-conversion audience that will have a high yield for digital ads.

What’s great about digital ads is that you can optimize them for people who are moving.

You can’t do that with a billboard ad.

You can’t do that with a newspaper ad.

He who is strong with digital ads will have great fortune in church growth.

That’s either from the book of Proverbs or a fortune cookie I imagined. I forget.

6. Don’t try to play a big church game with a small church budget

Don’t spend money on equipment that will only become a liability.

Invest in a few assets that you can leverage to achieve stripped down excellence.

If you have a church in your town that’s the Rolling Stones of churches, you can still achieve significant growth.

Common costs (with very low ROI) that eat up a small church budget are:

  • Super fancy website that requires lots of maintenance
  • Over-the-top audio and video production equipment (you can get a great setup for less than $500)
  • Advanced marketing subscriptions and softwares that don’t add much to the overall quality of your production

Instead, you should focus on: 

  • Tithe.ly ChMS
  • One digital asset subscription (like Envato Elements)
  • One Adobe CC Subscription
  • A shoestring video/audio setup

To build your communications team, go to local universities who have Christian clubs (like Cru, RUF, or IVP) and ask if any of their communications students are looking for internships.

If you have the budget, you might even be able to get a high quality college junior/senior looking to get early church communications production experience.

These student interns can be a great help to you, and can also help you learn the ropes of communications to help you become a full-stack marketer for your small church.

7. Remember that some people prefer small churches

Don’t feel insecure about the size of your church.

Not every church has to “feel” like a megachurch.

Sometimes, feeling small is what people are there for.

Double down on your strengths.

Make the experience about community.

Open up your sermon for a Q&A period at the end.

Encourage community participation, mid-sermon “Amens,” and other small qualities that enrich, rather than diminish, the smallness of your church.

8. Partner with your aging population (don’t disdain them)

One major mistake small churches make is that, out of insecurity, they double down on youth acquisition and neglect the things that its aging population loves.

This is a mission critical error.

Older people have money.

Do not ostracize your donor base.

Do everything you can to nurture relationships with them, help them continue to feel at home at your church, and help them understand the importance of reaching youth and young families to the mission of church growth.

9. Use scalable church technology

Some church technology works well for small churches, but becomes exponentially more expensive as the church grows.

Make sure that whatever church technology you use for church giving, church management system, event registration, and your church website remain affordable even at scale.

A great option for churches of all sizes that doesn’t become exponentially more expensive is the Tithe.ly ChMS. This ChMS helps you manage events, members, volunteers, text marketing, email marketing, and even worship planning.

Over to you

Remember—as a small church pastor, you have a lot on your back.

Don’t burden yourself with becoming the world’s best marketer.

At the same time, recognize that as a small church pastor, marketing ultimately falls on your plate—either to execute directly or to delegate partially.

Find a way to market your small church well so that you can attract new visitors, grow new members, and mature your church’s discipleship and resources together.

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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How to Market Your Small Church: A 9-Part System for Every Pastor