The Psychology of a Person's Decision to Attend Church!
Before you spend any money on marketing, you need to understand the process by which a prospective visitor decides to visit your church. In secular marketing, this process is referred to as the Four Phases of the Buying Experience. It is familiar to most marketing companies and is incorporated in most marketing plans. I have adapted it to the church.
The Four Phases of a Seeker’s Decision to Visit Your church
Phase 1 – Need Recognition
It is human nature to avoid change until it is absolutely necessary. Most people don’t sign up for a class on credit management or take a lesson on how to manage personal finances if they are doing well. Most attend such courses because they have mountains of debt and don’t know how to get out from under it. They are seeking answers because they have recognized their need. The pain has made it clear.
There are always people in a state of pain or need. That is why smart marketers continue to advertise the latest large screen TV and offer coupons for 20% off your next purchase at their store. It is why you will always see TV commercials for another weight loss diet. The marketers know there is always someone ready for a new TV, and someone else is looking to lose twenty pounds. The church world is no different. There are always people ready to respond to the Holy Spirit, who is calling them. They are in the “Church Buyer’s Box.” This is why churches should always be marketing to the need. Someone is always ready.
People have needs, sometimes they don’t realize what they are, or they may not entirely be ready to make a change. Your marketing needs to use trigger-specific messaging and content to bring their needs to the surface to elicit need recognition. As you learn to match the right trigger words with the proper headlines, graphics, and text, you will supercharge your marketing. Unfortunately, many churches are using subpar marketing that does not trigger need recognition, nor does it address any real need or pain.
Phase 2 – Information Search
Once a potential visitor realizes they have a need, they will gather information to solve their problem or satisfy their need. For example, if they are having marriage problems, they will seek out solutions. They might consider counseling or a marriage class. They might talk to friends, or perhaps visit a local church. If you have been marketing correctly, at this point, the name of your Church might come to mind. They didn’t need you when they receive that last postcard. Recently they scrolled past your Facebook post. A few months back, they declined an invitation from a friend to attend your Sunday service. But now that a need is causing significant pain, they consider the possibility that your church may have the answer. Repetition is critical.
A pastor client told of an older man who stopped attending church 40 years ago because of some particular sin in his life. Then one day, he received a direct mail card that announced: “God does not care about your past flops, failures, and fumbles.” That message triggered a twofold response: 1) It identified that specific church as a place of forgiveness and non-judgment, and 2) It identified his need to return to church and deal with his sin. Later he told the pastor he had saved the seven previous postcards from the church. But it was that specific message on the eighth card that triggered his response.
Phase 3 – Evaluate Options
Just because your mailer triggered a response does not mean you will get the visitor. The seeker may respond, but still decide to visit another church. Your marketing needs to spell out the benefits of attending your specific church. For example, if your mailer triggers the pain of marriage problems, your church should offer groups, classes, sermons, and counseling, and should be visible in your marketing.
Benefits must be clearly advertised. Regardless of which church triggered the response, the average seeker has no church loyalty. Just as an ad for a burger may elicit a craving, factors other than the ad may determine where the need is satisfied. Price, coupons, convenience, and delivery may send the consumer to a completely different restaurant than the one mentioned in the ad. If you don’t give people a reason to choose your church, they won’t.
Phase 4 – The Decision
Even if you do everything right, the seeker may choose another church or just stay home. There are no guarantees. But if they decide to visit, make sure you are ready for them. Well-organized parking, friendly greeters, excellent childcare, and clear messages will communicate to the seeker they made the right choice.