Marketing the Church

Image courtesy of linder6580 at sxc.huNow that’s a loaded statement isn’t it? What do I mean by “marketing” and what do I mean by “church”? What constitutes a church “customer” and how do you know if they’re satisfied?

Way back in the day, when I was employed full time as a pastor, I often said that there was an incredibly fine line between marketing and ministry.

As youth guys we toed that line all the time…creating events that would have mass appeal to a teen target market in order to get them to attend:

  • All night scavenger hunts
  • Beach trips
  • Ice Cream Wars
  • Sanctuary baseball
  • Terminator laser tag
  • Disneyland trips

…just to name a few. We did all in the name of ministry and growth.

Having spend much of the last couple decades in marketing and watching the church from this side I’m afraid I can’t tell where the line is any longer.

It seems to me we’ve moved from trying to differentiate the church from the world into trying to differentiate one denomination from another, one local body from another, one style from another and of course the easiest way to differentiate is to show why “yours” is better than “theirs”.

Funny thing is that on top of that you hear a LOT of complaints about a consumer mentality that has “crept into” the church.

By way of contrast consider this little biblical nugget:

Acts 5: 12-16 (The Message)

Through the work of the apostles, many God-signs were set up among the people, many wonderful things done. They all met regularly and in remarkable harmony on the Temple porch named after Solomon. But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter’s shadow when he walked by. They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedeviled. And they all were healed.

Seems like the objective of growth was accomplished without marketing.

Now I’m not saying we ought not be creative. I’m not saying we ought not create programs that appeal to our community. I just wonder what happened to the line.

How do you think marketing and ministry ought to play together? What does “customer loyalty” look like in the church?


Book Review: Platform by Michael Hyatt

I am, by my own admission, a bit of a bibliophile. I have shelves and shelves of books many of which I have read cover to cover multiple times.

THIS book, however, will not be amongst them.

… yet it essential that you own it.

Curious? Good.


  • If you have a message to get out to the masses
  • If you’re an artist with a passion for creative expression
  • If you’re a fledgling politician
  • If you’re a pastor, a speaker, or just someone with an opinion you want heard on a global scale

You need this book.

So, why my statement above?
Because this book isn’t a cover to cover read.
This book is a start-in-the-spot-you-need-most, find-the next-important-bit-and-apply-it book.

You’ll probably find much you agree with, some things you’ve tried, some bits you’ve failed at, and some concepts you never even considered.

Michael makes it easy to understand how to build the platform that will allow you to more easily and readily connect with your audience, even if you have no idea who or how many they are, where they exist, or how to get to them today.

Whether you’re starting from scratch, struggling to get your blog to the next level, or trying to work out how to take your already decently successful game into the big leagues this book is chock full of practical instruction on how to build a platform that attracts and keeps a loyal following.

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World gives you the keys to understanding how to think about creating a successful product, how to get the word out in a a focused, targeted manner, and how to create fans out of mere contacts.

You’ll learn how to effectively leverage social media to create visibility for your product, amplification for your message, and connection to your audience.

With all that being said this book won’t find a home amongst my shelves of well read favorites.

Instead it will find itself on my desk, oft consulted, dog eared, highlighted, spine bent and flipped through. This is NOT a book to read, digest, and set aside. This book is a day to day reference tool you’ll want to keep within easy reach.

Check back 6 months, maybe a year from now, and we’ll see how well I’ve been able to apply it.

If you have a message to share, a product or idea to promote, or an audience to reach this book will become indispensable. Don’t let another day go by without having this on your shelf.

(Of course, what good is an endorsement without a link?)

What message do you have that is burning to get out? What product, or work of artistic expression do you want to share with the world? What are you waiting for?

Leadership: Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

We have family in town this week for Nate’s graduation. We’ve all been involved in sports for years as players from the time we were young, as coaches when we got older, and in the case of my father-in-law, even as administrator in athletics at the university level.

We’re were stunned this week to hear yet another story of a university that has failed a long time coach. By allowing a small group of disgruntled players who didn’t get the playing time they “thought they deserved”, backed by a group of helicopter parents who have collected their children’s participation trophies for years, encouraged by a athletic department that just wants smooth sailing, to run off a coach with 25 years tenure the university has failed.

To be clear this is NOT a Penn State situation. This is just a group of people who have gotten used to having their way at the youth level and now think they can run the show in college. Apparently they can.

We’ve heard this story a few too many time in the last couple years. When a coach consistently delivers wins and graduation rates, when a coach has developed a group of alumni fully willing and capable of funding the program, when a coach has multiple decades of investment, this is not a failure by the coach. It is a failure by the university athletic administration.

It is a failure of leadership.

How can we, as leaders, avoid looking just as ludicrous? By remembering a couple simple rules for keeping the main thing THE main thing:

1. Define it
What does success look like?
For a college coach it is wins, graduations, and fund raising. For a corporate executive is might be about top line growth, bottom line efficiencies, or people development. For a Pastor it might be nickles, noses, and congregational maturity.

In any case it is important to define success. THAT is where you should be headed. If you don’t know where you’re going you’ll never get there.

2. Defend it
Once you’ve defined success you need to be willing to stick to that course when the road gets rough. That isn’t to say we can’t change to a different target for success mid-stream, but that course change needs to be deeply considered before being made. Too often leaders change course quarterly or yearly in response to some temporary set of circumstances.

If you want to keep the main thing THE main thing you have to be more concerned with where you’re going than you are with how things are going.

3. Deliver it
Once you’ve put a stick in the ground to define direction and success, go after it with gusto! Performance reviews can almost become fully objective, did we deliver or not? The better you’ve defined success, the better you’ve stayed the course and defended that direction the easier it is to measure progress…or the reason progress has been inhibited. Deliver the main thing validates that it ought to BE the main thing.

In the case of these coaching stories the schools in question forgot all of that in favor of smoothing out the waves. The funny thing is, as any sailor knows, if you perfectly smooth out the wind and waves, you wind up becalmed and you never get anywhere.

Where have you seen leaders either fail or succeed at keeping the main thing the main thing in the midst of stormy circumstances?

Personal Note: All the best to Coach Gary Podesta. The lives you’ve changed cannot be measured solely by the number of individual players in the program. It is multiplied a hundred or a thousand fold by the lives we’ve each gone on to touch. Thanks Coach. You kept the main thing the main thing.

The Single Most Important Skill for Any Career

Noooo…it’s not the ability to be Cheesy MC guy.

My son has signed me up to come speak to his marketing class on Friday. Not a big deal, I did it for his older brother a couple years ago.

A couple of the questions include, “What does it take to be successful in your career field? ” and “What can a student start doing now to prepare for this career?”, which got me thinking.

Since I find myself more or less on my third or fourth “career” I think I can say with some level of expertise that there IS a singular skill that has been crucial for success in ALL of them. The ability to communicate. No wait, let me communicate that more concisely.

The one skill that can help propel any career forward is the ability to speak publicly. Whether you have to communicate progress to a superior, impart information to a team of co-workers, or address a crowd of hundreds of customers you’re going to have to have some level of competence as a public speaker.

Why is it then that “public speaking” consistently ranks in the top 10 things people fear most? We speak in public all the time! Those who only speak in private are typically diagnosed as being crazy in some way shape or form…or they own lots of cats.

There are LOTS of ways to answer that question but rather than taking that on allow me to provide three reminders that can help anyone either being to conquer their fear or just become a better speaker.

1. It isn’t about you.
Even when you’re telling someone about you you’re providing that information for a reason. Job interview? Not about you. It’s about them trying to find the right person. Selling a product? Not about you. It’s about them trying to solve a problem or meet a need. Speaking to a marketing class about your career? Not about you. It’s about helping them make choices about their future.

When you think about it in this way the pressure is off of you and on the information. When you realize it is about helping the audience get the information they need you can focus on the information and not worry about what they think of YOU.

2. Honesty IS the best policy.
If you’re being asked to present information to an audience there is an underlying assumption that you: a)know what you’re talking about and b) know more about it than the audience does.

If either of those statements is false admit it up front. You’ll either be let off the hook OR you’ll be given more information that may help shed light on the fact that you do INDEED know what you’re talking about.

In either case faking it is a bad idea.

3. Public speaking is a skill.
And like any other skill it needs to be practiced and polished. Even the most artful public communicators don’t just hop up and wing it every time. Even guys that seem to make it ALL up as they go, aka Robin Williams, have bits they practice and rehearse that keep them grounded in their skills.

Don’t think the way to overcome fear of public speaking, or to become a better communicator, is to merely avoid it or to get psyched up for it with a lot of coffee when forced into having to speak. Investing time in training and practice will pay off throughout every stage of your career, no matter what field.

Some of today’s headline politicians were rocketed into the limelight on the strength of a single speech. No matter which side of the political fence you’re on, even if you tend to straddle it, you can’t deny the power of being a good public communicator.

If you want to start honing your craft I CAN recommend an excellent opportunity coming up in October. Check out the SCORRE Conference.

In the meantime though…what is it about public speaking that causes you the most anxiety?


How to Create Your Corporate Story

Since we’ve already looked at WHY you should have a corporate story and we’ve looked at the elements that make up a good corporate story I thought it might be helpful to those who find themselves stuck in the desert of creative drought to look at how get started creating your corporate story.

Remember we said that this could apply to a company, a team, a small group, or even a family.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with folks around the notion of applying this to family and to me it really speaks to the notion of legacy. How do you want to be remembered? Which is where we start…

Step one in scaling the dunes towards creating your corporate story is to Start at the End.

Imagine your group, whether it be a company of your family, has, for some mysterious reason, been removed from this worlds realm. A group of celebrants have gathered to remember your group fondly, sad that you have left, made curious by the mystery, but gathered in fond remembrance. What do they say?

  • “They really went out of their way for their customers”
  • “They really had some mind-blowingly-creative products.”
  • “They really were an amazingly generous family”
  • “They really knew how to invest in friendships”

You can see how these kinds of statements lead toward a good corporate story. They lend themselves to the kind of short descriptions from which good stories are built. Phrases like: serve customers – anticipate needs,  packaged creativity, ask how we can help, build lasting relationships.

Step two in creating your story is to Make it Personal.
By simply putting a phrase like “We’re the people who…” in front of any of those statements above you start to get a defining point in your story. This is a subtle but important difference.

Growing up my dad never told the three of us boys, “I want you to be well rounded individuals” or “I’d like you to experience a lot of things”, instead he encouraged us to be renaissance men. Try out the feel of that. Compare “I’m someone who is well rounded.” which is a description, to “I am a renaissance man.” which is a definition.

Which leads us to step three. As you’re refining your story Make it Definitive not descriptive.You aren’t looking for acute semantic accuracy here. You’re looking for something that feels like a fit. “I’m well rounded” just feels like a product label description. “I’m a renaissance man” almost sounds like a song title!

  1. So first I’m thinking through what the people gathered in celebration say to describe my group and creating solid phrases from their description.
  2. Next I’m making that into a personal statement.
  3. Then I’m refining that statement so that it is a definition and not a description.

If your family, or company, moved out of the neighborhood tomorrow and for some mysterious reason lost all contact with the neighbors, when they gathered a year from now to remember you what would they say?



Elements of a Good Corporate Story

My Family tree has it’s roots somewhere back in Scotland, or so we’ve come to believe. The Scottish clans, way back in the day, were not only identified by their tartans, those color full patterns seen on their kilts, but also by there clan motto.

The Fletcher clan, at least the branch to which I belong , has as it’s motto: Alta Pete which is translated as “Aim at High Things.”

Good words for folks who made arrows for a living. But a little lean in terms of a story.

Corporate mission statements and marketing tag lines are similar to clan mottoes. They look good on a letterhead but they can fall a little short in terms of really identifying, and differentiating, a company.

In my last post I looked at some reasons why it is important for any corporate entity, and by corporate I mean any group, too understand and articulate its story. Today I want to suggest three of elements that make up a good corporate story.

Southwest Airlines is a model company having maintained profitability and growth consistently for more than 30 years. Their mission statement, boiled down to it’s simplest form is “We’re the low cost carrier.” But, go a step further and look at how they expand that statement into a kind of story:

“If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline”

Not THAT starts to have meat on the bones.

Michael Hyatt, who is the chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers…and all round good guy, was kind enough to send me a link to a piece of the Thomas Nelson story.  If you read the article you’ll find mention a kind of vision statement originally articulated by their founder:

“honor God and serve people.”

Go a little further back though and you’ll find a sentence that, in a very short story, puts meat on those bones as well:

Unlike other publishers who catered to the wealthy, Thomas Nelson had a vision to make the world’s greatest books affordable to “common folk.”

These two example, and there are hundreds more, provide some insight into the make up of a solid corporate story.

1. It needs to tap into why you exist. 
This sounds simple enough really but too often the story starts off muddy. For example a company that claims they are the “leading provider of enterprise software” isn’t really telling a story so much a providing a descriptor. Words like “leading” and “enterprise” and fine but they lack personality.

Thomas Nelson’s version of the same type of statement might have been something like: “We’re the people who make the classics available to the common folks”. There already seems to be a story in the making there.

2. It needs to have a customer focused element.
Both the Nelson example and the Southwest example are clearly pointed in the direction of their customers. It is this customer element that makes the corporate story start to tick as a differentiator.  This is where you are able to begin setting customer expectations.

What would you have expected from Thomas Nelson? Affordable classic literature. What would you expect from Southwest Airlines? Affordable FUN travel.

(Point to note here, your story doesn’t ALWAYS have to include “affordable” Apple has a great story but “affordable” isn’t a part of it!)

3. It must be something that influences decisions
Southwest can always bump new ideas against the question: How does this make us the low cost carrier? Thomas Nelson can run new ideas up against: How does this honor God or serve people?

Your corporate story, the story of your committee, company, church, or clan helps set you apart. It helps defines you. It helps people understand what to expect from you. It helps guide decisions and influences direction.

Stories help us interpret the world around us and your corporate story helps you create the space in which you fit rather than allowing others to fit you into the place they want you to be.

Think about your team at work. Your running group. Your family. What is the story that defines your purpose, focuses externally, and helps guide decisions?

What is Your Corporate Story?

Image courtesy of ButterflyPromQueen at DeviantArt.comI’ve been doing a LOT of work lately on the “how-to’s” of creating better customer experiences. Well, I really shouldn’t say “lately” as it has been a part of my work for more than a decade.

What has struck me afresh though is the notion of context. Customers have experiences in a context of some sort and that context typically is derived from expectations which are majorly influenced by story. Your story.

Which got me thinking…

The idea of a “corporate story” applies to ANY group. It applies to the company from which you receive a paycheck. It applies to the group within that company where you do your daily labor. It applies to churches. It applies to teams. It even applies to families!

Far too often though we allow those stories to be created by circumstances.

  • “Oh you guys are that company that acquired so and so.”
  • “Oh yeah, that’s that church that does the big Easter drama.”
  • “Your group is the one that did the cool power point at last years annual meeting.”
  • “You guys live over by the school right? Friends with the Jones?”

Let me suggest a couple of reasons why you ought to be intentional about creating your corporate story:

  • If you let others create your story you allow them to define you.
  • Because the world LOVES story, if you don’t have one, one WILL be created for you.
  • Circumstances will often act as an introduction to your story. It is up to you to be sure there are chapters to follow.
  • Creating your story helps you define your place in your industry, your company or your community and serves as a filter for circumstance.

By way of experiment let me suggest four NFL teams. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you see each name:

  • Denver Broncos
  • New York Giants
  • Oakland Raiders
  • Dallas Cowboys

Now, unless you’re a fan of one of those teams or a storied NFL aficionado  you probably thought something like:

Broncos: John Elway, the team that got Manning, the team that traded Tebow” Circustances
Giants: Won the Super Bowl, Manning’s brother” Circumstances
Raiders: Man I hate those guys, bad boys of the NFL, use to be good, now just thugs” and THAT is a carefully crafted story. A mythos that Al Davis built around his team for years.
Cowboys: America’s team, Romo, Super Bowl, Big BIG screen” Circumstances in there for sure but this is another “storied franchise” we think of them as perennial winners.

Let me ask you this. Who was more recently in a Super Bowl, the Cowboys or the Raiders? Funny, we tend to think of the Cowboys, America’s team (and I am NOT a Cowboy’s fan) as being the one who had to be there more recently right? Nope, the Raiders played in the big game in 2003. The last time the Cowboys were there was 1996.  But their stories tend to make us believe otherwise!!

There is an interesting philosophical exercise that is right in the ballpark of what we’re talking about. The prof asks the student: “Who are you?” The student answers, “Curtis Fletcher”.  The prof replies, “No, that is your name. Who are you?”  The student tries again, “I’m the guy sitting in this seat”. The prof replies, “No, that is your location. Who are you?” Fletch takes another go, “The guy getting frustrated by these questions who’d really rather be outside drinking a beer?” The prof, “Nope. That is your current circumstance. Who are you?”

The exercise typically creates frustration for the students. If you’ve ever seen it done you understand that the frustration comes because the students answer with descriptors and circumstances rather than story.

Later this week I’m going to talk about the elements that make up a good corporate story but for now let me ask you this:

If you were allowed a max of two paragraphs how would you tell YOUR story? The story of your company, your team, your church, your family?

An Exercise in Obedience

Stop, read no further. Do not carry on.
The words on this page are not meant to be read
so leave them alone and be gone.

Do you not understand? You’re here so you don’t.
The following lines are not for you to read,
I’m hoping you’ll stop but you won’t.

Ok, I have asked and I’ll ask once again.
You’ve come all this way without manners or shame
but please do not read to the end.

I know you can read you are doing so now.
So turn your attention and your comprehension
to ending this folly somehow.

How long will you batter proprieties bounds?
A last opportunity, cease and desist
your arrogance simply astounds!

Alas here you are come to sample the fruits.
Can it be that your life is an endless parade
of such stubborn and foolish pursuits?

I wrote this as an experiment in what I sometimes refer to as “visceral poetry”. By that I mean poetry designed specifically to elicit a visceral reaction…intentional provocation. Did I succeed?  🙂

If you made it to the end please leave a comment so that others will know they weren’t the only ones not to follow instructions.

Leadership 101: Pronoun Guidelines

It’s funny how powerful mere words can be in shaping reality. From the Little Engine that Could, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”, to God’s opening line in the Bible, “Let there be light!”, words shape not only our understanding of the world around us but in just as many cases the world around us as well.

It’s become a bit of a nitpick of mine lately to catch myself on pronoun use and as a result I find myself checking other folks around me as well. Pronoun use can be a HUGE indicator of insecurity or confidence, risk or reward, credit or blame. Don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely NOT the pronoun police whistle blowing and yellow carding my way through meetings. I just listen and make mental notes…copious mental notes.

Allow me then to suggest some simple guidelines for leaders who find themselves choosing which pronoun to use when communicating publicly.

Credit or Blame: Credit should always be “we”. Even if your team did nothing bringing them in on the credit speaks of confidence and, IF they did nothing, puts pressure on them perform next time.In the case where all you did was supervise and the team did all the work turning that “we” into a “they” also speaks volumes.

Blame should always be “I”. One of my greatest leadership memories of all time was being at a CU Miami football game that literally came down CU being a foot short on the last play. A bench clearing NASTY brawl ensued with players and coaches from both sides attacking viciously across 30 yars of mindless melee.

In the post game interview, before the first question was asked, coach Bill McCartney stepped to the mic and addressed the press by saying that he took full responsibility for the actions of his team, players and coaches alike, that it was HIS fault that they behaved that way and that while their would be internal discipline for some specific actions the bulk of the blame should be laid at his feet.


Risk or Reward: This one is easy to remember: When the risk is high use “I”. You can see you’ve talked it over with the team but that the decision, the risk, the iffy proposition, is your call.

Reward I tend to go straight to “they” if I can…at least in my good moments.

I’ve told my teams for a long time that when we succeed they get the credit, when we fail I take the blame, at least publicly…we WILL have a private conversation.  From experience I can tell you that that one has come back to bite me a time or two. But in the end it still made me a better leader of people.

A few more examples:

  • Innovation: They, or you
  • Difficult change: I, or me
  • Challenging authority: I…do it probably too often.

I adopted a leadership mantra from my good buddy Kurt who always says, “Listen, if I make everyone of my people successful then I’ll be successful by accident.”

The words you choose to use, even down to the smallest pronoun, have profound effect on how successful those people can become. It is also a great barometer of a leaders level of confidence, security, or ego. Who was it that once said, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”?  Listen to the leaders you’re around on a daily basis and see where they land in pronoun use. It’s an interesting pastime to be sure.

What other examples can you come up with where pronoun use can effect team performance?

Four Tips for Helping People Understand You Better.

How often have you heard someone say, “I know that’s what I said, but what I meant was…” or some variation thereof?

Communication is an interesting animal. We use words to convey ideas and often struggle to find the right ones. Speaking of course is the worst because it is real time. All the editing typically happens between the head and the mouth.

Now, if you’re a poor conversationalist the tips I am about to provide probably won’t help you much. You’re better off renting The King’s Speech. What I want to work on here is how to be better understood in a more formal speaking setting. That being said, three tips:

1. Have a point.
Your point is NEVER “to provide information”. You always provide information FOR A REASON…and that reason is your point. If I just say, informationally, “You know you should always have a point when you open your mouth to speak”, you would nod and agree and still often be pointless.

My point here is to help you be a better communicator. To be clear here, when I say ‘have a point’ I mean something you can articulate in a single sentence. “The reason I am speaking to these people is…”

That sentence will become the anchor to which I attach all the information you are about to provide. Without it the information becomes overwhelming and floats off into the sunset like a boat one the waves.

2. Stick to the point.
If you’re being asked to speak you have information. You probably have enough information to speak for hours. But how much of that information supports your point?

In business setting I typically find that something like 50-60% of the information in any presentation really belongs in an appendix, stuff that supports the talk but isn’t directly connected to the main point. Leave all THAT stuff out. Save it for the Q&A at the end.

3. Consider you audience.
Whatever it is you’re communicating should have some relevance to why the audience is there. Otherwise your point becomes one of trying to prove how smart, or funny, or important you are.

I was struck by a thought today, and I confess I may have read this somewhere but if not then I want full credit:

“No one cares what you know until they know that you care.”

Granted there are exceptions to this. If the plane is going down and you know where the parachutes are I don’t care if you care about me, I just want to know what you know.

4. Sharpen your message to match.
Case in point: I hate the title of this post. It started as “The Power of Clarity” the morphed into the grammatically poor., “Four Reasons Why You Need to Be More Clear”.

Here’s what I know about my audience at this point. In general a phrase like “The Power of Clarity” is interesting, but it does not generate page views. If I want my audience to benefit from what I think I have to provide I have to start with a hook, something that will prompt YOU to read the post.

“The Power of Clarity” is informational. “Four Tips” conveys the notion that I care about helping you be better. Same information, same point, better connection to the audience.

What do you find to be the biggest challenge in being completely understood?