As marketing and communications director for Christ In Youth – which has five programs, a digital resources platform, international conferences and a rapidly expanding global footprint – my first thought was, “I have 500 marketing strategies … to which are you referring?”
Instead of being flippant, however, I asked him for clarification. As the conversation progressed, we soon discovered what he was really trying to uncover was the things that were working to attract more people to the ministry. As I got to thinking about it, I realized many of the strategies we use for marketing and communications at CIY are things that have served me well as a youth minister in the past, and could also be great ideas to help you in your youth ministries.
Toward that end, I submit to you five marketing strategies that you can use in your youth ministry:
1. ESTABLISH A CALENDAR.
You’ll find most marketing professionals adopt a mentality of “Ready … aim … aim … aim … aim … aim … fire.” We like to collect data and test the market before pulling the trigger on a tactic. And to do that effectively you have to plan ahead. I remember in my youth ministry class at Ozark Christian College having to create a year-long plan, and at the time I thought it was more work than I’d ever really need to do. But in reality, planning a year in advance is PIVOTAL for being effective in youth ministry. You know your seasons, you know the annual things that always come up, and you know when you’ll need your students to register or get hyped about the things you’re putting in front of them. Back-date from those key moments throughout the year and then set a schedule to “market” to them.
2. BE CONSISTENT.
Once you’ve created your calendar and know what you want to do tactically, you have to be consistent with those tactics. Whether it’s an email blast or social media touches or physical hand-outs during your weekly meetings – one single touch isn’t enough! Just because you only get a couple of responses to your email or social media blast on the first communication doesn’t mean you should stop. The more consistent you are, the more your “audience” – in this case your students and their parents – will come to rely on you and will follow you in the future. This will lead to the best thing a marketer can attain: word-of-mouth advertising. When your people trust you because you’re consistent, even when the response was dismal, they’ll share that faith with others and you’ll grow. It takes time, but the long game pays off!
3. COMBINE COMMUNICATION EFFORTS.
At CIY, we have identified 13 different ways we’re communicating with an audience at any given time (Reports, Kingdom Worker Connection magazine, Kingdom Worker Hub, Social media accounts, emails, phone calls, texting, websites, apps, media relations, videos, on stage and physical mail.) And while any one of those individual communication tactics works well on any given day, it’s the overlap that really makes our marketing efforts effective. When sending out an email we usually reinforce that with a social media blast. When we post something on the KW Hub, it usually gets pushed through social media or has an accompanying piece in the Kingdom Worker Connection magazine. When app notifications are sent out we’ll sometimes reinforce that with text messages or phone calls. There are all kinds of ways communication tactics can overlap, and when you do this well you’re not only making sure your message is heard but you’re creating an environment in which your ministry experiences are top-of-mind for everyone.
4. SOLICIT “EXPERTS” FOR CONTENT.
We have some amazing people on staff at CIY who are constantly creating Kingdom worker content. But there are so many others in youth ministry who we turn to for help in advancing the conversation of Kingdom work. We actively seek out content from those partners – whether it’s an article for the KW Hub, or a Tweet to a specific audience, or pictures from a youth group outing. By doing this, we give our audience value and continue to establish that trust and consistency is so important to maintaining a healthy, thriving ministry. You can do this, too, by soliciting content from your fellow ministry staff, parents, volunteers, and most importantly, STUDENTS! Your students want to be part of the ministry efforts, so get them to write for you or contribute to social media or create videos or come up with off-the-wall ideas you probably aren’t even thinking of!
5. USE FUN AND INTERACTIVE.
Let’s face it … we’re over-marketed to on a daily basis. There’s so much coming at us from mainstream media that it’s overwhelming. Our students today are savvy enough to know when they’re being “sold.” What they really want is to have fun and to be part of something bigger than themselves. So before you send out that email or social media blast or any other marketing/communication tactic, take a step back and ask yourself this question: Is this fun? Is this interactive? If the answer is no, find a way to make it so. It might take some work to get it to that next level, but when you can begin to do this consistently you’ll discover that your “audience” wants to get messages from you because they’re usually fun and interactive.