Missional Marketing or Corporate Sell-Out?
The future is in advertising
If you google “church advertising,” the results are mostly ideas for churches to promote their ministries and advertise themselves to their community.
But Professor Steve Goldkirk wants to turn that inside out.
Goldkirk, professor of church media, self-actualization and corporate affirmation at St. Olaf College in St. Louis, Mo., says churches are missing a great opportunity, even as more people leave the church and indicate they are “spiritual but not religious.”
“Corporate sponsorship is the next wave for church fund-raising,” he says. “Non-profits like PBS have been doing this for decades, and churches should follow their lead.”
PBS, although touting itself as free of ads and commercials, has a long scroll bracketing every program listing all their big corporate sponsors and donors, he noted, as well as featuring actual commercials that are not called “commercials.”
The corporations, in turn, receive a nice tax break for their “donation” as well as reaching an important demographic with their brand.
“I see a day when hundreds of churches across the country will begin their worship service, not with a doxology or a prayer but with the pastor saying ‘First we’d like to thank our sponsors,’ including church members who might want to donate an extra amount to join the list and get recognition.”
This is not so different than current practices like dedicating pews to the memory of a beloved spouse or naming classrooms or chapels after donors.
“Instead of just a ‘Joe Smith Memorial Fellowship Hall’ you could see things like the ‘AT&T Discovery Pulpit and Media Wall’ or the ‘Things Go Better with Coke Prayer Chapel.’”
You might even see the Eucharist or Communion service marked by a sign: “Featuring the fine wines of the John Sebastiano Vineyards of California.” The possibilities are endless.
Large megachurches already feature Starbucks coffee nooks. Why not a “Disney Experience Children’s Playground?” or a “Lazyboy Recliner Massage and Meditation Room.”
Goldkirk explained that with new money flowing in from corporations, church budgets would be free to invest in bigger and better buildings and campuses, which in turn would attract more advertisers.
“It would spawn a new cycle of self-affirmation and growth!” Goldkirk exclaimed, his excitement bubbling.
“A second wave in this process would be product placement, something widely used in the film industry,” he continued. “Why not have the pastor begin a sermon by popping open a sparkling ice-cold can of Pepsi, taking a swig and placing it prominently beside him on the pulpit? That simple act could bring in thousands of dollars that could be used to purchase sheet music for the choir, for instance.”
Goldkirk said he was also exploring avenues for churches to market religious “collectibles” and even Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Investment in cryptocurrency also offers interesting opportunities.
He noted that many churches have been dropping the name of their denomination in an attempt to distance themselves from preconceptions. “Why not turn that around and adopt a corporate identifier?” he proposed.
“These could even evolve into new groupings and relationships: How does ‘Fifth Avenue Pfizer Church of Christ’ sound—or even “The Monsanto Convention of Churches?”
It's long past time for churches to re-evaluate who they are and how they’re going to continue to exist, he said. “Corporate sponsorship is the future.”