When I became a minister, I never thought that I would be the ministry “expert” in marketing and website management. While attending Unity School of Religious Studies (now Unity Worldwide Spiritual Institute), I heard half-serious “cardinal rules,” including, “Don’t make coffee, even if no one else will.” “Don’t move the picture of Jesus when you first get into a ministry.” But no one ever told me, “Don’t do the social media, even if no one else will.” I had no formal training, yet I came up with a lot of good reasons why I should do the marketing and social media for my ministry.
It all started as an item on my “honey do” list. Whenever my wife (and co-minister, Cynthia Vermillion-Foster) needed a flyer for classes or workshops, she’d ask me to “make it look pretty” for her. She loves to teach. So, I got a lot of practice over the years and I got a lot better at making flyers. It also helped that I started paying attention to advertisements that got my attention in a positive way.
Like many small ministries, I had a succession of people who quit after a short time of managing the website because their lives became more complicated. So, that fell into my lap, too. Somebody had to do it and I was the best candidate. So, marketing has been an experience of on-the-ground-learn-as-you-go marketing for a family-sized ministry. As I learn (and I still am), I keep my eye on the goal—increase visibility and name recognition; attract like-minded seekers; and have fun.
According to Marketing for Dummies, marketing is “the process through which you create—and keep—customers.” It includes everything from attracting people to your ministry (ads, social media, word of mouth, etc.) to keeping them once they step through the doors (a welcoming atmosphere, a transformative message, a prosperous appearance, etc.). So, no single person can really market the ministry well, even if you are a larger ministry that hires an expert. Like most things in ministry, it is a community effort. Even Unity’s catchy tagline, “a positive path for spiritual living,” needs people to spread it around. Look at the big name companies. They spend a lot of time, money and energy making sure you know their taglines and associate their logos with them. Because marketing encompasses so many things, I want to talk about just a few that have worked for me—the branding (which includes that catchy phrase above), website and welcoming space.
Establishing Our Brand
In 2011, Unity of Greater Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, purchased the branded material. We were excited about it from the first presentation at the 2010 conference. The potential of the unification and name recognition that is offered by the brand is still exciting. But, it initially took some time to figure out how best to use it. The UWM webinars were a great start and I still use them as a resource. But each ministry is a culture unto itself and requires a different approach to marketing.
Not every approach will work for every ministry or culture. So, through experimenting over a period of years (all the while hoping someone would come and save me), I found a way that feels right for our ministry. I created a letterhead for Unity of Greater Hamilton and business cards for staff (with a picture) as well as small identity cards for members. We have our own tithing envelopes, prayer and greeting cards. Everything that goes into print has the Unity of Greater Hamilton look and logo. Unity of Greater Hamilton is not yet a household name. But we’re working on it.
We moved to our current location in Feb 2016 (just about 5 months from this writing). As a result, we spent a couple thousand Canadian dollars marketing to the new area. That included signs, flyers, imprinted cups and pens as well as another few thousand on an outdoor wall sign. Our name was getting out there. Soon after our move, the Wholistic Wellness community contacted me and asked if we would like to participate in their expo. A number of people in our community spent two hours each talking about Unity and handing out brochures (courtesy of Stout Printing. To look at the Stout Printing site and products use “unity” as user name and password. If you’d like to become part of our Unity Identity Program you’ll be able to order and will be given your own user name and password with your logo on all products).
Then, because I use the business discount program at Staples (giving me 10% off), they know me and invited me to be one of five businesses to be endorsed during a promotional event. We have people calling who want to rent our space. They found out about us through friends, the website or Facebook and, as a result of these same resources, we see new faces on a pretty regular basis.
Establishing Our Social Media Presence
I recently have been able to pass the Facebook management on to members of the community. I still monitor it to be sure the message is consistent. Although it doesn’t actually bring a lot of people to our doors, it is another way to reach people with the Unity message and I consider them as part of our virtual community. So, we post every day to keep it from being stagnant. I still do the website myself and keep it fresh by changing pictures regularly, blogging daily and updating the calendar and events. My next step is to invite people to tweet, or post to Facebook that they are at Unity before turning off their phones.
Establishing an Inviting Space
The last thing I want to mention is the physical space of the ministry. I used to say that the space isn’t all that important. It’s all about the mission, the people and the message. But, at the time, we were meeting in the basement of anther faith group with no windows and noisy plumbing. After we moved, I was amazed at what I had become accustomed to and tuned out. We now have a space that is well lit, has warm and inviting energy, and encourages a sense of calm and community. As a result, I understand the value of the right space.
When people walk in, they want to look around. They want to be a part of the experience that is taking place. Immediately, they know what we’re about because we have the vision and mission stenciled on the front wall. A member of our community made a banner that says, “Welcome to Unity of Greater Hamilton” and the circle emblem is sewn on it for everyone to see as they walk in. The emblem is also sewn on the altar at the front of our main room. A team of people decided colors and accents and it is beautiful. We have created a space that invites the exploration, discovery and expression of Spirit and it makes a difference. But space alone isn’t going to keep people coming.
There is an expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, it takes a community to raise a ministry from being unknown to being a household name. It takes patience and it takes commitment. It also takes someone who knows and can articulate the Unity message, which is why I ended up doing Facebook and the website. There don’t seem to be any set formulas for marketing success. So, as you stumble through or glide through with grace, remember to have fun. Marketing is, after all, another way of getting the Unity message out to the public.