Church Marketing and the Boston Red Sox

If you want proof that church and sports have a lot to learn from each other, that we're more similar than we are different, check out this podcast from Boston's Hubspot called "The Growth."

"The Growth" is a show where they interview various leaders in the business world about how to grow a business. There is a particular episode where they interview Adam Grossman, Senior Vice President of the Boston Red Sox Brand and Marketing.

A lot of churches in the mainline progressive traditions are afraid of marketing; they don't even have it in their budgets. It reminds us too much of the proselytizing in more evangelical and fundamentalist churches. But, in my opinion, there's a HUGE difference between proselytizing and evangelizing. Proselytizing is shouting, "You have to believe what I believe or else." Evangelizing is, "I've got an amazing story to tell about all the good things happening in the world." Proselytizing is coercion. Evangelizing is sharing. It's telling a story. It's invitation.

It's important for us to remember that people won't come if you don't invite them. Even more important is to remember that we aren't trying to get people to come because we need our ministry to grow. If that's the case, then you're proselytizing not evangelizing. We are inviting people because we believe in what our church does. We believe it has something to offer the world, something to offer that individual, something that matters and makes a difference. And if you don't believe that, if you don't believe your church or ministry or youth group is making an important difference in the world, then marketing isn't your problem, and you should probably go fix that before you finish reading this post.

But let's assume you do believe your ministry matters. Then why would you not want to share it with the world? Why would you not want to invite your neighbors into this beloved community? In the church, we call it evangelizing. In the sports world, they call it marketing.

Our best marketing is our buildings. And our worst marketing is our buildings. People know our buildings. Often - if you're in New England like me - they're in the center of town. We are a fixture in the community. But often, no one knows what's happening inside those buildings. So everyone thinks of us as nothing more than museums or pretty places to get married. It's not enough to exist. It's not enough to be an architectural fixture in town. We need to tell our story.

We need to spread our message. We need to build relationships. We're hesitant about the idea of proselytizing because it makes us feel too fundamentalist. We're hesitant about the idea of marketing because it makes us feel too much like a institution and not a community. But we are an institution. And we need marketing to sustain the community that we are and the ministry that we do. We need to be in control of our narrative, our institutional image, and Christianity itself. Otherwise, those loud, obnoxious, fear-mongerering voices in the media will do it for us.

So, why the heck don't we sit at the feet and listen to the best marketers talk about what works and apply it to our churches?

Take a listen here as "The Growth" interviews Boston Red Sox SVP of Brand and Marketing.

In the first few minutes, it's easy to see the parallels. It's almost like you're listening to a show about Church Growth:

"For us, what we try to focus on is how to build relationships."

"For us, especially now as technology has expanded and as fans want to consume more content and have more interactions, what we're trying to do is build 365-day-year relationships with our fans."

Just replace "fans" with "congregants" and Adam Grossman might as well be a minister.

How many of us have scolded our congregations, "Church isn't just for Sundays. You should be living your faith everyday"? But how many of us have actually taken the steps to make that a reality? If you tell people faith isn't just for Sunday morning, but your church only functions on Sunday morning, and the only thing outside of Sunday are committee meetings and choir practice, then your actions are going to speak louder than your words. Church will only be a Sunday morning affair, and it will die, and it should die. If we listen to the words of Mr. Grossman, if we focus on true relationships, 365-day-a-year relationships, think about what a different kind of faith that would be. Think about how much the Red Sox means to its fans. If they can instill that amount of meaning into a game, think about what we can do with God.

As Mr. Grossman continues, the parallels grow deeper. He talks about becoming more family-friendly. He mentions the difficulties of maintaining brand allegiance when the players change. He talks about the nostalgia of going with your parents and grandparents. He talks about fair-weather fans. What he calls "Pink Hats," we call "Chreasters" (Christmas-Easter Christians).

Listen to him and seriously take to heart how it applies to your church, especially when it comes to serving our youth and children.

"A child who goes to his/her first game before the age of 5 will go to 58% more games over the course of their lifetime than someone who goes 14 or older. So what we're trying to do is - how do we make sure that we get kids as part of the normal daily elements of Fenway."

I'm gonna go out on a limb here, and bet that this stat is probably true for church too. If you want to build a successful High School ministry,even young adult ministry, even old adult ministry, you need to build it from the foundation up. You need to give kids positive experiences of church from the youngest years onward, otherwise they will reach high school and have already decided that church isn't for them.

Most important, Mr. Grossman goes on to talk about how it's not enough to get the kids in the park, you have to provide the kids with an experience true to their needs and their families' needs. That looks different in every community and every church, but the important lesson here is this: the most important thing is that the kids learn church is for them and that the church actually be for them. No matter how good you teach kids in Sunday School, they're not going to remember the details of most Bible stories you tell them. What they will remember, is the feeling they had when they were at church. Was my church set up for me or was I just a nuisance that got sent to the basement so the adults could worship?

These concepts, marketing, building from the foundations up, being more family friendly, creating a 365-day-experience, it's not just another "how do we save church for the church's sake" pondering. It's a "how do we be better Christians together" exploration. So listen up because we have a lot to learn.


Thanks to the uber talented, barefoot and bearded, drumming and strumming, canoeing and preaching, Rev. Jack Perkins Davidson for this blog post!  You can read more from Jack here, or visit him on Sunday mornings here, or listen to him sing with the birds here.  Thanks for being so awesome, Jack!

Elizabeth MyerComment