Marketing The Difference Factor For Your Church | Justin Wise

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Justin Wise, a marketing guru, shares how churches can do a better job at attracting people, in our communities, who are likely to be interested in who we are and what we have to offer.

Podcast Transcription


Jason Hamrock: [00:00:08] Well, hey, Justin, welcome to the show. Glad to have you here. How’s it going?

Justin Wise: [00:00:14] Hey, I appreciate the invite. It’s going well.

Jason Hamrock: [00:00:17] Well, good, awesome. Hey, for our listeners, just kind of give a brief background. You know, your history, what you’ve been up to, where you’re headed, that kind of a thing. That’d be great.

Justin Wise: [00:00:29] Yeah. So I graduated seminary in 2006 and had every intention of being a lifelong ordained Lutheran minister, if you can believe it. And I worked at a Lutheran megachurch, they do exist and everything was going swimmingly. And then I decided one day like, hey, I’m not sure that this is actually for me. And, you know, people hear that and they take it a number of different ways. But really what it came down to was, that I loved the people I worked with, we still attend the church, but there was a vision that I felt was bigger than what I was living out in the church. And so six months after I graduated seminary, which was hilarious, the timing of it, I left my position at the church and started consulting. And long story short, what I did at the church was what we call it now, digital marketing, but back then we didn’t call it that, we call it outreach or, you know, these sorts of things. And so that’s what I ended up helping other churches do is integrating, you know, things like social media, email marketing. We eventually created a course, sold that course to an amazing company, and then started focusing in on small business owners, doing the same type of stuff, but not so much for churches anymore, but for small businesses. And have built a couple of businesses since that point. Really, that’s what I do, I hang out mostly on the marketing side and help business owners, founders, and CEOs build attention-grabbing brands. That’s kind of like my favorite thing to do when I wake up. And yeah, so, I’m married, happily married, with three amazing kids, and just trying to make a difference.

Jason Hamrock: [00:02:32] There you go. I love that story. And I kind of have a similar story, and I worked in a church for a long time and I left the staff position, and now I find myself getting to serve lots of churches instead of just one because I’m on mission kind of like you’re on a mission, you wanted to find that sweet spot, where is God calling you? And for me, it’s about helping churches, helping churches digitally reach more people. And so, you know, this is so exciting for me because this is what you’re doing for businesses. And that old saying or adage that the church tends to be ten years behind of where the secular technology’s going or just the business practices and things of that nature, that’s kind of our mission is like how can we bring them up more up to speed because we have the best message ever in sharing the good news with people, but we’re a little behind in using some of these practices and these principles. So that’s kind of where I want to dive in today, what are some of those things when you’re consulting or you’re talking to a business on how to help them build a brand and build their business, what does that look like and what can the church learn from that?

Justin Wise: [00:03:49] I mean, ultimately, the principle that applies to any organization, church, business, nonprofit, or anywhere in between, is really identifying your, what we would call, your difference factor. Because the way marketing works now, we’re so bombarded with messages, we’re bombarded with inputs, we’re bombarded with all these different people and businesses and companies and organizations trying to get our attention, that you really have to, you can’t rely on kind of maybe bombastic tactics that you could in the past. And so the difference maker, at least what we’re seeing now, is identifying, okay, in a church context, this is who we are, which also includes answering the question, this is who we are not. And this is, again, in a church context, this is what we are called to do, these are the people were called to reach. And when you sound like every other organization on the planet, that’s where you lose, so you’re behind the eight ball even before you start talking about tactics.

Justin Wise: [00:05:01] So when we work with a business, and really any church could certainly do this is to say, okay, what’s your difference factor? What makes you unique? Why do you stand apart from the rest? You know, some people might call this a USP, a unique selling proposition, and churches aren’t used to using that type of language, but absolutely every church has a USP. I’ll give you an example, the church that I used to work at was a Lutheran, and still is, a Lutheran megachurch. There are not many Lutheran mega-churches on this planet, in fact, there are a handful of them. And I worked at one, that is a USP, it’s an ELCA church, if you don’t know anything about Lutherans, that’s like the main denomination, and so that is totally a difference factor for that church. And so even before you start talking about tactics or tools to use, you really have to identify, okay, what’s our core message? What’s our difference factor? What makes us unique? And how do we use that in a way that is going to attract the people that, again, in a church context, God has called us to reach? So that’s the starting point, and to be honest with you, like, that’s super difficult. When I used to work with churches, we would spend a lot of time wading through those two kinds of components because everyone wants to get to where should we be on YouTube or should we be on LinkedIn or should we be on Twitter or should we be on you twit face or whatever it is.

Jason Hamrock: [00:06:43] Whatever the latest and greatest is.

Justin Wise: [00:06:45] Yeah. Should we be on TikTok? That’s the big thing now. And that is so, that’s a later conversation, the primary conversation is what’s your difference factor?

Bart Blair: [00:06:58] Let me jump in here, Justin, that’s very interesting because, in the church world, one of the things that we know is true is that there’s a lot of copycat ministry that takes place. Churches look at other churches, this maybe isn’t necessarily what goes through their head in their hearts consciously, but they want to achieve the same type of success that they see other churches achieving, whether that’s numeric, or it’s community impact, or it’s just platform notoriety, whatever it is, there’s something that we’re pursuing as churches and as church leaders, and we see other people who seem to have found the golden ticket, and we want some of that. Can you help us understand the difference between studying and copying best practices that churches might be implementing to accomplish those things, versus copying churches and their ministry model, their philosophy, and those sorts of things? Right? You’re talking about differentiation, your USP. That was the language you use, right, not UFC, but the USP. What what’s the difference? How do we help church leaders see the difference between borrowing best practices versus simply being copycat churches?

Justin Wise: [00:08:20] Yeah. This is a tough question, because like in a business context, it’s super easy, it’s like, oh, wow, you know, you sell widgets and your competitor sells widgets and your competitor sells more widgets than you do. So it is useful, I wouldn’t say it’s primarily useful, but it can be useful to look at how are they selling more widgets. So it’s a little more cut and dry, whereas, with churches, we’re not selling anything, at least not hopefully. We’re not selling anything, we are all on the same team wearing different jerseys, and so the reality is you may have a club soccer team, you may also have the Dallas Cowboys, which is the most valuable sports franchise on the planet.

Bart Blair: [00:09:12] Amen.

Justin Wise: [00:09:12] I knew you’d like that one.

Jason Hamrock: [00:09:17] You had to go there, didn’t you?

Justin Wise: [00:09:18] Yes. But the key, and this is where it takes some gut-level honesty and listening to the Spirit, in saying who have you called, if you’re a pastor, me to be, and what type of church have you called me to lead? And being okay with the answer. Because if you’re not okay with the answer, the second half of that question doesn’t really matter, best practices and all that kind of stuff, because if you are not content with…So there’s a lot of listening, right? It’s like for me, I have to ask the question, what type of business am I able to build? I’ll never be an Elon Musk, I’ll never be a Richard Branson, never, in a million years, it’s not going to happen, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from them, right? And so that’s where it gets tricky, because you first have to address the question of, we’re all in the same team here, we’re all going for the same goal, or at least we are conceptually, and I’ve worked with enough churches to know that sometimes that’s not always the case. Sometimes there’s a lot of competition, there’s a lot of ego involved, and we just have to be real about that. And so assuming we can get past that, we have to then identify what kind of churches God calling us to be. What kind of leader is He calling me to be? How can I become a better leader, number one? Number two, how can I lead the people in front of me better? And then we can look at the best practices. Because if you start injecting best practices into, or layering, I should say, best practices on a faulty foundation, you’re going to compress issues within the organization.

Justin Wise: [00:11:18] So, for instance, I once worked with a church, I will keep this as broad and generic as possible, and there is a certain leader there who is very much about growing his platform, growing his brand. I mean, I’m not making these words up, this is the language that he and the staff would use. And so injecting growth into an environment like that is disastrous, because it only compresses down on those hairline fractures that most people don’t get to see. So I know that’s kind of like big picture, but when you start talking about best practices, you always have to ask yourself, like, is numerical growth, let’s just center in on that, is numerical growth a good thing for me right now? Because like, I’ll work with businesses and I’ll ask them that question. I’ll say, if I added 100 new clients into your business tomorrow, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? In almost all cases, they would say that’s a bad thing. Why do they say that? The purpose of a business is to grow, right? Well, they say that because they know we don’t have the infrastructure, we don’t have staff, we’re not tight in our operations, we’re not super clear on who that best client actually is, and so adding more to the plate would be a very bad thing for them, it would hurt them. And I think God in his kindness allows us to wrestle with those questions until, and as we are developing answers for that. So I’m trying to make this super practical, but also the reality is the tactics are so inconsequential. I don’t want to say they don’t matter because they do, but they’re very small pieces of the puzzle.

Jason Hamrock: [00:13:34] Yeah, that makes sense to me. I mean, I just was on a call with a church that we’re stepping in to help with communications. I asked them that question, who is your target audience? They couldn’t answer.

Justin Wise: [00:13:46] No, most can’t.

Jason Hamrock: [00:13:47] They have no idea, they are guessing and they’re like, actually, we don’t even know. Well, if you just say people, well, that’s good, you know, you’re not going after horses, like, you’re going after people. Okay, cool, we’ve narrowed it down to human beings, but let’s get a little more specific because then it really helps you articulate your message and your colors and images you use, tags, all that kind of stuff because you’re going after a specific audience, and then you can…Now I think this is what you’re saying, then you can layer in those tactics to generate material that’s going to help you generate more leads for that target audience.

Justin Wise: [00:14:26] Yeah, I just recently wrote on what I’m calling the million-dollar marketing plan, and I’ll share the framework here in case this would be helpful to somebody listening. Because anybody can use this, it doesn’t matter, you don’t have to be a business for this to work. But it’s real simple, it’s a specific person, a specific outcome, a specific process, specific product. Person, outcome, process, product, and knowing those four components is what I call the million-dollar marketing plan. So when you talk about a specific person, it’s envisioning not this kind of esoteric, philosophical person that you want to reach, or this generalized kind of like you were saying, super generic type person, it’s usually what we like to do is get a first name and a last name of a real person that you feel like, man, in a church context, if my church was filled with hundreds of this person, I would be in Eden, man, I would be in glory serving these people. And more importantly, this is who I feel drawn to, this is who the Spirit is drawing me to, to serve in this community. So who’s your specific person? Specific outcome? What outcome does your organization provide for your specific person? So they come to you, how do they leave any different, thinking, feeling, acting, any different? That’s your specific outcome. And getting really concrete with it, putting handlebars on it. You know, churches will use a version of connect, grow, and serve, right? You hear that a lot, in different forms and variations, and that’s okay. One of my favorite restaurants here in town is a super high-end Mexican restaurant, but they use the exact same ingredients as the Taco John’s down the street, right, beef, chicken, pork, and some variation of, like, a tortilla. Churches are the exact same, like, we all use the same ingredients. But what is the outcome that you’re providing the person when they come to your church? The specific process is how you deliver the outcome to your person. So this is going to be your experience, what do they call them now? Experience directors, or like XP or executive pastors will deal with this, worship sometimes takes responsibility for that, but what’s the process by which you deliver the outcome to your person? And then product, and sometimes folks in the faith-based communities don’t like this word, but the reality is you have a product, you deliver something. For many churches that’s going to be the weekend experience, that’s the vehicle you use to deliver the process to your person to achieve the outcome. So I did that very quickly, but like, anybody can use that framework and start filling it out. And I know like when we start working with businesses and we want to plan out their blueprint, we don’t do anything until we get answers for those four questions because it’s just a waste of time, it’s a waste everybody’s time and money if you don’t.

Bart Blair: [00:17:43] Justin, you said you’ve written on that, is that like blog content, or are you writing a book? Where can we find that content?

Justin Wise: [00:17:51] I am writing about it, I think I made a thread about it a while ago, but the reason why it’s on my mind is because I’m writing for my newsletter, I think it’s coming out in two or three weeks. So we’re recording this obviously, by the time it comes out, I don’t know if it will be published by then, but folks can always check it out. JustinWise.Net. It may or may not be posted yet, I don’t know.

Bart Blair: [00:18:15] If it is, we’ll make sure that we link to it in our show notes. And if it’s not, well, we’ll link to it in the show notes later on, so.

Justin Wise: [00:18:24] That’s great.

Jason Hamrock: [00:18:24] One of those things, I really, really appreciate that. A lot of our listeners are like church communications, or there are XPs and lead pastors who tune in. But you know, a lot of communications people, which I know and having conversations with them, you know, they’re they’re killing themselves every week trying to get their message out. And they’re just taking cues from leadership on this is what we…And then you might have a brand, like, we stay within brand, but they don’t really know what that means. So I think it’s one of those things where I think we can help equip communications team members on those questions to ask. If you can’t answer those questions, go to your leadership and say, can we answer these questions? Because you’re right, win, build, send. Okay, great, but that doesn’t help us understand who we’re trying to target in all of our messaging and our ministries and everything just fits in with that target audience. And so there seems like there’s a lot of work to do for churches to have to figure that out.

Justin Wise: [00:19:24] If there’s someone here, I want to speak to, these nudges come occasionally and I’ve learned to just go with them. There’s going to be somebody here listening to this episode who’s in a communications director or whatever type of role, and they’re going to be like, man, you are preaching my language. I’ve been trying to say this, I so agree with you, however, I am up against leadership that is either confrontational, or dismissive, or frankly, in my case, in most cases, they’re just so busy they don’t have time to think about that stuff. So if that’s you, and you’re in that communications role, what I want to suggest to you is to start doing this work on your own. Start, because if you have the access to those channels, you can influence that message. Now, what I’m not suggesting is to completely go out and left field and start posting whatever you want. Or, you know, crafting communications however you feel fit. No. What I am saying, though, is to start asking those questions that we just went through, and strategically start molding your communication strategy around those four answers.

Justin Wise: [00:20:44] I’ll give you an example, a pastor that I used to work with, we used to work with the senior pastor of the church I was at, amazing guy, we’re friends to this day. But when I first started doing this church communication work, because that’s what I did in my church, he was not real receptive to it, let’s put it that way. So I just did it anyway and I didn’t tell him. Now, I wouldn’t recommend that for everybody, especially because he was my boss at the time. But here’s the kicker, when he saw what I was doing and when he saw how it advanced the mission of the church, he was on board immediately. So that’s kind of the whole push behind this is, most likely your church has some sort of mission, vision, values, whatever, the more you can tie your million dollar marketing plan into what already exists and then demonstrate how it’s achieving those things, that’s why I say to you, like be, I call it civil disobedience, right? So sometimes you just have to disobey for what’s best in your organization. So I don’t know why that came to mind, but if it helps someone out there.

Bart Blair: [00:22:05] We need to put a disclaimer on this podcast episode in case anyone loses their job. I just did what Justin, Bart, and Jason told me to do. Yeah, nope. That’s good.

Jason Hamrock: [00:22:18] I agree with you, my first thought was what you’re going to say is quit. Don’t quit your job. Don’t quit your job. Try, and actually do that. I think sometimes you have to, you’re the communication director. In a sense, the church has hired you to be the expert on this. Now, if your lead pastor is very, very good at communicating, they should be because they’re preaching and that kind of thing, but there are some impacts you can make in terms of language and the things you’re saying. For example, if you feel like if we could just target 35-year-old Andy, who’s a dad and a husband, but kind of go to church but doesn’t really, you know, he’d rather go play golf kind of a thing. Then maybe your messaging could target him to get him to engage and be the hero of his family and come to church this week and see what kind of response you get. Right? You could try that stuff, you know, and why not, and see where it goes. But you got to figure that stuff out. Now, if you wait for permission to do that, it might be a long day for you.

Justin Wise: [00:23:24] Don’t wait for permission, but also don’t get yourself in a position where you are flagrantly violating the established rules of your church. For us, it was easy because we didn’t have any rules around that yet, we didn’t have any established guidelines yet. This is back in 2006, so there was nothing back then.

Jason Hamrock: [00:23:24] Yeah.

Justin Wise: [00:23:55] So now, yeah, I’m certainly not suggesting that you get yourself in hot water, but you will need to push it.

Bart Blair: [00:24:06] It’s stewardship, right? You as the communications director are given a space, a lane, and a responsibility. And you need, and sometimes you do have to take some risks and push the boundaries, but you need to do those in a way in which you’re building more trust rather than breaking the trust down that your leaders have. So calculated risks, strategic risks, tactical patience in everything. You don’t just start throwing stuff at the wall hoping that something sticks. That’s one of the things that Jason and I and the coaches that we get to lead on our team, we love to sit with communications directors and help them strategize and think through what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. We bring a perspective that they don’t necessarily always have because we’re not a part of their church and we don’t see everything that goes on inside. But we all have experience in church, so we know, the big picture, how a church is operating, how senior pastors think, and how the rest of the staff is vying for their space and their time in the communications lanes. And so, yeah, I think there’s some really, really good advice in there, Justin, leading up is really, really complicated. But again, as the expert in the area of communication, as Jason pointed out, you’ve got the responsibility of being the one who actually leads in that area. You don’t lead the whole church in all likelihood, but you lead in that area and you can earn more trust by demonstrating that you’re good and you’re faithful and you’re trustworthy with the trust you’ve been given.

Justin Wise: [00:25:42] Hmm.

Jason Hamrock: [00:25:42] So I think the takeaway for some people, not everybody because some people might have this right on cue, but if they’re sort of lost and it’s like every season, you know that the church goes through the season after season after season…We’re coming out of COVID, so I think there’s kind of some excitement because I think churches are experiencing some growth, which is amazing. And I see that growth, it’s not necessarily Christians hopping because at our church we just had a baptism weekend where almost 200 people were baptized. So we’re seeing some growth, which is really, really cool. What’s your advice to that person that is stuck, other than just trying something? I mean, how do they even begin to understand who their target audience is?

Justin Wise: [00:26:33] So if this were a business, I would ask, who pays you the most and the easiest? That’s not a question that I would necessarily want to ask at a church, though, for obvious reasons. You know, I don’t really see that in the pages of the New Testament. I don’t see the disciples looking around and saying, who gave us the most donations the last month? Oh, let’s go serve them. No. But you do have to start somewhere, right? You have to start somewhere. And what I would suggest is like, well, there’s a couple of ways you could do it. I won’t get into the tactics because there are a couple of different ways you can actually tactically do this, but big picture, I think you need to find out, okay, where is there movement? Where is the most momentum in our church right now? What’s working and what’s working really well? And conversely, what’s working not so well? And the measurements for that are going to be totally up to you, they’re subjective, but the gist of the question is what’s working and what’s working really well? And I was like to answer on the tail end of that, as I mentioned, what’s not working so well? Then you can start to see, okay…

Justin Wise: [00:27:52] I’ll give you an example. There’s a church I worked with way back in the day and they saw that, man, our VBS is just crushing. We don’t know how, we don’t know why, but all these kids just, like, show up. And we know we don’t have this many kids at our church, so they’re like, these kids or their parents, they’re inviting other neighborhood kids to the church for VBS. And what we also know is that when we get, let’s just call it 100 kids, new kids, to VBS, that contributes to an uptick in church attendance by like, let’s just call it 10%. I don’t remember the real numbers, but let’s just call it that. So what they saw was like the more kids that come to VBS, at least in our church, the more members, we’re not talking about just attendance, we’re talking about members, the more members we seem to get at our next go round for new member class. That’s a really important connection, so what’s working really well? VBS is killing it, so what they ended up doing was resourcing VBS more. What was not working so well? And these are tough conversations, these are not easy conversations. What was not working so well, was men’s ministry. There was a beloved figure, let’s just call it that, leading the men’s ministry. And because of that belovedness, a lot of resources went to that to that ministry. But they could see pretty clearly through attendance of events, through retaining, I guess, excitement, and most importantly, the contribution, at least for this church, the contribution it made to weekend attendance was insignificant, had no impact, virtually none. And so through tough conversations, they said, okay, we are going to keep resources of men’s ministry the same, which in effect means they were getting less because budgets always go up. So having those tough conversations. But let me tell you why it’s important from a communications standpoint. Because communications is a resource, so table tents, real practically, like table tents are resources. So what does that mean? Well, VBS gets more table tents, you know, out in the coffee shop, men’s ministry gets fewer table tents. VBS gets more mainstage time on weekend announcements, and Men’s Ministry gets fewer weekend announcements. So it’s not just dollars and cents, it’s also communications, everything from bulletin placement, to newsletter placement, to how we talk about what we’re talking about. And so really looking at what’s our mission, what’s our vision, what’s our values? What ministries have the most impact on that? And then doing an audit of how those resources are going to these ministries from a communications perspective.

Jason Hamrock: [00:31:03] But that’s great advice because you want to be on a winning team, and so keep going with what’s working in your church.

Justin Wise: [00:31:10] Yeah, so you just have to. And by the way, like, we see this in the New Testament. We see the disciples, after Jesus ascends, basically discerning what resources are going to go where. How do we divvy up the limited amount of resources we have? So much so that like they got in fights about, man, I don’t want to sit around and wait tables and serve widows, and these widows are complaining that they don’t get the same amount of food as these folks over here. So this is a tale as old as time. And what happens, do they disband? No, they had tough conversations to the point where Peter and Paul were like, hey, I love you, see you in glory, but I’m out, we’re not talking anymore. So hopefully that doesn’t happen, but the point is, that having those tough conversations and allocating resources based on the impact of the mission, vision, and values, is so important. But it’s difficult, which is why it rarely happens.

Bart Blair: [00:32:14] Justin, this has been a great conversation and I’m looking at the clock and I’m realizing that we’re really coming close to the end of our time. And the truth is, we haven’t even really cracked the surface on what Jason and I really wanted to talk to you about today, so I think it’s probably best for us to maybe kind of land the plane here with this conversation today, and then offline we will beg you to see if we can get you back on later this season and have the conversation that we really wanted to have today. But it’s been great to get to know you, and just to hear your heart, and to hear some of these very, very practical things. I know that on one level, you’re kind of saying big picture at a lot of this, but even your big picture is a lot more practical and tactical than what a lot of people are able to extrapolate. So I really appreciate that. Jason, is there anything that you would like to add or ask Justin before we wrap the show up today?

Jason Hamrock: [00:33:08] No, but I am excited for that newsletter to come out so that we can put that in the show notes. Because I think there are some nuggets I think, church, we need to take from what leaders like Justin are doing. He’s a guy who’s served in the church and now he’s serving in the marketplace, and some of those same practices and those same skill sets carry over. So don’t ignore that, grab it and tweak it to your system and the way you do things, but that’s what I would do. So I look forward to maybe a continued conversation about some other deeper topic, some of the tactical stuff that I’d love to pick your brain on.

Justin Wise: [00:33:53] Happy to help.

Bart Blair: [00:33:55] Justin, any parting thoughts or parting shots for our audience, our listeners?

Justin Wise: [00:34:00] Yeah. I mean, if you enjoyed the conversation, I would love to have you on our newsletter,, it’s totally free, it comes out once a week on Fridays, and we put forth what I think is really practical, straightforward advice to grow your impact through attention grabbing marketing. So church leaders may have to do a little bit of translation, but it could totally work for anyone listening to it. So you can sign up at, it’s right there on the front page. We’d love to have you guys on board.

Jason Hamrock: [00:34:34] Awesome, thank you, Justin, we appreciate it.

Bart Blair: [00:34:36] Thanks so much for joining us today.

Justin Wise: [00:34:38] You bet, gang. Talk soon.


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