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What Your Church can Learn About Marketing from a Thai Restaurant

What Your Church can Learn About Marketing from a Thai Restaurant

Let me ask you something – should churches be into marketing? After all, it’s the Gospel of Christ that we’re “selling”? Is it really appropriate? Should we be following secular ways?

My answer, is an unequivocal ABSOLUTELY! Here’s why:

In the first century, there were two major, secular “conduits” that allowed the Gospel to spread – the amazing road and port infrastructure (thank you to Caesar and the pagan, Roman Empire) and the almost universally spoken koine Greek language (thank you to the pagans in Greece). Without those, the church probably wouldn’t be what she is in the 21st Century AD.

And today, those physical conduits have been largely supplanted by two equally pervasive ones. Branding (hence the need for marketing) and media.

What is a brand? Best definition I’ve ever heard is from Phil Cooke (see my blogroll to the right):

A brand is a compelling story that surrounds a person, a product or an organisation.

And the flip side of that coin from a marketing perspective is, as Seth Godin put it more recently, that:

Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.

So, if the Church is in the business of telling God’s compelling story – aka the Gospel – and if branding and marketing are the Roman roads and Greek language of the 21st century, why are we so bad at this?!

Sure, there are some notable exceptions, but in the main, well … you know.

I swear, if I see one more of those corny signs that someone produces, hanging woutside a drab, boring, grubby little church building that hasn’t changed for the last 50 years, I’m gonna scream! Is it any wonder they’re not knocking our doors down to meet Jesus?

So … what’s the Thai Restaurant have to do with all of this?  

Well a few weeks back I visited an average looking Thai restaurant in a fairly ordinary little place called Buderim (Queensland Australia) – nice, but nothing fancy you understand. The name of the establishment is Thai Frenzy. It seats, I’m guessing, about 35 to 40 people.

Food was great, service was great. The thing that caught my eye though, was the small flyer on our table. It basically said this:

To thank you for your feedback, we would like to give you a FREE 3 course Thai meal for your birthday.

And there was a flick ‘n tick feedback form on the back, together with a spot to put your name, mobile phone number and email address so they could send you the voucher for your free meal. Pretty good offer I thought (although granted, the flyer I guess could have had a little more pizzaz to it). So I went and asked the owner Gareth (no he ain’t even Thai) about it.

This is what he told me:

Well,” he said “we’ve been doing this for about 3 years and we have …”  wait for this, it’ll knock your socks off “… we have around 3,500 names on our database now. We send them special offers and things and these days, most nights we’re full.”

Just let that sink in. A small, ordinary restaurant, in an ordinary place with a simple marketing idea, with an okay (but not stunning) execution tool. And they’re going … gangbusters! Why?

Three reasons. Firstly they do have a great product. Secondly, they’ve found a way of engaging their audience by asking them what they think, and making them an offer they can’t refuse. And thirdly, they’ve found a way to do some ongoing marketing to keep people coming back (because in our busy world, how quickly we forget even the “great products” in our lives).

Don’t know about you, but I know lots and lots of ordinary churches, in ordinary places, that have a pretty good, sometimes even brilliant “product”. God is moving in those faith communities, touching people, healing them, transforming their lives.  But have they figured out a way of telling people about it? Have they figured out a way of expressing their compelling value proposition to their consituency in such a way as to make it “an offer people can’t refuse?”

And I’m not talking about turning our churches into some shallow compromise that appeals to the world. Not at all.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matt 5:14-16)

Your thoughts? …


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15 Comments

  1. Hi Berni,

    Sorry if I have come across agro.
    I did not write to demean your comments in this blog.
    But as you said, this is the classic “argument” for and against.

    I recognise you have a good experience and Godly wisdom.
    And I am often enlighten when listening to your radio programs and reading your books.
    Keep the discussion flowing!
    God Speed!

    • Marco,

      You have to get a lot more agro to get me upset! 🙂

      It’s easy both to over-spiritualise and under-spiritualise this issue. As someone who’s written a book on prayer and another in faith, I’m not one to under-spiritualise.

      My concern is that the issue of effective communication with the secular mindset is often over-spiritualised. By that I mean that we don’t reach effectively into the vernacular culture.

      What we find in God’s Word is that He is a very edgy communicator. To the Magi (astrologers) He sent … a star. awesome! That’s just one example. There are s many more.

      Blessings,
      Berni

  2. Interesting reading – Marco had some good insights re the anointing of God.
    While I hear what Berni is saying, here in Australia we need to accept that the good church services is Aust. are for the equipping of the saints.
    Sadly many churches have simply very little idea of how to relate to one another, let alone the unconverted, and are in many ways incredibly out of touch.

    Unless and until we get serious about prayer and humble ourselves before God (as did the church in early Acts, and people since (where the Spirit has moved with power)) we are simply playing games.
    Yes, the sad facts are that many of us are ashamed of the gospel – but won’t own that reality or allow God to deal with that. Many of us try to mimic someone else we deem as “successful” without allowing God work in His way in our situation.
    While I hear about marketing, and do not dismiss that concept, without God’s anointing and empowering we can do nothing.

    A final question someone may be able to help me on, Why can we motivate the church to have activity, and strategy, even ‘outreach’, but when it comes to humbly seeking God in prayer and wait on Him to act, generally speaking, motivation is often absent?

    • David,

      I totally agree with you. Jesus: apart from me you can do nothing. And as I heard one preacher say once, “nothing means … nothing!”

      The tragedy in terms of prayer is that most times we tend to do first and pray later. That’s one of the main reasons our plans fail. We expect God to follow along behind us, rather than the other way around. Prayer for many is a point of last resort.

      The first book I ever wrote was “Unlocking the Power of Prayer”. The thing that struck me so powerfully when I studied God’s Word in writing that book is that the only sort of prayer that the Bible teaches us about is the sort that yields powerful results.

      DOH!

      Why are we so casual about prayer? Because we just don’t realise that apart from Him we can do … nothing! What a tragedy!

      But none of that means that we shouldn’t reach into the vernacular culture of our day (as Jesus did in His day – and boy didn’t that ruffle some feathers!) – and for us today, a large part of that is branding and media – to communicate the Gospel.

      Berni

      • Hi Berni and all those reading this.

        “Jesus has left the building!”

        Yes we can do nothing without the Holy Spirit.
        But if we, His church are willing than God can use any willing donkey. I can’t think what is more exciting than telling people about Jesus.
        But people need to SEE the love of God in action. Meet people where they are at. Invite them to your homme and have coffee mornings or give them a meal and God provides the opportuninty to share about him. Where people don;t feel intimidated by church building and its traditions. I had been running outreach coffee mornings on and off for a few years. I was amazed how many people accepted prayer there and than. Prayer is a universal language.
        So, lets get out there and pray for people. With people. Our church does healing on the streets twice a month and miracles have happened. TheChurch Has Left The Building!

      • Amen! couldn’t agree more Valaentina,
        the ministry begins when we leave the building, now that’s not saying we don’t minister to people who come to our church, but people must look at people in the streets and listen for the prompts of the holy spirit. you know when you are in a supermarket or just in a line with people and l just start to have a chat,, 9 times out of 10 people will be sharing life with you, l will ask if they would like me to pray with them,,, l have never been told no yet! you see people want and need hope and someone that cares and isn’t judging them, just loving them. God knows!
        God bless,
        Sandy

  3. Thanks for sharing this pearl of wisdom.

    However I have a different perspective on the subject.

    First of all I disagree with your thesis that in the first century the church was spread thanks to the Roman Empire infrastructure and the lingua franca Koine Greek.

    The main REAL reason was the pouring of the Holy Spirit over a number of Jewish disciples (the remnant) that, only because of that, spread the Message of Christ throughout the ends of the known world of the day.

    Even with the Roman Empire infrastructure and the Koine Greek, without the Holy Spirit nothing was made that has been made.

    Proof number 1, today we have the internet, facebook, 2 way phones, sms, TV and radio, mega churches, cool songs … way much bigger than the Holy Spirit anointed disciples had back in the 1st C. And comparatively we are doing much worse than them (the love of many is growing cold and colder each day).

    Second, I disagree that we have a product. We have a message of hope to the world. Yes we have a message of love and peace (through faith and submission to Christ). But it is also a message of self denial and death to the world (Luke 9:23) and not conformity with the world (Romans 12).

    Ask people on the streets, or amongst your neighbours or work mates, if they want JESUS and you will see the reaction: rejection. If you haven’t experience that is because you haven’t “spread the good news”!

    JESUS is not a good product and far from a good brand. Same for Eternal Godly life, or even the Ten Commandments (the world is not even interested in keeping the same wife or not coveting what others have).

    Marketing or affluence is not the way to gain souls for the Kingdom.

    If you believe it is, then get all your money and all the money invested in church programs and buildings, and use it to engage the greatest advertisers in the world, and hire call centres to share the Good News to the world. Spam email and sms campaigns.

    Having said that, I agree we should use the internet, facebook, 2 way phones, sms, TV and radio, and cool songs to share the share the Good News with all the people that we know.

    If we only had the courage and the anointing of the Holy Spirit … imagine if each anointed Christian would lead one other person to Christ per year … The Church would double exponentially. Given that an estimated 1/3 of the world is Christian, the whole world would be Christian in 3 years !!!! Not bad heim …

    The said truth is … most of us are ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ …

    Sorry 🙁

    PS: can anyone suggest (in practical terms, for instance 3 steps or suggestions) how we would use the same marketing idea of the Thai rest in your church?

    • Hey Marco,

      thank you so much for your considered response. I’m really pleased you did – because of course this is the classic “argument” for and against.

      Does the Holy Spirit need to be at work in all things? From my perspective that goes without saying. Absolutely. Is prayer needed.

      No – needed is absolutely the wrong word. Prayer is an absolute must.

      From where I sit, it’s not an either-or discussion. Persih the thought, had Jesus been a spiritual couch potato and not got out on the road, what He achieved wouldn’t have been achieved.

      The challenge from where I sit is not to try to replicate what the Thai restaurant did – but to consider how we become effective communicators outside the 4 walls of the church in our own local context, given what it is that we do.

      Anyone else?

      Berni

      • Hi all, l have really enjoyed reading the comments, we all have one heart to reach the lost, sometimes l think it is US that is lost. we try sooo hard to figure out how to bring more people to Christ, well we found that once we stopped trying to figure it out and let Jesus do what Jesus does best….and lead us, then the impossible becomes possible. Just let go and let the Holy Spirit lead, then it is truly breathtaking.. again we go out into the community not with an agenda to preach, but to just love people where they are at, and again the impossible becomes possible. It all starts in your Heart and believing in the impossible. Faith is everlasting.
        God Bless you all.
        Sandy.

    • *yes, we could ask their opinion on our own Churches, now that would be an interesting exercise in reality !!
      *ask what can we do that would make a difference in their everyday lives
      I know we are all busy howevvvver…perhaps if we showed that we were actually interested in what ‘they’ thought, and their concerns, they may think we really do care about them,and let’s face it, it is difficult to ignore a person or message given by someone who shows interest and love for THEIR lives.

      *show compassion as Jesus did,hang out with the downcast as he did, where He did.

      *invite them to a ‘free sausage sizzle’ at our Church/local park, perhaps so they see we don’t have two headsor are dangerous

      *do random acts of kindness wherever and whenever… *smile at them, look them in the eye with the love of God

      In chats I have asked people “do you/what do you think about God, when they say no/I don’t/not much, I ask them do you know what God thinks about you? they look at me and say, it cringingly “no, what?” “I say with His love in my voice/eyes… HE LOVES YOU!!!” Jesus’
      I have found Love IS THE key :o) God works through us all in many different ways I have found. That’s my simple input.

      • Hey Lyneece

        You haven’t been eavesdropping on me while I was writing my next post “Why I Like My Dentist” have you?

        Well said. And watch out for my next post …

        🙂

        Berni

  4. Hi Berni, I live down the coast from your Thai rest’, Sunshine Coast. I’ve used puppets & Magic Drawing board sometimes in church but mainly for kids. Last Xmas @ local shopping centre did half hour show .Youtube: Stockland Xmas intro
    ” ” 1
    ” ” 2
    ” ” 3
    ” ” 2011 epil.

  5. So true – we do have a great product and brand – The Gospel.

    Church is not about entertaining; it’s about equipping the saints first, so they can go to minister to one another and the community.

  6. They say success breeds success. True I think. People are drawn to a crowd, even if only for curiosity sake. We need to show ourselve to the world in ways that engage them. Personally, when I preach occationally, I try to engage people at the level society has tried to train there minds to think, and once you connect at that level, you can then direct, point, indicate to them the real message of hope we are trying to get across. Modern western society has been trained to trust in many things other than God; they’ve been trained to respond to media and glamour, and sensationalisation among other things. They trust science and sound reasoning above superstition and the supernatural, but there is always that longing (not in all but in many) that there must be more. And this way of thinking isn’t just for those outside the church. Aren’t we, to some (or many) levels the product of the same thinking? Is it any wonder why the “super-churches” in America, and the big churches here is Australia seem to keep growing! Just my few cents worth!

  7. And some people wonder why Hillsong is so successful?
    They’re your Buderim Thai Restaurant but and a far grander scale.
    I totally agree with you Berni about those stale & stuffy little signs outside churches that haven’t been changed in many a year.
    Mind you there have been a few I have given thanks to God for showing me that make a statement.

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