Some people get deeply offended at the combination of the words "church" and "marketing." However, as I mentioned in an earlier post, church attendance and membership is shrinking around the country. The only time the Plain Dealer puts a church on its front page is when it's closing. We'll never see the headline "Growing attendance at Bethany's Wednesday Lenten services" even though it's true. Churches sometimes act like the people will simply come through their doors because they always have. We know that isn't true, though; we know intuitively that something must be done to keep from becoming irrelevant.
I always hope that music can help draw people to the church. However, I have occasional doubts since the press also loves to run stories about some business using Bach's music to drive teenagers away. In my family's own experience, children won't approach a house on Halloween if Bach's "Tocatta and Fugue in d minor" is playing loudly on the porch! Whoopi Goldberg scares her students in Sister Act 2 when she announces they will sing in a choir.
What can a church musician do? Some churches switch to contemporary music or even "Christian Rock." The ELW uses inclusive language and world music. My approach is to use the widest possible variety of sounds within the Lutheran tradition, to write this blog as an attempt to communicate and connect with musicians and congregants, and simply to keep asking questions and searching for new ideas. Some days that seems like frustratingly little, but it's worth the struggle for the one person who enjoys a prelude or a new reader who connects with the church and its music differently.
Pastor's sermon on the 9th and 10th commandments pointed out the dangers of marketing, but I'd like to suggest that marketing is simply a tool for sharing information. The product can be of any quality. We might, like John Stuart Mill, distinguish between the higher and lower goods and activities available to us. What a shame if only the lowest quality, least fulfilling things are marketed! Let's pick up the tools and use them for good instead. How will people know about our church if we don't ever spread the word?
On Palm Sunday, Pastor noted that Christ asks us who we say he is. Maybe some of the best "marketing" is simply to follow his example and keep asking that question of the world and those around us. I don't claim to have a brilliant solution to any of the problems churches face, but it is so important that we keep thinking about them and exploring new options. What is our purpose? How will we measure our success? (One of my favorite blogs on this topic is here.)
Have a brilliant idea of how music ministry can help with marketing and outreach? Have a favorite piece of music you want to hear? Leave a comment or send an email anytime!