UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

In Anne Bokma’s latest Spiritual But Secular column, she reports on church’s attempts to attract folks who are fundamentally opposed to institutional churches. The “Unchurch” movement, she says, “is the latest initiative (along with Messy Church, jazz vespers and pub nights) that tries to grab hold of the slippery spiritual-but-not-religious (SBNR) demographic. But this is one group determined to wriggle free from the church’s net.”

Indeed, the author of Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual But Not Religious (2014) says that this group really isn’t interested in church. So what other business besides faith, I wondered, would work so hard to attract a group of customers who just don’t want what’s being sold?

Still, no one actually knows how many Canadians self-identify as SBNR. Statistics Canada won’t ask about religion again on a census until 2021. But in 2011, about a quarter of Canadians (nearly eight million) said that they had no religious affiliation — up by 50 percent in the decade since 2001. And the number may be much higher; how many of the two million people who checked the “United Church of Canada” box on their 2011 Census form haven’t been in years? Maybe half of Canadians are some form of SBNR? Maybe many more are.

Into these murky questions wades a small army of marketers and public relations professionals. They’re hoping slick, modern, digital communications tools are the missing link between church rejecters and full pews.

What’s at stake? Well, cynically, the church’s future (the United Church, alone, lost a million members and adherents between 2001 and 2011, according to Statistics Canada). So packing the pews with more of these folks and filling collection plates with their earnings is an obvious church survival goal.

Not so cynically, what’s at stake is the opportunity for SBNRs to enrich their own lives and the world by allowing themselves to embrace ancient tradition, a community of faith and the spiritual discipline afforded by religion.

Here are five highly questionable tips for marketing to SBNRs

1. Get them with design

Source: Church Marketing Sucks: an interview with designer Jim LePage (probably the most sophisticated of the online resources)

Premise: Church marketing materials are often awful. Be creative and honest in your materials, and you’ll reach people in new ways. 

Quote: “Design and art have huge potential to question, provoke and push people out of their comfort zones. Sadly, most churches simply view it as a means to an end — a way to reinforce their brand or increase giving.”

Will it work on SBNRs? Maybe. As Bokma’s piece points out, Millennials have less religious baggage than older Canadians. And bold visual design is a critical tool for any 21st century institution.

2. Decorate neighbourhood doors with cute door hangers! (DoorHanger Ministry has its own e-book)

Source: Outreach: Share God’s Love, a Colorado Springs-based Christian answer to VistaPrint

Premise: Let people know what’s happening, and they’ll come flocking

Quote: “Experts will tell you that personal invitations, having your core team and members inviting people, is the most effective way. But what if you want to reach further on a limited budget? DoorHangers may be the best answer.”

Will it work on SBNRs? Unlikely. Thought the “Bait of Satan” door hanger might get hung ironically on the fridge.

3. Facebook ads

Source: Missional Marketing: Expanding the Kingdom, a social media management service for tech-averse churches

Premise: People spend a lot of time on Facebook. Advertise there.

Quote: “FACEBOOK’S MASSIVE AUDIENCE WILL INCLUDE PEOPLE WHO DO NOT GO TO CHURCH. MORE IMPORTANTLY, WE CAN FIND THEM. Using the tools in our platform, we reach UNchurched people.”

Will it work on SBNRs? Well, we all know how much people love Facebook ads.

4. Put it on the lead pastor’s shoulders

Source: Church Marketing University, which offers several church marketing courses online — from enhanced secretarial skills to a better in-church hospitality experience

Premise: Church is about people and relationships, so really work hard on building those relationships

Quote: “Over 86 percent of rapidly growing churches have one thing in common: their lead pastor prioritizes connecting with the next generation.”

Will it work on SBNRs? This course is focused on church plants, and the preview video really pushes the idea of creating an exciting church environment in which people can connect with God. Because it emphasizes human connection, this course seems to be the best bet in connecting with people, generally.

5. Brand it!

Source: Churchleaders.com, a clearing-house of advice for successful churches

Premise: Articulate what your church is and why it’s relevant visually and simply

Quote: “Grasp what your community wants and needs, and you can become a great brand. What problems are you solving for your community? On a practical level? It’s been too long since the church has asked this question.”

Will it work on SBNRs?
Not by itself. But as the above quote notes, figuring out what your church offers locals — and why — is a pretty great place to start, even if you never develop a logo.  



Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
June 2017

Five kinds of environmentalists: which one are you?

By Pieta Woolley

May 2017

Five countries that can school us on tense national holidays

By Pieta Woolley

May 2017

Three times America led the world in famine relief — and twice it did not

By Pieta Woolley

April 2017

Five holy craft beers for our turbulent times

By Pieta Woolley

April 2017

Five predictions for your grandchildren

By Pieta Woolley

March 2017

Five modern distractions that are leading us to our doom

By Pieta Woolley

March 2017

Five hipster teachings for a fresh Lenten practice

By Pieta Woolley

February 2017

Five governments that have imposed contracts on their workers

By Pieta Woolley

February 2017

Five intergalactic ambitions humans probably shouldn’t be trusted with

By Pieta Woolley

January 2017

The five kinds of small towns that want you to abandon your city

By Pieta Woolley

January 2017

Five foods you’d think we could produce enough of in Canada

By Pieta Woolley

December 2016

Five conundrums about the coming pipeline war

By Pieta Woolley

November 2016

Five scientific reasons to let Christmas 2016 jingle all the way

By Pieta Woolley

November 2016

Five awkward ways the 2016 U.S. election was not like 'Les Miserables'

By Pieta Woolley

October 2016

Five reasons why we don’t do family road trips anymore

By Pieta Woolley

October 2016

Five contentious ways Canada could be doing more for Syria

By Pieta Woolley

September 2016

Five radically pro-LGBT worshipping communities aligned with conservative faiths

By Pieta Woolley

September 2016

Five things women better not to wear, or else

By Pieta Woolley

August 2016

Five reasons to fear that the death penalty isn’t, well, dead

By Pieta Woolley

August 2016

Five times the Olympics has fulfilled its ‘peace and dignity’ potential

By Pieta Woolley

July 2016

Five happy 'products' to buoy you up during those dark times

By Pieta Woolley

June 2016

Ten ways Canada can create its own Trump and Brexit phenomena

By Pieta Woolley

June 2016

Five outrageously expensive summer camps that will boggle your inner socialist

By Pieta Woolley

June 2016

Five eating regimes that fall somewhere between Tofurkey and all-you-can-eat ribs

By Pieta Woolley

May 2016

Five ways to celebrate Mother’s Day beyond cards and flowers

By Pieta Woolley

April 2016

Five climate reality checks in Canadians’ own backyards

By Pieta Woolley

March 2016

Five Easter meats that you should think twice about

By Pieta Woolley

March 2016

Five places that are getting it right – by not being Vancouver

By Pieta Woolley

February 2016

Five times the media declared WWIII in the past two years

By Pieta Woolley

Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

The meaning of a masterpiece

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Justice

May 2017

Stolen mothers

by Kristy Woudstra

Almost 90 percent of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women were parents. With the national inquiry hearings set to begin, we talk to five daughters who were left behind.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Justice

May 2017

Stolen mothers

by Kristy Woudstra

Almost 90 percent of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women were parents. With the national inquiry hearings set to begin, we talk to five daughters who were left behind.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image