The venue – a space large enough to fit more than 15,000 adoring fans. Guitars, drums, amps and microphones line the stage. Bright lights pulse and move in orchestrated unison. Fade in on center stage. A lone podium stands in a pool of light where rests…the Bible.
Not what you were picturing? Those aforementioned elements (minus the last one) are much more likely to conjure ideas of raging rock concerts, but in recent years they have created the perfect setting for a megachurch’s Sunday service.
While large churches are not a new phenomenon – in fact Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle services in London in the 19th century became so large that the church had to move to larger premises twice, the last one holding 6,000 people – the idea of preaching to thousands of people at once was paradigm shifting. Small, neighborhood churches that were at their largest 100-200 members had been the norm, and the pastor, priest or minister knew your name, your problems, and maybe even your family’s medical history.
But after the “megachurch movement” began in the United States in the 1950s, large “church” structures and large crowds of worshippers became prevalent, starting in the West and South, but then spreading across the country. The movement has grown to include the multipurpose “campuses” where congregations gathered – built to accommodate such spaces as a school, book store, cafeteria, gymnasium, library, coffee shop, banquet room, and auditorium, as well as the traditional administrative offices and a sanctuary area. The movement was accelerated, first by television in the 1960s, where services could be broadcast for millions, and where donations could be solicited from those millions, and later by the advent of the Internet in the 1990s.
Some argue that megachurches support the idolization of a single spiritual leader who cannot possibly know all of the congregation members, while others insist that these churches offer a needed sense of community in an increasingly hectic world. All criticisms and accolades aside, though, there has been a cultural transformation that has taken place – and the megachurch formula has also been spreading from America to other countries around the globe since the late 2000s.
By now you may be asking yourself “How does this relate to eBoost Consulting or digital marketing?” Well, churches of this nature tend to be innovators – using technology not only to impact their communities, but also to market themselves and their leaders. For example, common marketing tactics include:
The use of current, constantly updated websites
“Pastorpreneurs,” who have current, updated websites and who are active on social networking sites (ex. Facebook.com/JoelOsteen or @JoelOsteen)
The branding of churches and their leaders
The use of church-founded and independently-owned music labels to spread the word and attract followers to their flocks (ex. Mars Hill Music)
Books published online (for Nooks, Kindles, etc.) and in print
The use of the blogosphere, radio, talk shows and movies
Promotional materials (ex. branded products, signed books, self-help guides, etc.)
As you can see, both traditional and digital strategies are being used. But do they need to market themselves so aggressively? Would it be just as effective to rely on word-of-mouth marketing as those in attendance speak to their families and friends? These thought leaders obviously would say no, as they use the media to sell their church to the masses in order to grow their flocks.
Churches and their leaders have been influential throughout history, and in this day and age where ideas move at the speed of a tweet we must pay attention to what they are doing, whether we agree with their teachings or not.
Questions I pose to you, dear readers of the eBoost blog: Is there anything to be learned from how megachurches operate that might benefit other industries? Is there a new vertical out there for affiliate networks to work with? Do all digital marketing services apply here (Pay per Click Advertising, Search Engine Optimization, Email Marketing)?
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