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Audrey (my ever-so-lovely bride) and I were talking the other day about promoting events in student ministry. She mentioned that she had recently skimmed a student ministry book from the early 90’s. The author described several ways of promoting youth events that had proven successful. They included buying an ad in your local newspaper, using public bulletin boards at city libraries, and making an announcement at the local Bingo hall. Ok, so I made that last one up! The truth is we all know that there isn’t a youth on planet Earth that looks for cool stuff to do in the classifieds, and library… yeah, I’ve heard of those. There simply MUST be more relevant promotional and marketing approaches for 21st century youth ministry. So what are they?
- Face to face invites: In a culture already oversaturated by media of various types, face to face communication is more crucial than ever. Studies regularly show that 80-90% of all people who get plugged into a church do so because of the direct invitation of a friend. This statistic has been around for a while and everybody has probably heard it, but did you know that last year Barna Research released a poll showing that only 30% of Christians planned on inviting a friend to Easter services. That’s a HUGE disconnect!!! Personal invitations have much more meaning than direct mail, local advertising and pulpit pleas. Encourage your students to rise above that 30% mark and set the example for the rest of your congregation. What if just 50% of students regularly invited a friend? Or 75%? Our ministries would explode!
- Use Social Media: Ten years ago Facebook didn’t even exist. Today it has between 500-600 MILLION regular users with almost 500,000 new users weekly. Chevy updated its Cruz Sedan with a feature that allows the car’s computer to read you Facebook status updates while you drive. Regular radio: look out!!! Facebook is taking up your airtime in the one place people still listen to your broadcasts!!! The power of social media is ever more apparent to me as I continue in student ministry. Students RARELY check regular e-mail accounts, if they even have one. They are likely to be on Facebook and other social sites daily. Create an event, invite students online, and get students to invite their friends.
- Communicate Crucial Info Early: This means YOU must plan early. Many people try to plan big events and don’t get crucial info out in time to participants or other partner groups. This is plainly evident at many youth events where forms and event info are not mailed out until a week or two before the event. FYI, if you have a sizeable youth group, it will be impossible to plan ANYHTING on short notice. Set your dates 4-6 months out for events like lock-ins and concerts, and 12-18 months out for events like camps and mission trips. Mail all crucial forms no later than 10 weeks out, and give the info away in every possible format. Audrey and I once planned a lock-in in partnership with 8 churches, and 250-300 kids attended. Each church received a “FORMS CD” with all the event forms, artwork, and other info in multiple formats including Word, Publisher, PDF, JPEG, and PNG. Also, if you expect people to use your artwork for an event, make sure and send them the fonts you used or they won’t be able to print customized posters and flyers.
- Build Buy-In and Ownership: One of the best ways to promote your event is to get as many people to buy-in as possible, and give as many of them ownership as possible. When people have ownership of an event, THEIR reputation is on the line as well in promoting it. This means that by putting together a leadership team of people for large events, you exponentially increase your marketing capacity, creative ingenuity and forward momentum. Bringing multiple youth ministers to the table for an event like a camp or lock-in ensures that the best ideas come to the table, and that all the church groups involved feel needed for the event’s success. When others have ownership of an event, they’ll promote it just as hard as you will.
- Shoot A Rediculous Promo Video…or two: Viral marketing is the rage. It’s called viral for a reason. The word ‘virus’ comes from a Latin word in the late 1500’s meaning slime or ooze. The medical definition is “an infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts.” (Dictionary.com) Shoot a wild and crazy promo video and see how many hits it gets on YouTube and how many youth post it to their social media profile! If the video is off the wall enough, it will become “viral” or self-spreading. Don’t stop at posting the video online. Burn it to DVD and mail a copy to every group and organization you are trying to target for the event. For the lock-in we made a 6 minute music video and a 30 second promo ad. These can also be used at youth group meetings in the months and weeks leading up to the event. Video cameras are too cheap these days for churches not to invest in one. Basic editing software is too easy to learn. There are no excuses! Welcome to 2012.
- Use A Text Messaging Campaign: A few fun facts from iZigg.com… 96% of text messages are opened. 83% are opened within 1 hour. Over 1.5 trillion texts were sent in America alone last year, triple the same number from 2007. All three of those numbers will no doubt continue to climb. Can your e-mail or direct mail campaign do that? Hardly!! I have found that even more than Facebook, students respond to text messaging. Churches that do not use text messaging are BEHIND the curve. So churches are always behind the curve right? Maybe, but texting is not a trend that is going away and its clearly more effective than email for certain age groups. To churches who are leery about paying for one more monthly subscription or service, and who may question the wisdom of spending tithe dollars on text messaging I say “Wake up, O Sleeper, rise from the dead.” (Ephesians 5:14) (Check back in a week or so for the Top Ten Texting Services For Churches! ttyl!)
- Let Others Promote It For You: I sent out the promo DVD and Forms CD for our lock-in to the regional denominational office. The day they got the packet with the cover letter (on church letterhead) our lock-in was the first thing listed on their youth ministry page. A huge part of networking is to build relationships with people who may be in a position to help you. Are you planning a cool event at your church and want to get the word out? Go straight to the top of any regional office for organizations or denominations with which your church may be affiliated. These hard working folks have the mailing lists. Their endorsement can give your event legitimacy in the eyes of churches that may be on the fence about bringing students. Many times, they are the gate keepers for truly branching out to get good saturation as you advertise your event.
- Advertize Internally: If you have not done it already, make a checklist of ways you can advertise and promote a ministry event internally. I try and hit all bases when advertising an event. Many parents still communicate best by e-mail and phone. I ask myself, have I used the church bulletin, the monthly newsletter, the announcement slides before church, the announcement monitors in the church hallway? Have I used regular mail, a phone tree, brochures and flyers, posters around the church building, the church LED marquis, screen printed vinyl banners, promotional t-shirts, stickers, postcards, riding around in a church van with a megaphone? You get the picture. There are countless ways to advertise internally and externally.
- Face to Face invites: I’m pretty sure I already mentioned this. But just in case it didn’t sink in, 80-90% of all people who get plugged into a church do so because of a personal invitation from a trusted friend.
- Giveaway a Sweet Prize: Want kids to invite their friends to your next major event? Then you shouldn’t be above bribing them to do it! Once, we gave away an LDC TV to a student for bringing the most friends to an event. When there is an incentive students get competitive. They might initially just invite friends to church to win whatever the prize is, but they’ll also learn that they won’t turn into a pumpkin if they actually invite people to church.