In the last four years our church has launched four new campuses in outlying county seats here in east central Illinois. When we launch a new campus, our goal is to launch strong. We want momentum and a large enough core of people to sustain the key ministries of the church with workers and to give the new campus financial strength. To gather an initial crowd we have used direct mail each time to help us get the word out about the new church we are starting.
If you are launching a new campus or planting a new church, I recommend that you also use (or at least seriously consider!) direct mail. Here are four key principles that have made it work for us.
- Plan far ahead. Doing a direct mail campaign takes work, money, and planning. As soon as you set a launch date you need to put this on your timeline and get the right people involved. We have always used a local direct mail company to help us do our direct mail campaign. This enables us to work face-to-face with experts and has also saved us money over using large, national direct mail companies. In talking to others it seems like churches that have used local companies have had a better experience.
- Use some local photos. Instead of using all stock photos, we have used photos that we have taken ourselves in the community that we are targeting. This communicates that we care about that community; we are not just a slick “big box” church extending our brand thoughtlessly into their area. By using photos of local landmarks that are immediately recognizable, we are saying that we live where they live and are there for them. You might think that some of our photos look lame, but that is because you are not from here and don’t recognize the scenes. (You are not our target audience!) We have found that people connect with and appreciate the local images.
- Send multiple postcards. We were told by other churches and by the direct mail experts to send multiple cards—not just one. One post card brings an awareness, but multiple cards are more likely to bring a response. Since our budget is limited, sending multiple cards to the same addresses means we are sending to fewer homes. We have tried from three to five cards, and seem to have settled on sending four cards to each home in our target—one a week for the four weeks leading up to the launch Sunday. We typically budget $8,000 to $10,000. You can hit each home with four color postcards for about $1 per home. That includes everything: buying addresses, printing, and postage. So, for example, for $10,000 you can send four cards to 10,000 homes. We were told to expect about a 1% response which seems to hold true. Be sure to print extra cards to give to people on your team to hand out to friends and at local kindness outreaches that you do. Personal invitation is still the most powerful (and cheapest) method!
- Don’t use only direct mail! Direct mail is just one way of getting the word out. You want to use as many channels as possible. Do kindness outreaches, put up signs, send news releases to the local paper(s) and see if they will do a story about you. And above all, encourage your growing team to invite relatives, coworkers, neighbors, friends and enemies.
What has been your experience with direct mail? What questions do you have about it? What other methods of publicity have you found to be effective?