Do churches still buy radio spots? If you do, here are a few thoughts on the subject.
In a small to medium sized town, your church can probably afford an ongoing promotion of radio spots or a regular daily program. Not so much in a metropolitan area.
In one sense, I guess I’ve done it all (or most of it!), everything from television broadcasting of our weekly services each Sunday to making 10-second TV spots promoting those broadcasts, to having a daily morning “live” call-in program on a Christian radio station. I’ve hosted panel discussions on television, been interviewed on other people’s programs, some of them national. Was even on Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” once.
When I pastored in Charlotte, NC, a major city with many radio stations and high costs for air time, our church came up with a budget for a series of 30-second spots which I would be recording. Our committee did the background work and decided on three stations to run the ads. I drove to each station and recorded the spots once a month.
Here’s what happened at one of those recording sessions.
The station broadcast what is called Top Forty popular music. As I began to speak into the microphone for the recording, the producer stopped me. “Uh, Pastor. I think you need to hear what is being broadcast on our station.” She flipped a couple of dials and what was currently on-air blared through the speakers. A car salesman was shouting, “GET OUT TO CAR SALON ON HIGHWAY 45 SOUTH! THIS PROMOTION ENDS TONIGHT AT 5 O ‘CLOCK!!!” That went on and on.
She turned it off and I said, “Thank you. But I am well aware of what your station broadcasts. And I don’t want to sound like that. That is not who I am. To blend in with that would mean losing our little announcement. I want it to stand out.” She agreed to let me do it the first month “my” way, and then we would talk. (“My way” consisted of a conversational tone, informal, warm. I wanted to contrast with the loud, offensive stuff they were turning out.)
The next month as we began, she said, “Pastor, you are exactly right. Keep doing what you are doing.”
So, my first word to any church deciding to buy some ads for radio is BE YOURSELF. Do not buy into the notion that you have to sound like every other thing being sent out into the air waves. Do your own thing.
And, as a rule, you might not want to air your spots on the local Christian station. Do that and you run the risk of preaching to the choir, of speaking to people who are always going to church. Think about who is listening to each station and decide on your target audience, then choose the station.
The last two churches I served were in large cities (Charlotte and New Orleans), and consequently buying expensive spots on commercial stations was a rarity for us. But we did it once in a while.
In New Orleans, we bought a series of spots to promote an early worship service we were beginning. My journal has two of them written out, as follows. They were 30 seconds. The first….
Have you heard the four things New Orleans and Heaven have in common? Saints, music, diversity, and Interstate 10 will get you to both places quickly, so drive carefully. This is Joe McKeever. I’m pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kenner. I tell people the best kept secret in New Orleans…is in Kenner! It’s the First Baptist Church! — We’re on Williams Boulevard, near Airline Highway…Sundays at 8:15 and 10:50 am. The First Baptist Church of Kenner–we may have just found you a church! Come and see!
And the second…
Are you looking for the perfect church in New Orleans? Well, the bad news is there isn’t one. But the good news is there are some great churches in this area. This is Joe McKeever. I’m pastor of one of those wonderful churches. Ours is in Kenner, across from the airport on Williams Boulevard. The First Baptist Church of Kenner.. (and so forth)
Here is what I have learned about radio spots for churches…
One. In most cases you cannot afford to buy them on a regular basis, so do your promotions for those special times when you’re doing something the community would want to know about.
Two. Be yourself. Don’t try to imitate anyone, particular the slick Hollywood promotions.
Three. Keep it local. You are not mass-producing ads for the entire state, we presume, but for your locality. So, mention something special about your city. Tie in with something historic, if you can.
Four. As a rule, do not belabor directions to your church. If people want to find you, they will. So, give them something to make them want to go to your website where, we assume, you’ve laid out the good stuff about your church.
Five. Forget about trying to measure the effectiveness of the spots. You never know. I suspect that the primary results we got from the two spots above was to alert our own people to the new starting times for worship services. But knowing who was touched and to what extent is impossible with ads, even though the agencies will tell you otherwise. (Background on this: Every church has a finance committee. And every committee will have one or two members determined to analyze everything on a cost-benefit ratio. And they will insist that you produce numbers proving that these spots are a good investment. Which you cannot do. So, tell them up front. Mostly, what you will get is word-of-mouth, members telling you that they heard the spots. And you may see an increase in the number of visitors each Sunday. But you may not, at least for a while. If you can, stay with the promotion for several months.)
I know a scripture story that fits radio broadcasting perfectly….
And I’ll bet you do too.
It’s the story of the man who went out sowing seed–broadcasting is the actual term for what he was doing!–and it fell on different kinds of ground. That story is found in the opening verses of Matthew 13. I grew up on the farm where my dad–a coal miner 40 hours a week and a farmer the rest of the time–would often walk into a field broadcasting seed for ground cover. So, even as kids we knew that some of it falls on the pathway and birds eat it up, some falls on stony ground and others in the briars. And some falls on good ground, which is why the farmer went to all this trouble in the first place.
However–and another scripture coming up!–we do not always know what kind of seed is receiving what we are scattering. Particularly that is the case with radio and television. Computers too, of course, in case you are blogging. Scripture says, “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand. For you do not know which shall prosper, either this one or that, or whether they both alike shall be good.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6) The point of that is: Don’t try to judge the soil; just keep on sowing!
So, when you send your message on the air waves, keep reminding yourself you will never know this side of Heaven what effect it is having. So, pray and leave it all with the Lord. (I hope you have a finance committee that believes in faith. If not, they will shut this down in a New York minute.)