3 Lessons Church Planters Could Learn From Content Marketers

I’ve written before about how (oddly enough) copywriting made me a better evangelist. I also think the church could learn a thing or two from the world of content marketing.
Now, just like with my post on copywriting, I probably need to clear up some misconceptions. Hang with me here.

Isn’t content marketing kind of shady?

First of all, a definition: content marketing is a form of marketing focused on creating, publishing and distributing content for a targeted audience online. Businesses use it to grow their audience, increase awareness, and eventually create some kind of value for the business.
Now, I know lots of pastors and church planters have a negative association with the word “marketing” (myself included, actually!). Marketing feels like something you do when you’re trying to take advantage of someone else.
While there certainly are people out there who practice marketing in this way, the interesting thing is that in the past decade or so, a “new kind of marketer” began to emerge in the business world.
They weren’t trying to win at all costs, they weren’t manipulative, and becoming wealthy wasn’t their main goal. Instead, they started “aiming past the target,” attempting to provide real value to people (through the content they created), trusting that business would come on the back end of the trust developed through the value provided.
And… it worked! It turned out that people appreciated not being manipulated (go figure!), and the value they got from the content gave them confidence that this business knew what it was doing, and could probably meet their needs.
(For those who are paying attention, this very blog post is a form of content marketing. V3 delivers helpful content to church planters in an effort to increase awareness of the training they do through The Praxis Gathering and their Learning Cohorts.)
[Tweet “It turned out that people appreciated not being manipulated. @BenSternke”]

So what did these content marketers learn?

There are always going to be people trying to use content marketing to make a quick buck, but the best content marketers have learned that the best way to build your business is by not focusing directly on building your business.
Instead, you shift your focus to your customers and their needs. The rest of it comes as a byproduct of these key core actions.
Content marketers have learned at least 3 overlapping, inter-related lessons that I am constantly needing to remind myself of as a church planter. I think they’ll be helpful for you, too, as you plant.

Lesson 1: It’s about relationships, not transactions

Content marketers know that if you focus on the business transaction by itself, you’ll eventually lose the relationship. But if you focus on building and maintaining the relationship, the business transactions sort of take care of themselves.
As a church planter, I need to constantly guard myself against the temptation to see people as potential transactions. I’m tempted to look to supporters and church members as a meal ticket, instead of seeing them as people to be loved, connected with, and cared for.
But what is the church if it’s not rooted in relationship? As church planters, lets remember that this is about relationships, not transactions.
[Tweet “As church planters, lets remember that this is about relationships, not transactions.”]

Lesson 2: It’s about providing value, not getting people on board

You know you’ve lost your way as a content marketer when you become more focused on “getting people on board” than on providing real value to people.
I feel a similar temptation as a church planter. The impulse is to get people to join my project instead of simply seek to serve them right here and now.
So I’m trying to aim toward what Teresa of Ávila said, “When one reaches the highest degree of human maturity, one has only one question left: How can I be helpful?” #lifegoals, right?
I can’t see ministry as a means to an end (getting people to join my church plant). Instead, being (truly) helpful has to be my one goal in every interaction, trusting that as we do so, God will draw people of peace to partner with us in our church plant.

Lesson 3: It’s about serving your audience, not selling stuff

Good content marketers know that if your vision is to “sell stuff,” you’ve already failed. Instead, you aim at something higher: truly serving the audience you’re seeking to reach. Sales become a byproduct of the serving.
But that’s hard to embrace when there’s too much month at the end of the money!
As a church planter, the sustainability question is front-of-mind a lot for me. It’s difficult to live in the tension between immediate financial needs of any given month and the longer-term goals of your mission.
But when concerns about provision become more important than the work you need provision for, our focus is in the wrong place. When sustainability becomes the vision, we’ve gotten off track.

Make this your top priority

These lessons are, in many ways, restatements of Jesus’ teaching on how provision works. In the Sermon on the Mount (and elsewhere), he shows us that provision is a byproduct of our life with God.
If you worry about provision, you’ve lost the plot. You’ve made the vision of your life mere survival. And it’s so much more than that! Yes we pray for daily bread, but only after we pray for God’s kingdom to come.
And that’s the key. If I had to pick a “life verse” I think it might be Dallas Willard’s translation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33.
After talking to his disciples about how they don’t need to worry about their basic needs, he concludes by giving them a vision for how to “aim past the target” of just having enough:

“Instead, make it your top priority to be involved in what God is doing, and everything else will be taken care of.”

So maybe this post would be more appropriately titled “What Content Marketers Are Learning From Jesus Without Realizing It.” Apparently all these content marketers are stumbling upon something Jesus has been saying to his people for quite awhile.
Do we as church planters have ears to hear?
[Tweet “Make it your priority to be involved in what God is doing, and everything else will be taken care of.”]

About the Author
Ben Sternke

Ben Sternke

Ben Sternke is an Anglican priest, church planter at The Table, leadership coach/consultant with Gravity Leadership, and also helps churches and nonprofits hone their messaging and cultivate their online presence with Lifesize Digital. He lives in the Indianapolis area with his wife Deb, their four kids, and a little dog named Edith.

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