Monthly Archives: June 2006

Guerilla marketing for churches, pt. 6

More from Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerilla Marketing Excellence, as adapted for church marketing. Part 1 of the series has a general introduction to Guerilla Marketing [Link].


Strategic alliances, Guerilla Marketing’s golden rule #28:

To assure your marketing success in the future, become more oriented to cooperation than competition.

As the owner of a business that engages in marketing, you’re out there amidst the competition all by yourself. It costs more to operate that way. And you options, as a loner, are more limited. So is the service you are able to provide. This is not good in an era when customers require more than ever in the way of coddling and follow-through.

Recently, we’ve been seeing groups of Unitarian Universalist congregations band together to buy billboard space, underwriting on public radio, regional Web sites, and so on. So far, many of these cooperative ventures have been pretty successful. Slowly, we’re getting over the idea that your Unitarian Universalist congregation is a cut-throat competitor with all nearby Unitarian Universalist congregations (to say nothing of liberal Christian and Jewish congregations, the local Buddhist group, etc.).

But I don’t think we’re going far enough. Beyond Jay Conrad Levinson’s broad assertion that you have to cooperate to survive, there’s an added factor for us: Liberal religion has its back to the wall right now. If we keep trying to cut the throats of other liberal religious congregations and groups, we’re all going to die.

For small businesses, Jay Conrad Levinson offers a list of potential partners in strategic alliances. I’ve modified his list to apply to liberal congregations. Consider making strategic alliances between your congregation and these groups:

  • Denominational and district authorities
  • Other Unitarian Universalist congregations in your area
  • Unitarian Universalist congregations outside your area
  • Other liberal religious groups
  • Other churches, synagogues, and places of worship on your street
  • Huge national organizations
  • Private individuals in your community
  • Your staff
  • Businesses and banks in your community

How can you make alliances with these persons and groups on the above list? Use this guiding principle:

In the book Guerilla Financing, co-authored by Bruce Blechman and me,… we define partnerism as “combining all the necessary resources to make a business successful.” A key point we stress is that you must consider everyone you deal with on a business basis as your partner — as a potential ally for a strategic alliance.

I’ve started thinking this way, and here’s what I have done so far:

(1) My denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association, wants to build strategic alliances with congregations to promote growth, and they do this by offering lots of resources, so I take them up on their offers. Maybe what they have to offer isn’t exactly what I’d like to use, but I can’t afford to turn down the high-quality ad materials they offer at cost. Like the big banner we bought from them for $100 that says “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right” — if we got our own banner made, it would cost twice that.

(2) We’re beginning to cooperate with the Unitarian Universalist congregation in the next town as we plan advertising. In the past, the two congregations saw each other as competitors. Building an alliance helps us see how we can pool resources — for example, we’re working together on a campus outreach program at UMass Dartmouth, and already that strategic alliance has raised the visibility for both of us in the community.

(3) Recently, I heard from Donnis, who is a member of a Unitarian Universalist fellowship in Puerto Rico. She pointed out that their Spanish-language Web site gets thousands of hits from all over North America. She asks rhetorically: Why doesn’t every Unitarian Universalist Web site put a prominent link on their Web site to Unitarian Universalist Spanish-language materials [link]? So what if you can’t offer much to Spanish-speaking people in your area — you’ll still build additional credibility in your community, which can only benefit you.

(4) I’ve just begun talking with other liberal religious groups in our immediate neighborhood. We’ve just begun to explore how we can pool our resources to promote liberal religion in our area. With a big evangelical mega-church going in just a few miles away, we’re going to have to build alliances just in order to get our liberal religious message out in the community.

OK, now it’s your turn. How are you building strategic alliances? I’d especially like to hear from people who have organized successful regional ad campaigns — but feel free to share anything you want.

Obscure pleasure

Last month while poking around in a used bookstore in Cambridge, I found an odd little paperback in the mystery section. The cover showed a man sitting on a red hammer and sickle playing a cello, while a malicious-looking face hovered in the air behind him. “The Philomel Foundation,” said the cover, “The exciting debut of the Antiqua Players. By James Gollin.”

First published in 1980 by an obscure press called International Polygonics Limited, the book is a spy novel about an early music ensemble who are recruited by a shadowy foundation to travel to East Germany during the Cold War to help a Soviet dissident escape to the West.

It’s well-written, but a book that injects detailed descriptions of what it’s like to play early music into a Cold War spy thriller can only be called an obscure pleasure. It worked for me, but how many others would wade through passages like this:

After four more bars, I fall out, grab back my alto recorder and rejoin on the top line. For the final repeat, we’re a mixed consort: bass viol, bass recorder, tenor recorder, and wooden flute. Working out all this instrumentation so that it doesn’t sound too choppy or too cute takes hours of rehearsal time….

…in order to get to passages like this:

…When the shot took him he was just starting to inch his way down the slight gradient from the edge of the road into the dry ditch. The force of the bullet shoved him backward into the ditch. His heels caught. He sat down abruptly on the far bank….

I mean, seriously, would you read this book?

Let’s be clear about something here…

Yesterday’s post was on guerilla marketing. No, really, it was — go back and check it to make sure.

Someone named “David” wrote the following as a comment to that post on marketing:

Hey, just found your blog. Wondering why you are a unitarian when many of your stances directly contradict the bible that you claim to base most of your teachings and doctrine on?

I’m not looking for an arguement, but more want to understand your reasoning and present to you why I don’t agree….

What on earth does that comment have to do with the post? I was talking about marketing, not about the Bible. I was talking about how to get people to notice your church, not about what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.

In my opinion, it’s plain common courtesy to write comments that show you have at least read the post (and/or earlier comments on the post). Conversely, it’s just plain rude to try to further your own agenda by posting comments that have nothing to do with the related post.

In this case, it’s clear from “David’s” remarks that he hasn’t even read anything on this blog — which makes his rudeness even more pronounced.

Got that, “David”? Enough said.

Guerilla marketing for churches, pt. 5

I’ll still be on the train when this appears, and I’ve posted this in advance pending a full wrap-up of General Assembly….

More from Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerilla Marketing Excellence, as adapted for church marketing. Part 1 of the series has a general introduction to Guerilla Marketing. [Link]


The danger of originality, Guerilla Marketing’s golden rule #23:

Don’t invest money in originality when the investment should be in generating profits.

Originality. It’s what collectors look for in fine art. It’s what entrepreneurs avoid in guerilla marketing.

This golden rule of marketing works somewhat differently in church settings. In liberal churches, we are not looking to increase profits. But as religious entrepreneurs, we are trying to grow our churches by increasing the number of active members and friends. (Remember that an “active member” is best defined as someone who shows up for worship services; if you want to know how many active members you have, calculate the average worship attendance for the past year.)

In spite of the differences, this golden rule of guerilla marketing for religious entrepreneurs still holds true. Avoid originality in your marketing materials! Or as Jay Conrad Levinson says:

A guerilla repeats what works. Whenever you run a successful ad, run it again. Whenever you engage in a profitable promotion, engage in it again….

Oveer the years, by talking to newcomers to churches, I have learned which guerilla marketing materials actually work. Although there will always be differences from church to church, probably these same things will work for you:

  • The church newsletter
  • The “Wayside Pulpit” posters in the signboard by the street
  • A content-rich Web site, updated weekly
  • Word-of-mouth, including “Bring-a-friend” Sundays
  • Sunday school brochures
  • Attractive, visible church signage that tells who you are (actually, your whole building is a kind of sign

(Notice what’s not on this list: newspaper ads, direct mail, telephone solicitation, billboards, radio ads, TV ads.)

If these are the marketing materials that work best, doesn’t it make sense to pour more energy into them before you try some new kind of marketing? Before you rent space on a billboard, make your church newsletter truly excellent. Before you buy air time on NPR, make sure your Web site has the information newcomers want, and that it’s updated weekly. Before buying in to an expensive newspaper ad campaign, spruce up your church signage (and the exterior of your building while you’re at it). Don’t invest money in originality until you make sure the marketing materials you already have are the best they can be.

Since you’re starting to think like a guerilla marketer yourself, I’m sure you’ve already started asking every newcomer who walks in your door how they heard about you. So:

What marketing materials work for you right now? How will you repeat them again and again and again? How will you resist the temptation to be original?….

General Assembly, day five

Exhaustion is setting in.

Took a long walk today down to the Jefferson Expansion Memorial Park. I wanted to walk among some trees. While heavily used by human beings, but it’s home to something of an ecosystem.

As I walked past one grove of trees, a male Red-Winged Blackbird dove at me. I heard the flutter of angry wings as he pulled up about six inches from my hat, then saw him out of the corner of my eye. Clearly, I was too close to a nest, so I left quickly. The artificial pond had duck weed growing on it, and Barn Swallows swooping over it. As I got closer, I could see hundreds of water striders on the surface of the water.

All this relieved some exhaustion.


Had coffee with CK and her partner L this afternoon. It was fun to meet CK and L in person, after reading CK’s excellent scholarly blog. Of course, after a while CK and I started talking philosophy of religion. CK and I started discussing CK’s interesting questions about the commensurability of major world religious traditions. L’s eyes started glazing over.

Fortunately, just then Peacebang came along, and sat down to join us. Peacebang and I want to convince CK and L to move to Boston (Peacebang, too, lives south of Boston). Peacebang and I decided that CK will do her doctoral work at Boston University, and L will continue her work in neurology at one of the Boston hospitals. Not sure that CK and L were convinced by us.

Too soon, we all had to leave. Peacebang and I headed off to the hotel, saying: Wouldn’t it be fun if they really did decide to move to Boston? Wouldn’t that be a blast?


Fantastic sermon at the worship service this morning. I reported on it in depth for the UUA Web site [link] — the sermon was good enough that I was not able to maintain journalistic detachment.

General Assembly, day four

I just went over to the Ware lecture. I’d estimate there are 4,000 people in the hall listening to Mary Oliver read her poetry: a nice, intimate little reading. Not being particularly fond of crowds to begin with, I decided I’d be better off sitting here in the webworkers’ room watching the lecture on my laptop via streamed video. The reality is that I can see and hear better here than I could there.

Annabelle’s daughter just popped her head in to say “hi” from Anabelle. Annabelle is a webworker who couldn’t join us this year. We invited her daughter and her friend to watch and listen to Mary Oliver with us. So we’re having our own little poetry reading about three hundred yards from the real Ware lecture.


Went to a difficult and dramatic workshop today: “Race, Youth, and General Assembly: What We’ve Learned,” a presentation by the Special Review Commission that was appointed by the denomination’s Board of Trustees following the racial incidents at last year’s General Assembly. Since I’ve been assigned to write up this workshop for the Unitarian Universalist Association Web site, I’ll let you read my report once it is edited and placed online [Link to come]. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty — sort of like when you turn over a rock and all the creepy-crawlie things skitter away from the light. Yup, the Special Review Commission has turned over the big rock of racism within Unitarian Universalism, and it isn’t pretty to look at.


Dinner with Niko, the one other member of the New Bedford church besides me to be at General Assembly. He told me about the big outdoor solstice ritual that the pagan group held today. And how did they find a suitable outdoor space in downtown St. Louis within walking distance of the convention center? They used the satellite photos in Google Maps, and found a perfect little green space. There was even a grassy circle within a grove of trees.


Long talk with Craig late this afternoon. I had double-scheduled my first meeting with him and had to cancel, but we each managed to squeeze another hour out of our General Assembly schedules so we could sit and chat. He had me in stitches, laughing at stories of the Red Queen, the poker games, and other people and events that shall remain anonymous. It’s always fun to talk with Craig; my only disappointment was that Cheryl, Craig’s sweetie, couldn’t join us.

While we were talking, we each took two cell phone calls, final arrangements for other meetings we had with other people. The real problem with General Assembly is that there just isn’t enough time to talk with all the people you want to talk with.


Most of today I have spent writing. This is the real joy of General Assembly for me: going to events and workshops, making some kind of sense out of those events, and turning them into serviceable prose. But there’s not much I can tell you about that.

General Assembly, day three

Tonight I had dinner with Bette and Joan, two of my favorite lay leaders.* We went over to the “Bistro” in the basement of the Renaissance Suites hotel, where the food was good (but the service was erratic and untrained).

Bette is beginning her term as her congregation’s Board President, and she has been attending the series of events for congregational presidents. “It’s great,” she said. “It’s really good stuff.” Bette never pulls her punches when events are mediocre, so this is high praise indeed.

Not surprisingly, we wound up talking about congregational governance at the dinner table. John Carver’s Policy Governance model came up, and we all agreed that policy governance is not appropriate for small congregations. Joan has an excellent analogy to make this point.

When you have a condo association with only 2 to 6 units, says Joan, the condo board has to be involved in hands-on management of the building. The condo association is not big enough to hire a professional manager. But if you live in a condo association with, say, 60 units, there is simply no way the condo board can manage all the day-to-day complexities of maintenance and upkeep, and so the board is pretty much forced to hire a property manager or a management company. In the large condo association, the board should be keeping track of the big picture; and the large condo association has enough resources to be able to pay staff to manage the day-to-day matters.

So too with congregations. Small congregations, with fewer than 50 people in attendance at worship each week, are likely to have a managing board. Large congregations, with more than 350 people in attendance at worship each week, are big enough that they can afford to hire staff to run the day-to-day matters of the congregation, leaving the board free to deal with strategic planning, visioning, and the big picture in general. These large congregations are good candidates for the Carver Policy Governance model, or some equivalent governance model. Boards in congregations of between 100 and 350 in attendance each week will be somewhere betwixt and between — not ready for a full-fledged Carver Policy Governance model (or equivalent), but big enough that the board cannot afford to remain a managing board.

I pointed out that actually no board, even the board of the smallest congregation, can afford to spend all their time managing. I feel strongly that the boards of small congregations have to spend at least half their time dealing with the big picture. Joan agreed that was so.

I like Joan’s analogy because it’s concrete and easy to understand. Her analogy has been far and away the best thing I have learned or heard during this General Assembly — and it took place over an excellent dinner instead of sitting in those horribly uncomfortable chairs in the convention center.

(* This is why I missed the UU blogger’s dinner — sorry, fellow bloggers, I missed you all!)

Never too late…

If you missed Pee on Earth Day on Wednesday (as I did), don’t despair! My partner Carol says it’s not too late, because really any day can be Pee on Earth Day. In fact, she writes…

Our official Pee On Earth celebration will take place in three weeks or so next to a beautiful cove in Cotuit, Mass. on Cape Cod.

Pee On Earth Day is a a day to step into your place in the cycle to return nutrients to the earth where plants can use them. A time to put aside our society’s overwrought aversion to this usually pathogen-free human excretion, which is simply the proteins our bodies didn’t use. Put it to work to grow food, fuel, and fiber. Did you know that if we recycled even half of the nitrogen in this country’s urine to grow certain crops on brownfields, we could supply a good portion of our nation’s fuel needs? Think peace.

Here’s how to observe Pee On Earth Day any day of the year:

–Urinate directly onto well-mulched soil, preferably around a tree or hearty plant. But grass is fine.
–Urinate into a container and pour the urine around trees, shrubs and gardens
–Urinate into a container, dilute it with 8 parts water and pour it into a houseplant
–Pour urine onto a pile of leaves or woodchips destined to become soil
–Pour urine into a composter filled with lots of carbonaceous material, such as brown grass.

There will be no lingering odor, especially if the urine is directed to aerated soil with leaves or mulch on top, and likely won’t in any other case. When in doubt, scratch up the soil with your heel to get some air into it before applying urine.

There is no health risk if you come in contact with your own urine. You can’t give yourself a disease that you don’t already have. (However, if you have hepatitis C or leptospirosis, I have different directions for you.)

Happy Pee On Earth Day!

Love, Carol

Me, I’m looking forward to the official Pee on Earth Day celebration in three weeks….

Notes from the Service of the Living Tradition

In the 15 minutes before the Service of the Living Tradition tonight, we were led in “ingathering singing.” I understand that this is the trend in larger churches, especially those with music directors who are active in the Unitarian Universalist Musician’s Network. I had mixed feelings about this innovation. On the one hand, I like to sing, and it’s fun to have that extra opportunity to do so. On the other hand, I like the unstructured time before the worship service when you can greet old friends, talk to people you don’t yet know, or simply sit in contemplative silence.

On the whole, I decided I did not like the ingathering singing — it felt like more of an imposition than an opportunity. And alas, it did not feel particularly worshipful.


Two Credentialed Religious Educators, Master’s Level, were recognized in the Service of the Living Tradition. Mindy Whisenhunt wore an academic gown with a master’s hood, which I felt showed an nice appreciation for the subtleties of this new professional certification.

By wearing an academic gown, Mindy showed that she was at the same academic level as the ministers, while the master’s hood made it clear that she was not wearing a Geneva gown, but an academic robe. While she could have worn ordinary clothing, that can be problematic for female religious professionals, and more to the point Mindy’s gown makes it quite clear that she is not an ordinary layperson but a credentialed leader in her religious community.

Maybe Mindy will start a tradition for Credentialed Religious Educators.


Most people made the mistake of standing up and talking or wandering around or leaving at the end of the recessional hymn. I stayed and listened to Dennis Bergin, the organist for the service, as he played an amazing piece of music by Marcel Dupre (1886-1971), the Prelude and Fugue in B Major, Op. 7 No. 1, from 1912. Dupre was known in his lifetime as an organ virtuoso, and this composition shows his deep knwoledge of the organ.

Bergin played this difficult piece of music in spite of the fact that people were calling out to each other right within a few feet of him; that there was general chaos around him; and that the sound system was less than ideal. A few of us — a slowly increasing number — stood around in amazed appreciation at his concentration and musicianship. It was a bravura performance of a complex piece of music that required Bergin to have nearly as much agility in his footwork as in his hands. Wow.

At the end, those of us standing around broke into uproarious applause (if you can call twenty people applauding “uproarious”), with a few shouts of bravo. He turned around and grinned at us.