Church Publicity on a Shoestring Budget

Date Posted: 11/22/2011

As movie mogul Steven Spielberg knows firsthand, a smaller-than-desirable budget often inspires excellence via creativity and resourcefulness. When he was shooting Jaws he wanted to create a lifelike great white shark, but soon realized that big idea would require bit money that he did not yet have. Rather than blame lack of money for a bad movie, he decided to shoot the unsuspecting swimmers from the shark’s view with a partial mechanical shark and a lot of scary music and his resourcefulness yielded a classic.


You want to do a better job of engaging your members and prospective members but you don’t know where to start? Whether you are a church with 10 or 10,000, try not to fall back on excuses related to budget. Since 80% of American’s churches have 200 or fewer members, there are ways to get the job done, regardless of size. Here are some things you can do immediately with little or no funds:


1.   Have more conversations. Personal relationships are one of the greatest communication tools, particularly in small churches. Coach coworkers to think more about word-of-mouth publicity, exceptional member service and life changing ministry that creates a “natural buzz” and less about brochures and newsletters.


2.   Leverage social media. Historically, big dollars have been spent on yellow pages, radio and newspaper advertisements, but in today’s digital world, significant cost savings can be realized if you use Facebook, Twitter and email to target the group that needs to know your news via these nearly-FREE venues. When is the last time you used a phonebook?


3.   Maximize available space on the church bulletin.  It’s dangerous to assume everyone knows what is going on, especially visitors. Include complete information about your church-hosted activities: time, location, contact person etc and take time to explain even the things that might seem obvious on behalf of guests who may not be familiar with church life and terms.  


4.   Business card size ‘ invites.’  Often on most printing jobs there is a margin of paper that is unused. Consider “piggybacking” a printing job by having business cards made in that waste area -- or just order very economically priced cards with the key information about church services, addresses, times, website and mini map that members can have in their wallets to hand to people they want to invite to church. Include a word of explanation about your children’s program if possible. Preprinted postcard and bulletin templates are also available from firms such as or ministry support design firms such as


5.   Post your events online in free community calendars. Most every community has a number of online event calendars that accept self-posted items: ie: community portals such as a chamber of commerce, TV and radio stations or online publications such as Research what is available in your community.


6.   Consider a phone-a-thon where volunteers call a list of members, or each member calls the next member. Electronic phone tree technology might be affordable to reach an entire congregation with a special message from the pastor.


Guidelines on getting local media coverage

When there’s a tragedy or a scandal the news will be all over your story, but that is the time to have a calm and intelligent approach to crisis management. When you want to be noticed for the right reasons,” your goal is to make the reporter or news editor’s job easier. If you target your news to their style of reporting on their terms, you will likely begin a fruitful relationship as a source. Additionally, you will highly increase your chances for coverage if you tie your news to a hot topic or current event. For example, if your church offers a job search workshop, tie your ‘community resource’ to current statistics or news of a corporate layoff that already has ‘buzz’ in the community. Zip code-driven community newspapers will often be interested in your local stories and activities, particularly if you have ever advertised. Your goal should be to build a relationship with local media outlets, which is more realistic in smaller communities but possible in cities as well.


·         Be selective.  Don’t overwhelm your local newspaper with news releases every week or they will be sure to ignore. Submit events and announcements that are unique to your church and of interest to the particular media venue’s audience. (To a local parent blog or magazine, submit youth camp information for example.)


·         Know your target. Note what reporters are writing about and research deadlines and submission requirements. Do they want submissions via email and photos at a certain resolution? What do they need, where and how? Some of the magazine type periodicals often work 4-6 months ahead, so you will have to provide them holiday news at the end of summer. Keep in mind that most media representatives are interested in compelling visuals and opportunities for exclusives when there is big news breaking.


·         Always include information that has been fact checked, and includes a contact name. Your chances on getting an article after the fact are enhanced if you send pictures.


·         Options to notify the media of an event are 1) a brief bulleted MEDIA ALERT with who, what, when, where information; 2) a Press Release (written in narrative sentence form with quotations from the event spokesperson/host); and 3) an email query directly to a r reporter with an informative subject line. (For example: Would you like to talk to some of our church members who have experienced the Texas wildfire evacuation this week?)


·         Getting media to cover an event in person often requires significant advance notice.


Keep in mind that the media is all about the ‘moment’ and if some bigger story breaks, they will abandon yours. The only time you can control the timing and the message and the presentation is if you purchase an advertisement.