In this episode of 101 Questions Church Planters Ask, host Danny Parmelee tackles the topic,  “What’s the deal with church merch?” Listen to episode 23 above, or read the episode highlights below.

Aside from social media, church merch is one of the most effective and inexpensive church marketing tools for a church planter.  Disclaimer: when we say “church marketing”, we mean the opportunity to share the greatest message in the world and expose people to the gospel, inviting them to take a step towards having a relationship with Christ.

Reasons to invest in Launch Team Apparel:

#1.  It builds and reinforces a sense of team and unity.  When everyone suits up on a sports team, there is this sense of pride and legitimacy. Same for church launch teams.  When you are in the launch team phase, oftentimes most people don’t know each other. Church apparel is one way that begins to coalesce the team.

#2. Your team will wear their apparel around town and have now become a walking billboard.  Apparel beats a billboard anyday: apparel is organic and unpaid, making it much more effective.  

When team members are wearing their church merch out in public they are creating brand awareness and social proof. The smaller the city you live in, the more social proof you can create through church apparel.  When people start to see multiple people around town or around a neighborhood of a larger metro area, people take notice.

#3.    Church Merch is a built-in Evangelism opportunity.  When your team is walking around town with their hat, wearing the t-shirt to the gym, using their church sunglasses at the community pool, it is inevitable that someone is going to ask “What is that?”  

The Dangers of Church Apparel

You will not be able to control this completely, but remember how I said that the people who wear this shirt are “better than a billboard”?  That is only if that person is representing the values of the church and Christ.  If you have team members that wear church apparel and are not acting Christ-like, then it’s working against you.  I think its ok to remind people, “Hey, when you are wearing this around town, you are respresting the Christ and the church so consider that.”

For this reason, you should not mass-produce apparel as a marketing technique for people outside the church.  Often at festivals or events for example a law firm will print 1,000 t-shirts and give them away at their booth and have everyone wear them.  A church should never do this because apparel has this unique feeling of connection.  Give away something else so that people know its just swag. If you give away 1000 water bottles or 1000 frisbees…no big deal if that person is seen with that a month later. People know its promotional junk. But if they see someone a month later walking around with a church t-shirt, they may think that the person is actually associated with the church.

Reasons to choose “promotional items” over apparel for larger giveaways:

Our church plant was near 3 universities. And we gave away the glow in the dark beer steins with our church logo on them.  Yep, that’s right. We didn’t want to give them something that went in the trash.  We wanted to give them something that was useful, that they would keep, that would make an impression.  Even though we gave these out with a can of coke, we had lots of Christian parents who were appalled at the gesture….but we were okay with that, because the person we wanted to reach is the person who would take that to the party and wake up Saturday or Sunday morning and say, “you know what, I think I’ve had enough…there has to be something else.” And YES, we had college students come to our church and come to know Christ because we dared giving away such promotional stuff. (PS: Here is the link to those glow-in-the-dark Beer Steins.)

First-time Visitor Gift Ideas

First-Time visitor gift ideas are small, inexpensive gifts that I think serve a great purpose.  Often, it’s an excuse to have conversation.  If you tell new people to head over to the connection center for their free gift, it gives the connections team an excuse to give them the gift and start a conversation and maybe collect some information for further follow up.  It often models the value of generosity and also models that you care about new people in general.  The church planter that I’m involved in now goes the extra mile, and has partnered with a local coffee company to provide free coffee gift cards.  This is a great incentive for new people to pick up a mug with the church logo and then the coffee company also gets people to come in: its a great partnership.  

For many people, even if they don’t return to your church, your mug and name is constantly in front of them.  And you don’t know: maybe a year or two down the road they see the mug and are reminded of their experience and the grace and love that they felt when with you and they return.  Many marketing dollars are spent on awareness, but if you think about it, these marketing dollars are to retain people who have visited.

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