Thirty years ago, I was a young idealist with a fresh theology degree, ready to change the world. After graduation, I took a position as an assistant pastor. During my very first meeting with the senior pastor, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk and showed me stacks and stacks of cards with names, addresses, and phone numbers. These were media ministry leads, people who had requested a free book or another offer from It Is Written, or Breath of Life, or Faith for Today. Every month, the media center would send these cards to each conference, which then distributed them to the local churches. We had a Bible worker at the church, but she wasn’t following up on those media interests, so my pastor asked me to.
Now, I should have recognized that if the professional, trained Bible worker didn’t find these leads valuable, then maybe they weren’t the best leads. But I dutifully started making contact with them—and got nowhere. The lead system was a great idea, but by the time the cards got to the church they were already weeks old, if not months. In fact, I didn’t have any leads less than 6 months old, and some of them were 5 years old. So of course it didn’t go well. To be clear, for a trained Bible worker an old lead is better than no lead, but I was not trained, so I crashed and burned.
During my time there I did give some Bible studies, but every one of the interests were introduced to me by church members. The media ministry leads were a bust.
Over the years, I have found that many Seventh-day Adventists ARE evangelistic-minded, and when given the opportunity they are happy to study the Bible with someone. But I’ve also found that most of these Adventists don’t have many relationships with non-Adventists. They are not actively engaged with people in the community outside their own Adventist bubble. So they don’t give Bible studies simply because they don’t have anyone to give them to.
Now historically, how did churches solve this? They used literature racks, and literature evangelism was also a point of contact. But for the last 50 or 60 years, the primary means of generating Bible study leads was using direct mail. Churches would mail out invitations for Bible study, with a tear-off response card that someone could mail back.
The Problem with Bible Study Cards
Bible study card mailings are still widely used, and they are one method of getting leads. But their effectiveness has been dropping, for several reasons:
- Weeks-long turnaround. The turnaround time is weeks. When I was a kid, that kind of turnaround was expected. You look through the Sears Roebuck catalog, fill out an order form, mail it in with a check, and several weeks later you’d get your stuff in the mail. Today, if people don’t get their Amazon order delivered the next day, they get irritated. I’ve gotten packages from Amazon with no recollection of placing the order, because it took a week to arrive. The pace of life is just faster. People expect immediate response.
- No one has postage stamps anymore. Most Bible study cards require a stamp. The problem is, most people don’t even have postage stamps at home anymore. People pay their bills online. They send texts, not letters. They don’t have postage stamps, so when they get a card they’re supposed to mail back it’s a huge pain to figure out how to send this card.
- Deluge of leads. From the church’s perspective, another problem is scale. To get a better price per piece, you need to print a larger quantity. But if you send out just 20,000 cards, over the following few weeks you get deluged with 40 or 50 leads, which the church is usually not equipped to handle.
- Rising cost per lead. The cost of mailings has also been increasing, especially recently. Paper costs are up almost 20% just in the last 10 months. There have been 3 postage rate increases in the last 15 months. And response rates are dropping. So now the best mailings are seeing a cost per lead anywhere from $60 per lead up to $200 per lead.
- Expensive to split test. Another issue with direct mail, in terms of effectiveness, is the cost of testing different offers and messaging. To be cost effective, you need to print a whole bunch of the same thing, but that doesn’t give you any ability to split test and improve over time.
Effectiveness has been declining since the widespread adoption of the internet, but it has accelerated recently. I had a conference evangelism director come to me about 10 years ago and ask what we could do to solve these issues, and we spent considerable effort on the problem. But the issues with Bible study card mailing are inherent in the medium itself, so we started asking ourselves, is there a better solution to seed sowing?
Let’s pause for a moment and think about what it is we’re trying to do, and who we’re trying to reach. We know our seed-sowing efforts are not going to reach everyone. Jesus made that clear in the parable of the sower in Mark 4:
Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it.
Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died.
Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain.
Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!Mark 4:3-8 NLT
In this passage, I see 3 principles for evangelism.
- First, the farmer’s goal is to harvest. The farmer was throwing seed so he could get a crop to harvest. What is our goal for evangelism? Baptized members who are actively engaged in the life of a local Seventh-day Adventist church. So let’s keep that end in mind. We’re not sowing just to teach theology, though obviously, that’s part of it. We’re not even sowing to see baptisms, though that’s part of the process, too. We’re sowing because we want to reap a harvest of baptized members who are actively engaged in the ministry of a local church.
- Second, in this parable, most of the seed is wasted, but the farmer still distributes it widely. I once heard Mark Finley talk about “prevenient grace,” that God’s Spirit is moving over your city drawing people to Himself. At any given moment, there are some near you who God has prepared to hear the Adventist message of hope and wholeness. This is the fertile soil where the seeds can grow.
So you’re not trying to reach everyone. You want to reach those whom God has prepared for this message. But to do that, you have to throw seed widely.
- The third principle is the farmer is working a field that he himself can harvest. He doesn’t throw the seed in town, or on other people’s fields. He doesn’t go up on a cliff and throw the seeds into the wind to get widely disbursed. He’s sowing seed where he can harvest. The application is that a local church should be sowing where that church can cultivate and reap a harvest for themselves. So if a local church invests in sowing activities, that investment should result in a crop that they themselves can harvest. That’s one reason I don’t like broadcast television or radio advertising. You’re scattering seeds over too wide an area that a single local church can’t cover.
So, the goal is to grow a crop to harvest. To get that, seeds are scattered widely, and much of that seed is wasted. But it’s not scattered so widely that the farmer can’t harvest it.
Bible Study Lead Generation in 2022
So we’ve talked about the problem with Bible study cards, and some principles from the parable of the sower. That leads to the question: what does an effective Bible study seed sowing program look like in 2022. What would be some of this program’s characteristics?
- Immediacy. The first one is obvious: we need to be able to respond within hours, not weeks. So whatever the methodology might be for people to respond to your offer, you need the ability to get that response and act on it within hours.
There are 2 reason for this. First, if someone responds to your offer there is something in their life that triggered the request. People who respond to your offer are not looking for information. They are looking for change. There is something going on in their life that they wish was different. Maybe they’re dealing with the consequences of poor choices, maybe they’re dealing with the fallout from someone else’s poor choices, maybe they’re just experiencing the pain that touches all of us in a fallen world. Whatever it is, they are looking for change. That moment of need is temporary, and you need to move swiftly to help that person in that moment. As my dad used to say, strike while the iron is hot.
The second reason I alluded to earlier, when I said I’ve received Amazon packages that I couldn’t remember ordering. Attention spans in America have collapsed, and if you wait a week, many people won’t remember requesting the offer. More than that, if you show up in person unannounced a week or two later, and they have no recollection of requesting the offer, many are going to feel violated. That’s the culture today. So you need to be communicating with them within hours of their request, if for no other reason than to remind them of what they asked for.
- Online. Another characteristic is that seeds need to be sown where people are. And today, they don’t have their nose in a newspaper, they’re staring at a screen. So that’s where you need to be.
- Widespread. But not just online, it needs to be lots of places online. You need to be showing up in social media feeds, and on search engines, and in display ads on a variety of websites and mobile apps.
- Consistent, sustainable pace. At the same time, this program should be generating leads at a consistent rate all year long. You don’t want a deluge of leads that overwhelm your volunteers. It should provide a nice consistent pace of leads that is sustainable over the long term.
So, this seed-sowing program should have immediacy, be online and widespread, and offer a consistent, sustainable pace of leads.
So let me tell you about LeadGenerator, which is the Bible study interest program from SermonView Evangelism Marketing. This is a yearlong program that delivers Bible study leads every month throughout the year.
First, we assign you a dedicated marketing coordinator on our team focused on getting you the connections you requested. Your dedicated marketing coordinator manages your campaign, reviewing your campaign every week and adjusting the ads and your accounts as needed to ensure that you receive the number of quality Bible study leads your church can handle every month. We also constantly test ad effectiveness and make tweaks as needed.
If you were to go to a digital marketing agency focused on churches, they would charge you $250-$2,000 per month, not including the ad spend.
Your marketing coordinator will set up a Facebook advertising campaign that offers people a Bible study. We use a variety of advertising messages, but every one of them specifically states that they will be receiving Bible lessons. This ad campaign is geographically targeted to the area around your church, so you’re reaching people near you.
If you were to set up a similar campaign through another digital marketing agency, they would ask you to spend a minimum of $300 per month, all the way up to $1,200 per month.
Your marketing coordinator takes that Facebook campaign and makes tweaks to the artwork and copy, and runs an Instagram advertising campaign, too.
Google search campaign
Then we’ll set up a Google search advertising campaign, what we would call search engine marketing. We’ve researched the search terms most relevant to Bible studies, and when someone searches for one of those keywords or phrases we’ll ensure that your ad inviting people to study the Bible is displayed.
Again, a digital advertising agency would ask for a minimum ad spend of $300 per month, up to $1,200 per month, for this type of advertising.
Google display campaign
But we don’t just do search engine marketing. We’ll also set up display ads that will run across Google’s sponsored ad network. This is a completely separate campaign from Google search ads, and would cost $300 per month and up in ad spending if you asked a church-focused digital marketing agency to manage it.
We’ve also developed a brand, My Free Bible Study, with its own Facebook page and posting history, to add credibility to your advertisements. Through this page, your marketing coordinator manages any comments made on your ads and removes anything vulgar or abusive. Plus, by keeping these ads separate from your church profile you minimize the risk of the saints in your church picking an online fight with someone who posts something theologically incorrect.
If you were to develop this for yourself, it would cost you anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000 for a social media agency to create it.
Custom landing page
We’ll also create a custom landing page for your campaign. A landing page is a simple webpage that people can visit to request a Bible study from you. You can use this to promote Bible study through your own advertising methods, with handout cards or advertisements in a swap sheet or local newspaper.
With your church’s unique URL, members can invite others to request Bible studies in an easy, non-threatening way. This page is yours to share any way you wish. Here are just a few ideas:
- Post on your church website
- Share on your church’s social media pages
- Share on member’s social media pages
- Print on invitation cards to hand them out at community events. (Or after your own evangelistic series.)
- Print on posters to hang on local public notice boards
- Print on a banner and display it outside your church
Hiring an agency or freelancer to develop this type of website would run $1,500 to $5,000.
Leads flow into InterestTracker
SermonView has developed a free online CRM for Adventist evangelism, called InterestTracker. This is where you can track interactions with Bible study interest in one central place.
Our LeadGenerator advertising program automatically transfers each Bible study request into InterestTracker. SermonView automagically integrates your evangelistic efforts and Bible study leads with InterestTracker, so every marketing campaign seamlessly transfers pre-registrations and leads directly into your church’s free account.
If you developed your own advertising campaign, you would have to manually import your leads into InterestTracker, or whatever other interest-tracking software you might use. But LeadGenerator automatically transfers every lead into InterestTracker.
Monthly status report
Your marketing coordinator will provide personalized, up-to-date reports on how your campaign is doing. It includes details about how often your ads were seen by people in your community, conversion rates, cost per lead, click-thru rate, and more.
But we don’t just send you a report with a bunch of marketing metrics. Your marketing coordinator will explain it to you. You’ll have an opportunity to meet regularly, so you can get a personal update on how your efforts are progressing. You’ll also get opportunities to discuss communication methods to help equip your team following up with your leads.
With LeadGenerator, we guarantee you’ll receive a minimum number of quality Bible study leads every month. And after years of lead generation experience and testing digital marketing strategies, we’re confident that we can find people in your community that want to study the Bible.
That’s why we back up this program with a money-back guarantee.
- If we can’t find qualified leads in your community, we’ll work with you to either change your subscription level or extend the reach, depending on your area.
- If we fail to meet the minimum number of monthly leads you signed up for, we’ll give you your money back, no questions asked. It’s as simple as that!
- If any two full, consecutive months do not meet the terms of a Satisfactory Month, you can either reduce your services or cancel them altogether.
If you were to try to build this program yourself, it would cost you anywhere from $18,300 up to $87,200. Plus, it would require a lot of your own effort coordinating the different agencies handling the different aspects of your campaign.
With LeadGenerator, we’ll do all this for $4,140 for a yearlong program that guarantees you 180 Bible study leads over the year. That’s just $23 per lead. We handle the marketing, so you can focus on building relationships.
At this point, we’ve managed over 500 lead-generation campaigns, and the feedback we’re receiving from the field is very positive. A few months ago I got an email from a customer who said, “LeadGenerator does work. Our small church is still sending out 43 Bible studies from leads we got through the program. I’m glad we did this!”
Another customer said, “Within a few days of starting LeadGenerator we already have a Bible study, here in a town where we only had one other interest after three years of trying to connect with people.”
Another pastor emailed to say, “LeadGenerator has been very effective for us. The program fits very well with my outlook on how to reach the community. We have already received 25 leads in the first 2 weeks of our campaign!”
So with LeadGenerator, you’ll get Facebook ads, Instagram ads, Google search ads, Google display ads, a personalized landing page, and a dedicated marketing coordinator. Instead of spending $20,000, $30,000 or more on doing all these these, we’ll handle it all for just $4,140 for the year. Plus, we’ll guarantee 15 quality Bible study leads every month.
If your church isn’t ready for that many Bible studies, we do have lower levels. For $3,060 we’ll guarantee 10 leads per month, or for $1,650 we’ll guarantee 5 leads per month. These smaller programs don’t include the personalized landing page or the Google display advertising, and the smallest also doesn’t include Google search engine advertising. But no matter which level you choose, you’ll get a dedicated marketing coordinator, regular reports, and an opportunity to regularly meet with us to review how your campaign is doing. And every LeadGenerator campaign is backed by our exclusive Minimum Interest Guarantee.
So if you’d like to get introduced to people every month ready to study the Bible with you, our team is ready to connect with you. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 1-800-525-5791. Or you can learn more on our website at BibleStudyLeads.org.