PyroMarketing and Church Growth

The success of the book The Purpose Driven Life defies everything most business people believe about marketing. How could a book by a Southern Baptist minister on a seemingly narrow religious topic go without national advertising or publicity for a year and a half following its release and still sell 26 million copies in three years to become the fastest selling hardcover book in history?

The answer seems as unlikely as the book’s success. Truly effective marketing, it turns out—the kind that creates success stories like PDL—does not try to reach lots of people all at once. In fact, mass marketing cannot create mass appeal on the scale of The Purpose Driven Life.

Greg Stielstra was the marketing director for The Purpose Driven Life. He has identified a four-step strategy that made the Purpose Driven Life a success.  He describes it in a book called PyroMarketing.

Greg has kindly agreed to augment this article. His comments are in RED

  1. Gather the driest tinder: Focus your promotions on those people most likely to buy, benefit from, and then enthusiastically endorse your product or service. They are the only ones whose ignition temperature is within reach of your advertising. They light easily and burn hot. The driest tinder is where word-of-mouth wild fires begin.

    Jesus didn’t begin by speaking to crowds of 5000, he called the twelve disciples.  Those men were so inclined toward his offer that they left their families, their possessions and their occupations after a single exposure to Jesus’ message.  “Put down your nets and follow me…”

  2. Touch it with the match: To the extent you can, give people an experience with your product or service. If you want people to laugh, don’t tell them you’re funny, tell them a joke. Experience is the shortcut to product understanding. It touches people deeply and generates more heat than advertising, igniting even the mildly interested.

    Jesus didn’t walk around claiming to be the Son of God, instead he performed miracles and gave people an experience with things only the Son of God could do--he restored sight to the blind, healed the lame, and made lepers clean.  Is your church claiming to be a place where people can find help and hope or are you demonstrating those facts through experience? 
  3. Fan the flames: Fanning the flames means giving people tools to help them spread your message throughout their social network. People spread messages more effectively than advertising. The fire is hotter than the match. This is why the process that spreads your marketing message must be different than the one by which it began. Leveraging the power of personal influence is the only way to expand your marketing fire beyond its point of origin (the driest tinder and mildly interested) to the masses. By understanding the process you can equip people with tools to exponentially increase their reach and influence.
Jesus gave his disciples the great commission, but he also equipped them for effectiveness by sending his Holy Spirit.  Properly equipped, the disciples were an unstoppable force.  They walked to the ends of the known world and most died as martyrs passionately spreading a message that was not originally their own! How are you equipping the saints to spread news of your church? 

  1. Save the Coals: Saving the coals means keeping a record of the people you encounter through your marketing so you can quickly and easily reach them to fan the flames or to tell them about new products that match their interests. This allows your marketing to build equity and keep pace with the needs of your growing business.
Does your church have a registry of guests?  Do you keep a record of regular attendees?  Businesses know that their most frequent customers are also their best.  Do you know who attends your church each Sunday?  If you did, you could quickly identify those people most likely to serve, or evangelize, or give in a time of need. 

Jesus has a record of people and their deeds from the beginning of time called The Book of Life.  Yes, Jesus has a consumer database and, no, you cannot rent his list.

I would like for us to think about these four principles as they relate to growing your church.

Gather the driest tender.

The principle here is to go after the reachable. Too many churches spend too much time on the hard to reach and not enough time on the reachable. The most reachable people for your church are:

  • Recent visitors. By far and away, the most reachable people in town are recent visitors to your church. Most churches can grow just by taking really good care of the visitors you have. (Read how one church did this and tripled in size.) If you want to attract more visitors, consider the services of Chris Forbes at
  • Absentees--especially those who have recently slipped into inactivity. I read somewhere that if we contact people within the first four times that they miss, we have a real good chance of getting them back. If we wait 6 months, chances are we will never see them again. And, it is the right thing to do. God scolded the shepherds through Ezekiel in this passage: "My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them." Ezekiel 34:6 [NIV] No one searched or looked for them. May it not be said of us.
  • Friends of members.
  • People who attend special events. My church will do the 10th Annual Living Christmas tree this weekend. Some 3000 people will show up. (Our average Sunday School attendance is about 600.) These are the driest tender.
  • Mass marketers waste millions of dollars trying to convince “attractive” audience segments to buy their products rather than speaking honestly to the people who already need what they offer.  Is your church making the same mistake? 

    Who are the most needy people in your community?  How can your church meet their needs?  Is it single mothers?  Is it the homeless?  Is it divorcees?  Is it people with Aids?  Is it troubled teens?

    The deeper a person’s need, the more quickly they will accept help.  The more profoundly you help, the more satisfied they will be.  The more satisfied they are, the more people they will tell.  The more people they tell, the larger your church will become.  By this view, marketing is nearly indistinguishable from ministry.  Ministering to your community is also the quickest way to grow your church.  If you want to double your size, then double your ministry impact.

Touch it with a match

The idea is to let people sample. Greg tells the story of watching countless razor commercials and being completely unmoved. Then, he got a razor in the mail--a Gillette Mach 3. This wasn't just a video of some sexy women watching their men shave in a bath towel. This was an actual razor. Greg tried it, loved it and told multitudes about it through his book. Now, I am telling you about it.

Mel Gibson did this with the phenomenally successful movie, The Passion of the Christ. It grossed more than $550 million in its first nine weeks despite an R rating, English subtitles and the lack of a major distributor. How did it happen? Mel Gibson touched it with a match. He gathered pastors together and invited them to view the entire film. They went home and told their congregations.

Greg Stielstra has done this in spades. The entire, unabridged PyroMarketing book is available online at Download it, share it with your staff, apply its principles to growing your church, and enjoy.

I have put this principle to work in my ministry with an extensive download page. See I am providing all kinds of video and audio samples of my material. Try before you buy.

How could a local church put this too work? Here are some ideas. Share your ideas online at my blog at

  • Make your pastor's messages available online. Converting to MP3 is easy. It is a way people can sample your messages. If you do video, all the better.
  • Put together a promotional DVD that includes a good deal of your service.
  • Let people try the fellowship. Invite outsiders to join you at fellowships. Here is a concept: invite every member and every visitor to every fellowship every month. When people come to your fellowship and see what wonderful people you are, they are more interested in coming to your other activities.
  • If people won’t come to your church to get an experience, then take the experience to them.  That’s what Jesus did.

    What about letting people experience your choir or your praise and worship team through a series of free concerts in public settings and familiar venues?  People who have never been to a church may be afraid of “what goes on in there” but would gladly listen to your musicians in a local theater or concert hall. 
  • Do you only provide a nursery  for people who attend church on Sunday mornings?  Why not offer a nursery on a Saturday night so married couples in your town can go on a date?  If they experience your church on a Saturday night, they may come back on Sunday morning.

Fan the flames

Make it easier for people to talk about your church. This is the reason behind Willowcreek's seeker service. Some have mistakenly thought that this is a replacement of a "go and tell" strategy. It is not. Willowcreek seeks to cooperate with its own members in providing a next step after people share a verbal witness. It is a way to fan the flames.

In a way, fanning the flames goes with touching with a match. If you make it easy for people to sample, you also make it easy for them to share those same samples with others.

The truth is, people--all people--are incredibly influenced by the opinions of others. We are receiving so much advertising messages that we are jaded. We don't know what to believe, so we turn to ordinary people to verify the claims that marketers make.

I found myself doing this just recently. I was looking for a DVD burner to transfer my MiniDV and Digital8 Tapes to DVD. In addition to checking the specs and prices, I looked at and where I can read online reviews of the products I was looking at.

Greg provides extensive evidence of the power of word of mouth in every arena of life. Fanning the flames empowers customers to be evangelists.

What if your Sunday morning bulletin was a self-mailer that doubled as an invitation?  Describe the next week’s service and sermon topic and provide a space for people to write a personal note and place their own stamp.  Then encourage the congregation to send it to an unchurched friend Monday morning.  Imagine the impact if every bulletin on a Sunday morning turned into an invitation to the next Sunday’s service and at no additional cost!

Save the coals

The idea here is simple: make sure you keep the names of people who are the result of your marketing efforts.

How does this apply to Sunday School? Keep a prospect list. Not a novel concept, I know. But, for every class that has an active, accurate prospect list, I could show you ten that don't.

One way that churches sometimes struggle at this point is getting the names of visitors. Churches have tried a number of things to address this. At Saddleback, they ask every person to fill out a card every week. This way, the visitors are not singled out, and, in fact, there is social pressure to go along with the group in filling out a card. Other churches offer free gifts if visitors will stop by an information booth and fill out some information.

Another key is to be honest about what you are and are not going to do with the information. If you are not going to visit at their doorstep, tell them that. Tell them they can expect to get some letters or a phone call about their experience, or an invitation to a Sunday School class, or whatever they really can expect.

My last point might seem counter-intuitive, if not contradictory: don't try too hard. If people don't want to give you their names, don't try to hard to get it. Respect their privacy. You might also want to explain this when you greet the guests. Explain that they can fill out a visitors card after they have been attending for a while.


My dream is to see a group multiplication movement--the rapid explosion of groups growing and dividing, growing and dividing, growing and dividing. PyroMarketing can help that become a reality.

However, we need to always be careful to remember one more thing. Jesus taught us to be shrewd (Matthew 10.16) and for that reason, I think we do well to read books like PyroMarketing. But, we need to read them with some humility that understands that without Christ we can do nothing (John 15).

Share with me your ideas about how to use PyroMarketing to double your group or your church. Go to my blog at