News - Marketing and Ministry Team Up For A Win

Marketing and Ministry Team Up For A Win

by Rachel Heston-Davis Marketing and Ministry Team Up For A Win

Riley Metzger ’14 was a newcomer to ministry, and his first assignment was a tough nut to crack.

Crossroads United Methodist Church in Washington, Illinois, needed to revamp its youth program. They averaged 725 people at Sunday worship but barely cleared 20 students at Wednesday night youth group. Most students drifted away when they hit high school. Breathing life back into the program would be a challenge, but Crossroads took a chance on Riley, hoping for fresh ideas from a newcomer.

Fortunately for Riley, Greenville University had encouraged him to pursue a well-rounded education. He came to Crossroads with a set of skills most people don’t think to pair with ministry: business know-how.

The Challenge

Riley’s decision to major in youth ministry was a no-brainer. He wanted to lead and disciple young people. He picked up a business minor just in case—maybe he’d leave ministry for nonprofit work someday, he thought. Management skills might come in handy then.

Turns out, they came in handy on his first day as a youth minister, and every day thereafter.

Riley arrived at Crossroads and quickly noticed a slew of problems holding the youth program back: 

  • Social media: “[The program] lacked a strong social media presence,” Riley remembers. The youth program couldn’t attract its target audience—the so-called “digital native” generation—without social media fluency.
  • Volunteers: Youth ministers rely on volunteers to help run events and build relationships with students. Riley needed to strengthen a volunteer network.
  • Irregular programming: When Riley arrived, the youth group had no schedule in place for summer youth activities. That translated into twelve weeks of disconnect from his target audience.

Putting Business Skills to Work

Riley put his business skills to work immediately. He planned summer activities. He invested in relationships with potential volunteers. He threw his efforts into social media, becoming active on popular student platforms like Instagram.

His business training taught him to be proactive, so Riley moved beyond reacting to problems. He actively pursued new growth strategies. 

Like any responsible marketer, this meant studying audience demographics. He noted that the church’s youth program lacked high schoolers but had regular junior high attendees.

“We built off of our strengths—junior high—and made sure we catered to their needs,” he says. To keep older students engaged, he gave them ownership in activities. “We put some high school students in roles where they could use their gifts.” They played in a youth worship band, ran games at events and helped younger attendees have fun.

Riley also procured “swag”: T-shirts and fidget spinners with the youth group’s logo on them. “These are items students use every single day, so it helps bring awareness to things we are currently doing,” he says.

Finally, he created a three-year plan to give the program direction and goals.

Results That Speak For Themselves

“We are now running an average of close to 50 students on a Wednesday night,” Riley says. “We have a year-round program, and we have opportunities for discipleship and missions year round!”

Riley’s interdisciplinary training at Greenville University paid huge dividends in his career. In fact, Riley would go so far as to say that all ministry majors should be required to take business classes.

“Every aspect of business is applicable to ministry,” he says. Some examples include:

  • Operating within a budget
  • Managing volunteer teams
  • Branding your church or program
  • Casting vision
  • Creating goals
  • Communicating with members
  • Leadership

Riley encourages all university students, no matter their discipline, to take business skills seriously.

“Start marking yourself now—do internships in the summer, volunteer at jobs within your field.”

You never know when it might come in handy.

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This story was published on March 27, 2018

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