The Worth of Souls, Direct Mail Edition

January 22, 2010    By: Matt W. @ 8:44 am   Category: Uncategorized

I’ve recently been reading some Evangelical books on church growth. While I’ve been truly amazed at the variety and hope to post a review once I get through the 17 books I’ve selected as most interesting, I did want to address one point that seems to be quite common among the Evangelical movement: Direct Mail Advertising.

Our church has done some web advertising and some radio and television ads, and from what I understand, does pretty well in these areas, so the idea of marketing our faith should not be foreign to us. We want people to come unto Jesus and advertising is an effective method of asking and aids our missionary efforts.

Evangelicals also have this desire and have employed direct mail as a means of accomplishing this, often with astounding results. The Bay Area Fellowship of Corpus Christi, Texas has grown their congregation from 7 to 4000 in 7 years in part through direct mail advertising.

Since the church is divided by geographic boundaries, it would be pretty easy for the church to do a direct mail campaign at the ward, stake, mission or national level, as a supplement to its other efforts. InfoUSA provides a postcard direct mail piece for about $.06 per lead for lists less than 100,000 and $.05 per lead for lists over 100,000. Assuming this, it would cost my local ward about $2,300 to direct mail the 3 zip codes we reach (38k residencies), and would cost my mission about $34,000 to reach our local area (674k residencies).

The worst case response rate for direct mail is .02% (2 out of 10,000) and the typical best case response rate is 2.61%. This means for my local ward I would have the possibility of catching the interest of between 8 and 984 households, and for the mission we’d have the possibility of catching the interest of between 135 and 17,573 households. Assuming the national average of 3.2 people per household, that is 500 to 60,000 people at the mission level.

Now not all interested people will come to church, and even less will be baptized. If we assume 5% of those who respond to the direct mail campaign go on to be baptized, the worst case scenario is that we’d get one convert for our $2,300 direct mail investment. (8 households = 24 people * 5% = 1 person) but our best case scenario is we just added 158 members to our ward. At the mission level, this equates to somewhere between 22 and 2,800 retained converts.

So from a direct mail perspective, the worth of a soul is between $12 and $2300 dollars.


  1. Much cheaper than what is generally spent on missionary work.

    We get hip direct mail advertising for a number of local churches.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 22, 2010 @ 11:10 am

  2. J. Stapley pointed out something important… what would your local ward send that would be “hip”? No bands, no flashy youth groups. Maybe Helping Hands Service projects, or Genealogy? Just doesn’t quite sound the same.

    Comment by Coffinberry — January 22, 2010 @ 2:57 pm

  3. If you consider that maybe 25% of the converts would be full tithe payers, the church could rake in a lot of dough – more than offsetting the cost.

    Direct mailing does not lead to much of a conversion story though.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — January 22, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

  4. J.- Actually, For the last reported year, 2008, If we assume $400 a month for missionary cost, the worth of Souls is $949.07 before retention [(52,494 missionaries X 12 months X $400)/265,493 converts].

    That’s about the same as a Direct Mail success Rate of .04% (4 in 10,000).

    I am not saying we should scrap the current missionary program though, as I think it’s greatest value is in what it does for missionaries, and I never would have responded to a direct mail, personally, but I do think it would be interesting to experiment with supplementing the missionary program with Direct Mail.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 22, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

  5. Coffinberry: The church is awesome. Don’t underestimate our hipness. We could direct market on our church’s strengths: Faith, Family Values, The Book of Mormon, etc. The key in marketing is differentiating yourself from the flock. Brand Analysis is typically the best way to figure out the best differentiation points to market, and our church has the ability to out invest most churches in terms of marketing spend.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 22, 2010 @ 4:46 pm

  6. Eric: That sounds so cynical. Maybe it is my fault for the way I used the term “Worth of Souls”. sorry for that.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 22, 2010 @ 4:47 pm

  7. Actually, that is an average cost. I imagine that, for example, the greater Seattle area ratio of missionary expense to convert baptism is many, many times higher.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 23, 2010 @ 10:09 am

  8. 7, If you throw in Tacoma it’ll probably even out. It is one of the highest baptizing missions in the nation.

    Comment by Latter-day Guy — January 23, 2010 @ 9:56 pm

  9. Must be why the local missionaries are always trying to pawn of some goofy new program, saying that it came from the Tacoma mission.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 24, 2010 @ 11:26 am

  10. Coming from England I expectthat this would not have the same levels of success here. Has your reading taken in cross-national examples, or is located in the states alone.

    Comment by Rico — January 25, 2010 @ 6:26 am

  11. I’ve always thought it could prove successful if we direct mailed a couple of zip codes with a well made message and followed up with 20 sets of missionaries working the area. Although I must admit to some feeling of distaste whenever the church starts to feel like a business.

    Comment by Hal — January 25, 2010 @ 9:41 am

  12. Of course, this is all assuming that the results experienced by that church are of the type desired by the Church. Before comparing methods it’s generally a good idea to compare the criteria of the outcome.

    This will sound cynical, but it’s a genuine question: When you say due ‘in part’ to direct-mail, do you know what percentage of growth was actually due to direct-mail?

    Comment by brady — January 25, 2010 @ 2:06 pm

  13. Rico: Most of the Mega-church movement seems America centric.

    Hal: I always find the “church feels like a business” comment odd. What sort of business do you mean.

    brady: The outcome herein discussed is simply bodies in pews. More people equal more opportunities to convert.I do no know what part of the 7 to 4000 was direct mail, just like no company can honestly say what part of their sales were direct mail. But they can say that the standard response to a direct mail is between .02% and 4.3% with 2.63% being the average response. I would expect for churches, it is lower, since the bigger requirement means a lower response.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 25, 2010 @ 7:28 pm

  14. We do not have the advertisements in England either, I think there is some legal prohibition about advertising Church’s. They did a free DVD offer once but I think the response was fairly low.

    Perhaps they have tried this and it did not work. The Church certainly seems open to using new media to promote the Church.

    Comment by Rico — January 26, 2010 @ 3:59 am

  15. church feels like a business

    I mean this: Often when I hear people talk about missionary work it feels like I’m at an Amway meeting. They try to get us ‘fired up’. I recall a ‘motto’ of a mission president: “1200 in Heaven in 1997.” It sometimes feels like we are being taught to sell widgets and not being encouraged to share the gospel. Hearing and accepting the gospel is one of the great and meaningful things in life and it just bugs me little when it sounds like we’re trying to sell widgets. However, with the advent of Preach My Gospel I have seen a reduction in this problem. I fully admit this must just be a quirk of mine because few people seem to share my distaste for it…not for missionary work, but for the contrived feeling it sometimes takes on. I don’t feel that when being taught from the apostles, usually it comes from local leaders.

    Comment by Hal — January 26, 2010 @ 10:43 am

  16. Rico: It is true, the church may have done this before, and I am not aware of it, but I’ve never seen it.

    Hal: So it’s not the business feel, it’s the “crappy business” feel. I think the “contrived feeling” you mention has a lot to do with letting 19 year olds be in charge.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 26, 2010 @ 9:04 pm

  17. Perhaps so.

    Comment by Hal — January 27, 2010 @ 10:53 am