Success Stories

Relationship Marketing Weekly: Church Ministries

On today’s show, Kody Bateman interviews Ellen Marrs for this extraordinary edition of Relationship Marketing Weekly! With 16 years of experience as a church staff member, Ellen Marrs was able to implement a relationship marketing system at Redemption Church in Mesa, AZ. For the past six years, this system has been utilized successfully throughout the church by a variety of ministries. It has resulted in the growth of their faith-based community and has strengthened the relationships with the church’s members and volunteers.

Ellen will share some incredible stories on how relationship marketing has made a significant impact on the church’s congregation, volunteers, and staff.

Kody Bateman: Hey everybody. This is Kody Bateman coming to you from Salt Lake City, Utah. Welcome to our weekly edition of the RM, Relationship Marketing Weekly show. We’re very excited for an incredible show today. This is our church ministry edition. This is going to be a really cool one.

We’ve had one guest before. We actually had a pastor of a church on a couple of months ago and this will be a slightly different angle on how the church ministry uses this.

So without further ado, I want to welcome a very, very special guest. She’s an incredible relationship marketing expert in several businesses and she has taken that expertise into her ministry. She is with the Redemption Gateway Church out of Gilbert, Arizona. Please welcome to the show Ms. Ellen Marrs. Ellen, welcome.

Ellen Marrs: Hey, thanks Kody.

Kody: Great to have you with us today. Like I say, we’re – I’m going to get you talking as quick as possible because you have so many incredible stories. We actually had a big event here in Salt Lake City for all those listening in. We had a large event in Salt Lake City several months ago and Ellen was one of our speakers at that event and just did an incredible job. She just – you want to listen.

When she starts to talk, you want to have a notepad and a pen and really listen. A great inspiration comes from Ellen and so we’re going to jump right in. First of all, Ellen, I want to kind of go into your story about implementing relationship marketing there at your church. It kind of started where your pastor wanted to send birthday and anniversary cards to members of the church. He set up in account on our service and he asked you to go check it out. So you went, started checking out this service and started sending cards and the very first card you ever sent I believe is the one that really got you hooked. Can you tell us the story of what happened there?

Ellen: Yes, absolutely. So the cool part about this for us and for my church was that the senior pastor was the one that initiated it. So for any senior pastors or any staff members that might be watching this, it’s really important that when we talk about relationship marketing, you understand that a lot of times, people hear churches. They say, “How does relationship marketing help at church?”

Well, we can even see this relationship building and my senior pastor came to me to say, “Hey, we want to start acknowledging people for those special occasions in their life, primarily birthdays and anniversaries,” and he said, “Would you try the system out?” and I said, “Sure, no problem.” So I actually didn’t send the first card for a birthday or anniversary.

I actually noticed that there was a young man in our church who was 17 at the time who was just everywhere. It seemed like every event that I was at, every ministry I was working with, there he was. So I chose to send the first card to him and it was just basic, “Thank you. We appreciate you. Thanks for serving, giving your time,” and what was really cool was it wasn’t even him that responded right away. It was his mom who called me.

I could hear him in the background when she called him but she was saying, “Ellen, I didn’t know the church did this. What is this? How did you do this? How did you even like notice him?”

I said, “Well, he’s everywhere.” She said, “But he’s 17. Seventeen-year-old kids, they don’t normally get excited by cards.” I said, “Well, this is a personalized card that is talking about him. It’s appreciating him. That’s why he feels that.” She’s like, “Oh, yeah. So tell me more.” So honestly, that first reaction, that very first reaction is what really showed me that there’s power in this even in churches because a lot people who stay in churches, everyone gets along, everything is going great.

There are a lot of things that people don’t share openly in church when they receive something in their home through the mail that they can look at again and again. There’s a touch and a connection that grows a relationship that’s really hard to break. Even when they have tough times, they won’t shy away from the church. They will be into the church because they know that people care about them enough to reach out to them like I did to him. That’s what – it grew from there and each ministry is used to doing it a different way since then.

Kody: You know Ellen, I really want to touch on that story a little bit because in there is a valuable lesson that we strive to teach in all of our relationship marketing courses around the world and that is the power of the unexpected card at an unexpected time with a heartfelt message inside of it.

So you mentioned that the first card you sent wasn’t a birthday card or a holiday card. Those cards are effective too. I mean a lot of people don’t get birthday cards at all. But a birthday card or a holiday card or a Merry Christmas card, those kinds of things are kind of expected cards. They’re somewhat expected cards even though not very many people get birthday cards. But it’s kind of expected that someone would remember you on your birthday. But this 17-year-old young man at a highly – like completely unexpected time out of the blue, he received this card, a heartfelt card in the mail from the church from you expressing appreciation.

So I know you’re real big on this because you’re a master card sender. You’re a master relationship marketer. Why is that so important? Why is the unexpected card so much more powerful than any other kind of card that’s sent out?

Ellen: That’s a great question. I actually teach this in workshops to people. I want people to be sending out birthday and anniversary cards, absolutely. But what you think about is the recipient. When you go on your birthday or sometime around it and you pull a birthday card out of your mailbox, you still appreciate. A lot of times I do have people that will call me and say yours was the only birthday card – the church birthday card was the only one that I got or the only one that my child got.

But there’s not the reaction – when they pull it out, they don’t know. Why did they send me a birthday card? I can’t believe they sent me a birthday card. Because it’s their birthday, right? Same thing with the other holidays.

It’s all great. We love to receive that. But there’s not that moment where you think these people were thinking of me even when I was not thinking of them. That’s what I always try to teach and share with people is if we can reach out to people when they’re not expecting it, we’re going to touch them at a divine moment of time in their life when they needed that love, when they need to feel that.

What we’ve seen through all these ministries – and especially one ministry I will talk about towards the end is the encouragement ministry. It’s people get these cards and they literally weep over them because the thing about social media, we don’t get on social media and just pour out our junk and tell everybody how hard we’re struggling or all of the things that may be going on their own lives.

We see the highlight reels. But when someone sends us a card, an unexpected card that says, “You’re appreciated, you’re loved, you’re valued,” they open that up and they go, “I matter. I matter,” and there are people in our church. Again, people assume that everyone in the church has got a perfect life. Not at all.

What happens is I will have people call me and say, “I was struggling. I was done. I wanted to quit everything. I wanted to quit on life and I got this card.”

We see that time and time again and the more this happens – I personally believe the more that this happens in this way, whether it’s churches or any organization, we’re going to change the world. We’re going to help people on a level that touches them personally but then filters out to everyone around them.

So these people that are hurting, they can’t be much use to help other people if they’re hurting themselves. Once we minister to them through these cards, then they’re empowered to go on and do it for other people and I keep seeing it over and over again. Over the last six years, it just keeps happening.

Kody: So you tell the story about a baptism. A baptism is a big deal in really any church, Christian church. A baptism is a big event. It’s one of those events that you want to remember for a lifetime and you send out congratulation cards from – when people get baptized into your church. In fact I think you even have one you can share with us.

Ellen: I do.

Kody: Could you kind of tell us the story about – this tells the story about sending those out. What do people do with those cards? This is really cool. I hope everybody listens closely.

Ellen: Yes. So this gentleman, this is a little bit of a progressive story with him. But he showed up at our class. We have a class called “Start Here” which is the very first class that we recommend anyone go through and most churches have some sort of introductory meeting or class.

This gentleman showed up and didn’t really know anybody. He was recommended to our church and he was searching and trying to figure out what it is he believed and the things that he had learned so far in life and what have you. So he comes to our “Start Here” class and what’s cool – one of the ways that we reach out to people very initially their first real exposure to us in the start of your class is we document that class with just a simple thank-you card. But we actually take a picture of the class and we tell people, “Hey, we appreciate you for taking the time. This class is very important to your growth and your connection in our church.”

What we found out through this class was that most of the people weren’t necessarily always coming to learn about doctrine or how to serve necessarily because I went through and did a survey of people that came through the class and predominantly, overarching 85 to 90 percent of the people who came to “Start Here” were looking for relationship. They were looking for community and wanted to belong somewhere.

So this gentleman received this card and immediately he felt like he belonged with these people because these were his first class people, his boot camp kind of guys and gals that were with them. Well, as he progressed on and just took classes and again kept getting logged on through these cards, he eventually decided he wanted to be baptized, which it is a very important part of being a Christian is that you want to make a public profession of your faith and that’s what baptism means for us.

So instead of just sending – like when I was baptized at a younger age, I received a certificate, a generic certificate which a lot of churches do and that’s totally fine. But I don’t have that framed on my wall. I don’t have that put anywhere significant and it’s probably folded up and put in my bible somewhere from when I was younger. But what this gentleman got was actually a picture of him coming up out of the water and then a lot of the pictures from that day – and this is actually a picture from that baptism and we took these and we put these on a card and it was a personal note from me.

It wasn’t even like your church family. It was a personal note from me so that it felt connected since I was in that first “Start Here” class with him to say, “Congratulations. We’re so excited. We’re so blessed that you’re part of our church,” and again, just like all the other ones, I get either text or call or even I’ve received cards thanking me for the way that we had reached out to people and this is an incredible part of a Christian’s life. But you never forget the moment you get baptized. So for him, this is something he could frame and he can put it wherever he would like.

He can take it from home to home for the rest of his life, tell his family. So for me, that’s – it’s really exciting to be a part of those lives, but also to be a part of documenting those special occasions in their lives.

Kody: Well, yeah, exactly. A picture is worth a thousand words. The fact that you take pictures of somebody coming out of the baptismal font. They will cherish that forever and like I said, they buy frames. I mean they buy frames for those kinds of cards and it goes on – you know, it goes on their shelf or it goes on their refrigerator door or something. That’s the value of those kinds of things.

Again, what we’re trying to do here is teach the world that you do a great job at your ministry. You teach the world how to celebrate people and that’s what you’re doing. You’re celebrating people with pictures and the written word about them, about their lives, and we all – all of us. I don’t care who you are. Everybody craves that. We all want to have a feeling of importance, a feeling of acceptance somewhere.

We talk about this young man who came to your “Start Here” class. Is that what it’s called? Yeah, the “Start Here” class and he felt like he belonged with somebody. He felt family. He felt community there. Joined your church. That was all documented with pictures in the written word.

Like you said, he frames those things and it becomes part of his life story. So you’re doing some amazing things there. I know another thing that you’re big on is as with any church, churches rely heavily on financial donations and we have a lot of people that make significant donations through the years. What do you do to follow up with some of those folks?

Ellen: Yeah. So anyone who is involved in any non-profit but especially churches. You know that without volunteers, without ongoing volunteers and ongoing donations, we can’t keep the doors open and then our church is actually growing at a very quick rate right now.

So we are heavily dependent on volunteers and heavily dependent on our financial donors, the people who are tithing and the people who are contributing to a capital campaign. Right now, we’re in the process of – well, our ground has been broken for a new building because we’re growing so fast and one of the cool things – what I love about this is even though I was in the initial phases of implementing this, it’s the pastors that are coming up with new and improved ideas and ways they want to use it.

So one of the pastors was involved with the finances and said, “Hey, every time someone makes a financial donation to our church, I want to acknowledge that first donation so that they understand we didn’t just receive it and deposit it and forget about it.” So very simple, very simple thank-you cards but just a note from that pastor, which is a strong connection because when you have a large congregation, it’s hard to hear and have a personal communication with a pastor.

Emails are great. Texts are great but there’s something about – even I get excited and I was like part of this church. I feel like I’ve been there forever for 16 years. When I open up my mouth and I see my pastor’s name on the return address, I get excited. I want to know. Why is he talking to me at this level?

So when our congregation members or even visitors donate for the first time, they get a thank-you card and then our volunteers, we’ve done so many cool things. I will tell you one of them.

For me, one of the most fun opportunities we had was at Easter and Good Friday. Those are the biggest volunteer opportunities that we have in the church at large. VBS, Vacation Bible School, is another big opportunity but we actually had some fun. Two years ago, we went around on Good Friday and Easter Sunday and just had a ton of volunteers. Teenagers love to do this. Give them a cell phone and have them go around and take pictures of all the volunteers in action and this was hundreds and hundreds of people because we had each pastor, each ministry give us a list of all the volunteers scheduled to work.

We just took pictures. We’ve been around like – this is a picture of two of our greeters at the front of the church with many people. These guys work in both children’s ministries and our sound and we just grabbed pictures of them in action, in ministry that day and send them out. You know what, Kody? I go into these people’s houses. They’re friends of mine and I still see these. They’re hanging on their fridge. They’re on the walls. They’re framed on a table and volunteers need to know. It doesn’t have to be a big show. It could be something as simple as a folded piece of paper with the great words on it and their picture.

They need to know that they’re part of something really big and that they matter. Otherwise, other things might draw their attention to go serve or do something else. What we’ve seen is not only do they stick but they may help other people basically in recruitment mode for volunteers that they should be a part of it because the church really does appreciate it and that’s what we do. Simple, simple stuff.

Kody: Boy, I tell you. Those are some incredible stories, Ellen. The power of human connection. That’s what you do and again you celebrate people with pictures, the written word and make people feel important and that’s – it’s just an incredible thing within your ministry. I really appreciate your example.

In fact, we actually are going to be coming to your town, at least Phoenix, which is right down the road from you. I’ve got a pre-launch book tour that’s going to be around the country. But we come to Phoenix on August 15th. This is just a kind of – the power of human connection and there’s a book. There are over 40 featured stories in this book like the ones you just heard.

But they’re stories from all kinds of different industries, business industries, non-profit organizations, churches, different stories about how people implement relationship marketing to touch other people’s lives and to better their business. What we’ve talked about all the time is what you appreciate appreciates. It gets bigger. That’s what you’re doing in the church. You appreciate people and your congregation is getting bigger as a result of it.

So again, we really appreciate all of your examples. So those of you listening in, put it down on your calendars, August 15th. You will be getting more information out there. Go check out the pre-launch tour of this book. Already expected to be on the Amazon best-seller list. So again, thank you very much for being all with us. Any final words of wisdom to our listeners before we log off? Go ahead.

Ellen: Sure. The main thing, whether it’s a church or any other organization, the main thing is to focus on people. Just that extra few minutes that you give to someone, to hear their story, whatever it may be, I always tell people listen for three key things that they talk about you and put them in a card to them and let them know that you were paying attention because right now, our society has become really shortened in our attention span and when you appreciate people with just a few points that they’ve talked to you about, it makes a huge difference and they’re connected to you for life.

So really you want professionally, non-profit or churches. There’s so much ministry that can be done just by listening to people and putting it out to them, sending it back to them and it has been amazing to see what that has done to the church world. I’m always – if any churches ever want to reach out and just ask me questions about what they do currently and how this relationship can help them, I would be more than happy to talk to them.

Kody: Thank you Ellen. I appreciate it very much. For those of you who listened in, you want to know more about how Ellen does this, the service she uses, get back with the person that shared this show with you. I’m sure they can help you out. Stay tuned for another incredible edition next week and we will feature yet another incredible story. Ellen Marrs from Gilbert, Arizona with the Redemption Gateway Church. Thanks again Ellen. I appreciate you being on with us. Take care everybody.


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