Playing at Churches is the mainstay for most Christian bands. But getting the initial booking to play at a Church can be difficult. Churches tend to book on established relationships with the artist. In other words, if you do not know a key person in the Church your band is not going to get to play. The good side of this is that once you are known in the Church, your Christian band will probably be playing there frequently without much booking effort on your part.
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So, how do you get booked in a Church?
The #1 Way not to get booked is to send out physical press kits to every church in your area.
Many Christian bands have wasted large amounts of money sending unsolicted press kits to every Church in their area. Creating the press kits costs and so does the postage. When you factor in the amount of time you have to spend, this is the best way to spend much and accomplish nothing. The largest percentage of press kits sent to Churches end up in the circular file (trash). The next largest percentage of press kits ends up in the office file, never to be looked at initially or seen again. Whenever someone gets around to cleaning out the file cabinet the press kit goes… you guessed it – in the circular file. The few press kits that actually make it to the appropriate person end up in a pile on their desk. They will probably glance at it whenever they clean off their desk, but since they are in the declutter, cleaning mode the press kit goes in either the circular file or the office file (which eventually then ends up in the circular file). So, if you want to spend a lot of money to create trash, send out a lot of press kits to Churches.
If you do not want your bands press kit to end up in the trash, you may want to consider my method…
- Assess the Churches needs.
- Determine the appropriate person to contact about the needs.
- Contact that person.
- Provide the contact person with tools to help decide that you are the band to meet their needs.
- Answer all questions about how your band will best meet the Churches expectations.
- Solidify the booking on the Churches terms.
- Perform above and beyond what the Church expected.
- Follow up with a Thank You note.
- Re-contact the contact person to rebook.
Note that the band doesn’t actually play the show until step 7. Booking at Churches is a process of establishing a relationship. The days of only sending a press kit out and having the Church call you to play are over. So, let’s get to work…
1. Assess the Churches needs.
Here’s where the Church secretary or receptionist is your greatest ally. Call the church specifically to talk to whoever answers the phone. You aren’t trying to book a gig at this point, you are just trying trying to find out of the Church has a need for your band. The mot important thing here is not to sound like salesman. Church secretaries have been trained to screen calls. You need to sound and act like a real person who is genuinely interested in the real person at the other end of the phone. Ask the secretary (or whoever answers the phone) if the Church uses Christian bands for their youth group or for special events like Church dinners or for special Sunday morning’s services. If she says “No” ask if your bands services were available for free if she thinks the Church might consider using your band. If she says “No” again, thank her politely for her time and move on to the next Church. If she says “Yes” to either question, fish for information about the kinds of events the Church might use the band to play. Remember, this phone call is simply information gathering… you want to talk to the secretary; you do not want to be sent to anyone’s voice mail, except as a last resort.
2. Determine the appropriate person to contact about the needs.
After you have gotten as much information about Church events your band might play from the Church secretary, ask her who to contact about each of those events. Get their name (first and last) with correct spelling, their phone number (cell phone is best), and the best time to contact them. It always amazes me how much the Church secretary knows about each persons schedule, likes and dislikes. If you can get them talking they will often say something like “Oh yeah, you need to talk to so and so, they are always here on Monday at 10 am for staff meeting which gets out at noon. They are always in the office then but they don’t like to take calls in mid afternoon because they are involved in such and such a project.” This information is invaluable because you will be able to know when to call and talk to a live person instead of leaving a voicemail which will never get returned.
3. Contact that person.
Contacting the correct person to book your band is the most difficult part of this process. Hopefully, the Church secretary has made it a little easier with good information. But, inevitably, you will end up leaving multiple voicemails, and playing telephone tag for some time. Remember that at this point the staff member feels they need you a whole lot less than you need them. Your phone call may initially be perceived as an interruption and an annoyance. But do not give up; your goal is to talk to a live person. Leave a voice mail no more than once a week until you reach the person. Be polite and very concise: leave your name phone number and band website with the suggestion of which event your band may be best suited to play. Any more information than that looks unprofessional.
4. Provide the contact person with tools to help them decide that you are the band to meet their needs.
When you actually get to talk to your contact you really only have a couple seconds to get their attention. After that they may stay on the line but will probably be doing other work at the same time, not really listening. So, I like to introduce myself briefly then ask if they can get online to the bands website while we talk. If so, my job is much easier because they are interacting with me exclusively. At this point you must remember that you are not talking in order to “sell” your band. You are talking about your band possibly meeting the Churches (and the staff members) needs. Keep the focus on what the Church needs, not on how amazing your band is. The “selling” occurs when you can honestly say, as a part of the conversation, that your band has met similar needs in other Churches or that you have been wanting to do some new idea that might be really good for this Church. Just have a conversation with the staff member. Be honest and open. If you don’t know the answers to a particular question say so, but also try to figure out how you can get the answer later. Let this phone call last as long as the staff member wants it to last. Do not be disappointed in a 30 second phone call… I have gotten shows from them too. This is an initial introduction of a potential new friend and ministry partner, not a contract signing. Offer to send a physical press kit; some people will want it to show their bosses others will not. Get the press kit in the mail immediately with “ATTN: contact persons name – Here’s the press kit you requested” on the front of the envelope.
The most effective way to end the conversation is to ask if you can pray for anything specific for the staff member and/or their church ministry. But do not ask if you are not really going to be serious about doing it. If they say “Yes” and tell you about something specific, ask if they have time and are comfortable to pray together over the phone. Do it. Then politely thank them for the opportunity to talk to them and end the conversation. Continue to pray for them and their ministry as often as possible, just as you would for a new friend.
5. Answer all questions about how your band will best meet the Churches expectations.
Once in a while, during the initial phone call with the contact person he or she will let you know when you should call them back. If not, call back in about 2 weeks. Ideally, you want to talk to the person, but a voice mail is OK if that’s all you can get. You want 2 things from this phone call: (1) to answer any new questions about the band and (2) to follow up on the persons prayer request. Which do you think is more important to the staff member? That’s right… their needs. Sometimes this will be their prayer request, other times; it will be information about the band. Your focus should be to meet their needs. By ministering to the staff members needs you are truly loving your brother (or sister) and building a relationship with them. On the spiritual side, loving your brother (or sister) is true ministry; on the business side, these relationships are the key to getting and keeping Church bookings. So, this is a win win approach. After a while I found that Church staff were genuinely happy to take my calls and even more happy to see me in person. I gained contacts which referred me to other contacts as well as friends who helped me personally through difficult times.
6. Solidify the booking on the Churches terms.
Getting the staff member to commit to a show at this point in the process is generally not hard. They want to help you because you have established a relationship with them. Discussing terms can be a little trickier. You need to stick to your bands policies, but you also need to be flexible for the Church. Some options you may want to consider are: a confirmation letter from the band instead of a contract for Churches who have issues with signing contracts, decreasing band payment in trade for housing and food if you already have a show nearby, or throwing in extras like free sound and lights (if you have the equipment) in trade for playing the prime time slot. Try to balance the potential for more shows from this Church with the immediate needs of the band. Sometimes it is worth it to do whatever the Church wants for the first show just to get your foot in the door.
Have an honest phone conversation with the staff member about what will benefit both ministries. Approach this conversation like 2 friends planning to make the event the best possible rather than a contract negotiation. But, lean towards benefitting the Church more than the band. Solidify whatever you agree on in writing. This contract or confirmation letter is more about eliminating miscommunication than a legal document. So, just state what needs to be stated as clearly as possible and get a copy to the Church contact as well as to the band. Hopefully, you will be able to clear up any miscommunication or potential issues before the day of the show.
7. Perform above and beyond what the Church expected.
All you hard work in the booking process can be completely useless if the band does not live up to what the Church has been led to expect. There is not much worse than a friend who lets you down and embarrasses you in public. So, whatever you do, make sure your band does more than agreed on and more than expected in every area possible. Make the staff member look good and he or she will rebook your band. Let them down and they will not return your future phone calls. Ministries book bands who are more concerned with doing ministry than being the star of the show.
8. Follow up with a Thank You note.
After the performance, send the contact person a handwritten Thank You note. Most people do not do this, which is exactly why I do. I want the contact person to remember my band, to stand out from every other ministry they work with. So, within one week of the show, I have every band member sign a short Thank You note and mail it USPS. This one act has gotten me more bookings than press kits ever did. This one kind act also reinforces to the contact person that you are truly interested in them and their ministry. You are not that friend who gets what they want out of the relationship and then dumps the other person. Do you want the contact person to take your call next time? Be their friend even after the show.
9. Re-contact the contact person to rebook.
Rebooking is the easiest thing in the world if you have an established relationship with a friend. Most often, you will not have to call to get a show – they will call you. But, depending on the nature of your friendship, you may want to keep in touch every month or so. You need to play this by ear as each friendship is different. Sometimes, you can do lunch when you are in town, other times just a monthly voicemail is appropriate. Find a balance between bugging them with weekly telemarketing style phone calls and spending more time with them than you spend with your family. Don’t send spam e-mails unless you really have something important to say or offer. But when you are available to do a show in their area, ask them first. The key is to keep in touch on whatever level the staff member feels comfortable.
Maintaining multiple relationships with Church staff members is a time consuming method to booking. It requires far more than sending a press kit and signing a contract. Relationships are work, especially when things go wrong. And you know that in ministry, especially when putting on a special event, things go wrong. People are messy. Church is messy. Ministry is not always about staying pristinely clean, sometimes you have to put the waders on and work hard to clean up messes.
Booking through relationships with Church staff members is the most effective method of booking I have seen. It results in the most bookings possible as well as bringing the Churches to their greatest potential by ministering to their staff. Keep these verses in mind:
“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”
James 3:13-18 The Message
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