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Branding the Church, Part 1: Two Key Principles

This coming week, I will be speaking at the Communicating Church conference on the campus of Carson-Newman College in Tennessee on church branding and identity formation. Now, words such as branding and marketing often make church people squirm because it’s too corporate. After all, Jesus never used the latest marketing fads, such as Twitter, did he?

In the next couple of posts, we will explore the idea of church branding and how to go about it. But first, let’s start with a couple of key principles.

A brand is a promise

The very first lesson you learn from any book on branding and marketing is that a brand identity is a promise. It’s a promise about who you are, what matters to you, why you exist and what people can expect from you. In short, your brand is the promise you make to your community.

The Big Question

Have you articulated the message you want to send? Yes, most churches have mission statements (which, incidentally, I would contend are part of marketing your church), but that is the simple part. After all, the Bible outlines the mission of the church: to make more and better Christians. The challenge is shaping the way you operate to communicate that mission so that people who visit know what they are getting into.

A Word of Caution

Sending the wrong message here is very dangerous. For example, maybe your church has a very formal, high church feel to it and the culture is that most people dress up in suits for the guys and dresses or skirts for the girls. Though that is your culture, your website is very informal and all the pictures of on the website show people in jeans and T-shirts. Imagine the disconnect when someone visits your church for a Sunday worship service wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Imagine how out of place and uncomfortable s/he will feel. That is but small one example of how your brand – your promise or message – has failed to deliver.

A brand is a promise. That means it must be true. It can describe where you are moving to, but you must actually be moving to make that promise a reality. You must deliver on the promise you make.

Your church already has a brand identity

Your church has a name, right? So right there, you are already involved in branding. You have a name that identifies your church. Maybe you have the name of your denomination in the church name. Maybe not. Maybe you have a slogan or tag line that you often use. Maybe you are a very family friendly church. Maybe you want to be known as the family friendly church and are working toward that end. Regardless, your church already has a brand identity.

The Big Question

Who is controlling that brand? If you, as a church, are not intentional about shaping the message of your brand, someone else will. So let’s go to the example of being a family friendly church. Your church looks at your community and sees the opportunity to reach several young families that are moving into the area. Great. You have just identified a target market. But what happens if one of those young families visits the church and has the following experience.

  • They wander around the building for 10 minutes trying to find the nursery for their 2-year-old son because there were no signs pointing them to the nursery and no greeters to assist them.
  • Finally arriving at the nursery, no one greets them. They look around, trying to figure out what to do next. Eventually someone comes and brings the kid into the room, but no sign-in was required.
  • The parents are now getting a little uneasy. Will their son be safe in there? You can see their perspective on the church is already tainted.
  • After the worship service, the parents return to pick the kid up. Everything goes alright, except they realize that they never had to prove they were the child’s parents. Could just anyone have walked in their and claimed their son?
  • Walking back down the hallway, they realize he face is swollen and he has a big rash. The parents recognize it immediately as an allergic reaction. Their son has a dairy allergy that was inflamed by the goldfish served as a snack in the nursery.

What are those parents going to say after the service? When they have dinner that week with some friends, what message will they send about the church? This is precisely why controlling the brand is so important. It is imperative for the church to identify it’s message and then labor to control that message so that what people experience is what you wanted them to experience at your church.

A Word of Caution

The big danger here is thinking that branding is just about having a logo that you pop on some letterhead or business cards. The logo is an important part – maybe the most visible piece – of your brand, but it goes far beyond that. Your brand is your promise and it must be reflected in everything you do from using a logo to the rules governing your nursery to the structure of your programs. Your church has a brand. You already send a message to your community about who you are  and what they can expect of you. Are you determining what that message is, or are those in your community determining it for you?

Interact: What is your church’s message? Does the way the church operates accurately reflect that message?

Digging Deeper: Here are two resources to help you as you begin to think through branding your church.

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