Simple Church Branding, Part 1: 3 Good and 3 Bad Reasons to Consider Branding

I am uncomfortable using the term “branding” in the context of the church.

There- I said it. It feels good to get it off my chest.

This is important to address head on from the beginning because chances are good that I am not alone. You might feel the same way.

When I think of branding, I think corporate. When I think of branding, I think manipulation. When I think of branding, I think of a disguise or a fresh coat of paint that is used to mask what’s underneath. Basically, I think of everything I don’t want in the church.

Before going to seminary, I earned a degree in advertising. I am constantly walking around with two sides of my brain fighting back and forth. The advertising side loves to look at new logos and slick websites. The pastor side quietly notes that the early church grew exponentially from virtually nothing during a time of persecution without the help of logos, social media, or websites.

What helped me make peace between the two sides is a concept that Seth Godin has shared in multiple contexts. Here, I will quote from his appearance on an episode of On Being:

“So the choice is, do we seek to push to the world an idea that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, that isn’t true, that isn’t valid, but we can trick people into buying… Or do we build an organization and build a life and build a career where if someone knew the truth they’d want to work with us.”

When I read a quote like this, both sides of my brain shout, “Yeah- that’s what I’m talking about!” It is through this lens that I see branding as an asset for the church, and it is through this lens that I write this series.

3 Good Reasons to Consider Branding

1. You want to effectively and efficiently tell the truth.

This series is going to focus on the design aspects of branding, but it is actually a much deeper concept. Effective and honest branding starts with a clear understanding of the truth of the organization. For example, you know that your church has the people, the resources, and the passion to make disciples and help bring about the Kingdom of God. You know your church is already doing great things, and you want a way to amplify the message. If you can distill the truth of your organization down to a few key words, images, emotions, stories, etc., it gives you a good starting point. We will dig into this in part 2 of the series.

2. You want to build a relationship of trust.

If what you tell people about your organization matches what people see and experience when they show up, it will begin to build trust. This is critically important when we consider the type of relationship we are called to have with people. We aren’t trying to be a trendy club that people want to attend. We are to be an instrument that connects people to God—a deeply intimate role. We are trying to be a vessel through which God changes lives. Trust is a major factor in this kind of relationship, and lack of trust is a major factor in why people leave and/or avoid churches in the first place.

3. You want to provide your church with a set of tools to tell its unique story.

So, you have a great church. It isn’t perfect, but it has a good heart and a culture of living out its beliefs. Like the early church, word is probably already spreading because you are truly making a difference in people’s lives and in the community. This is great, but branding can provide tools to turn story into strategy. Even the early church employed strategy, as Paul intentionally planted churches at major intersections of the Roman road system (essentially the social network of his day). Giving your church, both the institution and the members, a set of resources to use and/or point to will equip and empower anyone to tell the story with confidence and consistency.

3 Bad Reasons to Consider Branding

1. You want to change the culture of your church.

Your church is inwardly focused. It has a country club mentality, and it is doing nothing to reach those outside the church. You want to give the place a shot in the arm—both with energy and vision. You feel God is calling the church to take steps in a new direction. And you decide to start with a new logo… Yes, imagery can be powerful. Yes, branding should incorporate vision for the future. But if your new logo and tagline are completely disconnected from reality, you’re wallpapering over water stains without fixing the leak. Do the hard work first of reshaping the church’s culture, perspective, and practice, and then use branding as a way to propel the momentum.

2. You want to trick people into coming.

There are two ways of taking this one—insidiously or innocently. Let’s set aside the first, trusting that you are not the kind of person/church who is into intentionally pulling a bait and switch. Instead, have you ever caught yourself thinking, “If people would only come, they would see how great we are”? This is not bad in and of itself. But then you design a flier or direct mail postcard with photos that could have been taken at a Hillsong United concert. In reality, your service is not enough people in too big of a room led by a band of two acoustic guitars and a set of bongos playing mid-90s praise music. Ok, so they came, but… 

3. You want to be like other churches/organizations/companies.
As I was developing as a preacher, a friend of said to me, “That was the best <Famous Preacher’s Name> sermon I have ever heard. Too bad you were the one giving it.” It stung, but it was true. The content and the delivery were good, but they weren’t authentic to who God was calling me to be. Similarly, there are tons of cool church logos and websites out there. There are tons of great mission and vision statements and marketing copy to go with them. But Ecclesiastes 1:9b, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” is not the Bible giving you permission to just copy and paste. By all means, seek inspiration and study what works, but adapt it to who you are. Honestly, that’s what I am doing with this series. You will find no new or revolutionary ideas here, but what is new is that I have never written about this before—and, who knows, maybe the way I synthesize it will make the difference for you. Craft a culture and a message that is authentic to who you are and who God is in and through you.

So are you excited? Over the course of the series, we will be digging into concepts and application, and I will provide practical tips, links, and resources. But don’t worry—this series isn’t about turning your church into Starbucks or Coca-Cola. It is about providing you a set of tools to help tell your story, so that when people know the truth about God and your church, they want to be involved.

Make sure you don’t miss any part of the series! Use the button below to subscribe to the Defining Grace mailing list, and you will receive an email on Friday afternoons containing information about and links to the week’s posts. You won’t have to rely on yourself to remember to come back to the site–I will do that for you!

Image by: Flickr users Adnan IslamJena Murphy and slgckgc. Used under Creative Commons License.

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