There are two fast food restaurants about a mile from my house.
Fast Food Restaurant A has long lines, but they move quickly. Their employees are super friendly and helpful. Their food tastes great. They are always busy.
Fast Food Restaurant B has slow service. More often than not they do not get my order correct. Their employees are not friendly, not helpful, and smell like they need to shower. They are seldom busy. I’m not sure how they stay in business.
Restaurant A has an excellent reputation in my community that drives customers to them.
Restaurant B has a poor reputation in my community that repels customers.
What reputation does your church have in your community?
What are your known for?
That reputation is your brand.
The Church’s Brand Stinks
The Church has a poor reputation in our culture. Some of that poor reputation is unfair, but most of it has been earned.
Here is how our culture views The Church brand today:
- a place full of anti-LGBT bigots
- closed minded, anti-science simpletons
- a place where sex crimes against minors occur and are covered up
- a place where people are judged by judgy people
- an authoritative institution in an age when both authority and institutions are not valued.
- a place where people seem to argue with themselves a lot
The church has become known for what we are against rather than what we are for.
Does Your Church’s Brand Stink?
It might cause you some discomfort to think about your church as a brand or having a brand. Whether you are comfortable or not, your church does have a brand. In your local community, your brand might be “the church with the big cross,” “the church that had that scandal,” “the church with a rocking kids ministry,” or “the church that helps the poor.” Your brand can be a positive or a negative to your ministry.
It doesn’t matter if your church is in a season of growth or decline, examining your brand is a worthwhile endeavor.
I appreciate the efforts on one church who has turned what is a negative for so many churches into a positive. Gwinnett Church in Gwinnett County, Georgia started with the realization that The Church and their church were known for what they are against in our culture. They turned that narrative on its head and launched a campaign and branding effort called FOR Gwinnett. Their church communicated all of the things that they are for in Gwinnett County: FOR Parents, FOR local businesses, FOR Our Neighbors, FOR Kids, FOR those not a part of our church. They backed their words up with actions and are now known as the church that is FOR Gwinnett and the people of their community. What a great reputation! What a great brand!
Your local church is called to do ministry in your location at this specific time in history. Your brand should reflect that.
When determining the status of your brand in your community, it is helpful to ask three clarifying questions:
1. What are we known for in our local community?
2. What should you be known for in our local community?
3. How can I manage to talk with 10-20 people in our community to get more insight?
If you evaluate your brand honestly, you will most likely come away a little depressed. Don’t worry (too much). There is hope. There are ways to improve your church’s reputation in your community. The first step in any such endeavor is acknowledging that you have a brand problem.
A Note About Denominations
Your denomination matters to your brand - and for most churches, it is a negative.
It is no secret that almost all Christian denominations in North America have experienced a significant numerical decline in the last few decades. During that time, non-denominational churches have experienced growth as a whole. When thinking of your brand in your denominational context, I find forming a mental picture to be helpful.
Picture your church as a boat rowing upstream against the strong current of our culture. Your denomination most likely serves as a boat anchor in your efforts to navigate upstream.
Here is my best advice to navigate your denominational identify while thinking about your brand:
If the way that your church does ministry is in the mainline of your denomination, own it. Be true to yourself, your heritage, and your reality. Own it all, the good and the bad. You will confuse if you try to differentiate yourself from your denomination because in reality your denomination is your brand. Don’t run from it - embrace it.
If your church practices ministry differently than most churches in your denomination, then you should highlight that and make it part of your brand. Most unchurched or de-churched people do not associate your denomination with your beliefs or doctrine; they associate a denomination with a picture of how you do ministry. Style of worship. Outlook on social issues. Formal or informal? Closed-minded or open minded? Look for ways to separate yourself from your denomination when you think about your brand. In reality, you are different; your brand should reflect that difference. Be true to yourself and your reality.
What you are known for is so important to your ministry. Your reputation matters in your community. Your brand matters to the people you wish to reach.
If this is something that you would like to investigate further, I highly recommend the following resources:
Shaped By The Gospel by Tim Keller
Irresistible by Andy Staley