1. Promote an identity, not a product
The best brands in the world do this; brands like Coca-cola, Apple and Nike. Nike’s motto isn’t “use incredible athletic gear”, it’s “just do it”. They’re promoting a lifestyle, an attitude, an identity, what it says about you if you buy into their brand.
So, practically, how do you do this? Branding is simply communicating about your identity and inviting people to participate. Your identity is what makes you unique, your DNA, who you are, your story. Try getting in a room with some of your key leaders and making a list of words that define you. Use this time to describe your current identity, not to try to brainstorm about who you want to be. Unless you have the help of branding experts, branding is usually done best when the goal is to reinforce your identity, not to try to reinvent it.
One reason you might want your branding to be shaped by your identity, instead of your product, is to avoid promoting a consumerist church culture, where people attend because of what they can get, not because of who they are. One way you can do this is by communicating more about who you are and less about what you have coming up. If your website, emails, social media, lobby signage and announcements are inundated with communication about events, classes, and upcoming series, but don’t include core beliefs, mission statements, or defining characteristics, consider changing that. Announcements are important, but don’t allow that to be all you communicate.
In my student ministry, I made a rule a long time ago that I was going to take less
photos of special events and on-stage elements, and more photos of our students. I want the photos we post to communicate more about who we are as a community, and less about what cool things we have to offer. Using genuine photos of people in real interactions communicates identity, not product.
2. Be consistent
Reinforce your branding by coming up with a look and feel, and sticking with it… for several years! Choose a font or two, a color scheme, a style, and a few key phrases, then build all of your communication out of that framework. Slapping your logo on something does not mean you have “branded” it. Building your logo and all of your communication from the same design scheme, a scheme that is informed by your identity, does mean you have branded it. If you work hard at getting it right in the beginning, this will actually save you lots of time and creative energy in the long run.
A new series or upcoming event can be a challenging exercise in consistency.
Sometimes we want those things to be fresh and totally different, but think of them as branches of the same tree. A new series or event should have some consistency with your current branding, but can break a couple of the rules as well. Our brains are wired to make associations. So being consistent allows people to begin recognizing your brand, and making associations to other times they’ve encountered it.
For a great example of this, follow @shereadstruth on instagram. Every time an image of theirs pops up in my feed, I know it’s from them, even before I look at the profile name.
3. Stay Current
Is this something I really need to prioritize? The gospel doesn’t go out of style, right? We know that God doesn’t become outdated or irrelevant. But even Jesus contextualized His message. He understood the culture and He referenced it frequently to relate with people.
Especially if you are working in student or college ministry, trends are important, and here’s why. We want students to feel like our ministry is a place where they belong, where they can be accepted, where we get them. I’ve seen it a bunch of times in our student ministry. When a new leader walks in who dresses trendy, knows current song lyrics, and uses some of the slang their students use, they win automatic relational points. Students often open up quicker, and are able to be more vulnerable with these leaders because they feel understood. For older leaders, staying up to date might be a little harder, but let others help you. Use social media, pinterest, blogs, and your younger friends to influence you. Here’s a list of resources I use for inspiration. Be yourself! Don’t be the leader who’s trying too hard! But, as genuinely as possible, try to keep an open mind as you allow the pulse of culture to inform your approach.
4. Be inclusive
We want students to know that being a Christian means they are a child of God,
adopted into His family and given the opportunity to participate in the redemptive work He is doing on earth. They should feel like they’re part of a family, they belong, they aren’t going to be overlooked. Social media has the ability to make them feel very included or very excluded, depending on how it’s used. Use photos of students, photos of leaders, and photos of the prep you are doing throughout the week to make them feel like they’re part of it all. Invite them to participate, to be heard, to contribute. Be personal in your wording. Use the words, “I” and “you”.
The goal is for students to go from using phrases like “I go to Mosaic Students” to “I am a Mosaic Student”, from “I go to church” to “I am a son or daughter of God”.