In church, sometimes we think branding is a bad thing because we’re not selling anything to a consumer, we’re sharing the truth of the gospel. But what most people don’t know is that the brand story of any company is essentially just their answer to this question.
Why do you do what you do?
What an important question to ask ourselves in ministry! Just like any company, we are sharing a message and displaying a reality. We don’t have a product, but we are presenting the hope of the rescue, redemption and restoration that knowing Christ offers. What’s also crazy – once someone buys into following Christ, their identity is effected. The best brands strive for that outcome. Being redeemed by God means you are an adopted son or daughter of the Creator of the universe. It means you are new, valuable, righteous, and eternally secure. THIS is a story worth presenting well!
Your brand story is also something worth communicating to your teams with consistency and clarity. If your leaders and volunteers have clarity on why they think the ministry work you do is essential and effective, you will be more unified as you point to Christ together. If you have clarity on ‘the why’, it will help inform and shape ‘the what’ (i.e. the series you speak on, the music you play, the things you hang on the wall, the special events you plan, the way you train your leaders, your name and visual presence). Whether you know it or not, you already do branding in your ministry. To ignore it as a priority probably just means you are doing it poorly.
In ministry, here are 6 things to remember in order to brand better:
1. Do what the best brands do.
The best brands actually aren’t promoting their product, they’re promoting their identity. Companies like Nike and Apple market what it says about you if you identify with their name. That’s why Nike’s motto is “Just do it”. It’s not just about the equipment needed to perform athletically, it’s about a way of life, an attitude, an identity.
In 1983, when Steve Jobs wanted to bring marketing genius and Pepsi CEO, John Sculley onto the Apple team so that Jobs could focus on product development, he delivered what’s known as the best elevator pitch in history. First he tried to get Sculley on board with his persistence, stock options and a huge salary increase. But when that didn’t work, he asked him the questions that would gnaw at him, keep him up at night, and ultimately cause him to leave Pepsi and join Apple. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?” Steve Jobs turned Sculley’s focus away from the product of Pepsi to the identity of being a world-changer.
Likewise, we want to steer people away from experiencing church as a product, and steer them towards identifying with their new life and family in Christ. Once their identity has changed, church isn’t just about Wednesday or Sunday, it’s about every area of life. Branding in ministry isn’t about attracting people to a product they like, it’s about inviting people to be apart of a new life in Christ.
2. When someone leaves a service or gathering, they will leave with only one primary takeaway.
With a little bit of planning and foresight, could your gatherings have a more cohesive directive? Think about it. Every time you meet, there is the potential for people to encounter several conflicting messages. They experience lobby signage, a welcome, possibly a video or two, a call to worship from the worship leader, several worship songs, a message, and announcements. And each of these elements are most likely calling your people to some kind of response. What if there was a common thread through all of these elements, so that as people go home and process that content throughout the week, they have clarity on what to focus on. Let’s not assume that people will focus on the thing we spent the most time preparing. The reality is that people will focus on content that 1.) reoccurs throughout the gathering 2.) gets the most airtime 3.) has the strongest visual presence 4.) is simple and catchy 5.) happens last.
3. Our brains are wired to recall things when associations can be made. This means that if what we see, hear, sing, and feel are all associated, the impact will be stronger.
I have a friend who is phenomenal at remembering names. And, because of his job, he meets hundreds of people a year. One time I asked him about it, assuming that he just has an impeccable memory. I’ve always been poor at remembering the names of people I just met and always blamed it on my bad memory. He told me that he actually has a terrible memory too and even struggled in school because of it. But he has a trick to help him remember names. Whenever he meets someone new, he makes it a point to find out as much about them as possible within the first minute of talking with them. He repeats each new fact back to the person as his bank of info increases. “So, Mallory, you’re 20 and you grew up in Florida? That’s really interesting that the rest of your family lives in Ohio and you’re going to nursing school.” He told me that once he has done that, anytime he sees that person in the future, if even one aspect of that conversation come to mind, he can usually make associations to the rest of the conversation (including their name).
I help plan my church’s Middle School and High School gathering each week. Most messages we preach are part of a series of messages with the same theme. Each series includes a catchy name, a series intro video to kick off the night, a pre-message bumper video, a slide/graphic, small group questions and even recommendations for music and social media posts. If all of these elements have a common theme, then anytime one element comes to mind, we are more likely to remember other elements of that series. For example, three months after a series, a small group leader might ask her students if they remember the illustration our pastor used during the Propel series. Saying the word Propel is most likely going to bring to mind the graphics and videos from that series, which might help them recall the illustrations, bottom lines and scriptures. If visual elements and message illustrations don’t exist or they are incongruent, people will be less likely to make those connections and remember the core content. Instead of creating isolated experiences for people, let’s aim to give them clear directives with a common thread.
4. Realize that people are only experiencing this gathering for a short amount of time once a week.
I will admit that for years, I was definitely guilty of assuming that if we’ve played a worship song two weeks in a row, it’s played out, or if we’ve announced an event 3 times, people are tired of it. For those of us who spend countless hours planning and discussing our gatherings, it can feel like people need completely fresh content every time we gather. But the reality is, your people just went a whole week without hearing about any of the stuff you are talking about all week long. Strive to over-communicate your message, making it easily accessible through multiple avenues. And don’t be afraid to clarify, repeat, and repeat again saying it differently. People have a ton on their minds! Do them a favor by over-communicating the most important content.
5. Tangible experiences are more impactful than simply hearing a message or reading information.
Throughout Scripture, we see God tying tangible actions or visual reminders to teaching. Often when Jesus taught, he used metaphors with everyday items like seeds, trees, sheep, a lamp, a door. He tied spiritual lessons to everyday experiences to more actively engage people. Communion is a great example of this. Jesus taught His disciples to use the acts of drinking wine and eating bread to remind them of Him. Wine represents Christ’s blood and bread represents His body. What a beautiful way to tie an action, a taste, and a symbol to the memory of Christ’s sacrifice. These little directives can remind us of big truths. In ministry, we can offer people visual illustrations or tangible challenges to more strongly drive home our message in a relatable, memorable way.
6. We are part of a culture where fresh trends come along faster than new superhero films.
As devoted followers of Christ, we probably know that the gospel never goes out of style. The message of Christ, the personality of God and the relationship we get to have with him never gets stale. But, if we’re not careful, we can present the gospel to others in a way that seems outdated, irrelevant or lame. And I’ve often wondered if that does justice to the message Christ brought to the world. Throughout scripture we see Jesus and His disciples contextualizing their message to the culture, not in a way that diminishes it’s truth, but in a way that increases its relatability.
So, practically, what does this mean? It means, do your research before you implement a stage design, print a t-shirt, redesign your website, prepare a message for a different campus that you’re not used to, or name your youth ministry (or not name your youth ministry, since we’re not in the 90’s anymore). Find out what other churches are doing, what’s been overdone, and what’s ‘in’. Or better yet, hire creative, passionate Millennials who are in touch with pop-culture and think innovatively about how to do church. Then run things by them regularly.
Collaboration is your best friend when it comes to trends, styles, and staying relevant!