What does it even mean to have a “brand”?

Defining your brand is done by creating messaging and moments that cause people to say things behind your back that you want them to say. | by Don Corder 

When we talk about your church’s “brand,” we are not talking about a logo, a slogan, or a mission statement. Your brand is what you want your saints and disciples to say to their friends and neighbors. Your brand is what you want the community and the neighborhood to say about your church.  

A typical church branding statement could be: “Green Park Fellowship is committed to making fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.” That sounds like a short, crisp statement that anyone in the church could memorize, right? Now imagine one of your life group leaders looking over the fence as her neighbor is weeding a flowerbed and saying, “Hey, you need to come to our church because we’re committed to making fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ!” The best response your leader would probably get is a hollow stare and a weak nod. That’s not our desired result, is it? Undiscipled people aren’t scrambling for reasons to get up on Sunday mornings and become devoted Christ followers.  

Defining your brand is done by creating messaging and moments that cause people to say things behind your back that you want them to say.  

One church we work with has a committee-created, church-body-approved statement that cannot be changed. It is also so lengthy and cumbersome, it cannot be used. We solved that communication problem by creating an internal branding statement that no one will ever see written. It wasn’t adopted by a committee nor printed into the church by-laws. It isn’t framed on a wall in the church office. The “branding” is simply this: “It’s that really big church with all those nice people who do all that really cool stuff.”  

In communications, whether this church is loading up a truck of young people to help flood victims or hosting a Parent’s Day Out, all of their communication is weighed against this message: that big church full of nice people who do cool stuff. We’ve so permeated their communications with this message that now the saints and disciples tell their friends, “Come with me! You’ll love all these really nice people. And they do such cool stuff.” The result is that the community and neighborhood see that congregation as the big church with the nice people who take care of other people and do cool stuff.  

Back in the 1990s there was a book by Steven Covey called 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the chapters was titled “Start with the End in Mind.” Author Steven Covey challenged readers to decide what we want on their tombstones. He encouraged the reader to consider what they wanted their epitaph to be. I’ll tell you mine:  

“Here lies a man of integrity and respect. He loved his God. He loved his family. He loved his fellow man and he always tried to do his best.”  

Now, how am I going to get that on my tombstone? I’m going to have to live it every day of my life in front of everyone I meet.  

An epitaph is something that is said when you’re gone. Same with branding. What do you want the neighborhood and community to say about your church behind your back? Your branding statement, whether only used internally or emblazoned on the wall, challenges you to live up to it every day. Create the message and live the message. That’s how your church is going to get the reputation (or brand) it wants.  

Most churches create a committee that ends up with a wordy statement, often just to accommodate the thoughts and feelings of the people in the room tasked with coming up with the statement. The statement may please the ear, but does it connect with people? If you’re a communications leader or pastor and for some reason you’re unable to change the mission or vision statements of your church, you can still write one that works for you. One church we work with started with this committee-driven statement, “We are Christ followers who care enough to share truth, show grace, and shine love to our community; and an evangelistic force, equipped and spiritually educated, to impact culture beyond the walls of the church to all people everywhere.” This is a fine thing to aspire to be. There’s nothing wrong with any of those words. You just can’t very well say that to the neighbor over the fence. It doesn’t connect.  

As you work through your branding, keep your statement short. I advocate making statements no longer than a haiku poem—17 syllables. One organization we worked with had a pretty wordy branding statement that had included things they were against. What they were for and what they were against were really good things. There was nothing theologically wrong with it. But in the end, we simplified it to “God is good. He is who He says He is and His Word is true.”  

Define Your Brand

Have a discussion with a leader or staff member about specific ways they see your church living the brand. If you don’t have a branding statement, start a discussion about what your church would like people to say about it behind its back.

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