U.S. News & World Report covers the shrinking mainline denominations and their desperate attempts to re-brand. It’s pretty much the same story we’ve heard for a while now, but a few interesting items:
- “The under-35 generation thinks church is a judgmental, hypocritical, insular place.” (Jamie Dunham, chief planning officer for Bohan Advertising & Marketing, the firm behind the United Methodist campaign) If that’s the case, I’m not sure an advertising campaign is the answer.
- The article mentions a new campaign from the Episcopal Church, I Am Episcopalian. Great, they can join the Southern Baptists and the Foursquare Church. Anyone else want to use the same campaign?
- This quote hurts: “Study after study has shown that religions that grow are the ones that are hard-core in some way. They have something that differs sharply from the culture in which they operate,” says Boston University’s [Stephen] Prothero. “That’s the problem with mainline Protestantism: It’s not different enough from mainstream America.” (emphasis mine)
- Another money quote: “The brand and character of the Episcopal Church is being driven by a lot of things that came out of 17th-century England,” says Robert Putnam, a Harvard University professor who has studied church growth. “You can’t change that with an ad campaign.”
And perhaps that’s the big lesson from this article. The problems in the church today can’t be fixed with an ad campaign. Marketing (not an ad campaign, but marketing in the big picture sense) can help to address those problems, but you can’t re-brand your way out of trouble.