For many faith-based organizations and their leadership teams, branding is a business practice best left to profit-seeking entities, which compete for consumers’ spending Monday through Saturday. The Sabbath, they might assert, is a day that marketing and branding should be encouraged to take off. While this point-of-view is understandable, it is also incomplete.
A strong brand will benefit any organization—nonprofit and for profit—by improving the organization’s ability to communicate its unique identity, vision and values in the minds (and hearts) of those with whom the organization enjoys an existing relationship and those with whom the organization hopes to connect and serve in the future. As visual historian Martin Kemp suggests in the title of his recent book on classic historical icons, branding is applicable from “Christ to Coke.”
I was reminded of this relevance of branding for the church recently while reading an article in the Wall Street Journal. The piece, entitled “Pastors Call a Truce on ‘Sheep-Stealing’,” documents the success of CharlotteONE, a Charlotte, N.C., based multi-church initiative launched in the spring of 2006 to reach young adults in their 20s and 30s. According to the article, CharlotteONE now reaches “between 500-600 young professionals every week” and “serves nearly 50 local congregations as their young adult outreach service.”
The article, written by Naomi Schaefer Riley, reports that this innovative initiative is a having a positive impact. According to a survey quoted in the article, “98% of attendees said the program had ‘enriched [their] personal relationship with Jesus Christ’” and “42% said that it had helped them ‘connect … to local churches.’” It is this second statistic that highlights the opportunity for branding and the local church.
Branding Showcases Uniqueness
As young professionals gather weekly, under this unified model, at least some of them are also in search of a church home. And, with 50 local congregations participating in CharlotteONE, a plan is needed to help participants identify a local congregation that is right for them. The local church’s brand becomes the bridge that enables CharlotteONE attendees to connect to the local church that is right for them, as it provides the necessary information to make an informed decision. The brand makes clear why the church exists, what it believes, what it offers and what unique work God is calling this particular community to do.
Clearly, CharlotteONE is a collaborative endeavor, not a competitive one, achieving more together than these churches could accomplish independently. When we expand our thinking to consider that all of the churches, in any city, work as “collaborators in Christ,” then we can begin to see the potential impact of branding beyond its commercial application and even beyond CharlotteOne.
The Impact of Branding
In a recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector,” authors Nathalie Kylander and Christopher Stone define branding as “a psychological construct held in the minds of all those aware of the branded product, person, organization or movement.” They go on to say that “brand management is the work of managing these psychological associations.” For the purposes of the church, I believe this means that we must be excellent communicators of our identity, our vision, and our values—our brand—internally and externally, to audiences both familiar and foreign.
Should you find your church in need of an effective brand management strategy, here are three questions that I submit as points to start the dialogue:
- What is your church’s brand?
- Who is specifically responsible for managing your church’s brand?
- How do you effectively communicate your church’s brand internally and externally?
For more on branding, check out our Brand & Identity category.