In my most recent pastoral role I was the Pastor of Creative Arts at one of the fastest growing churches in America. Over the 3 years I was in that position, my team and I put a lot of attention into branding. We created a mother brand with a logo, fonts and colors. We branded our 4 ministry focuses, every sermon series, giving campaigns, mission experiences and anything else that involved rallying people. I love branding.
Now I am in the very early stages of starting a church in Portland, Oregon. We don’t have a brand. There are no logos, fonts, or colors. We don’t even have a name yet. As much as I love building brands, I have been intentionally holding off. Here’s why.
Right now our church startup is a group of folks who have never done life together. We don’t know who we are yet. What rhythms are going to emerge? What causes will we engage? What will we grow to value and not value? A good brand represents the “us” and right now we don’t know who “us” is.
In the church world a good brand can act as an anchor to the things that God has spoken into a community. For example, my previous church had 3 core values. They were Unconditional Love, Irrational Generosity & Unwavering Mission. We talked about these values all the time. We wanted these values to be rooted deeply in what it meant to be a part of our community.
So we built a brand. We started with giving each value a word. Love. Give. Go. Pretty simple, right? We put those words up all over our building, on print pieces, on our website, social media and anywhere else we could find space. On top of that we had thousands of bracelets printed that we handed out like candy on Halloween. I wanted the brand to help people deepen what God had spoken into our community many years earlier. I wanted a consistent reminder to put flesh on our values.
One of the things I loved about our church was that we really did try to love people unconditionally. We really did act irrationally generous towards people. And it was all because we kept a strong focus on being unwavering in our mission. Every year we fixed cars for single moms, spent thousands of dollars and gave hundreds of hours to invest in our local elementary schools, and we started a church in a local prison and the list goes on. When we started posting our values all over the place it made sense to people on the outside of our church community. In many ways it helped those folks understand why we act the way we do. I would go as far to say the branding helped outsiders resonate with who we were and led many to want to be part of what we were doing.
This is why I love branding and why I think it can be a powerful tool for fulfilling the mission of a church. When a brand represents a movement of people it can act like a doorway for more people to join the movement. I would say we already had a brand so what the “look” did was help people connect to each other around it.
For a lot of church startups the core values are decided, named and branded before there is even a community to live them out. I’m finding that difficult to do for our church. A good brand doesn’t represent the ideals of one pastor; it represents a movement. A brand needs to mean something or it’s just words, fonts, colors, logos and catchy sayings. A strong brand is fuel to an existing fire rather than the kindling that make the fire.
For our church startup, we don’t have those distilled, focused values yet. When we do we will work on a brand to help us live them out.