If you think that your church brand is not that important, you’re wrong. Church branding is incredibly important, because it’s about more than just a nifty logo with pleasing colors. It’s about your message, your testimony, your influence, and your role in reflecting God’s character. I’ve asked Justin Murphy, Principal and Creative Director for Your Creative People, to write a two-part article series on church branding–what it is and how to do it. In the arena of church marketing, with all its perversions, distractions, and confusion, some biblically-based advice is needed. Get ready to listen.
“How did you hear about us?” I asked an older couple who came one Sunday night to the church I was visiting in Southern California. “We’ve been out of church for several years and were looking for a new church to attend. We received your post card in the mail about a month ago, and then visited your web site. It looked like the type of church we’ve been looking for.” I smiled. This is what effective branding is designed to do.
A pastor in New York City sent me this story: “We have had several visitors come the past few weeks [because of our] website. I pointed the Google ads to within a mile or two, and we are seeing about one new visitor a week from that. The other folks come through the sidewalk sign. In our last baptismal service two men were baptized—a father and son from the same family—and they came through the website. I believe the oldest of these men became a believer since attending the last few months.”
These stories are just two examples of what branding is all about. We measure success not by just increasing numbers (though we do want to reach more people with the truth of the Gospel), but in seeing lives truly changed into conformity to Jesus Christ. Effective branding is designed increase your exposure with people in need within your community, and to clearly communicate a message that will ultimately meet those needs. Before you can successfully communicate your message to your community, you must first be able to articulate what that message is—in essence, who you are. Let’s tackle that from the beginning.
What is church branding?
When I interact with pastors on the topic of branding for church ministries, the first thing that typically comes to mind is a logo. While a logo (or any visual identifier) plays a role in branding, that role is only one player in a whole cast of characters that form a brand. If you think of your brand as synonymous with your logo, it’s thinking that the five human senses is just the eyes. Your brand is like a diamond; it has many different facets that beautifully reflect the light. That reflection accurately reveals or communicates what the diamond is. Your brand is made up of the various facets that you communicate about yourself through the different touch-points someone has with your ministry. These touch points can be visual (like a picture, which is often the strongest), audible (preaching, music, your receptionist’s greeting), smell, etc. If a church visitor experiences friendly, caring people who interact with them throughout their visit, that church visitor will leave thinking of your brand as friendly or caring. Typically, your brand will only stand for one thing in someone’s mind. What message are you sending to people through each touchpoint they have with your ministry? Those multiple facets of communication come together to form an impression, called your brand.
Is church branding really that important?
It’s often said in the web design industry that if you want to find a bad web site, just Google church web sites. It is a sad, but often true reality. Churches often neglect their branding, and more specifically, their web sites. In a survey at a national church planting conference I spoke at, 9 out of every 10 visitors to a church noted that they had visited the church’s web site before ever showing up for a service. A vast majority of churches may spend large amounts of money on renovated facilities, yet completely neglect their own web sites. Truthfully, how many people never visit the church facilities because they are turned off by a church’s lack of attention to a well-designed website?
Your church is always communicating something, whether you’re trying to or not. Often, ministries are actively sending certain messages without even realizing it. For example, a web site that is disorganized, hard to navigate, or looks poorly-designed is communicating something about what a ministry values, or what the church brand stands for. A clearly organized, well-thought-out navigation coupled with solid content and good design communicates that you set a high priority on order, quality, and the seriousness of ministry. Your web site is the first touch-point a visitor has with your ministry. Your home page acts as the initial greeter that stands at the front door of your ministry directing people to the right place. Ask yourself this question: “What message am I sending about my ministry to the people who see my site every day? Do the printed materials I put out in the community communicate an clear or disunited message? Do those materials accurately reflect what we are truly all about? Even more importantly, am I accurately reflecting the true character of my God as revealed in Scripture?”
Here is the testimony of one Southern California pastor: “Branding has given [our church] a unified look, recognizable image, and concrete means to communicate key aspects of who we are and what we are doing in a simple, clear, graphic, and attractive way. It allows our web site, print materials, signs, outreach, church materials, and gospel literature to have a cohesive look and clear connection. As we continue to keep an active web presence, pass out gospel literature and church invitations, and put up signs, our logo and thus our church becomes recognizable in our community. Only the Lord knows the real effectiveness of branding in getting the gospel to our community, but we it helps us maximize our obedience to His commission.”
The good news about church branding
The good news about branding is that you can give the right impression, directly influence what your community thinks about your ministry, and do that without compromising your message. And before I go on to the “how to’s” of doing that, let me give you some even better news: you don’t have to have an unlimited budget to effectively brand your ministry. I know some readers of this post will have already understood and seen the importance of branding before ever reading this article (thanks for sticking with me to this point!). You may feel that your ministry is just too small or you cannot afford to do much. My advice is this: you can’t afford not to brand. Many churches focus on their limited resources and fail to look at the wealth of opportunity. For example, just adding your church’s location to Google Maps (a free service), can help you show up when people Google “churches” in your area. That and other free venues are available for your use, if you are willing to put in the time. If you stick with me through this article series, I will give you some practical ideas on how to do church branding on a budget.
How can church branding help my ministry?
In my experience working, teaching, and consulting with over 100 pastors, I have found that branding helps in two specific ways—one internal and one external. Let’s start with the internal purpose, because that is what is often neglected when churches consider rebranding.
- Branding will give people in your ministry an “elevator speech.” It is widely said in sales that if you can’t clearly communicate what your business is to someone in 1-3 sentences or less (i.e. the time it takes to take the elevator to travel from the ground floor to your 4th floor office), you don’t really understand what you do. The same principle applies to ministries. Most church members (and maybe even staff members) don’t really know how to clearly explain to someone what their church is all about. Imagine you were getting on the elevator on Monday morning with someone you know from another office. You are discussing your past weekend experiences and mention that your family attended church on Sunday. Your friend then asks what your church is all about. Hmm…you struggle to really know what to say or how to say it. You know what your church is like, but how do you articulate it – and before the elevator stops at the next floor? Effective branding can help give your people 3-4 short, succinct defining statements that they can use to clearly communicate what your ministry is all about. It’s important that those defining statements are clearly and carefully explained (and repeated) from the pulpit. You can remind your people by putting these defining statements on the church bulletin or worship guide, brochure, etc. Repetition aids learning.
- Branding clearly communicates what your ministry is all about to your local community. The is perhaps the most obvious purpose of branding, so we’ll not spend much time here. Taking those 3-4 defining statements we discussed in the previous point and making them the central messages of your outreach communication materials (including your web site) will directly influence what will comes to a person’s mind when an individual hears the name of your ministry. If they know about you, your community will be thinking something about your ministry. It’s important to influence that positively.
So where do we start? By this point, you may be ready to jump into the practical steps on how to brand your ministry (or how to afford it). Let’s get started. I’ll cover the first step here and we’ll follow up with practical ways to implement your brand messages through web and print media in the next post.
Step 1: Define who you are (for free).
Since branding is all about clearly communicating who you are, the foundational step is to define exactly who you are. Think about it like this: water is made up of Hydrogen and Oxygen. If water didn’t contain those two elements, it would cease to be what we know as water. What foundational roots of your ministry make the ministry what it is? You can think about it in terms of an individual’s unique personality—what about someone’s personality makes it uniquely him? We’re not necessarily trying to differentiate you from other ministries. We’re trying to find out what makes you who you are. This is not about having a choir ministry, children’s church or three services a week). Take a moment right now and jot down 3-5 defining statements. You don’t want any less than 3, and you want no more than 5. Once you’ve got those defining statements, run them by another trusted leader or personal acquaintance that knows your ministry. Find out if those statements accurately define your ministry. Once you have your defining statements refined and complete, you now have a clear message to communicate. The next two steps, identifying your touch-points (step 2) and creating the actual pieces to use for each touchpoint (step 3), will be the steps whereby you will identify the venues (logo, web, print, social media, etc.) to broadcast your brand.
In preparation for step 2, start by brainstorming regarding this question: What are the various touch-points you have with people in your community? We will focus on which message to communicate through each touchpoint. These topics will be the subjects of our next article.
Justin Murphy is the Principal and Creative Director for Your Creative People, a branding company located in Greenville, SC.