Don't Be the Cool Church. Be the Authentic Church.
Build a Brand Around Biblical Communication Goals
A week ago, Pastor Ben and I were planning the look of our new series graphics to play in the service (our first Sunday in our new church building). I suggested that we animate each slide to go along with the map theme of the series (Not like Powerpoint animation, but real animation with Apple Motion). It would add live motion to what are normally static (boring) sermon bullet points. The next day, he emailed me and said, "You know what, I think animating these bullets draws the focus to the design rather than the message." He was absolutely right.
As a creative person, there is a constant temptation for me to jump on every new social network, utilize every new software, every new effect in Final Cut, or implement every new font on LostType.com. I love learning new techniques and improving the quality of the things I help create. I think most creatives do. But there is a major benefit from creative restraint.
A church brand shouldn't direct the Gospel, the church brand should direct to the Gospel.
A good storyteller so captivates the audience with his story, he makes himself invisible to them altogether. As a creative in ministry, that is our ultimate goal- to become invisible so that the story of Jesus is absolutely distinct.
A Struggle of Priorities
These days, more and more churches have developed full fledged marketing and branding strategies. It's not just the big churches like Hillsong, or Mars Hill, or Elevation - hundreds of small churches (including mine) are crafting an image in their communities with logos, videos, t-shirts, stickers, billboards, social media ads, and print products. That's not a bad thing!
But we need to ask some questions here - What is the purpose of all that church marketing? Have more people come to know Jesus because of our branding? Is it our church or the Gospel at the heart of our promotion? Why does our church brand matter?
I have been raised and taught to ask tough questions, often and honestly. And when I ask myself what my motivations are when I create content for my church, sometimes the answer isn't what it should be.
Things That Matter
I want our church to seem likable and appealing to outsiders. I want insiders to feel engaged and encouraged - even proud of where they attend. It can be tempting to aim for trendy. But is that Biblical? What letter would Paul write to me about this? Does my church's coolness matter?
No. It doesn't matter at all.
But here are some things do matter. That the story of Jesus is made known and celebrated. That the work God has done in people is shared as loudly as possible. That the members of Jesus' church love and support each other. That Christians sacrifice to love each other, neighbors, and persecuting enemies. That Believers are engaged in prayer and Scripture every day.
Where does church marketing fit? Where does a logo fit? Where does a series' bumper fit? Here's what I think.
A church brand exists to support things that actually matter.
Don't create an app because it's cool. Don't TV broadcast because it's what big churches do. Don't show video announcements because it's modern. Don't make a hipster logo because that's "in." Don't create a hashtag because the youngsters are into that kind of thing. As a church, those rationales are literally worthless.
Do things because they matter.
Does a promo video matter? No, but it can promote something that does. Does a logo matter? No, but it can provide a feeling of belonging and connectivity. Does a website matter? No, but it can guide an outsider into the doors of a loving and Gospel centered church.
On their own, I don't think any of these branding products have value to church. But when they work together as agents for the mission of the Word and for the church, they can lead to a message that does matter - and that is the message of Jesus. I love what Pastor Don Pratt wrote a few months ago,
Somewhere along the way we began to think that we had to convince people that Jesus was cool and church is cool to get them to come. Well, church is NOT cool. Sometimes it’s just a mess. But, we need corporate worship and we need each other. So we come, in all our uncoolness. Geeks are welcome everywhere, not just in the tech ministry. Fashions zeros are welcome too. People who don’t know Twitter from Tumblr are welcome. All of us awkward, broken, folks are welcome.
If your church is the hippest, most trendy place in your city (purely based on communication products), that might be a sign of misplaced priorities. Cool isn't welcoming. Trendy doesn't last.
People are broken, fake, lonely, uncool, sinful messes. I am in that group. You are too. That is your audience. And your message is Jesus.
Communicate intentionally. Consider your audience. Direct people to Jesus.