To Brand, Or Not To Brand, that is NOT the Question (Branding Your Church Plant)

You’re doing it again. Right now. You did it yesterday. And you will do it tomorrow. I get it. You can’t help it. Neither can I. You are branding your church plant or church.

This is because branding your church is like doing theology. What do we all say anytime a member of the church says to you some version of this statement, “Well, I’m no theologian…”? We respond with, “Everyone is a theologian. You are doing theology all the time. You cannot avoid it. The question is, are you a good theologian or not.” Your personality might alter the delivery and tone a bit. The shepherds in the room make that come across like a compliment. (Not sure how they manage that.) Those with an apostolic or teaching gift may deliver it with more of a bite. But we all say it because it is true.

I am here to tell you the same principle applies to branding your church plant. As surely as the sun rises…As surely as your core team will fail to care as much about the church plant as you…As surely as you realize planting is way harder than you imagined…your church plant has a brand. Even scarier, you are a brand manager. That is right. Among the hats you wear as a church planter, you dawn the hipster beanie of brand manager. (If the church planter thing does not work out, use this to beef up the ole resume.)

I will take it a step further and say that every pastor and church planter is “branding” all the time. Being unaware that you are doing something does not mean you are not doing it. Take my dear friend Cheryl for example. She’s a “cruncher.” Look out when there is a carrot or cup of ice within her reach. Crunch! She chomps all the time. And she did so, unaware…until I flipped a lid. She and her family are accustomed to the way she turns her mouth into an oral amphitheater. Not me. Needless to say, my gentle reminders brought this to her attention. Now, when I hear her crunch, it is followed by a grinning ‘sorry’. Progress.

So you are a Brand Manager. How does that hit you? Maybe you resonate with one of these responses:

  • I’m not even sure I could define what a ‘brand’ is.
  • I’m with Piper…‘Brothers, We Are Not Professional’…so I’m going to disagree…I’m just a pastor.
  • Yeah baby. I like the sound of that. That’s a great title to use when a not-yet-believing friend asks me what I do.
  • A ‘brand’ is fancy business lingo for a logo, right?
  • We’re not that kind of church. That applies to churches with a more ‘attractional’ model.
  • Whether I am a ‘brand manager’ or not is irrelevant, because I have too many other important things to worry about.
  • A ‘brand manager,’ hah!?! Right. You might want to inform my seminary because there was no mention of that during my three years of training.
  • Jesus commanded his disciples to be “…in the world, but not of the world.” Branding falls in the second category.
  • Sorry. I do not have an artistic bone in my body. That applies to a different planter/pastor. Not me.

We could go on and on. This is because, in large part, we suffer from rampant confusion when it comes to ‘branding.’ Let’s start at the beginning and work our way forward, one step at a time. By the time we finish this series, you will be informed and energized at the potential of being the brand manager for your church plant.

Today we will tackle two things: what is ‘branding’ and what is one way it relates to church planting.

What is Branding?

Defining branding can feel like nailing jello to the wall. And managing a brand may feel like practicing a Pirates of the Caribbean version of dark magic. However, do not mistake the enigmatic nature of branding for the concreteness of its existence. (Given the audience, I could appeal to the doctrine of the trinity as another example of something that exists and yet difficult to define, but I will wisely refrain.)

Branding Defined

Your brand is the feeling, expectation, story, relationship and perception that, taken together, represent what people believe about your organization—either good, bad or indifferent.

Because ‘branding’ feels like a foreign language to most, let’s read the definition again. Linger over each of the critical words. (I will put those words in bold to help you out.).

Your brand is the feeling, expectation, story, relationship and perception that, taken together, represent what people believe about your organization—either good, bad or indifferent.

If you let those words sink in, you can already see how your brand relates to church planting. More on that in a moment. First, let’s clarify our definition a bit more.

The most common mistake or misunderstanding is to equate branding with a ‘logo’. A logo is a critical component of any brand. But a brand is a recipe with several key ingredients. To equate a logo with a brand, or vice versa, is an oversimplification.

Here are a few other truths about branding. We will hit these in future articles, but I would like to get them on the table. Branding is not “secular.” Likewise, branding is not static. It is on the move. While it may feel “elusive” to the newby, branding is unavoidable. This means you can, and should, be active regarding your church’s brand.

How Does Branding Relate to Church Planting? (Part 1)

branding your church plant

If the identity of the local church includes “God’s missionary people” displaying and declaring the Good News of Jesus, then branding directly relates. Branding is a missionary endeavor and an outworking of who we are, in light of who God is and who he made the church to be. That means we should care about what people feel, expect, and perceive about our church plants. Remember that time I said that every pastor and church planter is also a brand manager…and every pastor and church planter is “branding” all the time? Here are two reasons why. First, the minute your church plant “exists” in the public sphere, the public will have a response—a feeling, an expectation, a relationship, or a perception. Second, you as a leader are contributing to that brand daily. When you get the banners made for your first gathering, branding. When you send out an email to supporters, branding. When you create the first set of business-sized invite cards, branding. When you pick the colors for that first website, branding. When you setup the profile graphic on your church’s Facebook or Twitter account, branding. When you create some core team training material in Word or Pages, branding. (Get the idea?)

Circle back around to our branding definition. Remember, we said ‘your brand is the feeling, expectation, story, relationship, and perception that, taken together…’. Your brand is a collage of sorts. All the activities I just mentioned are parts contributing to the whole. They are all courses in a single meal. All points of a single sermon message.

In this regard, branding is akin to “theology.” You cannot avoid it. Branding is happening all the time. Churches and church plants are not immune. From leaders who are unaware, to those fully engaged. From planters who are overwhelmed, to those who are under-resourced. Each is managing a brand. And that brand intersects with the missionary identity of the local church. This is just one way branding relates to church planting and church leadership.

‘To brand, or not to brand, that is NOT the question.’ Rather, the question is, to brand well, or not to brand well.

Confession

My sinful reactions to the concept of ‘branding’ can seem as if I have a multi-personality disorder. I can get overwhelmed and discouraged when I realize I went weeks or months without paying conscious attention to the contributions of my daily activities to the church’s brand. Catch me in a season of intentionality, and you can see an over-abundance of confidence in my abilities to ‘brand’, coupled with a lack of reliance on Jesus to build his church. Or you might catch a wry smile when I play the comparison game. ‘Look at that terrible mailer, website, bulletin cover. I’m certain unbelievers across the city have noticed how superior our [mailer/website/bulletin cover] is and will flock to our church. And they will throw their crowns at my feet when they realize I was behind it all. I will be hoisted on their shoulders amidst shouts of admiration.’ Sick. I know. Another reason I need a Savior and not simply a good branding article.

Good News

Jesus is the ultimate brand manager. He has the perfect read on the full reality of my heart and my local church. He is not fooled by even the best outward spin or trendy messaging I come up with, whether the subject is me or the church I represent. He cares about the reputation of both. He took responsibility for both. He purchased both by his blood. And the reputation of both are now intertwined with His own. While branding can work from the outside in, he works from the inside out. He does not overlook one or the other (the public ‘brand’ nor the heart of the ‘brand manager’). He changes my heart, and speaks over me the public brand of the Father, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” He also evaluates the real ‘brand’ of every local church (cf Rev 2–3) and cares about her reputation and perception (cf Rom 1:8). As the ultimate brand manager, he has promised he will finish what he started. He will build his church. He will set my captive heart free. He will present his bride spotless, without blemish. Knowing this final, guaranteed ‘brand’ of the church is a key motivator for you and I. When it comes to branding our churches, we are working by his power to reflect his excellencies. The ‘brand’ of your church is another creative expression where you brag on Jesus and proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Next Time

Now that we have set an initial foundation, we will build you up as the brand manager for your church plant. Help is on the way. Delivered right to your inbox.

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See you next week, you branding stud, you.

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