Our church, I believe, is still learning this lesson, so I share my reflections in the midst of our own “growing pains.” I’m discovering that, for a church which strives to be multi-generational not only in congregation but leadership, this is where some of the younger people (or at least younger thinkers) need to help lead the way in vision and mission.
Some people think this is frivolous pandering to culture. Some people think it is “selling out,” making the church more of a corporation than the body of Christ. To the contrary, I think branding and corporate imaging are important pieces to the church’s current missional puzzle.
“Branding” and “Corporate Imaging” are marketing terms for consistent visual presentation of oneself. In the market, it is making sure that your “brand”—the way you present yourself visually—looks and feels the same in every type of one’s electronic, projected, and print media. If you are deviating from the brand in a piece of communication, it is intentional, not accidental. The basics of branding and corporate imaging involve logos, fonts, colors, and “styles” (the design “extras” that include everything from text-formatting to image accents and flourishes).
Why is branding and corporate imaging important for churches?
1. We live in a visual culture.
Even for churches, such as mine, who believe in the primacy of the written word (the primary form of communication between God and humanity is a book), to miss the fact that we live in a culture that is awash (for better or worse) in brands, styles, and advertising, is to miss a key part of exegeting the way culture thinks and operates.
2. Branding and Corporate Imaging speaks more subliminally than overtly.
When branding is consistent, it’s not as though people think, “wow, that organization is well-branded.” But when it is inconsistent, in our visual day and age, it speaks a subconscious message. Disunified media (random fonts, mismatched color patterns, and pictures/imagery) communicates in a subconscious way about an organization.
3. Branding and Corporate Imaging communicate along the lines of the “big picture”—the visionary level.
Branding speaks to these realities:
- Do we have a consistent message? (We should…we’re the church.)
- Are we unified around our vision and mission? (We should be…we’re the church.)
- Do we communicate well internally? (We should…the church can’t move forward without open and honest communication.)
- Are we passionate about engaging with culture? (We should be…this is mission 101.)
When branding and corporate imaging are inconsistent, it says to culture, “We’re disunified. We can’t even keep ourselves straight.” And we need to remember that whether or not this is true, this is what is communicated (because of reasons 1 & 2 above).
4. Branding and Corporate Imaging either affirm or deny what is actually communicated.
This is communications 101…the old body language vs. words issue. We may use the words, “We are a place that has the most relevant message anyone could ever hear,” but because of reasons 1-3 above, if our visual message speaks of disunity and inconsistency, we are contradicting ourselves, saying, “No, we really don’t have the most relevant message anyone could ever hear.” Corporate imaging and branding are our communicative “body language.”
5. Branding and Corporate Imaging allow an organization’s presence to present itself more often and in more places, allowing people to make positive points of connection.
Imagine you’re putting on an event that you’re wanting to open up to the community. You create fliers or posters to be put in public places. When a person sees those fliers or posters, even if they are not conscious of the organization, it’s a moment that makes a visual “stamp” on their mind. The next time they encounter another communication piece from that same organization, the visual “identity” (fonts, colors, logos, styles) might just be recognized again. It creates a point of connection. If the imaging were not consistent, that opportunity to communicate and re-communicate would potentially be lost or have to start again at ground zero. Just as, in meeting someone, we hope that they will have memorable associations with us so that the next time we talk, we’re not rehashing the basics, so, in communicating with your people and the world, you want to build on your reputation, not start at the beginning every time.
For example: We’re in the middle of producing brochures for a wonderful arts series at our church. If the brochure matches our visual identity, people who attend one or two events of our arts series will now have that visual identity stamped in their minds and associate it (even if subconsciously) with the experience of the event. They will associate a passion for good art and music with that identity. In the event that they are exposed to another communication piece of our church (say an invitation to come to our Easter services), if our visual identity is the same in that piece, they might then associate the positive experience of the arts series and be more inclined to accept this seemingly “cold turkey” invitation. Corporate imaging, then, enhances one of the goals of the arts series, which is to make a non-threatening connecting point between our church and our community which will hopefully open the door to further interaction, drawing people toward Christ and fellowship with His Church. Branding has a visionary and missional impact, helping us achieve our important people-oriented ministry goals!
Of course, branding and corporate imaging are not the be-all and end-all of mission. In fact, I’d have to say that they’re not even central to mission. Mission is about people hitting the road with the love of Christ and message of the Gospel. It’s ultimately about getting out more than attracting in. However, when a church’s visual identity is not thought about, it becomes an unnecessary barrier to mission. Personally, I believe that this is a place where many churches need to do a better job exegeting and communicating with culture, and in our day and age with the inexpensive resources available to us, a few simple principles (which you can learn from anyone with a marketing and design background) can go a long way in eliminating that barrier so we can get on to the truly important stuff…things like vision, mission, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Actually, when you are feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, comforting the dying, putting widows to work using their gifts, nurturing orphans, and being persecuted for speaking the truth, THAT IS your "visual identity".
That font is in broad red strokes.
Great article. I think it rings true at all levels, and have been challenged to do better. As you mentioned, intentional mindfulness about our branding doesn’t need to be resource intensive but does take time up front and energy in internal communication. I should really spend some time on this for our church.
Thanks for the challenging post. Regards,
Of course, Mark.
Thanks Zac, well said. A few observations-
The reality is that the internal culture of the staff needs to change to adapt to a different way of doing things. Clear leadership is necessary from Pastors and Elders. A kind of ‘communications director’, who is responsible for overseeing all of the church communications and ensuring that they affirm the mission and vision of the church while adhering to the church brand, should be empowered to hold the reigns. (this also means telling people NO when things do not align…)
As our culture changes, we must also adapt, which means staff changes and/or job reassignments. Often we get stuck at the intersection of the reality of our mission/vision and our people’s individual beliefs about how things should be done. We shy away from drawing hard lines, saying no, or changing things because "we are a church" and we avoid conflict because it is messy. Jesus is compassionate, loving, and caring, but He does not shy away from conflict. He has definite and hard lines about what His mission/vision/purpose is (and what ours is), and He overcame a messy conflict we cannot even fully understand to achieve his purpose.
Therefore, face the conflict, lead well through it, look to Jesus as the example, keep on mission and vision, represent your unique identity well, and break down barriers to the words of the Gospel.