BRANDING YOUR CHURCH: Jesus Christ & Mickey Mouse

April 25, 2012 in Featured

(This article was first written more than 3 years ago. I thought it was more relevant today than then, so here it is again.)

When All Praise Ministries began in 1998, we not only worked with churches on music, but also spent some time working with pastors on some of the more intangible aspects of the church. From critiquing their sermons, to helping them with the overall marketing of the church. We would delve into nearly every aspect of the inner workings of the organization. Over the next 4 years, we did lots of research, and worked directly with about 20 churches. As a result, we came up with a four-point recipe for successful churches. Branding, Engagement, Commitment and Endurance – all measured by the congregation’s definition of success, which is (1) attendance, and (2) conversions.

BRANDING is essential to any product. And make no mistake about it, churches have a product – the most incredible product ever presented to the World, Jesus Christ.  But we can learn a lot from the worldly masters like Coke and Starbucks, who understand that being top-of-mind is everything. They are the best at selling the brand and tattooing their product’s brand on the consumer’s mind. They are tremendously consistent with how their brand is presented and sold. From print advertising to radio and TV – even the signage at the Point of Sale – is all created and presented with a unified mission to brand the same message over and over.

In church, we often find bulletins, billboards, street signs, hand outs, all using different logos, tag lines, messages, images, etc, creating a confusing and mangled message that, to many people says, “no one here is in charge and we have no clue who we are.” Branding isn’t made up of a single idea, but a single lifestyle. When you go to Disney World, everyone who works there believes in Mickey. Employees are referred to as “Cast Member.” Every cast member believes in the power of “the ears.” Mickey’s ears are everywhere. Employees understand their power over kids and parents. Ask the same question to a hundred Disney employees and you’ll get the exact same answer from every single one of them. From “where’s the bathroom” to “what’s the best ride in the whole park?” Every answer is scripted, rehearsed and required.  Is Mickey Mouse and a dead creator worth more of a branding effort than a church and Jesus Christ?   Do the deacons, ushers, leaders and members know what you stand for? Would they have the same answer to questions like, “what is your church’s mission statement?” Or, “how can my 13 year old get involved?” Chances are Disney is more organized than most churches….and all for the sake of a mouse.

Effective branding also requires a target. The most successful churches in America today know who they are going after. It’s important that you target the most available segment of the population in your area, not just people who look like you, or the low hanging fruit. Does your community have a high black or Hispanic population? If so, do you have someone from those races on your team and in charge of reaching out to them? Are you targeting upper middle class white families because that’s what YOU are, or because that’s the makeup of your community? Targeting and branding go hand in hand. One is useless without the other.

ENGAGEMENT is arguably the most important step in creating long-term success.  Engagement covers a lot of areas, but what does it mean in terms of churches?  We all know that congregants who just show up on Sunday morning to be fed are typically more of a liability than an asset to our mission. We also know that many psychologists agree with The Bible — that the number one desire of a person is companionship.  We were not made to experience life alone, nor were we created to experience God alone. Churches who fail to engage their congregation into active discipleship don’t grow. And as the saying goes, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”  Unfortunately, many churches waste time engaging people into meaningless subgroups whose goals may or may not be the same as the church’s overall mission, and do not develop followers of Christ.  Women’s groups, Men’s groups, Wednesday night suppers, bible studies, the declining traditional Sunday school model, and even quilting groups (yes, I said quilting) can be ineffective relics of days gone by and in many churches rarely provide a two-way means of communication and engagement, as people who attend these are typically involved in activity that doesn’t reach the lost in the community, but instead caters to the members of that group. They may even be big monetary givers, but they aren’t reaching out past their sub group to usher in a new generation of sinners and subsequently leading them towards Christ. This needs to change.

In 1999, we helped a church conduct a study of its 27 different ministry groups. By the way, this church had only 400 members.  We asked a lot of questions, found a lot of issues and made a lot of changes. The biggest change was the church cut 27 ministries down to 8. In the six months prior to the change, the church recorded 9 conversions through baptism and had 4 new families who joined the church. The following 8 months after the changes, that same church had 36 baptisms, and 8 new families. The conclusion? If everyone is focusing on ministries that don’t reach out into the community, but only exist to serve the members of the church, the church dies. But those who are willing to kill ineffective ministries, live and grow.  Engagement can not only be between believers. It MUST reach past the four walls of the church and make fully devoted followers of Christ. It is the suggestion of All Praise that your church look at all “programs” and groups, and decide which ones are creating a true two-way engagement between saint and sinner. Keep and nourish those. Kill the others. Immediately.

COMMITMENT.  To accomplish a consistent brand and create active, God-pleasing engagement, it takes total commitment. It starts with the lead pastor and/or the board of men and women who direct him  The leaders of the church must have a clear vision, a consistent brand, a plan to engage the people in Christ-centered activity, but must also be completely sold out to those causes. All Praise preaches that the path towards Excellence starts when we remove obstacles that keep us from our goals, and continues when we add things along our journey that help steer us towards our goals. Until the leaders come together and commit to removing obstacles (i.e. the ineffective sub groups) God’s desired potential for your church may not be realized. By the way, the 19 sub groups that were killed in the church referenced above, were ended on one day, with one statement from the pastor and the other leaders of those groups. It was never up for discussion among the attendees, nor was there “one more meeting to say goodbye.” They died a quick death and the church started growing immediately.

ENDURANCE is required to get through the first three points above. Especially after groups are put to death. We must endure the slow times. There’s a new startup period that begins when a new direction is forged. And we must be committed to getting through the tough times to experience the rewards of a well-focused mission. Through the years, we’ve found churches who were willing to downsize their programs, found a new level of buy in from their remaining members – those who didn’t complain, pout or leave – became more engaged and became leaders in the efforts to reach out past the church walls. More leaders, more saved, more members, more people living for Christ. That’s the purpose of The Church.

All Praise Ministries can help you with the target and the branding of your Church. We can help you engage the members in a unified effort to reach the lost. We can coach you through the process of getting total buy in and commitment from your team, and we want to help you endure the hard times. If your church isn’t creating more salvations today than you were 5 years ago, there’s a reason. And most likely it’s because leadership and members are not on the same page. Lets work together to put Christ in a position above Mickey Mouse.  Let All Praise Ministries help you become the church God wants you to be.