June 15, 2020

Church as Brand

“What’s your brand?” A collective silence fell over the room of vestry members, clergy, and staff.

Finally, someone asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: “Brand of what?”

“Your church.”

“Ahh...” The silence continued.

We don’t often, if ever, think of the Church as a brand, whether globally, nationally, or on the congregational level, but it’s a question well worth exploring. From my perspective, brand is nothing more and nothing less than your promise to the consumer – in this case to your parishioners and those considering becoming parishioners.

Asked another way, what can you be counted on to deliver, every time, without fail?

From the consumer’s perspective, they are always testing the promise of your brand: are you telling the truth, or not. If you’re not telling the truth, then you’re lying. Your brand, be it a bar of soap or your church, is being judged every time someone experiences it. That experience could be seeing an ad on Facebook, driving by the church, making a phone call to the church, or attending a service. Every “touchpoint” is an opportunity for judgement.

It’s useful to think in terms of relationship. Think about going out on a date, or meeting someone that might become a good friend. We’re naturally disposed to begin with skepticism, because of our encoded fear and survival response to any new situation. We’re always scanning the environment, subconsciously asking “is it good for me or bad for me? Is it safe or is it dangerous?”

If the data starts coming back favorably, we begin to trust. We let down our guard. We share more deeply. We become more vulnerable, and real conversations can take place, as we grow into our relationship.

The very same thing is true of brands. We are in relationship with them. Just as we build trust over time with relationships, we do the same with brands. And just as trust can be broken with relationships, so, too, can they be broken with brands.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s first begin with what it means to make a promise. It’s a declaration, an assurance, that what you say will happen. There was a time when giving your word was of the utmost importance. It was an extension of you, of your very being.

As of late, promises, assurance, and integrity seem to have taken a hit. But human beings still deeply connect integrity and all it implies with trust, the foundation for building any solid relationship. The truth still matters.

Second, most churches would be hard-pressed to sum up what they promise. This is problematic because if you’re not defining what you can be counted on to deliver, others will define it for you and then judge you on it.

Third, knowing your promise, and then having it consistently expressed by your key leadership and in all of your communication unites the entire community, gives a sense of purpose, and allows you to track how well you’re doing in being your word.

Give this a try: at your next vestry meeting (or meeting of the staff or clergy), ask people to write down what they think your promise is. Again, it may be helpful to add “what do you think people can count on us for?” See what comes back. How closely are people aligned? If there is time, you may want to continue the conversation by asking how well people thing you’re delivering that promise, both internally and externally. The Word of God is filled with promises to God’s people. It’s important that we start thinking in those terms as well.