Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
Concerning the Church: Church Branding Overwhelms the Cross
Recently, I was traveling into a city I am in quite often. After making my way through a crowded airport to get onto my final connecting flight, I quickly realized the only seats available were window seats. Now as a rule, I am not a "window person". The thought of being locked into a 12-inch space for a number of hours is not the least bit appealing to me. But in this case I was glad to take my seat, in hopes that the flight would be quick and there would be no need to get up.
As I was gazing out of the window upon our entry into the city, I began looking at the landscape and was literally struck sideways by what I saw next. It was the largest building for miles around and on the top of this building in letters that could most likely be seen from space was the name of a church. It was in fact, the church's branding on top of the building for the entire world to see.
I am not a member of this church and I do not really know any intimate details regarding this church, so it's probably good to preface my thoughts by saying that none of this is personal. This church may be the most intimate place on earth where the Gospel is preached in all it’s glory and people's lives are transformed. In fact, I pray that this is the case. But the garish marks on the top of this church building led me to begin thinking deeply about the church experience today, particularly in our western context.
This vision of letters on buildings raised a question for me, ”When did logos of churches replace the cross on church buildings?” This question led me to another question, ”What do people experience more readily in our churches today - our brands or the cross?” Essentially what I was asking is, “Who is getting attention from the church today, human beings or Jesus?
These are not easy questions, but I think they matter and matter deeply. As I thought long and hard about this tension, it occurred to me that one of the shifts taking place in our culture over the past number of years is that churches have become increasingly convinced that we must engage in the business practice of communications and brand management.
Brands here are not simply logos…they are the primary
message of the church
. More specifically, they are your primary niche in the marketplace of other churches out there. I am sure that there a number of things that are good about this, like helping people to know what to expect when they walk into the doors of the church, or helping to overcome their fear of the church and simply come closer to experiencing Jesus.
But I also beg to challenge this sentiment. Is this what is really happening as we elevate our brands into this marketplace of churches in the world today? Who is really getting attention when we glorify our brands before we glorify the cross? What would happen if people did not know the name of your church or even your tagline? What if people simply recognized the building in their neighborhood that was filled with people who lived differently, who loved when they were supposed to hate and gave when they were supposed to protect? What if our brand was non-existent and instead, the cross of Jesus was lifted high?
I suggest that a self-assessment is in order. When people think of your church what do you think they more readily think of, the cross or your brand? Which is more
; which is more
I say let's trash our brands and get to littering the landscape of our country with the message of the cross. Perhaps they should not go back up on our buildings, but they certainly belong on the landscape of our lives.
Sounds fine to me. I was wondering what you thought of denominational brands or insignias, or for that matter- denominations? To strike a brand and replace it with a cross might be a direct attack upon a denomination. Perhaps us Protesters are hundreds of years away from making peace with Catholics, and maybe thousands with the Orthodox, but isn't this a worthwhile goal? Or does this seem like spending too much energy on the brand thing and not enough of living out the cross in the "landscape of our lives." Is ecumenical efforts a waste of time?
Mark...thanks for the comments and questions.
I have to admit that I am not much for denominations as they have been traditionally played out within the western US culture regarding religion. It just seems that rarely is a denomination used to encourage creation and transformation of culture at large and more often these factions within the church simply focus on organizing religion.
Ecumenicism is another thing though. I think that an ecumenical approach to our faith requires a submission of our necessary individual brands of identity to the cross and all that unites us as followers of Christ, as we are defined by that cross. I am not making the case that all brands in the church are evil...it just seems to me our brands should never overwhelm the cross.
Though this study is mainly focused on America as in the USA I kindly regard it as a wake up tool and insite for your Canadian cousins :)
I would enjoy sharing your book and resources in my Church and our small groups. Can you perhaps fix the checkout to service the Canadian Christians?
Thank you for your efforts.
Youth leader in canada
It seems to me that branding is a byproduct of our culture. Churches are simply using branding as a way to stand out from others as everything else in our society. I agree that we are 'one' unified church, yet the local expression of that looks differently based on where the church "building" is located and the people it attracts. i.e. a church in the wealthy part of town will look differently from a poor church.
God has set a way for all Christians to be known as Christians regardless of where they worship, if by God's strength, we just follow it.
I wonder how many people have gone to that church or discussed that church because of their creative sign.
A friend of mine were discussing this article (great point by the way) and I wanted to share this:
You ask: ”When did brands/names of churches replace the cross on church buildings?”
I ask: "When did the cross on a church building stop meaning they boldly preached Jesus as our Lord and Savior?"
You ask: ”Who is really getting attention as we elevate our brands before we elevate the cross?"
I respond: "The brand tells you that they are a church that elevates the cross."
I am not trying to say your article and its points are not valid, they are great to ask of any church to ensure our pride (brand) doesn't get in the way of the cross. What I see, unfortunately, and am trying to explain is that there is a need for these brands because there are many churches across America with crosses on their buildings that don't teach Jesus as the only way to heaven.
As someone who works in branding, I would say that church branding isn't used to replace the cross or the message and promise of redemption and restoration that Christ offers us. The brand of a church should be used as a tool to communicate the vision of the church with those outside and within the church. I agree that the brand should not replace the gospel or the cross, but that doesn't mean we ignore how the church is viewed, which is where branding can be used. Branding is one way we can address the issue of how the church is seen by society, but it's not the end all be all. We need to also be focused on building our communities through relationships and living our lives as Jesus called us to live. When all these things are used in conjunction, the church will have a strong impact and God will be glorified.
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