Should churches care about branding?

Centuries ago (in internet time) graphic designer David Airey wrote a blog post asking folks whether they’d seen any good church logos. My brother Bryan responded with a thought-provoking comment asking whether churches should even be concerned about “branding”.

Bryan’s answer is a fairly firm “no”. His comment is worth quoting in full:

Apologies in advance for the length of this comment. It’s a subject I feel pretty emotional about, I guess.

I believe in the power of a good brand.

Why don’t churches give more serious thought to their logos? Simply put, many churches — as you faintly suggest when you disregard the question of morality — aren’t businesses, and they shouldn’t be.

Branding is important for businesses because people become emotionally attached to a particular brand, and the ethos and lifestyle it represents. Every business has a different logo, because no business wants to be associated with another business’s ethos.

It’s tempting for churches to do the same, so that people become emotionally attached to their unique brand of lifestyle. But attracting people should never be any church’s primary focus. And emotional attachment to a particular brand at the expense of a love for God and his people is “good” old-fashioned idolatry, in the Biblical sense.

The other reason is that when individual churches have logos, they differentiate themselves from each other. The Bible has harsh things to say about Christians who group themselves into separate schools — when it talks about people who say, “I follow Paul” and “I follow Apollos”. Yes, I know, we’ve got the Baptists, Catholics, Brethren, etc. It’s wrong and I don’t like it, but we can work for positive change from where we stand. I believe branding will set us up for worse competition.

It’s not so much a question of right or wrong, as of what is important. The emotional attachment of a brand is much shallower than that of a human to a human, or of a human to God. And we churches simply don’t want that superficialness. We don’t want to attract people who love God less than they love our branding.

The Church of God is global. Always has been. In fact the Church has always had “logos” of a sort — but we tend to call them “symbols”. It’s a similar idea, but it goes much deeper. Deepest is the symbol of the cross. It’s a symbol based heavily in reality, and it represents the most horrible, and at the same time the most beautiful thing that God ever did. We also have symbols that are actions rather than images — when we eat bread & drink wine together, we remember the last time Jesus did the same with his closest followers. When we wet a child or new christian with water, we symbolize how God has already washed their guilt away, and we welcome them into God’s family.

Many Christians don’t wear or draw crosses, because they don’t believe a visual symbol is necessary or good. I respect that. But I (like you) believe in the power of a visual symbol, and the cross is one that I believe is deep enough to be worthy of what it represents.

To be honest (without wanting to moralize!), when churches want to have their own brands, it says to me that they don’t think the original symbols of the Church are cool enough for them. But that’s not really my call, at the end of the day; it is God’s call.

Told you it was thought-provoking!

And there’s a commenter further down who notes how “the original Greek logos means ‘word’, which to Christians is Jesus.” It’s kind of strange how a word which to us means “image” came from a word meaning “word”, or the Word.

So, what do you think: should churches be concerned with their “branding”?

4 thoughts on “Should churches care about branding?

  1. some thoughts (I feel strongly about this, but have had a newborn in one arm for most of writing it):

    branding is inevitable if your church has signage or other written/online communications

    the question is whether it is done well or poorly — i.e whether it communicates well or badly. Church letterheads can easily say e.g. ‘these people are very proud of their building’, or ‘this is a disorganised, run-on-a-shoestring outfit’, or ‘these people are really keen on families’.

    branding is accurate & inviting communication to strangers. something Christians should be good at (I’m not)

    My church (St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church, Kelburn) has a logo and a brand. The logo is an M made of angel wings. It appears on all the printed products (newsletter, occasional newspaper, street signs, etc) the church produces, along with the name and sometimes the mission statement, in a particular font. You can see it on our website: http://www.stmichaels.wellington.net.nz/ . The website is a placeholder one while it gets redesigned, because it isn’t very good branding at the moment.

    • Thanks, Matthew (and hullo on this blog!). You’re definitely right that we should communicate well, and that one’s visual design can communicate badly (random example). But I agree with Bry below that branding is not the same as communication, which is what you seem to be talking about.

      “Branding” is a word that fits better (in my mind) with Nike and McDonalds than with the Church. Our branding should be shown in our lives, not in our logos. Incidentally, perusing Wikipedia on the subject brought me to faith branding, which really puts me off. :-)

      That said, I really am in two minds about whether churches should have logos or put much effort into them if they do. Maybe it’s just a case of designing an appropriate, non-consumery logo. In that light, I quite like Redeemer’s or the RCNZ’s for that matter.

  2. Matthew, good thoughts. I pretty much agree with the desire to see good visual design and good communication (both visual and otherwise) from churches.

    But I think “branding” is a distinct (and larger) concept than just “design” or “communication”. In the broadest sense, branding is about commitment, lifestyle, etc. I believe a church should strive to be branded by Jesus Christ (and his work) only. All the visual design, communication, printed and online materials, etc, should support that.

    Not saying they can’t communicate anything else, of course, and using good visual design to do so. They could legitimately communicate that your church is a welcoming home, that your church identifies with people from all cultures, or that Sunday School is at 9am. But they shouldn’t be branded by any of those things — people shouldn’t want to belong to your church because of it’s unique brand of cultural acceptance. People should want to belong because of your “unique” brand of Jesus Christ (unique in the sense of one-and-only, but of course you share that brand with every other christian church).

    Of course, “logo” and “brand” aren’t the same thing either, so perhaps my original comment doesn’t apply so much to church logos as church brands.

    Actually, in spite of often having negative reactions, I do really love to see a good church logo and good visual design and communication to support that. But I think churches with logos/branding should ask themselves “do we boast Jesus Christ crucified or is it more about our brand?”

    Maybe I’m splitting hairs…

    Good luck with the new website ;-) Keen to see it when it’s done. Are you involved in the redesign?

    On the original blogpost, Kristarella had a good comment, which I agree with, as far as it goes:

    Churches still have a bunch of print products that they produce, I don’t think it hurts to tie them together somehow – as long as people stay focused on wht their church is supposed to be doing, not just building numbers, but growing people in maturity.

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