About a month or so ago, I decided to sell one of my acoustic guitars. I won't go into the personal details of why, but suffice to say there were some memories associated with it that I no longer wanted to keep around. Honestly, I hadn't picked it up in ages. I love my two Yamaha grand concert, trans-acoustic guitars — one of which was a very meaningful gift from my parents. I lead worship twice a week at my church and occasionally at other local venues, rehabs, and ministries. Then there's the times I'm playing them at home, learning a song, practicing or whatnot. So you can imagine that my instruments get a fair and decent amount of use.
But this guitar that I sold was a Taylor. If you're a guitarist, then you know that letting go of a Taylor is sort of like selling your BMW, Rolls-Royce or Aston Martin. You don't really do it unless you have a darn good reason. To make a long story short: I was able to successfully sell it, got a crazy good price for it, but was left feeling very empty and nostalgic. Not because I wanted to return to some part of my young life or chase old memories, but because I knew how much I was going to miss the quality, craftsmanship, beauty, elegance, and amazing playing action of a Taylor guitar. So what did I do? You guessed it. I took the shockingly good money I made off of my old Taylor, spent time doing lots of research, making phone calls, asking questions, and bought a brand new, completely different make and model Taylor. It's made of different wood (dark Hawaiian Koa); it boasts Taylor's new and improved Expression System 2 electronics; it has a different gloss, finish, and a shaded edgeburst; it has a unique Spring Vine fingerboard inlay; even the bridge nut, saddle, and truss rod are completely different than my previous model. It's different in virtually every way. But, guess what? It's a Taylor guitar and it's uniquely mine this time.
How silly is all of this though? What happened inside of me emotionally and mentally? Are Taylor Guitars really the kings of the acoustic guitar world? Perhaps. I could easily make that argument based on an infinite number of factors. (The same goes for Apple products.) I could spend all day talking to you about their superior tonewoods, physical elegance, trademark electronics, and how they boast the most playable neck in the industry. And then there's the unparalleled photography and videography in their print and digital marketing, including their famous Wood & Steel magazine.
But, never mind about that. Here's what happened to me: I was clearly and deeply affected by Taylor's brand. My dad is a 62-year-old lead pastor and often reminds me that when he hears the word "brand," he just thinks of cows, cattle, and branding irons. Maybe you do too. Things have changed a little bit since the 1800s though. Branding is no longer limited to some sort of identifying logo, insignia, or trademark. It's not limited to your marketing or your catchy slogans. And — in this particular context — it has udderly nothing to do with horned bovines. (See what I did there?)
As the son of a pastor, I get that you might not be keen on this whole branding notion. It probably sounds like corporate business lingo and, in your mind, that's a whole separate world. Most pastors tend to get a little squirmy when you mention "marketing" and "church" in the same sentence or conversation. But whether you like it or not, your church already has a brand. You may not realize you have one. You may not refer to it as a "brand." But you do have one. And yes, even if you don't have a logo, you still have a brand. Your brand is simply that unique characteristic that makes you, you. It's that defining element that people in your community point to or remember about your church. It's the thing that first-time visitors remember when they leave.
Every church has one. You might be known as "that church with the giant cross." Maybe you're "that little brown church in the cornfield." Or perhaps it's something deeper like "the church that always feeds the local homeless on Sunday afternoons." You could be "the really friendly church where everyone is loved like family."
If you're a pastor/church leader who is regularly in tune with the heartbeat of your people, then odds are you know your church's exact brand. You probably just didn't ever think of it as "a brand." But the neat thing is this: You and your church have the power to influence and effect your brand in meaningful ways. [Or in detrimental ways if you're not careful.] You have the opportunity to utilize your brand in the local community.
Many of the churches I work with through revitalization are either in the process of building their brand completely from scratch, restoring a brand that fell from grace decades ago, or discovering the brand they've had all along. For any of these to work — and for it to affect this current generation in purposeful, significant, and substantial ways — you're going to have to tell your story. The truth is that your church, even if it is battling brokenness and pain, has a story to tell the world. And everyone loves a good story — millennials in particular. (Ever wonder why movies like Top Gun: Maverick are insanely successful?) On a side note: Remember that millennials have been oversaturated by the Internet and social media and are considered to be the most media-exposed generation in society. Because of this, they are often extremely difficult to impress, inspire, or influence. It makes sense, really. They have literally seen everything under the sun. If you forego originality and merely copy someone else's idea, they will smell your phoniness a mile away. They crave authenticity and a story that has a solid beginning, middle, and end — and preferably a happy ending.
If your church is thought of as "that place where former addicts find hope and healing," then that's a story that deserves to be told to your entire city. There's literally no reason to keep that brand a secret. Don't fall into the trap of thinking it's arrogant, cocky, or pompous for a church to brag. After all, you aren't bragging on yourself. You're bragging on God. Shout that sort of branding from the rooftops. Grab a megaphone and scream it from the hilltops.
Churches who want to reach and impact this current generation will be enthusiastic and passionate about how God chooses to use them.
These churches will become master storytellers. They will use digital and social media.
Our culture doesn't want another cheesy, stale, or fake marketing campaign. It doesn't want another boring story. It wants something genuine, real, and full of triumphant purpose.
The Local Church has exactly that. The Local Church has the Gospel — the greatest story in all of human history. Share it and your personal story with your community and they will want to be involved.
After all, it matters for the sake of Eternity.