I’m sure at least half of all pastors or seminary students have had the dream where they come up on stage to realize their notes are blank, they forgot the text they’re preaching, or have this nagging sense that this sermon will show how little they were able to prepare that week. A picture that might help us is a NASA launch where everything has been prepped, the world is watching, the countdown reaches zero, and we find that the ship has no fuel.
This is sometimes how organizations go about digital media. They see competitors or others in their field reaching new people and getting followers by creating awesome content, so they sign up for every digital media account possible, get a graphic designer, videographer, and photographer to make what they needed, then realize that they have no idea what to say.
This identity is a composite of their denomination, doctrine, mission and vision statements, core values, and people.
This is what happens when organizations take a bandwagon approach to communications. The reaction is to jump in the deep end, but the solution is to develop a solid content strategy. Churches have to do extensive soul-searching and write down what they find to serve as the foundation of what they communicate. This identity is a composite of their denomination, doctrine, mission and vision statements, core values, and people.
If you were to ask 100 people what “faith” meant, you would likely end up with 100 different answers. Let’s avoid that here and establish a few definitions. A church’s mission statement is a broad, brief, biblical statement of what the ministry is supposed to be doing.1 What should your church be doing, biblically speaking? That’s the core of its mission statement. This is rather easy because Jesus told us that our mission is to go into the world and make disciples. Churches may articulate it in different ways, but this is the mission of every church.
Vision statements are entirely different beasts. These are clear, compelling pictures of the future of the ministry, as you believe it can and must be.1 Andy Stanley said it’s a picture of what the future could be driven by a conviction that it should be.2 Mission statements are duty oriented, but vision statements look to the future and the outcome of being consistent and dutiful. Mission statements say what the job is, and vision statements paint a picture of what a job well-done looks like. The vision process asks what sort of church we feel called to be, writes it down, then builds a strategy to get there. The Great Commission keeps us rooted in what God has called us to do, and vision gets us excited about what it would look like to devote ourselves to it. One of our favorite depictions of vision comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Where doctrine helps people know what to believe, core values teach people what to feel and do.
Core values are sometimes seen as superfluous, but they actually serve as pillars that uphold the mission and vision, keeping the ministry focused. Malphurs defines them as the constant, passionate, biblical core beliefs that go deep and really, truly empower and guide the ministry.1 Core values help shape and are shaped by the other statements. These help identify underlying ideas and convictions within the church; where doctrine helps people know what to believe, core values teach people what to feel and do.
In one of our earlier posts, we addressed that most people don’t like to talk about church marketing, and we understand that. We also have seen that many marketing ideas and terms are just labeling normal relational realities. For example, a brand is simply a reputation, what people or organizations are known for. When CEOs and marketing directors say something is “off brand,” they’re saying that whatever action or ad being considered isn’t inline with what they want to be known for. Reputation and branding are built into our existence, and we’ve even called as Christians to protect the image people have of the Church. We’re called to do good works, “so they glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). In many Presbyterian churches, elders and church members are asked to maintain the unity, purity, and peace of the local church.
It is completely normal for churches to be defined by their denomination, doctrine, mission and vision, and core values. To say reputations play no part is to diminish the role of history and biblical convictions in the local church. If branding wasn’t a reality, the world would expect the same thing from Presbyterian churches as they do Pentecostals, the same from Baptists and as Methodists.
There is a difference, however, between accidental and intentional branding. Some churches and organizations go about without an intentional structure and rhythm to communicating their identities, while others are meticulous and filter everything through it. We recommend something closer to the latter. Doing so helps solidify what your church believes, does, and stands for, and – almost more importantly – prevents building an ill-received reputation.
When we think of branding, we think of artifacts like colors and logos, but substance is most important. Visuals must come into play, but identity has to be solidified first. Churches have to be staunch and clear in the convictions that make them who they are. Keeping first things first will help us remember that the reason we do this “all for [you] people, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, giving glory to God.” Consistent and well thought out reputations matter because they establish trust and credibility with the people we want to reach with the gospel!