Does a Church Really Need Branding?

Does a Church Really Need Branding?

By: Kirk Hadden | Branding Church Branding Communications & Marketing featured Video

Does a church really need “branding”?

Sometimes, all the talk of branding and marketing seems like hype and noise clouding over the true purposes of the church, like proclaiming the good news. But the truth is, the world is a noisy place, full of confusing and contradictory messages, and this is precisely why it is critical that the church is mindful and intentional about how it communicates with the outside world. And in our view, that is precisely what “branding” is all about it, and why it is a critical consideration of the Church in the modern world.

Does a Church Really Need Branding?
Church Branding Questionnaire

Church Branding Questionnaire

Effective church branding begins with a deep exploration of your identity, your target audience, and your message to them. Use this questionnaire as an exercise to gain the clarity you need to craft your brand messaging strategy and reach people through the noise.


Jason Bowman: Why does a church need branding? Hey, I’m Jason.

Kirk Hadden: And I’m Kirk.

Jason Bowman: And we’re ArtSpeak Creative, and part of the team at ArtSpeak Creative. We help a lot of our clients with branding, so today we want to talk about church branding. Why does a church need branding?

Kirk Hadden: Why all this hype about branding? If you look around, there’s books out there, and probably plenty of people talking about the need for branding, but if you’re a church, you’re about the gospel, right?

Jason Bowman: What does that mean? Oh, yeah, the good news, you mean.

Kirk Hadden: That’s all that matters. That’s all that matters, but here’s the thing. The church has been around for a couple of thousand years, and when the first progenitors of the gospel went out into the world, they had a message that sounded a lot like great news.

If you lived in that ancient world, and your whole upbringing, your culture, your environment told you that either you had to work really hard to be in good favor with God, the gods, and you were never sure if you were really in the right place, where either God seemed perhaps distant, and harsh, and unforgiving, or at least there was a lot of work involved, or, on the flip side, the gods were capricious and un-understandable, and who knows what they would do next, and here comes a message that God had come near.

Kirk Hadden: He had given mercy. He had given us an indescribable gift, and with that, wanted a relationship with us. Those people loved that message. They ate it up. They were hungry for it. It was joyous. But you know what? A few things have happened since then, and the church on the planet, the ones given this message to go spread it around the globe, and they have, but they’ve also been somewhat less than perfect. A little bit.

Jason Bowman: A little bit. One of my favorite quotes from working on my masters in theological study was from Dr. Gary McGee. I’ll never forget it, he said that the church has looked different and sounded different every 50 years and every 500 miles since Jesus. Now, he didn’t say that as a bad thing. He actually said it as a really good thing, a missional thing, that the church has always been overcoming obstacles, and rolling over into new language groups and new people groups, and has been adopting and adapting itself.

Jason Bowman: In fact, he went on to say that the real problem with the branding of the church has when it has become synonymous with a specific culture. But where it most is alive has been historically, or is today, where it’s adapting itself to the next language, to the next people, where it’s on mission. That the church on mission is most alive.

Kirk Hadden: And the reality is that today, when you go out to tell your community, “Hey, I’m starting a church,” or, “Come to church,” and the idea in your mind of this life-giving, energized place, full of possibilities, full of love, full of hope, when those sound waves leave your lips and cross through the culture in between you and them, and into their mind, it is going to be shaped by 2,000 years of history.

Kirk Hadden: It’s going to be shaped by their last experience with church, and when the picture comes into focus in their mind, they’re thinking about that last time they went to church and were so hurt by it. Or that time they were in church as a kid and they were bored stiff. Or they’re thinking about atrocities, scandals, falsehoods, hypocrisy that they see in the world around them, and the picture that comes into focus for them is nothing like it was for you, and that’s a branding problem.

Jason Bowman: That’s a communication problem. That’s what it boils down to. You can call it branding, you can call it marketing, you can call it art, call it, throughout history, different things, but it’s a communication thing. I’ve got a idea in my head. I have a concept. I’ve got these feelings, and thoughts, and ideas that I want to now communicate so that you might think, and enjoy, and believe, and have everything that I’m thinking and seeing through … but I’ve got to communicate that to you.

Jason Bowman: Communication isn’t easy, and when you’re talking about overcoming big barriers like atrocities, and difficulties, and scandals, it’s a big deal. How do you take truth and communicate it? That’s been the challenge for 2,000 years, and so it’s really, while lots has changed, at the same time, maybe not much has.

Kirk Hadden: And so as the church, it’s still our job to reach people that are outside of that message, who need it the most, but those are probably the people who are the least interested in our culture. The people that need it the most are the least interested, and so that’s where the challenge is for us, as the church in the modern world, in our culture. How do we bridge that divide? How do we get through that culture gap and still get the message across?

Kirk Hadden: See, it’s one thing, it’s one thing in the marketing world to reach people who are looking for you already. In fact, there’s lots of great tools that make that easy, Google Ads and Search Ads, where you can make sure that someone who is looking for you can find you. But it’s another thing entirely to go get out in front of people who are not looking at you at all, in fact, who may have decided that they’re not interested in what you have to say, and then change that. To put something in front of them that is so far beyond what they expected to hear from you that they’re forced to question their assumptions about you. Where you force them to take a second look.

Kirk Hadden: We call that the power of intrigue, and I believe that is the secret sauce the church must include in its message today, because we must get through the mental barriers that are already set up if we want to take a minute. If they’re going to listen to us at all, we have to make them take a second look and question the decisions that they’ve already made about you, so they can hear the good news that’s hidden in all the noise that they hear when they hear the word “church”.

Jason Bowman: I love that, the secret sauce that the church must embrace is intrigue. The church needs to become intriguing again. Isn’t that why you started doing what you wanted to do in church leadership? That’s why I went into it. That’s why I still love coming alongside leaders and helping them. That’s why we do what we do. I just believe if you’re watching this video right now, that motivates you. How can I engage with, how can I have a conversation with, how can I inspire those that are outside? Not just outside the walls, but they might even be outside, mentally, the thought of ever becoming a part of something like that.

Jason Bowman: We’ve got to become intriguing again. The church must become intriguing again. Like, “Wow, I didn’t know you thought that way. I didn’t know … ” And there’s probably, the crazy thing is, the ideas and thoughts and life-giving, the opportunity that is in your head, that you want to communicate to your whole community, there are a lot of people in your community, that if they could just hear you, if they could just hear your message, they would be drawn to it. They would love it. The problem is, sometimes they’re hearing all of the other noise. They’re hearing all of the presuppositions that they have. They’re hearing all of the hurdles. They don’t see it, they don’t hear it. To me, that’s the importance of branding.

Kirk Hadden: Absolutely.

Jason Bowman: Influencing our influence in the community. How do we do that? I mean, that’s not just going to be easy. You can’t just put up an ad. That’s what happens, though. Sometimes there’s, church leaders out there say, “You know what? I don’t need any advertisement. We’re not going to do … We don’t need any of this talk about communication, and the community, or marketing.”

Jason Bowman: These somehow become bad words, and then, this is what’s fascinating to me because I’m in that world, I watch it, and all of a sudden that same person is two weeks out from their big event, Easter’s coming, or Christmas, or even just Sunday and it’s a new message series, and then what do they do? They go so far, they swing the pendulum so far away from who they are and what they said was going to work, and all of a sudden they’re out there paying, or they’re putting up a big billboard that says, “Come on and see. Come on down. Free communion,” whatever else they’re giving away. Hopefully it’s free, I guess. But, no, they do.

Jason Bowman: All of a sudden, their noise in the community, their advertising in the community, their expression in the community, is so contrary to who they really are because they waited till they were stressed, they waited till the last minute, they waited till the only thing left was to boost this post that says, “Come on and see. Come and join us.”

Jason Bowman: It’s different than what they would actually say, and here’s what ends up happening; the very people who would have been drawn by their message, the very people that would have resonated with that vision and those values, now that you’re not acting through those visions and values, you’re not communicating who you are to your community, you’re communicating, “If you’re already a Christian, you might like this, come and join us.” All of a sudden, you’re actually beginning to push away the very people that would have resonated. That, to me, is what is important about this conversation.

Kirk Hadden: Right, because if you’re going to communicate effectively with anyone, you have to understand them. First, they have to be listening. If they’re not listening to you, then you’re not communicating. Once you can get them to listen, that’s the intrigue, that’s your foot in the door. If you can intrigue them, they start listening.

Kirk Hadden: Now that they’re listening, they have to understand you, and so you have to use words that mean the right thing to their mind, and that might be different than your own vocabulary. You have to know them well enough to know what to say, to communicate the thought, the meaning, that you want to communicate them, and then they have to feel you. They have to feel it. You have to get through the mind, to the heart, and then they begin to act on it.

Kirk Hadden: To do that, it takes a long process of discovery. You have to know, first, who you are. That’s important. You need to know who you are. You need to know what your message is, because that part of you is not going to change. That’s your why. That’s your purpose. That’s the core of who you and your organization is. You have to know what that message is.

Jason Bowman: But not just assume you know what it is. I don’t mean to interrupt you, but you should actually be able to write it down, “This is my message. This is my why. This is who we are.” I’m not talking about the, you know, 25 years ago there was a retreat and they wrote these words on a wall that everyone has ignored for the last 24 years. What I’m saying is, like, you, watching this, should be able to write down, “This is who I am.” Because sometimes I think we just assume that we know who we are without doing the deep, sometimes difficult journey into articulating, this is me and this is why.

Kirk Hadden: Yeah, and that is a difficult journey. It takes some really heavy thinking and processing. The other side of it, though, you have to understand who you’re talking to. As churches, we’re the king of saying, “Oh, we’re trying to reach everybody.”

Jason Bowman: Everybody.

Kirk Hadden: “We want a church that looks like heaven.”

Jason Bowman: Amen.

Kirk Hadden: Which is great.

Jason Bowman: True that.

Kirk Hadden: Yes, please, let’s not limit our churches to only people that look like us, or the ethnicities that look like us. No, let’s yell, let’s reach everybody. But you need to understand that the people in your area have their own culture, and the people in that area that are not going to church right now, the people that you might look at, and you analyze, and you say, “You know what? We need to reach this people. God is calling us to reach this people,” they’re going to have their own culture, their own vocabulary, their own needs, their own pressures, their own fears, because that’s the part that you’re going to have to talk to if they’re going to listen to you. They don’t care about you.

Jason Bowman: That’s true.

Kirk Hadden: They don’t care about your story. Your brand is not about you.

Jason Bowman: Right.

Kirk Hadden: It’s about your message to them. They don’t care until it’s about them. Just like a conversation at a dinner party, you’re going to get a lot farther in building a relationship with people if you get them talking about themselves, rather than you talking about you all the time. So the second half of this discovery process is to figure out, who are they? Depict that center of the target audience that you are most called to reach, most enabled to reach, most need to reach. Who are they? What are their fears? What is their language? What comes to their mind when they think about church? What fears do they have about church? And then begin to craft your message to answer those, to get through the barriers and to resonate with their heart.

Jason Bowman: That’s the third piece, is the message. What is your unique message? Know who you are, know who your audience is, and then what is it in your message that is unique to you, not just in general, not 2,000 years, 20,000 feet up, but you. You have a unique message. It’s who you are, and it’s who they are, and it’s the value that you can add, uniquely, because you’re you and they’re them. Understanding those three things, that can then create a lens that really dictates how and what you express to your community.

Kirk Hadden: So you could start working on this. In fact, I hope you will. I hope you’ll start thinking through these questions. In fact, we’ve developed a set of questions that we’d love for you to download, just to help you think through, who am I, who are they, and what’s my message to them? So there’s a link, and feel free to click that, download this, and spend some time processing, whether that’s just you right now, maybe you’re a church planter and you’re just planning for this, maybe you’re just getting started, maybe you’ve got a whole team and you’re going to sit down with these questions with your whole team and go over them, but—

Jason Bowman: It’s a great team building activity, really, so even if you are by yourself and you want to grow your team, if you want to reach people, you need to involve other people, this is a great conversation starter that will build ownership for those that are a part of … just for allowing them to be a part of the conversation, because they are deeply personal, organizational questions that talk about mission, that will end up guiding the future.

Jason Bowman: So invite some people in to those questions. Maybe you have a staff that would be a natural group to share these questions with. Maybe you are going to go on a retreat, or just take some time, begin to build a team around these questions. Either way, click the link, free download, and start exploring it, and watch how it begins … the answers to those questions begin to create momentum for your mission in your city.