Next-Gen Branding for Your Church

Next-Gen Branding for Your Church

How Barna’s Reviving Evangelism Report Can Help You Reach More People

Uriah Fracassi | February 27, 2021 | Church Branding Creativity featured Ministry Branding

Hope for the 21st-Century

As Christian leaders in the twenty-first century, we face unprecedented challenges — and opportunities — if we want to reach people for Jesus. And these challenges relate directly to branding for your church, one of our primary passions here at ArtSpeak Creative. (And no, “branding” isn’t a dirty word for churches.)

Each new generation comes pre-loaded with its own experiences, expectations, social customs, and mindsets. I’m a Millennial, and my generation, along with members of Gen Z, is molded by cultural forces that make many of us openly hostile and dismissive of the gospel.

Or … the gospel as it’s been presented to us.

Josh Chen, Missions Director for Cru in Portland, Oregon, said, “‘Well-worn frameworks’ aren’t working as effectively as they once did. Church leaders need to release the assumption that the gospel that was good news to older generations is the entirety of the gospel.” (Reviving Evangelism p. 51) 

You read that right. In other words: the gospel — which never changes — encompasses more than we’ve heard (or even preached) in the past.

I recently read Barna Research Group’s report Reviving Evangelism. As a minister, the implications of this research — and the onus it placed on me to rethink my evangelism paradigms — moved me.

But as a branding specialist and member of the ArtSpeak Creative team, I saw an opportunity.

As Church Branding Specialists, We’ve Been There

Here at ArtSpeak, our team has church branding specialists, designers, writers, and even ministers from various denominations. Each faced the challenges of reaching people in our culture. From church planters to Bible teachers. Online campus pastors to youth pastors; we’ve experienced the tumultuous ups-and-downs of reaching people. All while helping others reach people through our branding process and ongoing support.

We’ve helped mega-churches in large cities, small church plants in rural counties, multinational organizations, podcasts, and TikTok celebrities reach more people. We’ve discovered an incredibly effective foundation for doing that work.

Here is how I would apply the principles we use at ArtSpeak Creative every day to the pursuit of bringing the gospel to my generation (and the next). Throughout, I’ll reference Barna’s Reviving Evangelism report for context. 

I’ll end by showing how to reveal the uncompromised and ancient good news of Jesus to my generation (as well as the next). 

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Church Branding Is All About Getting Clear

Now more than ever, every ministry — and the Church more broadly speaking — must be clear on three things:

1. Who we uniquely are

The good, the bad, and the ugly. How are we uniquely-positioned to reach those in our immediate, increasingly global context via online platforms?

2. Who exactly we’re called to reach

What’s their life like? What are their hopes, fears, and dreams?

3. Why the gospel matters for them

How does your unique identity as a church and your expression of the good news help your specific audience overcome their fears and achieve their hopes?

The most effective way we’ve found to work through these three vital components is the Communication Triangle. (Download a PDF of the Communication Triangle here.)

Each point of the triangle represents one of the above: Identity, Audience, and Shared Win. In-between each point is a “break,” where an obstacle blocks the way to a complete triangle.

For example, let’s walk through a Communication Triangle for the Church and Gen Z using Barna’s findings as our guide.

The Church: A Communication Triangle

Identity: The Church

The Communication Triangle

Vision: 

For everyone to experience the hope, healing, transformation, and freedom of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Mission

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you…” (Matthew 28:19-20a NLT)

Challenges/Obstacles: 

According to Barna’s research, conversational skills are the most sought-for skills by Non- and “Lapsed” Christians. Unfortunately, however, these skills are seldom found in Christians they know personally. Below are the top three qualities sought by Non-Christians, according to Barna’s report (p.45):  

  • “Listens without judgment” (62% of surveyed Non- and “Lapsed” Christians)
  • “Does not force a conclusion” (50%)
  • “Allows others to draw their own conclusions” (43%)

Christians also wrestle with their own misperceptions and assumptions of others (racially, socioeconomically, etc.) through ignorance or otherwise (p.75).

The historically poor reputation of Christianity is something that must be embraced and worked through: 

“Christians must realize we are not doing evangelism on a clean slate. Cultural perceptions and Christianity’s poor reputation are actively de-converting people raised in church and hardening non-Christians against evangelistic efforts.” (p.19)

Personally, this was the number one reason I stayed away from the faith after walking away in my teen years. Friends and acquaintances often cited the Church’s historical reputation as the primary reason for denying the faith throughout high school and college.

Additionally, even though we have the answer in Jesus, many Christians are decreasing in their evangelistic excitement and even question the morality of evangelism. (pp.75-76) This isn’t surprising when an increasingly secular culture shames the practice, even calling it “religious extremism.” (p.37) 

In reaching Gen Z, we face a further obstacle: The Church’s continued reliance on dated methods, vocabulary, and paradigms that work for “de-vangelism” more than genuinely reaching people (p.59).

Reputation

So, how does Gen Z see the Church and her leaders? Don’t worry; it’s not all bad! Our reputation is still that we provide a place of healing, hope, and redemption.

We still hold the reputation of being community-and service-oriented, especially toward the poor and marginalized (p.72).

However, the Church and her leaders can be seen as:

  • Beholden to political power
  • Hypocritical, especially in terms of sexual integrity
  • Protective of troubling political figures

Finally, too many people have had negative personal interactions with professing Christians:

“Like it or not, Christianity’s overall reputation in our wider culture intersects with our local and personal efforts to live and share the gospel… Everything Christians do is evangelism or de-vangelism.” (pp.99-100)

Advantages

I know this looks bleak, but God didn’t set up the Church to fail! We have something amazing to offer people…

The transformative power and love of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Not only that, people long for community. The Church has had “community” on lock for thousands of years and reserves the patent on the best form!

Again, from Barna:

“People are so isolated. Millennials often feel empty and rejected. Many seek a place to belong based on an activity (like CrossFit) or an interest (like anime). But those bonds aren’t strong enough to nurture and sustain a multifaceted human being created in God’s image.” (p.91)


Audience: Millennials/Gen Z

Here’s what we know about Millennials and Gen Z. 

They’re roughly ages thirty-five and younger. And they’re socially diverse! Millennials and Gen Z are much more likely to have friends and family from various cultural and faith backgrounds.

They’re asking big questions Jesus has answers for:

The next generation is “asking where they belong, how they are significant, how to deal with anxiety, what to do with their loneliness. If our gospel can’t answer those questions, it doesn’t feel like good news. On the other hand, if it does answer those longings, they will be much more likely to receive it and share with others how God has impacted their lives.” (p.51)

According to the data, and unlike most American members of previous generations, people in this age group don’t have a Christian worldview, biblical background, or gospel understanding. (p.98)

Barna also reports seeing a “missing sense of purpose and meaning:”

People are asking deep questions of identity. Who am I? What does it mean to be human?… Our message of new life in Christ must connect to the inner yearnings for abundance, forgiveness, purpose, meaning, relationship and so on. That connection is where the best questions are asked, and where the truest answers are found. If we hope to share the good news in such a way that people can actually receive it, we must have a gospel response to what’s happening now… Becoming radically relational, culturally discerning learners will equip us to swim against the all-pervasive algorithmic current. (p.98)

Psychographics:

When we talk about psychographics, we’re talking about an audience’s hopes, fears, and challenges.

Like any generation, their fears and challenges include anxiety, fear, shame, loneliness, distrust, emptiness, rejection, and inward discontent. 

And the youngest two generations hope for meaning, great relationships, happiness, fulfillment, purpose, and belonging.

But unlike previous generations, the next generation isn’t worried about “how to get to heaven” or “what do I do with my guilt?” Increasingly, they want to know what Jesus has to say about what it means for them to thrive as human beings. (p.50)

The Shared Win: Good News for the Next Generation

With all of this in mind, here’s what the Church’s message is to Millennials and Gen Z. 

Sozo, Now

The message of salvation in Jesus (both eternally and situationally) must connect holistically to the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing of people’s lives now

Find Real Life 

“God hates sin because he loves us so much that he can’t stand to see us finding ‘life’ where there is no life. This explanation provokes the question from someone who hears it: ‘If there is no life in the things I do, then where is there life?’ That’s a good-news question, and it flies with young people.” (Josh Chen, p.52)

Empathy 

It’s “vital for Christians to remember there are two sides to every conversation. Listening to and expressing empathy for non-Christians’ experiences will help to ensure spiritual conversation has a lasting and positive impact.” (p. 82)

True and Good

“More than ever, we’re convinced that people don’t just need to be convinced that Christianity is true, but also that it’s good—good for their own lives in the real world; good for their neighbors; good for society.” (p.99)

Culturally-Discerning Learners

“We must move past assumptions, becoming aware of trends, but also developing a soft sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit.” (p.98)


A Message that Connects 

These insights are a strong foundation for any church, but what about your church? Individual churches and organizations have to take the overall considerations and fine-tune them into a message that fits their cultural context. 

Click here to begin clarifying your message and reaching more people.

Anchor and Pivot

 The upcoming generation can spot fake a mile away. Reaching people will require deep understanding and empathy. It will require new methods and language paired with an ancient heart of Christian love and service.

[For] all the seeming loss of ground in evangelistic culture and practice, the Reviving Evangelism data indicate significant hope for the Christian community’s stewardship of the gospel message. But flourishing in change requires adaptation. If American Christians can respond with agility to today’s challenges while retaining their core distinctiveness and message, the gospel will take root, no matter the culture’s trajectory. But if hard realities are ignored, it’s difficult to imagine evangelistic success in a culture no longer inclined to see faith as compelling or relevant. (p.65)


A Path Forward

 Clarifying your message will enable you to facilitate ministry that the next generation needs in your locale. 

Barna reflects on their data with a note of hope and encouragement:

There is a unique opportunity for the US Church to return to its core identity during this time of transition. Against the backdrop of changing generations we see signs for optimism. While faith in America will never look the same as for our grandparents, it can be strong, authentic and resilient for whatever the future has in store. After all, you don’t pass the same message along for 20 centuries unless there’s something in it that can transcend cultural shifts.

Above all, we ought to keep hold of hope. History has seen the Church flourish time and again in discouraging evangelistic environments. Today is a wake-up call that can inspire us to grow, to reconnect with the call to be and make disciples, and to press forward into deeper and more radically countercultural faith. Rather than discouragement, this research can profoundly encourage us-if we are willing to embrace it realistically and respond humbly.

Seen rightly, our unprecedented challenges can become untapped opportunities. But only if we begin to understand them. (pp. 19-20)

One way to take advantage of the abundant opportunities available to your church or ministry to today? Fill out our Branding Questionnaire!

This document will give you clarity on the three points that matter most: your identity, audience, and your strategic message.

Click here to download your free branding questionnaire to start reaching the next generation.