The Hills Church

The Hills Church

The Hills doubled in size after building a new brand & community center for Evansville dads who don't like church.

By: Kirk Hadden | Case Studies Church Branding featured

A Mobile Church with an Unconventional Vision

From their early days at a park in downtown Evansville, Indiana to renting space in a convention center to getting pushed to a movie theater during the COVID pandemic, the people of The Hills Church have always been resilient. It takes a remarkable fortitude to load in and pop up a mobile church for hundreds of people every weekend in a space you don’t own and can’t alter. But their scrappy culture and limitless endurance were fueled by their unconventional vision: to build a church for people who don’t like church.

The Hills Church

The Challenge: How to Connect with a Discarded Audience

And who was at the top of The Hills’ list of “people in Evansville who don’t like church?” Men. Specifically, dads. But The Hills faced a unique challenge with that specific audience: how do they relate to dads and translate the value of faith and church for the dads who have already decided church is not for them—or even more challenging, for those dads who have felt discarded by churches in their past?

Their plan: clarify their message for hard-to-reach dads, craft a disarming visual brand for their church, and build dads a “church” space they’d enjoy spending time in.

Becoming “Maverick Coaches” for Fathers Who Need to Feel Like a Hero Again

When The Hills came to us with their vision and challenges, our team went to work on their strategic messaging.

Our first goal was to help them define their messaging identity, namely the personality and energy they wanted to channel as a messenger in their community. Using our in-depth discovery process, we helped them identify their “Maverick Coach” brand personality, one that would naturally connect with the rough-and-tough dads in their community.

Next, we helped them clarify their target audience. Who is this dad who feels ill-fit for church?

Next, we helped them clarify their target audience. Who is this dad who feels ill-fit for church? What’s his name, his story, and his everyday challenges? Why doesn’t he like church in the first place?

Together with The Hills team, we developed a fictional audience persona named Anthony, a military vet in Evansville working a manufacturing job and on his second marriage. That’s who The Hills wanted to reach most.

With an authentic brand identity and a crystal-clear target audience, The Hills was ready to craft a message for Anthony that made him feel important and valuable—not like the “dirty sinner” he’d heard in his past.

They wanted every Anthony who walked through their doors to feel empowered to be a hero for their family, not a villain in their church.

Crafting a Raw Message of Hope

Translating the value of faith and community to their target audience required a message full of empathy and understanding. If Anthony felt like he was at rock bottom, what would open his heart to the words of Jesus? What would he have to hear from a church to find hope again?

We started by positioning The Hills as a place where misfits can find hope again and build a legacy they’ll be proud to leave behind.

Next, we crafted a family of bite-sized, value-filled messages that Anthony could relate to:

  • Made For More
  • Redefine The Grind
  • No Fluff Or Fakeness
  • Keep Your Tools Sharp

Finally, we wrote a long-form Core Story for Anthony that met him in his pain, apologized for any church hurt he’d experienced in his past, and ended with a Brand Promise tailor-made for Anthony’s deepest hope:

“The hill we’re willing to die on … is you.”

Designing an Unchurchy Brand for Unchurchy People

After strategic messaging came visual identity development. What logos, colors, fonts, and patterns would authentically represent The Hills and cut through the clutter to catch Anthony’s eye?

We started by defining Pulse Words for The Hills, anchor words that define and influence the visual direction of the entire brand:

  • Brave. We’re not afraid to catch your eye. Our colors are bold, our fonts are weighted, and we break the mold with asymmetrical patterns and shapes.
  • Stable. While adventurous at times, our brand still looks and feels refined. Our space looks architectural and industrial. We feel solid and dependable, like a strong foundation with good bones.
  • Open. Our brand feels open and free—it gives permission to explore what’s possible. We don’t look boxed in or constrained. We use negative space and open sightlines to relieve the pressure of stuffy spirituality.

It was important to The Hills team to have a logo that worked without the word “church” because their vision for the new space they were building was to feel more like a community center than any traditional idea of “church” in Anthony’s mind.

The Hills Church

Building & Branding a Community Center for Monday–Saturday

Months before The Hills started researching teams to help them with church branding, they knew they needed to move out of their rented convention center space in order to custom-design a home for Anthony and his family.

Right away, they knew that the best way to make Anthony feel like the hero of his family again was to make a space Anthony’s kids would love to visit. So they created a building that functioned more like a community center, outfitting 60% of the space for kids with a basketball court, an indoor soccer field, a giant LED screen for playing video games, and a four-story custom playground.

And on Sundays at noon, they wanted a space for Anthony to kick back and watch the Indianapolis Colts games without rushing home from church. So they put the games on the big screen in the lobby after service. Every Sunday. Just for Anthony.

Finally, they wanted their “church” to be open to the community Monday through Saturday, completely free. They never could have guessed how helpful that’d be for engaging their community outside of Sunday services.

“If I want to engage the community, I don’t have to go far. The community is already here.
The Hills Church

Darryl Marin, Lead Pastor of The Hills, was astounded by the rapid growth they experienced after opening the doors to their new building.

“The first week we opened up, I couldn’t have predicted that we would [host] 40 free birthday parties, almost all of them for people that didn’t even come to our church.”

“[In the Convention Center], we averaged about 600 people across two Sunday services with about 75 new visitors a weekend. But Monday through Friday during the summer, we see upwards of 700 to 800 unique visitors a week, just here to use our new space for free. [And] this past Sunday, we had just shy of 1400 people in the building.”

“Right now, I’ve got an opportunity, at any time, to go out of my office and engage the community. And I don’t have to go very far. I come down a set of stairs and the community is already here.”

Hear Darryl’s Experience With ArtSpeak
The Hills Church

The Hill’s Experience with the ArtSpeak Team

“We knew what we wanted to say, we just didn’t know how to say it. We sent you our vision, and clarity came back.Darryl Marin Lead Pastor

“We only have so much bandwidth as a staff … ArtSpeak was informed by the vision and able to do something that was awesome, and our team was able to do ministry the whole time.”

Dave Bowersox Executive Pastor

“Putting yourself around people who will help you along the process, create for you, ask for your input, and still be in the same vision that you had to begin with is hard to find — and it’s refreshing when you do find it. ArtSpeak was that for us.”

Gio Guidicelli Visual Arts Director
“The communication guidelines provide parameters for me to be able to ‘creatively create!’ It’s that pathway.” Rian Nichols Worship Pastor