branding your YOUth ministry

I wrote up this posting for YouthWorker Movement & encapsulates some of my ‘short session’ from Perkins School of Youth Ministry last month.

Last month I did a session at Perkins School of Youth Ministry on “branding” ones youth ministry (the image above is my whiteboard, minus that “revitalize church” not sure what that’s from).

Brand, is a very ambiguous term. In many ways its best to understand what some brands are. Mac/Apple, has the bitten apple logo. McDonald’s has the big yellow ‘M.’ Nike has it swoosh. Beyond just a logo though, Coca-Cola has a very distinct and branded glass bottle, so much so that it was designed to be recognized even when broken (true story). ‘Your’ brand is more than just a logo. So how does one identify and move forward developing a brand in the church environment?

Well, this is how I see it happening.

Acts 2: “..because each one heard their own language being spoken..”

I have this idea of Pentecost being about the enabling of effective communicating to the masses through the power of the Holy Spirit. Read the story, that scene was a mess before the Holy Spirit came to inspire & enable the leaders. Today it is a present reality that we speak and understand in brands, that combination of who we are along with our sensory identifiers. My opinion is that we need the Holy Spirit in finding out who we are and what we are about to us and others to be able to accurately and adequately communicate to others about our ministries.

Matthew 16: “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

I love this scripture, in part because I feel this is all about identity and many of us, our teens especially, struggle with identity. Christ outlines those cores questions we need to answer for ourselves & our ministries. Ourselves? Yes, as I’ve highlighted in Christ’s responses, he renames Simon to Peter, which translated is “rock” and so “on this ‘rock’ I will build my church” telling me that we are integral to the identity and ‘brand’ of our ministries. Are our ministries all about us, heck no! but they are very much a part of us and many times take over traits and gifts unique to us. That isn’t a bad thing. God gifts us & enables us for ministry. We bring that to whatever ministry we enter and lead.

So, how do we go about answering the questions?

I have a process of discernment that I feel has value to help us open to the Holy Spirit and find the answers. Only after this can we move forward in doing the ‘things’ of branding our ministries.

Discernment

Prayer - Emptying Prayer, get rid of all the junk in you head about what could be, what the Baptists are doing, or what the big mega church in your area is doing. Certainly get rid of those advertising ideas from some national chain that you think are cool. (Do this first as individual, then as a group)

Prayer – Return to prayer after you are rid of all that junk and ask God to give you clarity as to “who you are?” and “what do others say you are?”  (Do this first as individual, then as a group)

Reading - Because God doesn’t give answers immediately (that’s my experience, maybe it isn’t yours). Spend time in reading, read scripture (Searching the Scriptures), art books, local newspapers and magazines, read poetry and creative writing, etc.  Stay away from church growth books are my suggestion, they don’t translate often and confuse, plus you need to go back to that emptying prayer exercise.

Conversations - Begin conversations with a myriad of people. Those involved in your ministry and those outside your ministry. Ask those people the two questions, be okay with whatever responses you get.

Visualize – At some point around here you will see some themes emerging. Start to jot them down and then organize the themes of your ministries identity. What do you want to change? What do you want to emphasize? What do you want to be about? Vizual how you might want to get there.

This becomes then a planning process where you want to go back to many of those people you had conversations with. As you present you leadings from the Spirit you will find that others will understand as well and jump in to help making this new branding a reality.

At this point you might have some specific planning options to help along the way.

  • What is your name? I can’t example that one for you
  • What is our visual identifier, ie. logo? How to create it?
  • What is our language?
  • What do we do? Mission, Discipleship, Worship?.. I’m a fan of identifying three key words, forget mission statements, they are useless and communicate nothing to teenagers. imho
  • What do we do best? Discipleship?..
  • How are we going to do this? Detailed plan for reshaping or building your culture
  • What do we want others to know us by? How to share that; email, outreach projects, community events, etc?
  • How to keep doing that? I call it the, rinse and repeat

In our workshop session on of the participants brought up how Gatorade was re-branding itself. Which brought up for me an important example of jumping this process and mis-branding your ministry. Note: I have this information on good knowledge because my brother-in-law is a national sales member to the Gatorade team. A few years back Gatorade heard that Tiger Woods was entertaining a new brand of Powerade line with his name on it. Someone in Gatorade felt, and enough others agreed, that they couldn’t allow this to happen so they rushed to jump over Powerade and sign Tiger to a huge endorsement and created a whole line of favorite Tiger flavors of Gatorade. Well, the whole line was a super flop (financially speaking) and when Tiger got into trouble it was a fortunate circumstance to break from that failed venture. Gatorade got away from “who they are” and more into who they wanted to beat. It failed for them & will fail for any of us who go that route in ministry as well.

Do you have any questions about branding a ministry?

Comments

  1. says

    One branding trend I’m hoping will die? Obscure, ‘cool’-sounding ministry names. Examples include “X-treme,” “Revolution,” and forced acronyms whose meanings are impossible to recall. Such titles seem like transparent attempts to be hip–and teens are impeccable poser detectors.

    Instead, youth ministries should unabashedly OWN their congregational identities. What’s so off-putting about “First Church Student Ministries,” after all?

  2. Gavin says

    I’m in agreement Matt, I was pretty pleased when I started working with First Presbyterian Church here in Nashville and asked them who they were and what people called them. They shot back with an emphatic, “We’re First Pres Youth.” Me, “No other names?” Them, “Huh?”

    And cool part is that they are sporting really huge numbers without the flash of fancy marketing. But they also know who they are and are not trying to be seomthing they are not. Think the youth appreciate that.

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