What’s in a Name? – Branding The Church

“Welcome to GraceLife.  We are so glad to have you here.”

Word’s like this are heard more and more often all across this country.  Why?  Because many Churches have jumped on the change your name band wagon.  They argue that by giving ourselves a new name we can better explain who we really are.  Really? So “Church” no longer does the job of explaining who we really are?

Churches have chosen to drop the word “evangelical”, “fundamental”, “gospel” and” Bible” from their name because it is “confusing”, “people really didn’t know what it means” or “it leaves a bad tastes in people’s mouths.”

So they change their name to something like, “GraceLife,” “LifeJourney,” “Crossway”, “CrossPoint,” etc. Now you may ask “Well, what is wrong with that?”  My answer is that, in and of itself, it is not wrong. The problem lies not in the new name, but the justification behind it.

Let’s take a look at these reasonings. First, what exactly does” GracePoint” mean anyway? This is clearer than “Gospel”? It seems to me you have to do as much explaining to non-churched people (and probably those raised in the church) of what “GraceLife” means as what “Evangelical” means.

Second, most of these churches have dropped using the word church in their name.  Now for some it may still be in their official legal name, but in their regular everyday usage they simply refer to themselves as “GraceLife”. Apparently the word church turns people off.  Really? So here is what I take from this.  We have allowed society to coop words like “church”, “evangelical”, “fundamental” and “gospel” so that we are afraid to use them. As a result, we choose the easy route and simply avoid them rather learn to defend their true meaning. So some have chosen to change their name rather than educate people.

But as problematic as I see this rationale, there is a more disconcerting reasoning behind the trend.

Marketing

“We need to get people’s attention.”, “How can we get people to remember us?” So churches come up with a new name (and maybe a cool logo) so people recognize it immediately. After all marketing research has shown that catchy names and slogans are easier for people to remember. They call this “branding,” not unlike the symbol burned into the hide of a young calf by a rancher.

Now before you think that I am bashing marketing, I am not. Marketing is a great tool, but it is just a tool. A tool that has clearly worked in the world around us. When you see a Pepsi logo you know immediately what it is. But as a church are we supposed to be looking at corporate America as our example? Marketing should not be the guiding force of the church. That is to say, marketing research should not be a reason to justify a change, though it can help us find the best way to communicate the message of the gospel.
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Catchy Names, Slogans and Logos

So marketing research has shown us that catchy names and slogans stick with people. I can quickly prove this true by throwing out several slogans to you and you will know exactly what it is. First, “Have it your way”, Second, “just do it” and third “your in good hands.” If you guessed that respectively these are Burger King, Nike, and Allstate you would be right. So catching slogans help us remember the company to which they are attached.

The same is true when it comes to logos. If I showed you a picture of “Golden Arches”, a “Red Target” and a “swoosh” odds are you would know what companies they represent. The first is McDonald’s, second is Target and third is Nike. Yes marketing has a job to do and when branding is successful, the logos becomes indelibly written on people’s minds.

Stepping beyond the slogans and logos we now come to the names. Marketing tells us that names should not be bulky. They should communicate what is important about your “company” in as few syllables as possible. So we look for quick easy names. As a result, rather than ” Walton’s Departments Store” we have “Wal-Mart”, rather than Boston Mass Transit Sandwich Shop” we have “Subway” and rather than “Sound of Music” we have “Best Buy”.

In each of these cases, branding served the companies well, but how does this transfer to the local church? When does branding cross the line from being a tool used by the church to being a guiding force of the church’s direction?

We Are Not Trying To Please People But God

It seems to me that the answer is not as complicated as people would have you think. Twice in scripture Paul poses the answer.  In Galatians 1:10 he presents the question we must all ask ourselves. “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

In 1 Thessalonians 2:4 presents it not as a question, but as a statement of truth. “On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”

Now I present these not as a condemnation of marketing in the church, but as a challenge to those who elevated marketing to the level higher than it should be. What is the deciding factor in your decision-making, pleasing God or pleasing man.  After all, that is the very essence of what marketing is. It is an attempt to find those things that will tickle peoples ears.  Those things that will get people excited and talking about the product. It is to find those things that please man. And while this does not automatically place it in opposition to God, it must make us stop and think.  Have we so taken from the world around us, that we see its systems on the same level as the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Thinking of Christ

So as I hope I have communicated, I am not simply throwing marketing techniques out the window, but I am questioning their emphasis.  Is a catching name, slogan or logo where we need to be putting our emphasis.  If not, then what should be the emphasis of the church? As I ask this question I shake my head thinking, “Is this a question that should really need asking?” The emphasis of the church should be nothing less that Christ Himself.  This is why we come together.  We come together to worship Him.  We come together to entreat His help and guidance.  We come together to hear His word.  We come together to build His body. This is the church, believers in Christ who join together to build up one another and Glorify God.

For 2,000 years the church has had a “logo” that is automatically recognized the world over.  The Cross.  It symbolizes the sacrifice that Christ made, that He gave His life as an atonement for the sins of the world.  Travel the world over, and you will find the Cross.  In homes, on mountainsides and at the pinnacle of Churches.  Yet today, how many church building are built without a Cross visible to the sorounding community.  Instead, we send out our flyers in the mail with our churches new exciting logo.  A logo that too often fails to promote Christ’s Church, but rather simply our local congregation. Yes, perhaps the logo has a cross within it, but not at the forefront as it has always stood.

What of names? For years names of churches helped people to find them and to know what they believed.  The word church simply means “of the Lord”, that is to say a group of people committed to the Lord.  And while church has been taken into use by other religious groups, the almost universal understanding of the word is an assembly of Christian believers.  Beyond this, churches often gave a geographical part to their name, not to say that those are the only people they reached to, but to know its location.  And, until recently, almost all churches identified their beliefs system through terms such as “Evangelical”, “Baptist” and “Methodist.” In many of these cases, these were denominational identifiers to unite them with others of like thinking.

When I hear a name like “GraceLife” there is nothing that tells me we are speaking of a church.  There is nothing to tell me where they are found. There is nothing to help me understand their beliefs. And if I come from a particular denomination, there is nothing that lets me know this is a like minded body.

Final Thoughts

Lest you think I am judging all churches that changed their names as wrong, I am not.  I simply want us to stop and think seriously about why it is we choose to change names. What is it that is guiding our change?  Is the change glorifying to God or is it pandering to man? Is the name change really the image change we want to present or is our concern changing the image people have of us as a body?

So go ahead and change your name if it is for a valid reason.  Create your logos and slogans, but remember that the only change that really matters is the change that comes from within.  A change in the hearts of your people.  It is this change that will stick with those who look at your church, not names, slogans and logos you present.

 

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