Why Brand Your Parish?

Posted on April 11, 2016 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

If You Don’t Tell Your Community Who You Are, How Will They Ever Know?

Branding Header

Branding within a local Catholic church community is an effective ministry tool that is all too often underutilized and misunderstood. Today’s church has embraced using a myriad of different tools to communicate with current members and to welcome visitors. Websites, Facebook pages, Twitter, email platforms, and apps have been added to the parish arsenal of brochures, bulletins, newsletters, welcome packets, annual reports, and ministry directories.

The problem is, if we are not intentional about creating our parish brand, we risk ending up with a bunch of completely different looking communications that don’t say anything about us. If we could stop for a minute to reassess what we want people to think about us and determine the best way to tell that story, the sky is the limit for the impact we can have in our communities for Christ

The Power of a Great Brand

Top 5 Reasons to Brand Your ParishImagine a world where every piece of communication —verbal, print, online—was branded consistently across all of our ministries both inside the parish and out in our local community. What if the message was something that resonated with people who heard and saw it? What would happen?

We would see increased engagement in our ministries not only from our existing parish members but also a growing number of fans throughout our entire community. Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion surrounding what branding is and how to go about getting it done.

Add to that a mental barrier that exists in the church that associates the mere mention of “branding” with the evils of Corporate America and consumerism, and it is outright rejected as something worthy of pursuit.

Who Do People Say You Are?

While there is a lot of confusion out there, at its core branding is actually fairly straightforward. Simply put, it is an intentional decision to align what you want people to think of your parish (and therefore Jesus) with what people actually do think.

Even if you are sending the message you want them to hear, it won’t connect with anyone if that’s not the message actually received. Communication is a two-way process, right? So perception always ends up being reality. This means it’s what they hear you say you are that matters more than what you said you are. How your parish is perceived in your community will affect your ability to successfully fulfill your mission of spreading the good news of the church.

You need a good, well-thought-out brand focused on what makes your parish unique. There is no other church just like yours anywhere.

Branding your parish will help you prove your clarity of purpose, build reassurance and trust, establish consistency and reliability, and ultimately create a place where people feel they belong. The reason to use branding as a ministry tool is it will help you seize every opportunity to express why people should choose to come to Mass, serve the poor, get more involved in a ministry, and offer up everything they are and have to God, our Father, the Creator of the universe.

Does Your Parish Have a Brand?

Did you know that whether you have intentionally set out to create a parish brand message or not, you already have one? That’s right, if you don’t brand yourself someone else will do it for you. What does that mean?

It means if you don’t give people a place to understand in their own minds who your parish is, they will do it for you. If you don’t tell people who you are how will they ever know?

They won’t, but they will decide for themselves anyway.

Think about it this way, let’s say we meet someone who is quieter than most others. Every time we see this person, he or she says almost nothing. Without any more communication to convince us otherwise, we might decide the person is standoffish, rude, an elitist, or even arrogant. The truth could be that the person is desperately shy and awkward in a group setting. However, we have already decided what we think (our perception), in light of the fact there was no other information available.

This is why it is important that a parish be proactive in establishing its own brand.

Does Everyone Know You’re a Catholic Church?

Your Brand MessagingIt is common for many Catholic parishes to identify themselves in communications as simply a “Catholic church.” The only messaging they use consistently throughout their communications is their parish name, for example: “St. Mary’s,” followed by the words “Catholic Church.” The words are typed in a basic font and often the same image of their parish building is prominently featured on the front cover of everything they publish.

If this is your parish, you are not alone. However, it’s important to point out here that it is highly likely that everyone in the community around you already knows you are “Catholic” just by your church name. So what else can you tell them to engage them?

These same people more than likely knew you were a church the first time they drove by your building. So what other information do they need from you to care about who you are? What do you want them to know about your parish besides the fact that you are a Catholic church?

There has to be something more you can tell them to help them understand why they should consider coming to learn more about you. If you want to attract more visitors, like the unchurched, or lapsed and disenfranchised Catholics, and engage more regular Mass attenders in the mission of your church, then you need to tell people why they should care.

What Do People Think of When They Think of Your Church?

To create a brand message for your parish you will need to start by asking yourself these simple questions.

What do people think of when they think of your church? Who do you say you are? Who needs to know this? How will they find out? Why should they care?

I believe this last question is one of the most important because if you don’t give them a reason to care they won’t hear you and you won’t ever get to share with them the greatest story ever told. Yes, of course, that’s the message all Catholic churches are called to share with their communities but first you have to get their attention. Branding a church is different than branding a company. Most companies use the power of branding to differentiate their products or services from those of their competitors. It might surprise you that while a local Catholic church never seeks to differentiate itself from the other Catholic churches in the area, every parish does have competition.

What kind of competition does the Church have? Think about it like this: What are all the things that keep people out of the church? What are the things that compete with people’s time? It’s the world.

We live a world that is filled with things that distract us from being in a daily relationship with God, loving and serving others, and finding our God-given purpose. These distractions, like television, electronics, busy children’s schedules, and the demands of work, keep us so busy that many people don’t think they have time for church.

This is even true for many people who attend Mass on Sundays but are so overwhelmed by their hectic lives, they can’t imagine giving another hour of their time and talent to the church. Branding done well and consistently can help you reach people with the message that there is something more, something they are missing. It should communicate why replacing an hour of Facebook time with an hour serving on a committee, attending a ministry event, or even coming back to Mass on Sunday could help them find more purpose and a sense of belonging.

What Is Your Brand Message?

Your parish brand messaging consists of two important elements that need to work together: Your Brand Messaging = Your Brand Identity + Your Brand Story.

Your Brand Identity helps you create visual recognition of your parish. Brand Identity is something you can see that appeals to the senses. It has the ability to take a bunch of different kinds of communication and unify them as one.

Your brand identity is the visual representation of your parish expressed through things like the colors you use, your logo, the fonts you choose, email signatures, publications, websites, social media, directories, and ministry materials. Some parishes already have a strong brand identity. However, the real power of building great brand messaging starts with creating a unique parish story and then updating your brand identity to reflect your story.

How Do You Tell Your Brand Story?

Jesus knew the power of a brandThere is no other parish just like yours. You are one of a kind and that’s the Brand Story you need to tell at every touchpoint you have with your staff, ministry leaders, parishioners, and your community at-large.

There are undoubtedly many things that make your church unique but try to pick one that you and your staff can agree on. I recently had the privilege of visiting a large, vibrant parish in Texas. I went to experience an annual event called Heart of Worship.

While I was there I spent some time with Sharon, the Director of Communications, and Tony, the Business Manager. Because I am so passionate about the power of using branding as a ministry tool, over lunch I had the opportunity to ask them questions about what makes them unique. They both agreed that the one word that defines their pastor, Father Drew Wood, best is “love.” It’s clear he is filled with love and compassion for others. Then Sharon said, “Father Drew longs for St. Laurence to be a ‘Safe Harbor’ for everyone in the community.”

Now that’s the beginning of a great Brand Story if I’ve ever heard one.

Love is Dangerous

Posted on April 8, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

crossLove is dangerous. When you truly love someone, you are willing to sacrifice and go outside your normal boundaries of comfort.

You never know what will be asked of you, but true love does not consider the cost of loving, it simply responds affirmatively to whatever the need.

When Jesus asks Peter several times about his love for Him, He is clarifying that this is true love Peter has and not admiration or infatuation. This is because Peter’s love of the Lord will end up costing him dearly.

Do you love me?Love gives us life, but we also die somewhat when the source of that love suffers and passes away. But the Good News of Jesus Christ is that those who love Him will follow Him in life, through death, and into a life that is eternal, even if before that heavenly banquet there will be many trials along the way.

The stewardship way of life demands of us a certain maturity of discipleship. Just as a child is not yet ready to be a parent, an immature disciple may not yet be ready to sacrifice regardless of the cost.

So every day we are challenged and called to respond, sometimes even with little cost to ourselves. But each step, no matter how small, brings with it growth. We are growing not only in maturity, but in love as well.

When questioned, was Peter ready to accept the challenge regardless of the cost? His denial of Jesus after the arrest in the garden leads one to say no. But Peter grew wiser and more mature in faith, becoming the head of the Church in Jerusalem and our first Pope.

If love can do this in Peter, what does love have in store for you? Be careful, because love that great is indeed dangerous.

Let Our Stewardship Convince the Cynics!

Posted on April 5, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

HandsyYesterday, while listening to the Gospel about good, old, doubting Thomas, I thought about how much harder it seems for many in today’s world to believe that God is in control.

This doesn’t mean we are puppets destined to simply live out a predetermined set of life experiences, but it does mean that Jesus remains, as always, King of all creation.

At the end of the day, no being or circumstance can overcome the grace and power of God.

With news streaming 24/7, we now see the world with all it’s blemishes and shortcomings. Truly, we no longer live in a Garden of Eden, but instead, in an imperfect world where sin and turmoil wreak havoc every day.

I truly believe there is much more good in the world than there is bad, yet the bad does sometimes seem overwhelming. We claim God is in control, that He has conquered death, and that no power on earth or beyond can stand against Him and His Church. But do we really believe that?

Does the truth of Jesus’ victory at Easter really prevail in our thoughts, hopes, and dreams?

I once knew a very devout man who always said that God is in control, and this belief sometimes caused him to not act and instead, “place it in God’s hands.” I am not sure that’s what God has in mind.

The reality is that God’s providence and good stewardship go hand-in-hand. God is in control and that is precisely why we must act and give of ourselves. We do not really change what is true. We give testimony to the TRUTH.

This world we see on the news and around us has been redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It may not seem like it at face value, but be assured that death has no real power here. Unfortunately, it is through human sin we see this constant evidence of imperfection and evil.

But what if more of us became living saints like Blessed Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and others have in our time?

What if we constantly sought to live an everyday stewardship that provided more evidence of the victory of Jesus Christ?

What if we constantly and consistently stood up in the face of sin, instead of simply saying God can take care of it?

God can take care of it. He has you and me. And if more of us act accordingly, it might be harder to doubt that our God lives and reigns, now and forever.

Continuing the Mission

Posted on April 5, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 10, 2016, 3rd Sunday of Easter

Detail from Feed My Lambs by James Tissot.

Saint Peter had always been an enthusiastic follower of Jesus. His faith was generous and open, but also subject to the limits of human weakness. “The school of faith,” recalled Pope Benedict XVI, “is not a triumphal march but a journey marked daily by suffering and love, trials and faithfulness. Peter, who promised absolute fidelity, knew the bitterness and humiliation of denial: the arrogant man learns the costly lesson of humility. Peter, too, must learn that he is weak and in need of forgiveness. Once his attitude changes and he understands the truth of his weak heart of a believing sinner, he weeps in a fit of liberating repentance. After this weeping he is finally ready for his mission” (General Audience, May 24, 2006).

When, on that fateful day on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias, Peter encountered the risen Lord, he received the mission that set him apart from the other apostles and he learned an important lesson in reconciliation and love. Jesus invites Peter to profess his love three times, restoring the relationship that had been damaged by his three denials the night before Jesus died. But Jesus also recognized the undiscovered gifts that lay dormant within Peter and entrusted him with a special mission: Feed my sheep.

Soon after the Ascension, we see Peter using the gifts that God had given him when, in Jerusalem, he refused to stop preaching in Jesus’ name (cf. Acts 5:27-41). The conviction of Peter and the other apostles (celebrated especially in the Acts of the Apostles) reminds us that our faith and commitment to the Gospel place demands upon us and can involve sacrifice and suffering. For Peter, this ultimately meant martyrdom in Rome. For Christians throughout the ages, up to our own time, faith continues to call for a witness to those values and truths that transcend the trials and struggles of our day-to-day lives.

Working for peace, justice, the promotion of human life, and the spread of the good news are tasks entrusted to every follower of Jesus. As Saint John Paul II observed in Redemptoris Missio (his encyclical on the mission of the Church): “The mission of Christ the Redeemer, which is entrusted to the Church, is still very far from completion… an overall view of the human race shows this mission is still only beginning and that we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service. It is the Spirit who impels us to proclaim the great works of God” (1).

To be Christian means working to build up God’s kingdom here and now, recognizing and promoting God’s action in the world, “working for liberation from evil in all its forms. In a word, the kingdom of God is the manifestation and the realization of God’s plan of salvation in all its fullness” (Redemptoris Missio, 15). And so, while we celebrate Peter’s call and mission this Sunday, we are also being invited to reflect on how God is calling us—as individuals and as the Church—to continue that special mission in our homes, parishes, and communities.

Silas S. Henderson, MTS

PRAYER

Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that no tempests may disturb us,
for you have set us fast
on the rock of the Apostle Peter’s confession of faith.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

—Collect from the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle. Excerpt from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.

NOTICES

CATHOLIC HOME MISSIONS APPEAL
The Catholic Home Missions Appeal takes place on the last Sunday of April, April 24 in 2016. Resources for the national collection can be found on the USCCB website at: http://www.usccb.org/catholic-giving/opportunities-for-giving/catholic-home-missions-appeal/collection/index.cfm.

EASTER URBI ET ORBI MESSAGE
Pope Francis delivered the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing on Easter Sunday, following Mass in St. Peter’s Square. Speaking to pilgrims and tourists gathered in the Square for the occasion, Pope Francis especially remembered the suffering peoples of Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. To view the full text and video of the Urbi et Orbi message, visit http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-easter-urbi-et-orbi-a-message-of-hope.

PROVISIONAL SCHEDULE FOR WORLD YOUTH DAY
A draft of the schedule for Pope Francis’ trip to Poland from July 27 to 31 for the 31st World Youth Day was presented in Krakow on Saturday. The provisional schedule may be viewed at http://www.news.va/en/news/wyd-krakow-2016-draft-schedule-released.

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