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