The Spirituality of Branding
Branding is a necessary yet curious part of church. Branding is necessary because all organizations gain an identity whether they embrace the idea or not. It is a “brand” to put one of those movable plastic letter monument signs out at the curb in front of the church. You know the kind that weekly change the message, usually something like “Know God, Know Peace – No God, No Peace,” or “Turn or Burn,” or “First Church: Where the TRUTH is preached.”
Brand is a certain shape of Christian hospitality. Bad signage and poor web presence says “we don’t care” (or “we can’t care.”) Well-thought-out color schemes, fonts, logo style, furniture, decor, informational signage, and websites convey an open heart to “zero-time” guests, people who have never visited but are checking out the church.
In our day, websites are the most prominent visible shape of the church. People visit the church website long before they enter the church. Fortunately websites are cheap and changeable. You can update your brand all week long if you want. However, churches like many non-profits suffer from a lack of skilled, willing, and ready volunteers who know branding, especially online presence.
At Lakeland we have a branding team who work hard at coordinating and controlling the church’s brand. We want to project a certain ethos or culture. Lakeland has a culture of “spiritual pilgrimage and journey” and a culture of “community and village life.” As a GenX church (admit it) being real is the difference between authentic honest spirituality and religious fakery.
Hospitality says “belonging.” To belong means everyone participates without pretense or hubris. Also, GenX is death upon cheesy. You can come to Lakeland wearing cruddy cargo shorts and a nasty ballcap in January, but if you’re in the band you better be a killer player. If you lead worship you better be on pitch. And if you make a sign for some event at Lakeland it better look like Madison Avenue designed it. And that sign better fit the brand.
This high-brow branding (low-brow dress code) is great when everything is current and up-to-date. But it is terrible when our color scheme is out of date. Our current lobby colors were cool in 2006. Now they are out of date. The fix is tens of thousands of dollars. We will probably fix it sooner rather than later because being out of date just slays the pure-bred artists at the church.
The great temptation is to “Hobby Lobby” a fix. I hate it when churches Hobby Lobby their sacred space. You know what I mean? Someone takes their own money and goes to Hobby Lobby and buys a small rusty cross that was made in India – and looks like it. Someone puts up art in a children’s room that looks like some generic home decoration that has nothing to do with church, spirituality, or Jesus. Sunflowers and sailboats, mirrors, and abstract hotel room art. Better to have blank walls than secular walls.
We could take a lesson from the Eastern Orthodox church. Orthodox churches face east because the sun rises in the east, just like the sun rose that morning when the tomb was empty. The floor in Orthodox church is patterned after the cosmos. The eucharist is planned to have the bread break right around the moment the sun breaks through the stained glass windows. Icons are used to surround the worshippers with the “great cloud of witnesses.” Notice that icons are “reversed perspective.” All the angles are reversed to make the viewer the vanishing point (not the picture’s horizon.) Icons participate in the worship. Orthodox colors are regal and full of reflective surfaces. The Orthodox church does not split heaven and earth. If the Holy Spirit is present, then act like it.
All this to say that churches must think hard about their color schemes and decor. It matters. How many chapters in the Torah are devoted to how the temple should be adorned? The temple was splendid. There is far more in the Bible about how to adorn sacred space than there ever is information about heaven and hell. Why? Because the temple was the transcendent “heaven-earth interface,” a portal if you will. So what about our churches? Are they portals to the divine?
In an age when churches have lost their transcendence and instead have taken their interior decorating cues from the Puritans who disdained any sort of image (iconoclasts) and favored austerity and inward worship, churches are now out of touch with the culture around them. Humans crave beauty. We snap pictures of sunsets all the time. But we don’t snap pictures of our evangelical Protestant church interiors. They are not transcendent. They are immanent. Our churches have caved into mundanity and immanence. This makes me ponder if there is any chance of Christians like me of ever conceiving or perceiving of sacred space. At least the voice of corporate branding conveys identity and community (albeit consumer loyalty).
I long for a day when churches like Lakeland no longer snicker and feel embarassed about smells and bells. Every modern-day theologian and philosopher I read these days ends up making the same pronouncement: “our culture needs transcendence.” If the church has anything to connect to its surrounding secular culture transcendence is what we have in common. Culture unconsciously craves it (and feels embarrassed about the craving) and the church owns transcendence and cannot figure out how to manifest it. Branding is the strong start.
Get a designer and pick a brand. Pick a few strong interconnected colors, a set of three or four fonts, set up a design and review team, and have a totalitarian brand Czar, an artist who knows what is beautiful and can translate it. Lock in your logo for four years. Get rid of all the meaningless Hobby Lobby tchotchke. Resist naturalism – all the nature mysticism that Americans gravitate toward because they have no imagination for the sacred other than what they procreate. Makeover your walls with the sacred. Create a prayer space (make it face east!) Experiment with liturgy and tradition. Grow some roots and belong to the greater tradition of the church.
Here’s the starting place. This is perhaps the earliest hymn of the church, Ephesians 5:14 (NRSV)
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Now it’s your turn. Liturgy is rinse, lather, repeat.
The Branding Process
You have decided you want do something at Lakeland and you need print material, screens, t-shirts, or logos.
The first thing you should do is ask for help. There is a branding team ready to assist you. This is not meant to be red tape. Our colors, logos, and designs all reflect our identity and a team of artists helped us create this look based upon who we are as a church. Our branding helps friends and visitors identify us as a church and we want to provide that hospitality to them.
We want any event or ministry you run to also capture this identity, but capturing this visual Identity is easier than you might think. Let me tell you a personal story to explain.
I once held an event for the youth ministry. I have access to sophisticated design software, so I went about creating the perfect logo for my event. I wanted it to match the Lakeland Brand, so I took elements from various lakeland logos and created a new logo for my trip. I then proudly showed it to one of the lakeland designers who said. “Uh this is all wrong.” I was confused. It looked just like the other Lakeland Logos. It even borrowed elements from other “official” logos.
And that is where I went wrong!
I was overthinking it! My youth ministry event is not the IDENTITY of the church. Our main logo, the logos for Trailhead, Campfire, Women’s Ministry, etc are all the IDENTITY of our church. They have specific logos designed by the pros. What I needed to do instead was create my own look for my event. I had total creative control of my youth event’s look and feel. I simply needed to create space in the design for an appropriately placed, official Lakeland Logo to IDENTIFY it as a Lakeland event. That is much easier! There are rules for the logo’s placement, how much space it needs, what colors it can be, what size it needs to be, making sure not to stretch it or reshape it in any way, but those rules are easily available in the Lakeland Branding Guide. There are rules for fonts if you are creating official lakeland screens, handouts, fliers, etc. Your lakeland branding consultant can help you with those rules. We want people to recognize our print materials as clearly from…well…Lakeland! This can be done by following the branding. It’s easier than you think and helps your ministry feel tightly knitted to the work of the church as a whole.