By Rev. Mindi
I had a really awesome talk with a local advertising agent for
our local news blog just this morning (Monday as I write this) and it has me
thinking that we in the church still are so, so far behind in so many ways.
We are so good in the church about saying “We are not a
business.” But then we go and act like a
business with a board that runs like a corporation and congregational leaders
that act like CEO’s. We draw up budgets
and we crunch the numbers. We put resources into staff positions and
maintenance and cut outreach and education and mission. We get smaller and
smaller and so we cut all “non-essential” budget items like continuing education
and health insurance, cut salaries and positions down to half-time or less, and
finally, we are left with nothing to cut and we close. We are a failed
That’s where our problem is: we say we are not a business,
but then we act like big business.
Rather, we have a lot to learn from small businesses (and yes, not every
business is the same, not every small business is the same). Many new start-up small businesses are based
on a passion, a dream, that is driving the business: a vision. Many people
start up their own business because they love doing what they are doing and
dream about doing it, whether it be a restaurant or a bakery or a used book
store, a consulting firm or jewelry shop, just to name a few of the small
businesses in our town on one street. But here’s the thing: they are local, and
they begin with a dream, a vision.
They also have to compete with the big box stores or big
firms or big chain restaurants, but don’t worry too much about the competition
from them because they are local, they offer personal service, they don’t mind
you taking time and they will take time for you when it comes to making
decisions on purchases or transactions of services. Of course, the church is not a place where we
exchange money for services, but the personal service, the attention to detail,
and the time given for decision making are all good aspects we can take into
the church, on top of the notion of dreams and passion: a vision that moves people
Now here is where branding comes into play. I know of a
church whose slogan on its sign is “Something For Everyone.” Except it doesn’t really offer something for
everyone and if it did offer something for everyone, I would expect it to be
much, much larger than it is. Even my current church is using a slogan that is
a bit too broad and too open for interpretation. We do this all the time in smaller churches
that want to grow: we don’t want to limit our possible outreach, we don’t want
to say no to anyone who comes in, so we try to say “yes” to everyone. The truth
is we can’t be all things to all people.
So that’s where my talk with the advertising agent comes in.
She (an active member of another church) told me something I’ve known for a
while: you have to brand yourself. That’s
the marketing term: branding. What is it
that makes you stand out, what makes you unique?
Translation for the church: What is your vision? How do you
make your vision known?
I have been leading my church in a vision process for the
past six months, and I led my previous congregation in a similar process. First, we looked back at our past. We had a
day where we shared memories by the decades (I started with the 1950’s but
people had memories further back than that). We wrote them down on big sheets
of paper, decade by decade. What was it that brought you to church way back
when? What was fun? What was exciting? What made you want to keep coming back?
We wrote it all down and then put it up the next Sunday for everyone to look
at, and fill in a memory if they weren’t there or had remembered something
later. We talked about our memories.
More specifically, we talked about the feelings we had, and we talked about the
movement of the Spirit in the life of the church. The conversation turned from “what
we used to do” or “how we used to do it” to “what was it that helped us feel
alive, engaged with God, in relationship with Jesus, moved by the Spirit,”
The next month we talked about what was important to us, as
individuals and as a church (this part is core to the vision process—what is it
that we value?) The following month, we
talked about what we were ready to let go of—past assumptions, long
announcements, etc. This is a time for venting the negative energy, the things
that we do but we don’t know why we do them.
The next gathering we focused on the three core parts of the vision
process: Values, Words, Actions. We’d already done the Values part, now we
focused on what it was that we said about ourselves and what it was that we
did. Do our words, actions and values line up with who we say we are, or is
there is a disconnect?
We’re nearing the end of this part of the process: we are
going to be forming a vision statement.
A vision statement is not the be-all and end-all of the process, but it
helps point the way. This vision statement will say something about who we are,
who we want to be, and how we are being. This statement will go with our church
logo, will go on our website, will be the branding that we use.
For churches, I think (or would hope) that it is less about
competition and more about saying who we are to those that don’t know us, and
at the same time, reminding us of who we are and where we are going. Habakkuk 2:2 says “Write the vision… make it
plain so that a runner may read it.” In
other words, keep it short, make it easy to know, make it something that
everyone can memorize and recite to those who want to know about who you are.
Lastly, so you don’t fall into the trap of “Something for
Everyone,” be a little more specific. If you are Open and Affirming or
Welcoming and Affirming, say it. Put a rainbow flag up, or a handicap
accessible sign, or an Autism puzzle piece on your logo, or something else that
symbolizes you are welcoming, open and affirming to a specific population. That
doesn’t mean you’re not open and affirming of typically developing children,
straight people, or people who don’t use a wheelchair! But it lets people know
that your congregation thinks about these things and is concerned about the inclusion
of others. Most of us don’t want to
limit ourselves so we either say nothing, or have a very, very long
non-discrimination or inclusion statement.
The statements are great—and should be on your website and your welcoming
information. But your vision statement, your branding, your logo, your identity
statement—however you want to put it—should be shorter, something everyone can
memorize and recite, and needs to contain something that makes people say “If
they welcome these people, they probably welcome others as well.”
So as I said, my current church is still in the process. We
haven’t gotten there yet. But I’m very hopeful about the process and where we
are going, and through this process, we are recognizing our need to be more
specific in our welcome and inclusion of others. We are learning that we need
to share our dreams, our passion, through the process of vision, remembering
the spirit that once filled us before, and we are finding that spirit again. We
are also learning more about who we are as individuals, and how we welcome one
another is integral to our church. The
spirit is still there, and in the words of Habakkuk, there is still a vision
for the appointed time.